Rave Reviews for Ayala's New Book

A few days ago, I received this incredibly supportive feedback about my book from my fellow perfumer and renown author Mandy Aftel. I simply had to share! 
"This wonderful new book is a welcome addition to the literature on natural perfumery! Ayala Moriel's techniques are born of her talent, intelligence and long experience, and she gives a solid foundation in the basics, via formulas, detailed instructions, a glossary, and information on suppliers. You will be smitten with both her expertise and her enthusiasm."

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

I've had the pleasure and honour to receive a media copy of Fragrant, the new book by Mandy Aftel. It is no secret that Mandy is a great writer, and diving into her book was quite a treat. Especially after months of hard work on my own book - it was like a retreat from all the editing, polishing and spell-checking...

When Mandy initially told me about the book, its premise sounded like a personality study of five essences, and how they correspond to five different appetites of the human nature. The essences are: Cinnamon, Mint, Frankincense, Ambergris and Jasmine. A companion kit was also sent to me from the publisher (which you can purchase at Aftelier.com), with a beautiful chunk of frankincense in the middle, and little vials of the other four essences. In reality, the book covers way more than just five essences, extending to spices in general in the chapter on cinnamon; other herbs in the chapter on mint (botanically speaking, many of the fragrant plants used in perfumery are in fact from the mint family - including lavender, basil, sage and the like); the chapter on frankincense talks about many other resins, wood essences and incense in general; amebrgris covers all manner of animal extracts and the myths surrounding their phenomenal magic; and the chapter on jasmine talks about the rarity and fleeting beauty of floral extracts, which are at the heart of Aftel's aesthetic philosophy.  

From the outside, the book is exceptionally beautiful, with meticulous attention to detail as would be expected from any other product that comes under Mandy's artistic direction. The dustcover is a shimmering orange-and-purple colour combination that has become the Aftelier trademark, brimming with historical illustrations from the author's personal collection of historic perfume books (as many would have expected to find after reading Essence and Alchemy), and with deckle edged pages (AKA uncut pages), which allude to a period when most things, even printed books, had a handmade component to them, namely the reader had to slice open each page, as they read along.

In Fragrant, Mandy Aftel really opens up about her creative process, aesthetics and philosophy. To me what was most surprising element of the book. I had many expectations from this book, which was greatly anticipated (Mandy told me about it being in the works about two years ago), but this by far was not anything I would have expected to find there. There is more detail than usual about the creative process, and this is also demonstrated in building subsequently more complex perfumes in the formulae provided for each chapter (another pleasant surprise - but I should have known better: all of Mandy Aftel's book include recipes, so why would this book be any exception, right? I still did not expect it, somehow). For each chapter, you'll find a collection of recipes that are themed around this chapter's theme. For each of the essences, there is a simple accord of 2-4 essences for a solid perfume, a perfume oil and a body oil recipe, and then also an alcohol-based perfume formula, which is more complex and builds upon the initial note and its companions in a more intricate, sophisticated way. There are also some intriguing edible recipes from Deana Sydney's blog, Long Past Remembered. For example, frankincense and lavender shortbread.

The book is very similar to Essence and Alchemy in its breadth and attention to detail, presented in an almost fairytale-like style. The beauty of this new book is the perspective of the author some 13 years later, which comes from both experience in teaching her craft, and running an artisan perfume business. It is delightful to see that much passion still infused into one's art after all these years.

The two books - albeit the 13 years that separate between them - beautifully complement each other, and I recommend both for anyone who cares about perfume, and also for those who are beginning to delve into the art of blending. Last but not least, the book truly highlights the value and benefit of artisan perfumery in our day and age, and anything that is handmade. And with now being the season of excessive consumerism, I think this book brings to the fore important food for thought about our relationship to the material world and how it reflects our culture, innermost desires, connections to others, and more.
Fragrant can be purchased via most major book stores and online, or better yet - directly from Aftelier, where you can also get the companion kit. 

The Book of Scented Things

When the curators of The Book of Scented Things initially contacted me about their upcoming book, I immediately said yes, expecting a reference book of sorts, with poems by Rumi and Baudlaire. Wouldn't it be nice to have all these poetic quotes under one's fingertips?

A couple of weeks later, a book arrived in my mailbox. A mat-black paperback, with a texture reminiscent of faux nubok. As I was leafing through the pages, I realized right away that I could have not been any more wrong about this anthology. It has exceeded my expectations, and not only because the element of surprise. This book is an unusual collaborative project of 100 poems written by 100 American poets, and inspired by 98 different perfumes selected carefully for each (except for one). Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby are the editors - but I feel that the title "editors" does not describe what they've done as well as the word "curators". They have selected a fragrance for each one of the poets, based on their life experience and poetic obsessions (often interrelated), and sent it to them in the mail, to spark a response in the form of a poem. The result is a most unusual collection of poems - some thoughtful, some full of emotion, others very personal and enigmatic, while others read like a perfume review.
 There are many ways to approach the book and read these poems. But inevitably, I feel that many of the poems can't stand alone without knowing what perfume inspired them, and preferably having smelled it before. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It definitely makes it more intriguing for perfumistas to read such a book, and cross-reference it to their own experience. Some might even make the reading into a bit of a game - guess which scent inspired the poem (and find the answers at the end of the book). Some might find that knowledge to spoil the mystique of the poems themselves. One thing is for certain - it gets you thinking about the relationship between the muse (in this case - the perfume) and the poet.

As to be expected from an anthology of such breadth, it is quite diverse. The book begins with poems that are rather cerebral, exploring the meaning of scent, and relating to the peculiar experience of anticipating the arrival of a scent in the mail. With titles such as "On His Reluctance to Contribute to This Book" or "Receiving a Perfume Vial in the Mail" - the book stroked me as being too cerebral and specific to perfumistas at first glance. I hope that I will be proven wrong, as nothing would make me happier than knowing that a book like this encouraged readers to explore perfumes beyond the fragrance counter.

Which brings me to another topic - the selection of fragrances themselves. There seems to be a common thread among the perfumes chosen, and that common thread is very many scents coming from the same handful of brands. My guess is that because many of these scents have a rather simple, unassuming name, they would create a more neutral canvass upon which pure emotions can be extracted (rather than preconceived notions about the tone, intention, feelings, etc. that some names are more likely to invoke). You'll find plenty of fragrances that simply have a name of an ingredient or two (or three) in there - with a predominance of fragrances from Jo Malone. I highly doubt it had anything to do with sponsorship or with affiliation; but more so with the seeming neutrality that such plain names such as "Nectarine Blossom & Honey", "Blackberry & Bay" or even "Oud Wood". The few exceptions to this rule were "Narcisse Noir", "Ophelia" and "Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement's" - which almost reads like a poem without any additional help... A pleasant surprise was seeing several poems inspired by the wonderful work of my colleague Charna Ethier of Providence Perfumes.

I've been savouring these poems throughout the summer, and can't say I have read more than 25% of the poems. I'm enjoying the process of putting together the little pieces - which poem belongs to which perfume. And I'm reading them in no particular order that would make sense to anyone. Some have intriguing titles; while others I've picked because they were inspired by a perfume that I really like.

I could not help but notice that it was itself scented. A subtle scent of violets mingled with leather and an abstract representation of ink. That alone is enough to win my heart.

Read other reviews of this anthology on Bois de Jasmin and Sabotage Reviews. It is due to come out in October, and will be available via amazon.com and spdbook.com.
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