Do you smell a difference

Sep 04, 2011, 04:35 IST | Yoshita Sengupta

Are we ready to move away from perfume giants and bet our money on oddball fragrances produced by indie perfumers and small-scale organic outfits? Those in the business say, yes, India is ready to smell of the breath of God

Are we ready to move away from perfume giants and bet our money on oddball fragrances produced by indie perfumers and small-scale organic outfits? Those in the business say, yes, India is ready to smell of the breath of God

In the spring of 2012, pop icon Lady Gaga is expected to launch her personal perfume. She's going to call it Monster (what else?), and the news is that it will contain blood and traces of semen -- the blood will be her own so that people who wear it "will have traces of me on their skin". Ever thought a perfume should smell anything but nice? But Gaga isn't the only who enjoys her perfumes a little differently fragranced.

In 2007, there were reports of fashion designer Tom Ford launching a cologne called Tuscan Leather that smelt a bit like the "real stuff from Bolivia", cocaine. One of singer Beyonce's favourite perfumes is the Thierry Mugler Angel, a deliciously foodie fragrance that contains among other things, red berries, vanilla, caramel and dark chocolate fragrances. Some make you cringe, some make you hungry, and some freak you out. Is the oddball scent the new head-turner?

Is India, which likes its things sweet, whether it's cola or perfumes, likely to steer away from saccharine jasmine in favour of gutsy concoctions? Isabelle Gell e, UK-based Creative Perfumer and owner of Les Parfums d'Isabelle, says the growing middle-class in India is sure to turn to quirky fragrances soon. "As far as I know, no market research has really been conducted to gauge the viability of such perfumes in India. However, the fact that Symrise, one of the major aromachemicals and essential oils manufacturers in the world has set up a perfume school in India (Chennai) indicates that the market exists. It will not be long before there is a surge of perfume houses in India."

Sangeeta Kamath should know. The director of Lush India, the Indian arm of one of the UK's most popular handmade cosmetics brand, she says urban Indian consumers are in sync with preferences of their global counterparts. "Every month, we receive reports on the top three best-selling Lush products across the world, and it's uncanny how these bestsellers across all 46 countries where we have our stores, including India, are the same. Indians have an international taste now; their reaction to a product is the same as that of international consumers," she says over the phone from Bengaluru.

According to Gell e, the Indian market is now a hotbed of activity for perfumers because of crippling bureaucratic regulations that are being presented by European laws, and IFRA (International Fragrance Association) standards. This is apparently killing the art of perfumery, transforming perfumers into bureaucrats, having to furnish piles of documents to attain distribution status. "This means that perfumers will look for markets that have fewer regulations and which will allow them to work according to traditional methods," she says.

With inputs by Dhara Vora

What a perfume lover thought of three oddly-named perfumes we got her to try from Lush's Gorilla range
The customer: Sakshi S, 29
Profession: Chartered Accountant Resident of Andheri
She tried: Tuca Tuca
And she thought: "It smells like something that's badly burnt. Especially in the kitchen. It reminds me of burnt milk. Not really pleasant."
After we told her it's Tuca Tuca (means 'touch me'), and brings out
the flirtatious girl inside you: "It's doesn't smell like its name."
She then tried: Breath of God
And she thought: "It is light, it doesn't hit you. But it's a bit feminine and floral."
After we told her it's inspired by the smell of incense and sandalwood that envelopes the insides of TibetaN temples: "I couldn't sense incense. Incense smells comfortingly nice."
Finally she tried: Smell of Freedom
And she thought: "The first thing that comes to mind is soap. It's very fresh. I feel like I am just out of a bath, and happy."
After we told her it's inspired by three people the creator met, whose personalities were defined by struggle, determination and freedom: "This one totally matches. It makes you feel fresh and free."
Pics/ Mahesh Chafe

Do you smell...
Besides, India, with its ancient tradition of attars and spices, and the knowledge of herbs in Ayurveda, is seen as a safer haven for protecting the creative art of perfumery.  When Lush launched in India in May 2004, they expected that conventional fragrances such as Imogen Rose and Orange Blossom would do well. However, it's their more flirtatious Tuca Tuca and sensual Lust that have become top sellers, particularly with the young.
Every scent that Lush founders and perfumers Mark and Simon Constantine created have a story behind it, says Kamath. "The father and son were on a night out in Italy when they happened to watch a Tuca Tuca (means 'touch me') dance performance in Italy. They were inspired and created a fragrance that was flirtatious. It contains soft vanilla oil and sensual Ylang Ylang oil among other ingredients," she shares.

Illustration/Vivek Thakkar

The other top selling Lush fragrance from what is called the Gorilla range, is the "five-star" Breath of God, which the perfumers created taking inspiration from incense burning in temples that they visited on their trips to Asia. When they returned from their travels, they created two fragrances. One was masculine -- rich in wood-smoke, heavy with amber and sandalwood that flood the insides of temples. The other was feminine with fresh and crisp cucumber notes and bergamot. Breath of God is a blend of both.

"In India, we associate sandalwood and cedarwood with religious ceremonies. We never thought Indians would think of wearing perfumes that contain a mix of these ingredients. But to our surprise, Breath of God has done exceedingly well in the Indian market," says Kamath.

It's these natural aromas and ingredients used in marginal scents that Gell e believes is the reason for oddball perfumes gaining popularity among a niche but loyal clientele. "Having created non-branded perfumes for four years, I have experienced the growth of this market. The reason for the emergence of such perfumes is that consumers are looking for a unique scent. Oddball perfumes tend to grow on your skin, adapting to your natural pH. This means that if you spray the same perfume on two people, it will smell different on both. Consumers are gradually moving away from scents dished out by cosmetic conglomerates and brands that are full of chemicals," she says.

In April this year, New York magazine writer Geoffrey Gray tracked down reclusive perfumer Christopher Brosius, the maker of high-concept scents inspired by a baby's 'clean bottom', and even a scent that you can't smell at all. His next work of art is a perfume, he says, that smells of roast beef. Cooked with mashed potatoes, and carrots. Ready?

Cming soon
Scent of semen.
Plus gaga's blood
Lady Gaga is planning to launch her personal perfume. She's going to call it Monster (what else?), and the news is that it will contain blood and traces of semen -- the blood will be her own so that the people who wear it "will have traces of me on their skin".

Te handbook
Your guide to picking bizarre scents
From Sushi to smells of an old library, the international market is spilling over with unconventional fragrances.
Fast food chain Burger King launched meat-scented cologne in the US called Flame, and promoted it as the scent of seduction. Smelling like greasy beef is not on top of our sexy list but if your partner likes to bite into some meat, get a friend travelling to the US to pick up a bottle for you.

For something more extreme you could consider Vulva Original. It apparently isn't perfume. "It's a beguiling vaginal scent". Thanks for clearing the air! Do you love the smell of an old library -- the Moroccan leather, wood polish, the torn parchment and English novels? Then the Library perfume is definitely the thing to take you down memory lane. US-based Demeter is the big daddy of oddball fragrances. Their Sushi Cologne has essences of sticky rice, seaweed, ginger, and lemon. So if you wish to smell like you've been dealing with raw fish in the kitchen, grab a bottle. They also have a Lobster variant.

For those of you who wish to smell like a skilled wood worker or painter all day long, their Turpentine cologne is
a great option. And if the smell of animal hide brings out the man in you, their Leather fragrance is your thing.
If you gave up rolling a few years ago but still wish to reek like the college rebel, Demeter's Cannabis Flower with is a slightly floral, slightly spicy fragrance, has got to be your pick.

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