mercredi 14 décembre 2011

Neela Vermeire Créations: Mumbai by way of Paris (and a draw)



Surely a perfume lover’s fondest dream must be to see her ideas translated into a fragrance. And when I met Neela Vermeire through a common friend, that’s what she was, a perfume lover, albeit one who had already converted her passion into a sideline activity, the “Perfume Paths” guided tours. Those paths ended up taking her to her native India and back to Paris where she has been living for years, for a tour of the labs where she took her project: a collection of fragrances based on India’s heritage, expressed in the idiom of contemporary French perfumery. Unsurprisingly, given his taste for far-flung journeys, track record of olfactory travel sketchbooks and first-hand knowledge of India, Bertrand Duchaufour proved the most receptive to the concept.

Neela’s journey from learned amateur to brand owner may also be a pioneering one…
The more I delve into the wings of the industry, the more convinced I am that the era of blockbusters is over, at least in the West (although the huge, naïve market of China will certainly be receptive to pre-formatted iFrags, not having known better). If perfumery is to move forward – and to move souls – it must pursue intensely personal sources of inspiration rather than one-size-fits-all marketing briefs.
This inspiration can come from the perfumers themselves; from other fields such as art, literature or cuisine; or from individuals like Neela, with stories to tell, a heritage to express, a longing to fulfil (I am also thinking here of Like This by État Libre d’Orange, tailor-made by Mathilde Bijaoui for Tilda Swinton: a quirky, personal fragrance that managed to move many other people.) For these three scents though, the cross-pollination occurred between Neela’s research on each historical period rather than on personal stories, and the perfumer’s memories.

Bombay Bling: Fluorescent Floral
Diana Vreeland once famously said that pink was the navy blue of India. And if anything, despite its dominant white floral bouquet, Bombay Bling is all garish colours: a Taj Mahal-sized, raspy green mango bursting into vibrant Tyrian pink – I’m detecting raspberry-ish undertones though the notes list lychee. The scent manages to be both velvety-plush and uninhibitedly, joyfully loud in much the same way as big-haired, shoulder-padded 80s juices – this could called “Giorgio does Bollywood”.
And much as 80s feminine attire could be so over-the-top it almost hinted at cross-dressing, Bomblay Bling performs a rather fascinating Victor-Victoria act mid-development, unveiling a woody-tobacco base with distinctly fougère undertones behind its lush rose-tuberose-gardenia bushes.

Mohur: Retro Rose
Like all three compositions, Mohur is symphonic scent and can be entered at many different levels. It is structured around a traditional rose-oud accord, but this is not necessarily the first thing that jumps out: my initial impression was of a lush rose-iris, in a grandly classic style that’s fairly uncommon in Bertrand Duchaufour’s work. It is, however, set in a space he’s already explored on the olfactory map with La Traversée du Bosphore, rose-violet-iris-leather with almondy accents, and the lesser-known Mon Numéro 8, a tribute to Après l’Ondée (given the volume of their author’s output, it’s starting to make sense to think in terms of series within specific genres, with distinct but related effects dictated by the logic of certain harmonies between their notes).
Mohur and Bosphore don’t smell the same, but they rely on a similar sleight-of-nose trick: conjuring a piece of pastry within a bouquet. Instead of Turkish delight, the sweet of course is Indian, featuring two mainstays of the Duchaufourian palette, cardamom and carrot (the latter a complement to iris), blended with a touch of milky, floral (hawthorn) almond, drizzled in rose water. Mohur’s slight soapiness keeps it from veering into pastry; because of the whopping amount of rose absolute used in the formula, it gives off a retro vibe that is very likely to appeal to vintage perfume lovers.

Trayee: Smoky balsam
Smoky, spicy, resinous, balsamic, Trayee ticks all the boxes that will endear it to niche perfumery enthusiasts; of the three, this is my favourite, as it is Kevin’s from Now Smell This, who reads it as an apothecary shop, and Persolaise’s, who gets a malai kulfi effect.
To me, Trayee is built upon the contrasts and connections between smoke and balsams, the former provided by the “ganja accord”, clove, sandalwood, vetiver, incense and oud, the latter conjured by myrrh, vanilla and amber notes. On paper, it comes off as an almost combustible blend of spices and woods with burnt leather undertones (saffron and oud), lit by a green flash of cardamom, blackcurrant and basil. On skin – mine, at any rate – it mellows into rich balsamic notes with a prominent sandalwood and jasmine accord. Persolaise pinpoints a filiation with Samsara, and I tend to agree. But where the grand, late 80s Guerlain has always put my liver through the wringer, Trayee achieves a more modern, better-balanced elegance: Duchaufour’s deft manner at giving volume and structure to “thick” notes lets the richness of his materials breathe and soar.

The Neela Vermeire Créations website is now selling 2 ml sample sets and 10 ml discovery kits. For the readers of Grain de Musc, Neela has kindly given a sample set.

So just drop a comment about what India smells like – or of what an India-inspired scent should smell of – to you, and I’ll ask Miss Jicky to do a paw-draw.

Photo: Ava Gardner in George Cukor's Bhowani Junction (1956).

Added 15/12: The draw is now over, but I'd love to go on reading comments on the scents of India..

64 commentaires:

  1. Incense
    Sandalwood
    Patchouli
    Rose

    Maybe
    Happy christmas to all

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  2. Alabaster cheeks, then definitely NVC covers all bases! And happy holiday season to you too!

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  3. I imagine "the air is full of spices". Cardamon, turmeric, cumin... But friends who visited India also spoke of the terrible, desperate poverty... Thanks for the draw

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  4. Wow, I can't say that I begin to know what India smells like. I've never had the opportunity to go there. However, it my mind it's definitely sandalwood, sandalwood, sandalwood, sandalwood, sandalwood!

    Thank you for the draw!

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  5. jasmine, kedwa, sandalwood, mitti attar, food, dust, traffic.

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  6. jasmine, sandalwood, incense...beautiful country

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  7. definitely jasmin, sandalwood, incense and some kind of water smell, salty and all those curry spices and tea!

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  8. That is one part of the world I have never even been close to, so I have no idea! I would like to imagine it smells spice-laden and heavy with floral scents. However, like Carla, I have heard many reports of the desperate poverty and so I really imagine many of the smells associated with many people in one place.

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  9. Carla, I can imagine there are less than enchanting smells blended with the beautiful ones...

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  10. Susan, can't really go wrong on that note... I don't know India either, mind you!

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  11. Tomatefarcie, a friend of mine (also a reader here) commented that many people in India seemed to smell of Cartier Déclaration!

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  12. My first thought was also sandalwood, but I remember a friend describing the hill stations and the tea plantations at higher altitudes, so I’m also thinking of tea… which is one of my favorite notes in perfume when it’s done well.
    -Janice

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  13. Meg, I would suppose the scents (and fouler smells) vary according to the place -- India is so huge, with such different landscapes and cities...

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  14. Janice, you're right: I've only seen those hill stations in movies but they must yield a very different atmosphere.

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  15. Meg's list is pretty spot on.

    Funny to be thinking about this, as I will be in India two weeks from now.

    What comes to mind: jasmine, tuberose, petrol fumes, majmua attar, musk, dirt, wet stone after a monsoon rain, creosote, smoke, burning cow dung, sweat, cumin, food frying.

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  16. Jarvis, thanks for confirming! Don't forget Déclaration... ;-)
    You're not coming through Paris, I take it?

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  17. I have not been to India but I am a huge fan of the Mughal miniature paintings (so beautiful). As far as scents go, I think of rosewater, delicious sweets and saffron! Please enter me in the drawing, I've been very curious about this collection!

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  18. ElizabethC, it's not a field of art I know too well, but from what little I know those miniatures are things of beauty...

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  19. I've always thought sandalwood oil and mitti attar to be the scents that most smell of India. And unexpectedly, my boyfriend, who lived in India for a while when he was a kid, thinks my Mitsouko smells like the Indian jasmine incense he remembers. Thanks for the lovely reviews and the draw!

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  20. Aimée, your boyfriend's comment is very intriguing! I find some "vintages" of Mitsouko more jasmine-y than others...

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  21. These sound superb! Especially Trayee and Mohur.

    An India fragrance, hmmm. Perhaps chilli, cardamom, sandalwood, saffron, rose, jasmine, mango, black tea, basmati rice (one of the most amazing scents in all the world), carrot...

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  22. Five years ago, my partner did a summer Fulbright in India, in part, to study foodways. Since then, India is the smell of my house (and skin and hair and clothes and dogs) several days a week around dinnertime.

    Sometimes when we walk into the Indian grocery, I think: "What's that familiar smell?" and realize I've been transported to a memory of my own house (and skin and hair and clothes and dogs).

    The way that scent associations and memories layer and overlap over one another is very interesting to me.

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  23. What I think of as Indian (never having been there myself) is sandalwood, tea, rosewater and cardamom. Plus spicy vegetarian food.

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  24. The smell of spicy Indian street food mixed with the smell of hot, baked earth mingled with a whisper of jasmine.

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  25. I imagine that India might smell like frangipani, incense, wet earth from the rain, cumin, silk saris and the jasmine flowers worn by the women,

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  26. For me Indian-inspired scent should smell like sandalwood, cardamon, incense and hint of exotic flowers. I would also add some spices (famous Eau Noire's curry/masala note).
    Merry Christmas!

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  27. cumin, coconut oil, cardamom...yums!

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  28. Don't worry about entering me in the draw. I'm just writing to say thanks for the links and for the reviews. Trayee is just wonderful: there's no question it'll be in my Top 10 of the year.

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  29. Sombreuil, I agree the basmati rice note is absolutely marvellous. If memory serves, it's in an Ormonde Jayne and also I think in one of the Kenzos...

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  30. Olive, that is very interesting indeed, and what lovely meals you must be having!

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  31. Ingeborg, I think there's cardamom in all three NVC -- it's a fabulous note.

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  32. dleep, when I asked my students in London about which smell spoke most deeply to them, a young Indian woman said "red earth after the rain"... Your comment reminded me of that.

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  33. Taffy, I've just said it above. I'm wondering now what would capture the smell of a silk sari...

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  34. Ela, that curry smell in Eau Noire (also in Sables by Goutal) is immortelle, a wonderful material...

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  35. Laurinha, yums indeed! Coconut is a note is so many white flowers too...

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  36. Persolaise, my pleasure! I'm also very impressed by Trayee and am listing my top ten right now...

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  37. I've never been to India, but I imagine it smells heady, colourful and spicy. Sandalwood, tuberose, cardamom and incense, perhaps?

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  38. Two memories from me:

    Jasmine! Like in the flower strands you can buy from a market and women use as decoration at weddings and parties

    Sandalwood! To think that I was in Mysore and did not check out the sandalwood museum... Well, that was in my pre-perfumista years

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  39. I've never visited India, but I enjoy Indian cuisine a lot (and I'm trying it at home with surprising results!). So, for me India smells of all those wonderful edible spices: cardamon, fenugreek, cumin, cinnamon, saffron, tumeric, pepper, Basmati rice... Then chai, of course, and different smells according to different latitudes: more flowers and rain in the south, more sandalwood, incense and smoke in the mountains.
    I'm looking forward to test these perfumes. By now, my Indian-scent experiences are limited to Miller et Bertaux's "A quiet morning" and my girlfriend's CdG Jaisalmer.

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  40. No need to enter me in the draw since I am already fortunate to have a sample set. I have no idea how India actually smells but I would love to be in any place that had such a beautiful complexity of fragrance as these perfumes.

    They are all wonderful but I am in love with Mohur. Its French bloodlines are evident, too. Symphonic is an excellent description but for me it summons even more the memory of a chamber music concert under the rose window at La Sainte Chappelle.

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  41. Yes to sandalwood, patchouli, jasmine and attar. I would also like to add smell of heat and monsoon season. India- country of so many contradictions!
    I am really interested in this line, thank both of you for your generous draw.

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  42. Basmati rice, and street smells-lots of people, and the washing powder used to clean their clothes, the smell of silk saris, jasmin on the breeze. I wonder what the kohl smells like-the kind used to line the eyes? And henna, of course, with its cooling and soothing properties.

    I hope you are well, and have a Merry Christmas, and a happy new year,


    Carole

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  43. MilaK, thanks for sharing your impressions... And, yes, the things we've missed when travelling, pre-perfume-geekness!

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  44. iodine, you're clearly braver than me in the kitchen... I suppose there are a certain number of scents evocative of India without referring to it -- and some that do, like Un Jardin après la Mousson and Sirah des Indes, while not resorting to classic indian notes.

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  45. Kathryn, thank you for your impressions of Mohur: you're right, it could be labelled French and no one would know better, possibly because so many materials used in French perfumery are Indian, and certainly because the perfumer is French...

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  46. Jake, Bertrand Duchaufour actually did a monsoon-inspired scent for L'Artisan Parfumeur's Mon Numéro collection, which I haven't (shame on me) gotten round to reviewing yet.

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  47. Carole, thank you. Henna is an interesting, maté/hay-like note. As for khol, I used to wear it and don't remember any kind of smell -- it's really very mineral.

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  48. My ideas are rather unoriginal, but a former coworker who was from India was discussing incense with me and she said that Indian incenses tend to be based on floral notes. So for me, the focus would be on the Hindu temples: Jasmin, Rose, Orange Blossom, and Sandalwood incenses...

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  49. Curry, marigolds, mangos, incense and dust. I must confess I have probably watched "Monsoon Wedding" too many times.........

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  50. OperaFan, flowers and incense somehow make sense, don't they?

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  51. Katy, I haven't, but that notes list is beautiful -- and marigolds do yield an essence, though IFRA looks askance at it now.

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  52. Two attars comprise a convincing summary of indian perfumery and its innovations (for me at least). Those are mitti attar and marigold attar. They symbolise the transmutation of the earth into spiritual substance. If you add jasmine to those you get passion and carnal knowledge and you get an olfactory image of indian philosophy as expressed in the west.

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  54. Kostas, thank you for that insight. The transmutation of earth into a spiritual substance is really the essence of perfumery, isn't it?

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  55. I have never been to India, but I have always associated spicy smells to that country: turmeric, coriander, cumin... Basically, curry and strong foods.
    But I imagine green and fruity smells too, and wet earth.

    Thanks for this draw!

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  56. Isa, one of the great charms of spices is that they let you travel, even when you don't leave your kitchen!

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  57. Merry Christmas, dear D! I owe you an email, btw. I am terribly late on everything, but you've been on my mind a lot.

    Anyway, your post made me think of several things. It reminded of a recent commission--a magazine asked me to write a 500 word piece on Indian cuisine. As an editor and I threw ideas back and forth, I joked that I can do better , in 5 words: " 'Indian' cuisine is a myth." Speaking of some idea of "Indian cuisine" is same as discussing European cuisine in the same general terms--possible, but terribly uninteresting. It is so region specific and even community specific that it is difficult to comprehend. A country has something like 22 official languages, so surely it has more than one culinary expression.

    The same can be said about scents. I traveled widely in India, and I found that each place smells very differently. One of my recent favorite activities was to do a walk through several neighborhoods in Mumbai. Even within a relatively small area of the city the scents changed dramatically. I could smell the incense and marigolds of Hindu temples, rose oil and oud near the Muslim market, curry leaves and mustard oil near the community of South Indian workers, etc... The poverty is there, of course, and some of the unpleasant scents of an overpopulated city, but NYC sure does not smell like roses most of the time either!

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  58. Happy Christmas to you to Victoria! I'll be looking forward to your letter.
    Of course, you're right, India is so vast and diverse there are myriad scents to serve as springboards for inspiration. Over on the French side of the comments some of my readers, who unlike me have travelled there extensively, have shared very evocative impressions.
    I can imagine that Neela being Indian, and Bertrand having travelled to India, this trio does reflect some aspects of it - but a perfume will dictate its own development, so I don't suppose they're literal renditions, which is just as well...

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  59. I wrote elsewhere that I find Bombay bling more feminine, but that was written during the perfume's first half hour. I definitely got your woody fougere later on. Interesting! Thank you so much for the samples.

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  60. Carla, I'm happy the samples made it to you safely. Yes, BB does a weird little gender switch, doesn't it?

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