I was--still am--a soapmaker. I've always used essential oils rather than fragrance oils to scent my soaps. But back then my scent blends, though pleasant, were uninspired: rose geranium and patchouli; tea tree and lavender. Yawn. Essence and Alchemy pushed me to think more like a perfumer, making interesting and unexpected choices in my blends. Mandy Aftel talks a lot in this book about the pairing of opposites. One of my soaps offsets a light, grapefruit/spearmint blend with earthy vetiver. The inspiration came directly from Essence and Alchemy, where Mandy wrote that spearmint blends well with vetiver. That seemed so counter-intuitive that I had to combine them myself and see if I agreed.
Then I ordered some samples of Aftelier perfumes. I was excited, but also cautious. I didn't think I was a perfume person. I'm the person who gets a headache from other people's perfumes, who will change seats to escape perfumes in a restaurant or a theater. When my samples arrived, I was delighted with the tiny bottles in their glorious purple and orange box. And when I applied them, oh...They were sumptuous and rich and smooth, and not in the least old lady-ish. They were daring. They were like eating a strong cheese for the first time. I was a pig with these perfumes, no control at all. I'd wear Shiso on one wrist, and Cognac on another, and I'd sniff one, then the other, then back all day. I'd make other people sniff them, too, relentlessly, through each stage of their drydowns. I was one step away from knocking on the neighborhood doors, passing out literature.
As I could afford to, I bought samples from other botanical perfumers: Illuminated Perfumes, Liz Zorn, Vireo Perfumes. Last summer during my farmers market season-when I work about eighty hours a week-I took a single day off, and I spent it driving to Providence and back so I could sample Charna Ethier's Providence Perfumes. It was a joy, and also an education. By this time I had aspirations of moving beyond soap into perfume. Being a perfumer who doesn't smell perfumes would be like being a playwright who doesn't go to the theater, or a poet who doesn't read.