If you haven’t been to San Francisco before you may not know that it is really one giant garden with wooden slope-y candy coloured houses, much like a backdrop to a marvellous childrens book. If you are there in Spring and especially in Berkeley or Oakland, it is heady with all the usual Spring suspects in abundance, making it the perfect scenery to be attending the Aftelier natural fragrance workshop.
Now be warned this workshop is not for the faint hearted and is by invitation only, with limited seated workshops that only occur a few times a year. You must first complete a 300 page workbook of practical & reading material! Although strict it does mean that when you arrive you have invested in & are dedicated to this newly discovered craft.
At the helm of Aftelier is the custodian of the magical world of fragrance, Mandy Aftel, a pioneer of natural fragrance for over 30 years having penned many books with previous lives in psychology & rock n’roll journalism.
As I open my notebook to pen this blog, the rich scent that is Aftelier is released; Labdumun, Benzoin, Ambergris, Spikenard, Lapsang Souchong, Tiare, Onycha, a cauldron of magnetic (somehow familiar) scents; caramels, grassy, smokey, heady, resiny, thick, warm & inviting.
The class is held in Mandy’s home, a shingled house in the heart of Berkeley & a stone’s throw from Chez Parnisse. The interior is all arts&crafts and very much a home & garden for you to sink into for the 3 days. Her perfumer’s library referred to as an Organ sits pride of place & is the central hub to create scents. Each Organ is bespoke to its creator & is a reflection of how to categorise & work. With over 200+ scents Mandy generously encourages her students to dip, smell, try anything & everything and play with the invaluable, irreplaceable, illegal ingredients that are seeped in history, secrecy, intrigue and adventure as they familiarise themselves with the characteristics & idiosyncrasies of each scent.
Each oil is divided by A-Z in top, middle & base all in different glass stoppered vials (I think the vials become as much as an addiction as collecting fragrances) and the room is lined in a reference library of books; rare, hard to find, antique; all on perfume, scents, fragrances & their histories, that you are encouraged to peruse.
Passionate about the personalities & characteristics of each fragrance and all its idiosyncrasies, in a short intense 3 days Mandy teaches you as much as she can about these and leaves you craving more and planning your very own library. She is philosophical as much as into methodology and the exchange of ideas & knowledge.
Mandy has opened a magical world of scent, alchemy, romance, language, history, intrigue, adventure & it has already infiltrated my dreams as I try to capture an elusive note! I feel she has given me a key into a Narnia-like world that I can visit & explore for the rest of my life.