india: 20 posts

Sandalwood Scented Dreams

India and sandalwood. Long before I became interested in perfume as vocation, I knew of this connection. More than a stereotype, it reflects the significance of this wood in India’s traditions, from birth to death, from a wedding to a funeral. Sandalwood makes one’s skin more beautiful and gods more pleased. It smells divine. In my new FT column The Scent of Sandalwood, I explore how Indian and modern European perfumery were inspired by this precious material. Also, I touch upon an issue that rarely clouds the romantic accounts of Mysore sandalwood groves–their overharvesting and near complete devastation.

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“My mother-in-law rubbed a piece of pink-coloured wood on a rough stone until it turned to paste. My husband and I were about to travel back to Europe and in the Hindu custom my mother-in-law performed a puja, an act of worship, to ensure our safe journey. She lit joss sticks around the deities and dabbed some of the paste on the figurines of gods arranged on her small altar and then on our foreheads – the fragrance of sandalwood rose in the warm air. Many hours later as I sat in the plane, the creamy, floral perfume lingered around me, carrying with it the memory of a caring touch.” To continue, please click here.

One of my favorite sandalwood perfumes today–it uses a mixture of Australian and synthetic sandalwood–is 10 Corso Como. A niche classic. Do you enjoy sandalwood?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved

Neela Vermeire Creations Pichola : Fragrance Review

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Elisa on a new perfume from Neela Vermeire Creations.

Neela Vermeire Creations, a small niche line launched in 2012, includes five fragrances so far, all inspired by India and composed by Bertrand Duchaufour. Pichola is the latest release, a white floral inspired by Lake Pichola in the Rajasthan state of India. I’m a white floral lover, and from the great early reviews to the description, the scent sounded enticing: warm, spicy, and complex. But that’s not quite what I experienced.

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Pichola opens with a surprising impression of lemongrass – that distinctive sour/herbal/floral note in Southeast Asian curries. There’s no lemongrass listed in the notes; this uncanny effect must arise from a combination of citrus (bergamot, clementine, and neroli) and spices (cardamom and saffron). At first, it’s intriguing; I’ve never smelled a note like this in perfume before.

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Terry de Gunzburg Rose Infernale : Perfume Review

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Terry de Gunzburg is the kind of person I admire. She quit a career in medicine to train as a makeup artist, and thanks to her vision and dedication to quality, she has become so successful that she’s regularly called the Steve Jobs of makeup. Sounds odd, except that many of the cosmetics she launched have remained best sellers for decades, such as the famous Touche Éclat, a highlighter-concealer pen she created for Yves Saint Laurent. When she announced a perfume line two years ago, I prepared for fireworks.

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But the first launch was disappointing, proving that a lot of money doesn’t instantly translate into great perfume. The names of the fragrances, Rêve Opulent, Parti Pris, Lumière d’Epices, Ombre Mercure and Flagrant Délice, were more memorable than the scents themselves. (After I wrote this article, I realized that de Gunzburg now has 12 perfumes in its collection, including the ubiquitous Oud.) The problem is typical of niche brands—the lack of editing.

Two subsequent launches, Rose Infernale and Rouge Nocturne, also lack editing—why have two similar oriental roses?—but here, the rose lover in me tells the pedant to be quiet and just enjoy the ride. And I do. Rose Infernale, in particular, is a striking fragrance, and I’m addicted to its dark roses smoked over incense and sandalwood.

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Mysore Sandal Soap : Bath & Body Review

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Does luxury need to come with a big price tag? If you take a stroll around any department store, you might come away with that conclusion. But if your shopping strategy is more of the Poirot sleuthing variety, then you can turn up some affordable gems. My local India shop doesn’t fall under any definition of upscale. It’s a tiny, overcrowded space that smells pungently of cumin, wilting coriander greens and fried snacks. But it is here that I discovered my favorite soap of all, Mysore Sandal Soap. And it cost me 1.95 euros.

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Mysore Sandal soap is produced by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited, a company owned by the Government of Karnataka, a southern Indian state famous for its sandalwood. Mysore sandalwood groves were plentiful at the turn of the century, but while Europe was engulfed in the First World War, the precious wood couldn’t be exported. In 1916, the Maharaja of Mysore established a company to use up the excess sandalwood, and Mysore Sandal soap still remains the company’s trademark. It bears a proprietary Geographical Indication seal and contains natural sandalwood oil.

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Opulence and Bollywood Through Perfume

I love Bollywood movies. The women are gorgeous, the men dashing, the good guys saintly, and the villains so evil that they make Thomas Barrow of Downton Abbey seem kindhearted. And everyone is ready to break out into a song on the spur of the moment. To an uninitiated audience, Bollywood films can seem odd, at best. The philosophy in costumes, makeup and special effects is “more is more.” The item numbers, song-and-dance sequences, are entirely unrelated to the plot. You have to completely suspend your disbelief on the most basic points. But once you’re used to the characteristic cocktail of songs, tears, love, and tinsel, Bollywood fairy tales can be the best escapist fun.

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So can perfumes. Recently, when I was enjoying the heady combination of Bollywood and Guerlain Nahéma after a stressful day,  I decided to explore my favorite Indian films through scents.  I selected 10 movies and linked them with fragrances that captured their themes or characters. If you want to get a taste of Bollywood, please read on. Needless to say, the perfumes on my list are as opulent as the Indian cinematic extravaganza.

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