The Secret Life of Scent

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781594631412
  • 288 Pages
  • Riverhead
  • Adult


The “Alice Waters of American natural perfume” ( celebrates our most potent sense, through five rock stars of the fragrant world.
Mandy Aftel is widely acclaimed as a trailblazer in natural perfumery. Over two decades of sourcing the finest aromatic ingredients from all over the world and creating artisanal fragrances, she has been an evangelist for the transformative power of scent. In Fragrant, through five major players in the epic of aroma, she explores the profound connection between our sense of smell and the appetites that move us, give us pleasure, make us fully alive. Cinnamon, queen of the Spice Route, touches our hunger for the unknown, the exotic, the luxurious. Mint, homegrown the world over, speaks to our affinity for the familiar, the native, the authentic. Frankincense, an ancient incense ingredient, taps into our longing for transcendence, while ambergris embodies our unquenchable curiosity. And exquisite jasmine exemplifies our yearning for beauty, both evanescent and enduring.
In addition to providing a riveting initiation into the history, natural history, and philosophy of scent, Fragrant imparts the essentials of scent literacy and includes recipes for easy-to-make fragrances and edible, drinkable, and useful concoctions that reveal the imaginative possibilities of creating with—and reveling in—aroma. Vintage line drawings make for a volume that will be a treasured gift as well as a great read.


Praise for Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

“In this sensuous and profound exploration of the history, science, and art of perfume, expert perfumer Aftel seduces readers with a sensualism that only intensifies as her stories unfold.  … The book is peppered with fascinating trivia [and] recipes and tidbits … that entice readers to wake up their noses and perhaps engage in their own scent alchemy.”—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Fragrant is a thoughtful, beautifully written meditation on scent; I love that Mandy is both intrepid researcher and sensualist, with an innate gift for storytelling and an abiding curiosity in the provenance of her ingredients. This book vividly shows how the aromas of the natural world have the power to open the pathways to our minds, guiding and defining our traditions, our history and our future.” —Alice Waters

“Mandy Aftel has been tutoring my nose for many years.  I’ve been lucky enough to make regular pilgrimages to her perfume studio to smell with her through the hundreds of materials in her collection, to browse in her wonderfully eclectic library, to be informed and inspired by her passion for scent in all its forms. In Fragrant, she distills that passion into an eloquent account of the forgotten stories of nature’s aromatic materials, the pleasure and meaning that they’ve given to people through the centuries, and simple ways of bringing those riches back into our own lives.” —Harold McGee, New York Times columnist and bestselling author of On Food & Cooking

Praise for Essence and Alchemy
“A compulsively readable compendium of perfume lore, legend, and instruction.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Praise for Mandy Aftel
“One of the fragrance industry’s most creative thinkers, not to mention one of its most prolific talents.” —Vogue

“An indisputable icon in the world of perfumery, and quite arguably the Mother of Natural Perfumery.” —