The nose knows: 5 Indian perfume brands to follow

Oudh gives many local perfume brands heft and is also being used more mindfully

October 29, 2021 09:44 pm | Updated October 31, 2021 08:38 am IST

“Indians, as a populace, are a smelly lot.” No, I didn’t say that; an international stand-up comic did. Yes, it’s a generalisation, one I’d like to vehemently refute (unless when I am queuing for a 6 am boarding and oddly find proof to the contrary).

But body odour isn’t the real problem — it’s a hot tropical country, we all sweat, it’s only normal. The trouble is that most of us either remain ignorant of our own bodily olfactory prowess or else are too blasé to do anything about it. For a country rich in spices, in perfumed plant extracts, it almost seems paradoxical.

Thankfully, the new India that is emerging all around us now is more cautious of this malaise. To borrow a phrase from Abdulla Ajmal, scion of the Ajmal perfume empire, “Look good, feel good, and smell good” — Indians are realising how achieving two out three on that scale ain’t good enough.

Scents for all

Perfumes, an essential as they may sound now, were always pitched as a luxury. This didn’t make them a daily decision, but a pricey periodic indulgence. And even for those who could afford them, the selection and availability remained locally limited. Duty-free or travel abroad purchases account for a major chunk of my own collection. What we got on Indian shelves were chemical-heavy, heady fumes bottled up with names that resembled more popular international brands.

Now we did have some serious perfumes, but they sat at the other end — great olfactory libraries in the by-lanes of our cities, which had been forgotten by time, where the attar -makers operated. These oils and extracts were extremely precious and rare, but their applicability, as also handling, was too cumbersome for the city slicker types.

Thankfully, and now I am finally getting to the point, there is a new range of perfumes emerging, homegrown brands working with international ‘noses’, churning out scents that could go nose-to-nose with established brands. They use quality raw materials (pure or natural identical), package it smartly, and price it within the reach of the larger set. Here is a quick set of perfumes which are making the olfactory waves. Incidentally, oudh seems to be a common thread, perhaps why the cultivation of this endangered tree species is gaining popularity in Kerala.

Ajmal: “Oudh hasn’t seen the light of day yet!” These words from my meeting with Abdulla Ajmal stay with me. We are, pun intended, yet to scratch the surface with this bark and the possibilities are truly endless. It isn’t always heady and dominating; they showed me a blend with florals and citrus top-notes where the oudh sat quietly in the back, supporting the mix but never monopolising it. Another tip from the perfume masters: “There is no way for the common consumer to tell if it is pure oudh or a synthetic concoction; the only way to be sure is to trust the brand you buy from. Engage with them, ask questions, and that is the only way to ensure quality.” Their new range is priced sub-₹2,000 and still boasts the purity of its ingredients.

Bombay Perfumery: From source to spritz — buying ethically from the right farms and producers, blending in local ingredients, and bottling up nuances and nostalgia — the outfit by Manan Gandhi has a lot of it on point. Add to this their collabs and candles — including one starring oudh (₹1,600) — and they have a complete solution to making sure that you and your environs send all the right notes wafting. Approximately ₹4,000.

Maison de Fouzdar: Dimple Fouzdar, the founder, is another strong supporter of all things oudh, but understands the need to give it a contemporary update. Their range varies from floral to woody-spicy and all in between, and is positioned as a premium top-shelf product. A 100 ml flacon is in the ₹7,000 range.

Olfa Originals: Focussed on all things oudh, these premium-priced perfumes are yet another in the mix; I especially enjoyed their roll-on versions which were easy to carry and extremely long lasting. ₹5,000 and upwards.

Embark: A very affordable range (sub ₹2,500 for 100 ml Eau de Parfum) and packed like 80s classic perfumes, they feel reassuringly rich and are decently lasting. The ‘Rajasthan’, ‘Kerala’ and ‘Goa’ variants managed to capture the essence of the respective places quite well.

To me, a good perfume is all about how it makes you feel and how long they last. Preferences for notes and blends remain a personal affair, but my experiments with these brands have all been quite positive — we can finally talk about scents made to exacting standards and yet within everyone’s reach. Aristocracy all along had made us stink, democracy is what will make India (and Indians) blossom! Here’s to stink-free 6 am flights.

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