Wonders of The World- The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents

When I heard Mandy Aftel was opening up her curiosity scent vault I about lost my mind. She and Foster Curry, her husband and business partner, opened the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents in 2014. It’s been a long time coming but I made it! I got to be here, almost four years later… and it was a dream come true! Bucket list check off point! Here are some mega highlights and smells from my visit to this magnificent wonder of the world!


Let the pleasures begin.

Smelleth thou must… all ye who enter here!

I thought this droopy flower was so pretty. Every blink I took is a permanent picture in my mind. When I saw this purple beauty I wondered what it was. I smelled it of course! A community based plant app I have told me what this purple bloom might be. As it turns out, it’s a variety of scrambling fuchsia. This was taken from the front of Mandy’s house.


Old School Treasures!

Beautiful lab equipment from the yonder years.

The most incredible collection of Ambergris that I have ever smelled.

The most incredible collection of Ambergris that I have ever smelled.

The Ambergris Cathederal.

The Ambergris Cathederal.


Sweet Scentiments

A darling collection of fragrant photographs. Keepsakes and sentimental longing.

It's a portal to another, intriguing time. Aftel's exhibit-amassed with the help of obscure eBay search terms, longstanding friendships with collectors, and deep library dives- include a taxidermy civet (prized for its pungent glandular secretion), roasted Onycha shells (included in a Biblical recipe for incense), and a century-old perfumer's kit rescued from a Paris attic. But there's plenty more than meets the eye. For example, there a new iteration of Aftel's prized perfume organ: a custom-built Douglas Fir shelving unit that houses dozens of far-flung aromatics, including tiare gardenia from Tahiti, exorbitantly prices Oud, and, yes, Douglas Fir. An exceptional display deconstructs the scent of rose- a complex bundle of aroma chemicals- into its key isolates. And her latest perfume, Curious, a musky composition inspired by the Archive, is broken into top, middle, and base "chords" in an effort to demystify the process of blending.- text by Laura Regensdorf, Vogue Magazine

Who knew Elemi Resin looked like that? I am a dark, resinous incense lover- Elemi was the first resin that lifted me rather than grounded me. Truly a unique smell… bright, fresh, green, lemony like a mixture of frankincense, galbanum and citrus.

Angela at Eden Botanicals calls this, “Black Death.” Haha! She (lovingly) exclaims how much she dislikes Cistus saying, “it’s forged in hell!” It’s one of my favorite smells, of course. I just love how different our noses are and I love Angela. :)

Angela at Eden Botanicals calls this, “Black Death.” Haha! She (lovingly) exclaims how much she dislikes Cistus saying, “it’s forged in hell!” It’s one of my favorite smells, of course. I just love how different our noses are and I love Angela. :)

Animalics for all! Featured here is Hyrax, Civet and Onycha shells. Onycha shells are a common ingredient in the Biblical incense mixtures. Onycha is an ancient Greek word for "Finger Nail". This is the door membrane of a snail-like mollusk found in the Red Sea and imported from Oman. It gives a marine like, animalic smell. Exquisitely unique!

Pictured above: A deconstruction of a rose, a break down of Mandy’s perfume entitled, “Curious” and below are my favorite smells from her perfume organ. Her letter pressed scent strips are the ultimate cool!

I took a picture of my chosen smells on the cushion of the bay window that overlooks the family garden. When you go to the museum you get scent strips to choose your faves and take a dippy-doo of Mandy’s perfume materials home with you.

I took a picture of my chosen smells on the cushion of the bay window that overlooks the family garden. When you go to the museum you get scent strips to choose your faves and take a dippy-doo of Mandy’s perfume materials home with you.


The chill out spot while you read about centuries of olfactive endeavors.

Mandy’s collection of books about all things aromatic and is truly remarkable. I could have been at this spot for a a lifetime.

A last farewell look back.

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Someone said I ought to write this down. So here’s a piece of my history and how I got where I am today:

     I used to be a woodworker. It was my profession for almost eleven years. I got the job at seventeen when I moved to Los Angeles. Destined to be an, “artist” (whatever that meant to me at the time) I walked into a picture frame shop to get something I drew framed for a show. The store owner and I hit it off right away. It was a fantastic little shop filled with all kinds of incredibly assembled tchotchkes, metal and wooden frames of all widths, carvings and colors. I’d never seen artwork presented so professionally. Randomly drawn line contours (created by “successful artists,” but looked something like what a five-year-old could do) was made to look important, expensive. In my teenage ignorance I scoffed how something so basic and simple could transcend the elementary (and all that blah-blah, avant-garde, eccentric, sarcastically irreverent artist speak). Needless to say, I was a chip off the old block- from the owner that is. The line drawing I was criticizing was a bona fide Joan Miró painting. In response, I got an evil eye stare (complete with furrowed brows) and a big belly laugh. Thankfully the owner (now my best friend) realized I was an ignorant kid (with a desperate need for perfectionism) who loathed all things pretentious. I was pretty much hired on the spot after I nervously asked for a job. For the record: I now like Joan Miró and many other, “pretentious” artists. I’ve learned to love artists in a very special way. After all… I am one.
    I stayed at that frame shop for 7 years before I moved on to another gallery in Highland Park, where I also framed art for another four years. Not only did I fall in love with the art scene in LA, I got into a relationship with wood. You could call it an obsession. My hands were splintered, calloused and scarred from my experiences in the wood shop. I enjoyed my picture framing career, but what I loved most of all was the smell of the planing mill, the lumber yards, my “office” of moulding lengths, saw-dusty piles and the jet blast of burning wood as it went through the celerity of the miter saw. I began to revere the nuances of subtle smells between Maple, Walnut, Basswood, Oak, Mahogany, Cherry, Pine, Sapele, Poplar and my favorite- Cedar. Aside from being nothing short of filthy when I left work, I sure enjoyed how I smelled when I was done for the day. A natural wood perfume… literally blanketing my skin.

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Moulding lengths, the miter sander for the perfect 45 and the trusty 'ol compressor.


Walnut frames for a show.


    In order to afford living on my own in Los Angeles I juggled several jobs. Besides working at frame shops and dabbling in the art world (I became a potter, but still tried to sell my own paintings, photography and drawings on the side), I started cooking in restaurants. I moved my way up from dishwasher to prep cook, dabbled in baking fresh bread, (even bartended) and eventually ended as a Saucier. I loved being a Saucier and I was good at it. I had a history of making soups and sauces since I was a child so it was a natural transition for me in restaurant kitchens.
    When we were little, my sisters and I would pick fresh herbs, peppers and tomatoes from the garden and make marinara for our pasta dinner. My Mom was a single, on-the-go woman, so much of our childhood was spent with my sisters and I self-parenting and parenting each other. My sisters and I ate a lot of pasta, therefore we needed variety in our toppings so we experimented and got quite adept at creating delicious sauces. All of my sisters and I grew up to be great cooks, each of us specializing in something a little different than the next. I believe, with the right ingredients, the proper mindset and inspiration, we can make anything!

This brings me to perfume.  

   It is my belief that if you can cook, you can make perfume. That is not to say making perfume is easy. It is not. Like cooking, I had to make a lot of terrible perfumes to get where I am today and it took years to figure out what works. It feels awful to waste precious raw materials through trial and error. But think about it: How many times have you made a terrible drink while you learned to mix alcohol? How may times have you made a less than stellar meal while you were learning to cook? I cannot tell you how many times I have accidentally burned something (usually bread) in the my kitchen (and on the job)! I have lived in so many apartments (switching from gas to electric stoves) and therefore have had to adjust to every sort of cooking appliance and suffering environmental variables. My point is: there is just a lot to consider (most of it unexpected) when cooking or creating… well, anything! The same applies for perfumery!
    When I first started in the fragrance industry, I got my “feet wet” mixing pre-made fragrances into body products. I worked for a popular bath and body boutique in Burbank. The set up of my workplace was much like a kitchen so I felt right in my element. The company specialized in handmade body care products like sugar scrubs, lotions, body butters, washes and treatment oils. The boutique also sold roll-on oil based perfumes. When I first started working there I got product stipends. Basically, I got to take home a certain amount of any product I wanted. From there, I began to mix pre-made fragrances like, Vanilla Coconut, California Grapefruit, Coco-Mango, Sandalwood, Patchouli and Black Amber Musk. I loved how I could just create all new recipes and make new fragrances no one else had! I suggested to the owner that I wanted to start making custom perfumes. To make a long story short, I got good at that too! I fell in love with the connection scent awakened within people and it opened a door for me that I never knew was there. I had never connected to anyone so intimately than I did through the language of scent. I always thought I was crazy just smelling myself after my long workdays in the wood shop, or smelling the sharp sweetness of herbs and vine picked tomatoes before making sauce or the fragrant smells of garlic and onion searing in a pan when I worked in kitchens. I could tell you fragrant stories ad infinitum; and likely will if you enjoy my blogs.

    Fast forward to now.

    I work for myself now. I run a small business out of the perfume studio I built with my partner. It has not been easy and it is nothing like making “perfume” at the place I used to work for. For starters, the boutique I worked at uses already made fragrances to create their scented bases for their products. Although they smell incredible, very little (if any) of the scented product line offered at the company is based on natural raw materials. I nearly fell over when I saw the cost of real Rose Absolute (at $60 per gram)! We used to get pounds of pure “rose oil” for the same price! “What happened!?” I thought to myself…
    I learned the hard way that perfume isn’t as simple as mixing already made (inexpensive) fragrances together and having an amazing perfume in less than five minutes. I can’t just mix a “Sweet Tobacco” fragrance with a “Vanilla Coconut” fragrance and call it, Sweet Smoke, like I did when I created the favorited tobacco signature scent (Sweet Smoke) for the boutique. Gypsy Rose was also a creation made by me, and that too, is offered as part of the signature line at the boutique. I learned through a fragrance house (by talking to the owners at Delbia Do in New York) that there are literally, hundreds of raw materials in a single pre-made fragrance. What I was making at the boutique was not authentic perfumery. I would mix two pre-made fragrance accords and wham- A fragrance in minutes!
    Making a great smelling perfume takes a lot more effort when you start from scratch. The entire process of making one perfume takes me roughly between 5-18 months. It sounds crazy, but because I tincture my own bases, each signature scent I make is completely unique. There is nothing like it in the world and because of that, it cannot be copied.
    Since the days of working in the boutique, I have learned how to build perfumes from scratch by sourcing reputable, sustainable, and precious raw materials. I tincture all my own bases (which take anywhere from 3-12 months each) and I have learned how to build my own fragrance accords. I also have incredible sources to tell me the maximum safe dermal usage levels of perfume ingredients so I can help keep my customers safe and healthy. Because of that, I can navigate through the (never ending) fragrance industry regulatory compliance statutes. I am currently experimenting with scaleability and I even do a little custom work here and there.
    I cannot express enough how wonderful it is to have made friends and connections through The Institute for Art & Olfaction in Downtown Los Angeles. I have grown as an artist and have become a life long learner in the ever-changing fragrance industry. I am honored and humbled beyond belief to now do what I thought was, “so easy” when I began my perfume adventures. Ever heard the expression, “If it were easy everyone would do it”? For me, I have found that to be very true. I have discovered that it’s one thing to be a perfume hobbyist, but making perfume in a business sense is another animal entirely.
    I can finally say I am beginning to claw my way into one of the most competitive (and secretive!) industries on the planet. But here’s the best part about it: I am not doing it alone. With the help of so many teachers, suppliers, explorers, fellow perfumers and fragrance enthusiasts, I am continually evolving in the process. As a result of this knowledge and growth, I can now tell you I am one of many Independent Perfumers in Los Angeles who are part of this new Renaissance in the fragrance industry. It feels pretty amazing to be part of such a wonderful, artistic community. Expressing myself, my art, in the medium of scent, is bigger and better than anything I could have ever imagined. Who knew that working with wood and being a cook could bring me to the ineffable world of scent and olfactive magic!
    I specialize in woodsy perfumes (naturally- haha!) and enjoy gourmand blends- surprise, surprise! In the fragrance world, the essence inside a bottle perfume is commonly referred to as the, “juice.” I lovingly refer to mine as the, “sauce.” There’s just some verbiage I will not abandon from my love of the culinary world. I hope you enjoy my creations and the fragrance related posts of my blog. I will do the best I can to pass on the knowledge I have learned from others. I am very passionate about the world of olfaction and perfume and am excited to share my journey with you. Thanks for reading!