Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bonus Interview: Mandy Aftel

Mandy in Starburst Galaxy IC 10, © Dietmar Hager & Torsten Grossmann

Mandy Aftel's Nosy Interview was the first I've conducted by phone, and she was kind enough to answer a few additional questions (even after I'd asked her: What do you smell like?). I love Mandy's fragrances, but I think I would admire her even if she were creating artisan doughnut holes (using her chef's essences, somebody probably has). Her commitment to living a creative life--led by her abiding curiosity and her nose, as she says below--is enormously inspiring. For still more Mandy, visit Aftelier Perfumes' Facebook page (and don't miss this great interview, featuring photos of Mandy's gorgeous studio).

Nosy Girl: When I heard you speak in Seattle, you mentioned that in your custom perfume work, you've noticed that the way people present themselves in the world doesn't necessarily connect to how they wish to smell. Could you say more about that?

Mandy Aftel: Most people who do custom perfumes have a questionnaire that they have people fill out about their preferences--their aesthetic preferences, and their smell preferences. From what I've read about other perfumers that's how they operate. And having been a psychotherapist for 30 years, I think people assume that I'm going to ask those kinds of questions too. But I've found anecdotally in my own work of doing custom perfume for many years for hundreds of people at this point, that how people present themselves in the world--the way they talk, the way they look--and then what they choose is lots of times in contrast.  How people present themselves and what [essences] they like have nothing to do with each other. Smell comes from this kind of deeper more animal place inside of a person's being. And words and civilized preferences have nothing to do with things. And so I enjoy very much watching the instinctual, direct experience people have with smell and with different smells when it starts at the root from the essences to find kind of who they are and what they like. 

And for me, the essences have the personalities, so when people pick different things I know more about them because I have a feeling for the essences as being kind of my friends. I sound crazy [laughs], but my essences have all different personalities, so when people pick them I feel like I learn more about them than any other way. It's very intimate.

The story of your becoming a perfumer while researching to write a novel about a perfumer may be of particular interest to the writers around these parts. Can you say more about the connection between your work as a writer and as a perfumer?  

I tend to get very interested in things, and like to go back to the original source of materials. Like my very first book was on Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones and I went over to England and talked to pretty much everyone in that circle, including the Rolling Stones, from Brian's past--I like to go back to the original material, and go down as deep as I possibly can. Nobody could have been more surprised than me that I ended up where I am. My life makes sense in retrospect but not going forward. I kind of do truly follow my nose.

I just got very, very interested in what I was finding out about the materials and perfume itself, and I really fell in love, and just kept moving forward, by passion and not really by design, toward making perfumes and writing books about it, and all of the things I've turned out to do. And I stopped being a therapist a while ago. I mean, I haven't turned my brain off about it but I don't actively do that work anymore. Although I did love it, and I do see a connection between all the things I've done, but I don't think it's obvious to other people. I think it may look more like I'm all over the map, but that's not how it feels to me.  

 Aftelier Perfume Miniatures lined up on Essence & Alchemy
You're involved in every aspect of your business from sourcing to mixing to packaging. How you are able to stay so creative and productive and still be involved in all these aspects of a thriving business?  

I could never imagine doing it any other way. First of all, I would never grow my business past the point where I wouldn't do all those things. I don't want to grow past where I can please myself with the quality of what I do. Stinting on the quality would be very upsetting for me. It's kind of who I am. So I have to do all that stuff because I care about the quality of the customer service from here, acknowledging people on social networks that are so generous towards me. It's all important to me; I don't know what I could do except never grow my business very big which is kind of what I have done. All of those things are important to me. And also: I like them. You know, I like all the packaging stuff which is beyond a nightmare, so hard, and time-consuming and crazy. From getting the essences, to finding the caps, to begging for someone to sell a small amount to me, I get so much pleasure from making this thing that to me is beautiful and unique--I couldn't imagine it any other way. It would upset me a lot more to put out something I didn't feel wholly proud of. Does that make any sense?

Oh, yes! It makes perfect sense. I still marvel... I mean, do you have a secret tea that you're drinking to have this much energy and creative power?

I've always had a lot of energy. I'm not young, at all--I'm old. [laughs] I've always had a ton of energy but I also believe I have the energy because I love what I'm doing. I really, really love what I do. And I am very clear for me that I don't want to grow. A lot of people's goal is to make a bigger business, or to sell their business, or to be in a million stores--I don't have those goals. I don't want that. I don't want anything different than what's going on now, which is to have a very creative life. I feel when you do what you love you have more energy. When you're not compromising you have more energy. You're just in it! 

As an artist, you know, when you think of artists and the amount of work they do, like writers--when I was a therapist I was a therapist for artists and writers. I've always been very involved one way or another in a creative life. Artists do a day job and then they come home and do their art at night. I get to do my art during the day. I feel very, very, very fortunate. To find and connect with people who love what I do and find it meaningful in their lives, I mean, it is a thrill! It is so exciting and a thrill to me. I wouldn't want to miss a minute of it.

2 comments:

Britta said...

MOST INSPIRING INTERVIEW EVER. Thank you, Mandy and Elizabeth!

mandy said...

Thank you Elizabeth – I appreciate this bonus interview very much! It was really nice talking with you on the phone - your questions were great, and the presentation is very sweet.
Mandy

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