Krishnaraj Iyengar goes perfume tasting at one of Antwerp's world-class perfumery.
A whiff of a fine fragrance seduces the senses to an enchanting world of nostalgia. I remember my grandfather gifting his wife of 50 years, a bottle of the old Eau de Cologne on their golden jubilee wedding anniversary. “It reminds me of our days of courtship way back in the 1940's!” he smiles naughtily. “A light drizzle on a July afternoon, sipping chai with bun maska at Mumbai's Kyani Iranian bistro and listening to lilting romantic numbers from the old juke box! Ah! Those were the days,” gushed the romantic septuagenarian.
Fragrances are truly the soul's elixir and to delve into the art of making them come alive, I visit the Belgian port city of Antwerp.
A short drive from the vibrant capital Brussels brings me to a world of its own, Antwerp with its quaint cobbled lanes, classical art and architecture and affable folk felt more like home.
Being the diamond hub of Europe, Antwerp also has a sizeable Gujarati population. Occasional “Kem bhaila, aai aai” (so brother, come, come) from Ahmedabadi and Palanpuri diamond traders around the city centre is heartwarming.
Fiesta of fragrances
At the city's world renowned In Fine Perfumery, I am welcomed by the charismatic perfumer Myriam Nussbaum with a charming “bonjour” and some Champagne, a classic prelude to the unforgettable fiesta of fragrances that awaited me. Founded by legendary French “nose” Jean Patout, In Fine is one of the world's most sought-after perfumeries where international guests are treated to a one-of-its kind “perfume tasting” session coupled with a detailed introduction by the experts, champagne and fine dining.
First, a session of selecting the fragrances of your choice. Each distinct in their flavour, a range of fragrances are placed in numbered bottles on two separate shelves, one for the ladies and the other for gentlemen, from which you pick those that really call for the “aha”.
Taking a whiff of coffee beans between fragrances is a must to neutralise the olfactory senses. With eyes shut, you then make yet another selection of fragrances that appeal to you the most from the ones previously selected. These would then become your final product.
One of the most fascinating nuances of perfume tasting at In Fine are detailed personality analysis sessions based on the nature and flavour of the resultant fragrance.
Experts believe that the type of fragrance closely reflects the personality traits of the individual which would have led him/ her to select those ingredients that constitute the final perfume. With subtle class and the customary French panache, the perfumer would highlight both subtle and evident personality traits of every guest, skillfully mellowing down the negative ones. Mine turned out to be the woody and sharp Zanzibar 95, and so…“Voila! Ey verry zinking personne really, c'est ca” said the polite mademoiselle for this introspective, occasionally neurotic and mildly eccentric musician.
Perfumers at In Fine strongly recommend trying out fragrances on one's body rather than on a strip of paper since the body flavour is known to have a deep impact on the fragrance even altering it at times.
In Fine is also a favourite haunt for high-profile corporate events, bachelorette parties, club meetings, perfume lectures (highlighting the history and evolution of perfumes and their ingredients) and for Antwerp's upper crust perfume connoisseurs.
Along with fragrances, In Fine is the place to indulge in palate-pampering classique French style. Morning sessions known as Matinée parfumée at the perfumery begin with perfume tasting and personality analysis followed by sumptuous petit dejeuner copieux (hearty European-style breakfast) consisting of croissants, ham and sausages, selection of fine cheeses and chocolate varieties, tea, coffee or fresh fruit juices, or mouth-watering, exotic aperitifs paired with Champagne à volonté (champagne at will) and chocolates. The evening sessions (soirée parfumée) are a perfect symphony of champagne, aperitifs and soulful fragrances, the perfect joie de vivre.