Posted by: Anu Prestonia | November 4, 2010

Mandy Aftel, My Inspiration

When I first read Mandy Aftel’s Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume I dreamed of one day going to study with this incredible perfumer.  But I imagined studying with Mandy to be some far off fantasy that was not possible.   I assumed that she was unreachable, other worldly.  She became my fragrance s-hero.  Mandy Aftel is owner and natural perfumer of Aftelier Perfume, located in Berkeley, California and is known world-wide for her beautiful, natural fragrance creations and as the premier authority on natural perfumery.

Mandy Aftel

I first met Mandy last winter when I attended the Perfume Tasting that Mandy conducted for the Museum of Natural History’s Aromatics Along The Silk Road Exhibit.  It was remarkable!  The drinks were divine, created by the exotic Club Pegu.  The food was delicately delicious and the desserts were delectable.  That night I found that Mandy was indeed a real person with a warm and generous heart.  And she always has intriguing and educational stories to share about natural botanicals.  That night was about how these botanicals /essences can transform both food and cocktail drinks.

Mandy at work

A few months later I received Mandy’s workbook as an early birthday gift from my Sweetheart and I began Mandy’s at home study course in her Level 1 Workbook, The Natural Perfumer.  Completing that first workbook qualified me to attend the first level, hands-on workshop with Mandy.  It was a dream come true.  Something that I didn’t believe possible.  And as with my first encounter with Mandy, she is  not only a bespoke perfumer and writer, she is a humble, giving, and loving soul who loves sharing her knowledge and art.

Mandy’s Perfume Organ

Arriving at Mandy’s workshop and standing in front of her perfume organ was a enchanting experience.  To be standing in front of such treasures and to be able to look at them, smell them, handle and work with all these top quality natural essences made me feel, perhaps I had really died and gone to heaven.  Some of the substances in Mandy’s collection are considered antique, meaning they were harvested over fifty years ago.  The antique essences, understandably, were off limits, but we were encouraged to try all the rest.  I was again reminded of how entranced I was by reading Essence and Alchemy.  It was the first time I remember learning about base notes and I chuckled to think about how they seduced me.  I actually broke the first rule of perfumery and made a couple of ‘one note’ perfumes.  Well, two notes, middle and bottom.  A true perfume has to have three notes – top, middle and bottom notes.  The ones I made were pretty deep, too deep for most, but I enjoy making my mistakes… The greatest lesson of them all was learning the significance and influence that one drop of essence can make in a formulation.  How one drop can  enhance, destroy or neutralize a formulation, the lesson of how each drop counts.

Anu at work

After returning home, I felt more determined to get it together, to organize and consolidate my oils I’ve been collecting for about ten years now; create my own version of an organ and move forward on fulfilling a perfume order that I’ve been commissioned to do.

Starting my Perfume Organ

The journey begins in earnest.  And Mandy has been my inspiration throughout.  Thank you Mandy!  And Thank you to all my friends and relatives who have encouraged me on this path from the beginning.  Each word of encouragement has been like a jewel to me.  Stay tune for the launch of my first perfume.



  1. It was a wonderful read and I had never even thought too much about this world of perfume before. I felt as though I was having the experience with you. Right on to you going after another one of your passions. I again applaud your changing and growing. You are really taking time to smell the roses.

  2. Well done and inspiring Anu. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Truly an inspirational read. Never took an interest in perfumes. You have made me curious and intrigued through your passion. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to smelling.

  4. Truly inspirational, I am sure you will enjoy the next step into creating your own fragrance.

    • Thank you for your continued support and encouragement Cassandra.

  5. Hi Anu, Thanks for sharing the experience. Like some others, I never thought about the alchemy involved in creating a scent and you do make it intriguing. I’m looking forward to seeing (smelling) what you make!

  6. I’m so jealous! I’m saving up for the Level 1 kit, and would love to hear more about your experience with it.

    • Hi Jessica,
      Don’t be jealous, you’re on your way, so Give Thanks! The level 1 kit is a wonderful learning tool. I am so happy that I have that experience under my belt. It teaches you how to determine levels of intensity of scents based on how long they last on a scent strip. And it also teaches basic blending techniques.

      Initially, I wasn’t going to purchase Mandy’s oils because I had all those oils in her kit already. But I decided to make the investment so I could compare her quality of oils with mine. That too was a great investment for me. Mandy’s oils were of a different caliber and it gave me a great comparative study.

      I am now doing the level 2 workbooks and the experience is definitely one you should be aiming for. It’s quite an expensive venture when you couple the cost of the books with the cost of the essences that you are required to get on your own. I suggest you purchase all of required essences for this level in sample sizes.

      All the best!

      • Thanks, Anu! I meant jealous in more of a “happy for you and looking forward to doing it too” way. 🙂 I’ll definitely get the oils kit.

        In the meantime, I’m having a great time smelling my way through her perfume samples.

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