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A very wise friend recently stated that people who are talented at many things often end up feeling paralysed by the possibilities that lie ahead, while those who can do only one thing, have a very clear path laid out in front of them.
I’ve spent the last 11 months doing and being many things. As much as I excelled at it all, I’m so glad to scale back and focus on one thing — my perfumery practice. In this space, I control every aspect and try as might, external validation/failure/self-sabotage does not even factor as a possibility.
Speaking of failure, I’ve a dreadful hand at baking. Something about following precise instructions feels so counter-intuitive that I glimpse at a recipe and then go my own way with it. Thus, with unwarranted confidence I went about baking a banana-miso cake last week.
It turned out horrible.
The aroma, however, inspired a triumphant gourmand perfume: Banana-miso-agarwood. I already had a wonderful synthetic “banana” fleuressence in my archive that I was itching to use. The overripe fruity note combined very well with a rich umami accord of seaweed, mushroom, castoreum, tonka bean, birchwood, buddhawood and agarwood. Savoury, smokey, sticky-toffee, this might be the most whimsical perfume to mirror my quirks yet (the other is the black pepper-infused “Green Chutney 2018”).
What can the future look like?
A recent article by scent consultant Tracey Wan succinctly defined what gatekeeping and knowledge hoarding within the fragrance industry looks like. For context, here’s an extract:
Access through the well-trodden pathways, too, comes with asterisks and caveats for those who do not fit the profile. “It’s really guarded. And still, despite what a huge industry it is,” says Anne Serrano-McClain, founder of independent perfume brand MCMC Fragrances. She’s what the industry dubs “classically” trained, through a year-long professional degree offered by the Grasse Institute of Perfumery (GIP), a rarefied and renowned perfume school located in the South of France, that only accepts 12 students a year. When she enrolled in 2009, most of her fellow students were from Europe, with familial ties to the industry; one of them was the (perfumer) Olivier Cresp’s son. […] Dana El Masri, a Lebanese-Egyptian-Canadian perfumer who launched her line Jazmin Saraï shortly after graduating from GIP, recalls clashing with her French teachers and classmates throughout her time there. Often, it came down to cultural differences as a person of color in a traditional Euro-centric environment. In one instance, while working on a group project for a perfume that she was leading—inspired by a luxury hotel in Siwa, an oasis in northern Egypt—her unusual choice of fragrance materials was called into question as being “too oriental.”
That an art critic with no technical training in perfumery such as myself can come along and swiftly carve out a niche with original concepts should say more about the field, not so much about my own capabilities. Even as a small scale artisan, the competition is global and it thrills me to say that my audience is the type that returns to me after deliberating if it is worth spending on a perfume by Frederick Malle or Hermes. Steadily, over four years, I have managed to reorient perceptions around scent and blur the boundaries between high and low culture that goes against the euro-centric grain.
On the flip side, scaling up my sustainable practice has seemed like such a paralysing idea until I realised I could actually do this on my terms, in a small, contained way. I love the clean lines of turn of the century pharmacy glass bottles so after much trepidation, I spoke to a small scale manufacturer in the UK who generally needs a twelve month heads up, but had a small unit of 15ml stoppered flacons available (pictured above). I quickly paid for it and they’re on their way over. What I like about these bottles is that they are handblown and reusable — they can be sent back to me for a refill.
Thinking about stoppered bottles also made me revisit an old idea — In 2020, I invited India-based audiences to participate in a delightful experiment. If they sent me their miniature perfume bottles, I would fill it up with perfumes of my choosing. It was such a brilliant idea - no wasteful packaging would be generated in this process and the price point would be low enough to entice anyone who had wanted to sample my work but might have been deterred by the expense.
Well, hit reply and send them over.
“Parijat” - Sold out within the week it launched! I’ll make another micro batch on request.
“Honeysuckle & Fennel” - A delightful ‘sunshine and hay’ perfume I crafted primarily to fix my own sense of happiness as I went through a brief period of depression.
“Milky Jasmine” - This atmospheric jasmine opens with a milky "rubbery" note typical of the flower. Top notes hovering over a dense narcotic base will remind you of crushed jasmine garlands with hints of fragrant rice, ylang ylang and galbanum.
“Banana-miso-agarwood” - Umami, fruity and decadent in all the best ways possible! Micro-batch, available on request.