AbdesSalaam Attar: Alchemy, Spirituality, Love & Memory

Artwork by Lisa Dietrich (part of her Spirit Art collection): www.lisadietrich.com

Artwork by Lisa Dietrich (part of her Spirit Art collection): www.lisadietrich.com

The love of perfumes springs from a quality of the soul, from a memory or from a premonition of paradise.

Those beautiful words come from AbdesSalaam Attar who generously gave up a lot of his time over the last few weeks to answer a lengthy interview. His answers are filled with poetic grace, thoughtfulness, and honesty on such varied subjects as his perfume background, alchemy and spirituality, animal pheromones and human olfactory instinct, the economic challenges of making fragrances, the myths of modern marketing which dominate the mainstream perfume industry, olfactory psychology, the role played by our mind in translating scent, and whether we can ever really know what we smell at all.

 AbdesSalaam Attar or Dominique Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

AbdesSalaam Attar or Dominique Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, AbdesSalaam Attar is an Italian perfumer (born “Dominique Dubrana“) who became a Sufi convert. His all-natural creations for his Italian house of La Via del Profumo are some of Luca Turin‘s favorites, several of which have received Five Star reviews. His last scent, Venezia Gardini Segreti (which I’ve reviewed here) was included on Luca Turin’s list of the Best Releases of 2014 on his column for Style Arabia. And The New York Times calls AbdesSalaam “a genius of sorts,” “a Saracen Willy Wonka.”

Yet, to me, and in my mind, he is above all else, first and foremost, a gentleman — and I mean that in every sense of that word. He is a very gentle, extremely courteous man, one whose vast knowledge is imbued with an old-world, Eastern mysticism and spirituality, as well as enormous humility and modesty. His words may seem simple on the surface, but they are usually laced with layers of meaning that often make me think deeply long after I’ve read them. Perhaps it’s because of his philosophical nature, or perhaps it’s AbdesSalaam’s very unique world view that stems from his travels far and wide. Whatever it is, there is a thoughtful quality to both the man and his creations that always shines through. Regardless of whether a particular fragrance works for me or not, they are always distinctive and unique, always seem to convey either emotion or a sense of a place, and always beautifully crafted.

Oud Caravan perfume. Photo and source: La Via del Profumo

Oud Caravan perfume. Photo and source: La Via del Profumo

My main goal in this interview was to show you the AbdesSalaam Attar that I’ve gotten to know in email correspondence, but also to have him share his knowledge and to teach us. However, I started with very similar questions to what I asked Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes and Liz Moores of Papillon in their interviews, focusing on the process of learning notes, handling raw materials, and creating fragrances. The reason for the deliberate overlap is that many of the perfumers in my interview series are self-taught, so I think seeing differences in how they answer the same or similar questions will be revealing. Other questions, however, are very different, such as AbdesSalaam’s views on the Myths and Marketing of Modern Perfumery, or how our mind filters information to interpret a perfume. I hope you will find his answers as fascinating, as poetic, and as beautiful as I do.

Continue reading

Aftelier’s Mandy Aftel: Learning, Creating & The Love of Scent

We all start somewhere when it comes to perfume, even masters of the craft like Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes who has been making fragrances for more than 20 years and is the indisputable doyenne of American natural perfumery. She, too, began somewhere, and she graciously took time out of her busy schedule to talk about her journey, as well as how she learnt about the building blocks of perfume-creation, her methodology, her favorite materials, her books, the world of food, and more. I’m extremely grateful for the glimpse into her world, and cannot thank her enough for patiently answering some very long questions. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Source: aftelier.com

Source: aftelier.com

Mandy Aftel in her studio. [Photo cropped by me.] Source: Aftelier.com

Mandy Aftel in her studio. [Photo cropped by me.] Source: Aftelier.com

  1. I’m very interested in people’s perfume journeys, particularly what it was like for a perfumer when they first started, especially someone with such vast knowledge as yourself. You were originally a therapist with degrees from the University of Michigan in Psychology and English. A 2005 profile article on you in SF Gate says that your practice “specialized in helping musicians, writers and artists realize their creative potential.” You even wrote a book in 1982 on one of the Rolling Stones entitled, “Death of a Rolling Stone: The Brian Jones Story.” Then, in the early 1990s, you started making fragrances. Was there anything beyond a general interest in scent and aromas that triggered the leap from being a therapist and published author to creating perfumes?

Continue reading

Papillon’s Liz Moores – Part II: Perfume Production, Logistics & The EU

Yesterday, I posted Part I of an interview with Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery that covered the methodology of making a fragrance, the process that a self-taught perfumer undergoes to learn about notes and perfume composition, and the various aspects of working with both natural and aromachemical materials. In Part II, we will focus on the technical and logistical side of having a small, independent perfume house, from obtaining the quantity of supplies required for large-scale production, to the steps necessary to launch a new fragrance, the impact of EU perfume regulations, and more.

Source: bhc.edu

Source: bhc.edu

Continue reading

A Beginner’s Guide To Perfume: How to Train Your Nose, Learn Your Perfume Profile, & More

Source: goodfon.com

Source: goodfon.com

Most of you who post regularly on my site are hard-core perfume addicts already, but a large number of readers are not “fume heads” and just lurk, feeling out of their depth. Perfume is a world that they are intrigued by, but it’s a little alien to them, and they are unsure of where to begin or how. It all seems very complicated and somewhat overwhelming! I’m sure they wonder how on earth people can even smell half the things that perfume bloggers detect or write about. And I’m even more certain that the perfume world seems far, far too expensive to get addicted to in the way that one can get obsessed with nail varnish, makeup, or books. So, this post is for all you quiet lurkers and perfume newbies — a way to reassure that you can not only learn easily, not only train your nose, but also, enter the world of perfume without going (totally) broke.

Continue reading