A scent of India: Luxury summer fragrances to enliven the senses
While designer colognes storm the summer markets, India’s centuries-old olfactory treasury effervesces with unbeatable traditional seasonal fragrances, writes Krishnaraj Iyengar.
A splash of seductive Acqua Di Colognia on a warm Tuscan afternoon uplifts your stroll through cliff hanger vineyards overlooking the Tyrrhenian, an aah-so refreshingly romantic experience. The whiff of the ocean breeze mingles with the sharp Sicilian bergamot and creates a cheery vibe, the earthy syllables of Italiano tangoing with the top notes.
Moving eastwards to India, through the bustling, cheery alleyways of an old Delhi marketplace, I arrive at a non-descript, quaint old perfumery. ‘Established-1816’, it read. Making me feel right at home, a young gent greeted me with a ‘Namaskaar’ and a bright smile, tantalizing masala chai and an afternoon of typical Indian-style scent nosing.
In contrast to European perfumeries where one sips Chardonnay over hors d’oeuvres with the expert nose taking time to journey through the facets of your personality type through your blindfolded selection of notes, this fragrance gateway is at the crossroads of tradition and bespoke luxury.
Kushal Gundhi , one of India’s finest young perfumers spearheads Gulab Singh Johrimal, the perfumery landmark with passion, fineness and a formidable inheritance of technique and aesthetics. He is the young and vibrant, eighth generation upholder of one of South Asia’s oldest traditional perfumeries that has preserved the world’s oldest-living fragrance tradition that dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization.
His forte is combining the endearing traditional values of Indian perfumery craft with the subtle class of the west. Having catered to the erstwhile royalty and nobility for over two centuries, Gulab Singh Johrimal is today a haven for passionate fragrance aficionados from around the globe, an unpretentious heritage perfumery that casts a spell on the olfactory with the world’s most exotic natural scents.
Retrieving from ornate Belgian-cut antique jars, Gundhi smeared on the back of my hand, -as per Indian tradition, hearty dabs of ‘Ruh Khus’ or pure vetiver distillate extract, the apt traditional summer scent. Green, aromatic, clean, fresh, cooling, the natural extract of the root of this perennial bunch grass was intoxicating and meditative.
After a good half an hour of tete a tete with the soft spoken young perfumer, I decided to pen two of my own dream formulations which he spontaneously offered to try out. Et voila! The first blend was a masterful handling of two heavyweights -tobacco and leather with lighter, fresh citruses in the opening, with astounding balance.
A combination of this kind would usually have the overpowering notes dominate the lighter ones, but here, the tobacco was like a timpani accompanying a philharmonic with subtle yet formidable presence.
The bespoke blend struck a chord with me instantly, like one of those designer classics I would often stumble upon in an airport duty free on my way back home. I decided to christen Kushal’s bespoke fragrance for me ‘Don Siciliano’, paying ode to the play of citruses synonymous with southern Italy, with tobacco, reminiscent of the sturdy Italian cigari.
My second bespoke formulation was a more rugged version of the first. After allowing the citruses ample time to unfold, tobacco made a dramatic entry with an Al Pacino like personality, quite like his role in The Recruit! With citruses gently continuing their prelude well after the opening of the heart notes, the spicy tobacco and guaiac wood with tonka beans dried down gracefully.
“Al Pacino, Tabac Blend 2.0 !” I rightfully gushed after my patient observation of the blend’s unfolding! This one was boldly different from Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, Tobacco Oud or many others on the shelves, boldly proclaiming itself in the league of Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme or Tobacco Toscano by Santa Maria Nouvella.
My summer formulation through expert hands came alive as ‘me in a bottle’! Being fragrance oil concentrates sans alcohol, the longevity and sillage of both blends outdid my eau de parfum collection!
India pioneered the art and science of incense making centuries ago. Retaining the soul of traditional , Indian incenses have taken the world by storm in the 21st century as globalization in the fragrance world dissolves barriers of culture and geography in the ocean of fragrant ecstasy.
Guru Acharya of Nandita Fragrances is one of India’s most renowned incense artisans and along with his enviable repertoire of traditional Indian incenses, he has captivated the highly discerning Arab world with his hallmark Arabesque ‘Bakhoor’.
While light, fresh, cooling perfumes make summer a breeze, incenses add color and lend a cheerful, celebrative vibe around the space especially when temperatures overshoot unbearably. The whiff of fine incense soothes the senses that are on tenterhooks, negotiating sultry ordeals.
Acharya’s brand new bakhoor collection dazzles with effervescent, bright, rugged Arabic notes. Sold as incense tablets packaged in colorful packets with ornate, traditional Arabic calligraphy and exciting English descriptions of each Bakhoor , he has offered a bouquet of brilliant aromas with each of the six bakhoors.
Bakhoor Wijdan’ or ‘Incense of Sentiment’ and ‘Rau’at Al Gharaam’ ( masterpiece of passion), both saffron, black musk, amber and oud bakhoors are the full-bodied varieties reminiscent of Arabian Gulf summer soirees with traditional musicians rendering ‘Maqam’ melodies huddled in a Bedouin tent, a sandstorm brewing over the dunes, fresh dates with tantalizing qahwah!
Although Bakhoor is burnt over charcoal in exquisite incense burners, many prefer the electric versions to avoid excess smoke. A slightly smokier, spicier, resinous variety with subtle hints of green is ‘Bakhoor Al Malaa’ikah’ or ‘Incense of the Angels’, embodying both Indian and Arabic elements, vetiver giving it depth, freshness and a mysterious aura!
A more feminine, floral number, ‘Saahir Al Oud’ or ‘Magician of Oud’ has subtle notes of ‘oud’ or agarwood, the world’s most expensive fragrant ingredient bathing the floral garden of rose, jasmine and tuberose.
A typical Arabic Khaleeji wedding celebration and the revelry of exquisitely draped damsels with dark mascara-lined eyes in the Sheikh’s harem is the image, ‘Lahn Al Haneen’ ( melody of nostalgia) creates with sensuous Ta’ifi Rose as the dominant note. Here again, an oud carpet adds oomph and charisma, oud being recognized by all cultures as the age-old aphrodisiac .
The more audacious, masculine of all however, is ‘Ain Al Ghazaal’ (eye of the gazelle), an underlying but prominent sandalwood giving a testosteronic vibe, like a hot blooded young Berber speeding on a young stallion through the stunning Saharan expanse!
Summer never ever smelt so invitingly enchanting…