It’s so passé to associate perfume with nostalgia and memory. No, really. We are in the process of creating perfume playlists—look up oPhone, a device that curates smells to be released at different times through the day to reflect your different moods, just like a playlist of your favourite songs. Or the IBM powered Philyra, an AI algorithm that can customise a scent based on the browser’s digital activity—creepy but very special, yeah? Smell is being looked at as a sense to be explored via technology, just like sight and sound. So, why not discard nostalgia and memory and look towards the future.
Because perhaps we aren’t quite ready yet…
Never mind the fact that these wearables and devices haven’t yet been fine-tuned, we still rely on smell to draw from our past to propel us into the future. A spritz that can trigger a happy memory or an undefined moment is all it takes to change our mood sometimes. Smell empowers, uplifts, comforts, excites. And as our tastes evolve, thanks to the world coming to our doorstep, so does our sense of smell. Top, middle and bottom notes be damned. Male and female scents? No thanks. We’re looking for unique notes beyond roses and grapefruits, because disposable incomes in developing economies have meant that we want to create our individualities through perfume. Nitya Tandon Abrol, head of communication from Indian fragrance company Sacheerome, says, “When we started our journey from Grasse, France, 40 years ago and brought fragrances to India, the consumer was not as experimental. The fidelity to one fragrance was very high as a mark of identity. Today, people want to try new things and their choice reveals a mood or an intention.”
Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin Cologne, INR 8,200
One of the biggest trends is our attraction to green notes, smells redolent of young leaves, grass, moss, wet earth, even marijuana (try: Replica’s Music Festival and Clean Reserve’s Hemp & Ginger). It’s almost as if all the detox juices we’re chugging, need to be reflected on our pulse points. There are vegetal influences too (beetroot and carrot as notes for Demeter’s Beetroot). Jo Malone’s spring-summer limited edition launch of Wild Flowers and Weeds was a collection of five unusual scents—Hemlock & Bergamot, Cade & Cedarwood, Lupin & Patchouli, Willow & Amber and Nettle & Wild Achillea—and when it launched in India in May this year, it was sold out within a month.
Demeter Fragrance Library Beetroot, INR 1,445
What we identify as a green fragrance is almost always a resin called galbanum, possibly in use since Egyptian times and even before. Pierre Balmain first bottled it in Vent Vert, in the late 1940s, in a world left ravaged by WWII. Jahnvi Dameron Nandan of The Perfume Library shares her first impressions of smelling it at the Osmothèque in Versailles (the world’s largest scent archive). “I was attracted and repelled at once. A feeling shared by one of its most famous wearers, the writer Colette [the Nobel prize-nominated author of Gigi], who said that the perfume had the virulent nature of plants crushed by hand. Its green-ness was rich and textured, made powerful by the oak moss and vetiver in its base note. It did not smell like a perfume, it smelt like power. That was the smell of power and dissidence and subversion, and Colette said exactly that, that it was meant for reigning she-devils.” This is the green note you will smell in popular and more ‘mainstream’ perfumes like Chanel No 19 and Jo Malone’s signature Lime Basil and Mandarin Cologne.
It was Frédéric Malle who first emphasised the importance of an ingredient-led choice when it came to perfumes. Since then, perfumes created around hero notes have become the emperors of a scent. Floral scents are still popular, rose and jasmine reign supreme, but what’s also emerging in 2019 is a preference for a fresh note of leaves, reeds, herbs, moss—all the green stuff. These dominant notes inspire perfumers to create a universe around them—Manan Gandhi of Bombay Perfumery did so with Sulawesi (the patchouli in it is sourced from Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia) and Les Cayes (the Haitian port town where they source its key note vetiver), naming them in honour of the notes.
Green notes have been a source of inspiration and obsession with Nandan. One of her bestsellers, The Space In Between You and Me, was a collaboration with the late artist Hema Upadhyay. The latter’s work was a garden she planted to bridge a communication gap between her family and herself, like a letter to them. “The main accord in the perfume is a grass note reminiscent of the artwork itself,” says Nandan. “The perfume thus took shape like a traveller’s notebook or a personal diary: full of stories, grass, bright green and newly sprouted, the most universally life affirming note, that forms the departure of this new fragrance.”
Forest Essentials Vetiver Face Mist, INR 1,250
Forest Essentials’ 2019 summer hit was the vetiver line, a lithe khus nature that infuses without ever being heady. It’s not a perfume yet, but the fragrant face mist makes a great midday pick-up. Its perfumes are also made using traditional methods, where lessons from the past can teach us a thing or two about sustainability. “They’re created as per the tenets of ayurveda, using the traditional process of ‘sandhan kalpana’ [a fermentation technique] and contain ‘pure grain alcohol’, as mentioned in the ancient texts,” says Neha Rawla, communications manager at Forest Essentials.
Bombay Perfumery Sulawesi, INR 4,100
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Memory and emotion can’t be disconnected from perfume—our olfactory processing bits and bobs in the brain are bang next door to the amygdala and hippocampus (emotion and memory centres). Perhaps our yearning for green notes is more telling than we realise. Confronted by so much metal and technology, we yearn to return to the absolute opposite, an idyllic nature. The woods beckon, with sandalwood rising as a star ingredient, thanks Le Labo and Miller Harris Peau Santal. Nandan, in fact, created an imaginary forest with Again, the perfume she made in collaboration with designer Gaurav Gupta. We want to stay in touch with our primeval selves, and if that’s happening through Jungian impulses that are bottled prettily on our vanity shelves, why not! We are transported to a green planet but we’re still connected to the interweb. It’s a win-win.