A perfume fit for a Maharaja, says Penhaligon’s about Vaara, a fragrance inspired by the Royal House of Marwar-Jodphur in Rajasthan. This state in the northwest of India means “the land of kings,” and it’s renowned for its colorful textiles, filigreed palaces and majestic forts. It’s also the place where you can buy opium scented incense (whether or not it includes the actual drug is another matter) and try the decadently rich milk shakes perfumed with pistachios, almonds and saffron. Like most of India, it’s a sensory roller coaster.
So, why is Vaara such a wallflower? Etro has already tried to take us to Rajasthan with its recent fragrance, but the violet and rose combination never got past the South of France. Despite its promises, Vaara doesn’t even cross the Channel. It’s soft spoken and mild, a perfume for someone who really doesn’t like orientals or anything richer than frozen yogurt.
The tart, fruity rose is the main element of Vaara, with the accord of woods underpinning the flurry of petals. At first, you notice the combination of rose with a smidgen of saffron, a note that smells at once of pharmacies and pastry shops, and then the sweetness of apple and pear takes it into a more familiar direction. If you’ve ever smelled magnolia with its perfume of lemon ice cream and tea soaked apricots, you will recognize this note in the heart of Vaara.
This part is exquisite, and if the drydown either had more curves (or to put it bluntly, if Penhaligon’s had spared more pennies for the juice), Vaara would have been terrific. But instead of taking me for a ride, Vaara meanders around rose and settles for a well-behaved drydown of raspy woods and laundry musk. It’s surprisingly clean, considering that we’re talking about an India inspired perfume. There is not even a hint of the bonfire smoke that pervades most Indian cities, nor the opulent incense hanging around the temples. At best, it’s a neatly packaged idea of India, without any messy bits.
These messy bits, however, make other Duchaufour fragrances much more compelling, whether it’s the sultry Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose, playful L’Artisan Traversée du Bosphore, or even Vaara’s older sister, Neela Vermeire Mohur. By contrast, Penhaligon’s is a more commercial and approachable brand than the others I’ve mentioned, so Vaara’s garden party exoticism is not accidental. That Vaara is the low-budget version of Mohur is also not surprising.
But not everyone wants a dramatic perfume, and Vaara is a good option if you would like to dip your toe into oriental waters without getting completely overwhelmed. If oud, another major trend, is not your friend, then again, I would suggest trying Vaara for a mild taste of spicy woods. Who knows, perhaps it will inspire you to explore further and discover your own India.
Penhaligon’s Vaara Eau de Parfum lists notes of quince, rosewater, carrot seed, coriander seed, saffron, Moroccan rose absolute, Bulgarian rose oil, freesia, Indian magnolia, peony, iris, honey, white musk, cedarwood, sandalwood, benzoin resin, and tonka bean. 100ml/ £120