LAUNCHING BOMBAY PERFUMERY : THE SENSORIUM
Being a progressive perfumery, creativity, reinvention and collaboration is something we believe in. It’s all about being inspired by the past and creating something radical out of it. For our official launch in Mumbai, we set out to create a Sensorium that would explore beyond the boundaries of conventional perfumery.
The Sensorium is an experiental space where members of Mumbai’s creative community tapped into their strengths to create their interpretations of our 8 scents. Ranging from Pooja Dhingra who specialises in gastronomy to Sandunes + Jiver who created an audiovisual sensory track to Nazneen Jehangir’s floral ode to Mumbai’s dabbawalas, we saw some truly intriguing art.
Join us behind the scenes as we introduce our collaborators, their inspirations and installations.
Ashiesh Shah – Interior Design
Krsna Mehta – Contemporary Design
Lekha Washington – Product Design
Pooja Dhingra – Gastronomy
Sanket Avlani – Art Direction
Sandunes + Jiver – Electronica
Shweta Malhotra – Illustration
Nazneen Jehangir – Floral Couture
Colston Julian – Photography
Unboxing the fragrances
The interactive Bombay Stampede by Lekha Washington
Nazneen Jehangir in front of her installation Mumbai in eMotion
Pooja Dhingra created an edible candy lab inspired by our fragrance, 1020
Krsnaa Mehta in front of his Bombay Sensation, inspired by Art Deco & Bombay Perfumery
Lekha Washington in front of her Bombay Stampede
A WALK THROUGH CALICUT’S ANCIENT BAZAARS
A Walk through Calicut’s Ancient Bazaars 17 September 2016
Calicut, or Kohzikode, as it’s known today, has cast a long shadow in the history of trade. Strategically located on the West Coast of India, its location and people made it perfect for traders and travellers, from Zheng He to Vasco da Gama, to drop their anchors. The rich port had much to offer, with spices taking the front seat in negotiations.
A popular myth as told by Kottarathil Shankunni in his Aithihyamala recounts the prosperity of Calicut through the presence of Lakshmi in its marketplace. Around the year 1760, The Zamorin of Calicut complained of a sharp pain in his right shoulder and though he followed the advice of noted doctors, the pain would not cease. One day, a traveller who had heard of his predicament offered a solution – to keep a wet towel over his shoulder – and it worked.
When the Zamorin’s learned Dewan came back and heard of this treatment, he grew suspicious of the traveller and realised that something was afoot. He rushed to the marketplace, searched far and wide, and finally came across the person he was looking for – a graceful lady. He begged her to wait for him as he had forgotten something at the palace. After reaching the palace, he proceeded to kill himself and was thus, never able to meet the lady, who in turn could not leave the marketplace as she had promised him she would wait for him.
The lady here symbolized Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth & Abundance, who now has a permanent home in Calicut’s marketplace. By placing a wet towel over his right shoulder, the Zamorin had effectively driven Lakshmi away but the Dewan met her just in time. Therefore, as legend has it, Calicut’s riches grew but the Zamorin lost his position and wealth over time.
Myth Via Historical Alleys
THE FRAGRANT OSMANTHUS
Incredibly fragrant, the Chinese Osmanthus is a thing of beauty. It is often cultivated for ornamental usage as its blooms carry the scent of ripe peaches or apricots and is closely related to the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival, symbolizing love and faithfulness.
Our Chai Musk perfume has Chinese Osmanthus as one of the ingredients in the heart base, thus giving it a well-rounded persona with its fruity-leathery scent. Apart from perfumery, it is used in cooking, ceremonies and medicine and is an important part of Chinese culture.
Its ceremonial usage is so fascinating, especially after we looked up the myths surrounding this flower, especially lunar legends that are celebrated during autumn.
The legend of the Moon Palace speaks of how the Jade Emperor held sacrifices to the sun during spring and the moon during autumn. One day, he was invited by a magic Taoist priest Luo to visit the Moon Palace. Naturally excited, the emperor agreed and Luo summoned a magical silver bridge to the moon. At the end of it was a breath-taking palace with an osmanthus tree occupying a place of prestige in the courtyard and a Jade Rabbit under the tree, mixing potions for an eternal life. Bejewelled dancers accompanied by music entertained the emperor, while he enjoyed cakes shaped like the full moon. On his return, he ordered cakes modelled on his experience.
The Moon Palace and its magical osmanthus tree features once more in the legend of Wu Gang. Driven by jealousy, he made the mistake of overstepping and was sentenced to the moon by the emperor. He was commanded to trim the osmanthus tree – however, the tree was a magical one and immediately grew back. The cycle of trimming and recovering goes on for centuries as the jade rabbit sits under the tree, creating the elixir of immortality, that helps the tree to recover. A Greek variant of such a legend was that of Sisyphus, who has been condemned by Zeus to push a boulder to the top of the mountain for it to roll back again, and for him to repeat the process for eternity.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking story associated with the osmanthus flower is that of Chang’E. Her husband, the master archer Hou Yi was awarded the pill of elixir by the emperor but Chang’e decided to abandon him and steal the pill for herself, thereby gaining the ability to fly. She flew all the way to the moon palace, where she was condemned to live a life of solitude. Till today, it is said that Chang’e roams the moon sorrowfully, with the sweet-smelling osmanthus tree reminding her of love lost. She did ask the jade rabbit to help her with a pill that would take her back home to her husband, but as the rabbit is creating the elixir of immortality, he can’t spare time to help her out. She still roams around, waiting.
GET IN THE RIGHT HEAD SPACE
In a nutshell, Bombay Perfumery is about indie artistry meeting contemporary style. Inspired by traditional know-how, we’re also driven by a need to use the best of innovative tech. One of the most intriguing methods out there to extract the essence of an object is Head Space technology.
Reminiscent of futuristic design, the tech aims to capture the ambient fragrance around an object. Say you want to capture the exact experience of smelling a rose. A clear sphere is locked around the rose and it acts like a camera in that it captures the molecules around the rose. This gives the perfumer raw data to understand the chemical make-up of the rose as it is.
Head Space allows for leaps and bounds in perfumery, moving beyond natural and synthetic ingredients to capture the essence of a certain phenomenon to evoke memories. For our Moire perfume, we’ve used the technology to capture the fragrance of a newly-made leather bag – a rich aroma that brings to mind a polished English air.
BLACK PEPPER, THE KING OF SPICES
Tinged with a certain historical quality, Black Pepper is a distinctive ingredient. Revered for its importance in trade, the spice as it’s commonly known of as Black Gold has maintained its hold in international palates.
Originally grown in India, specifically the Malabar coast, the spice was first taken to Indonesian islands to Pacific Islands to Africa & America. Predominantly used for seasoning, pepper was a must-have at noble tables, a monopoly that extended to the 1400s, when the spice trade opened up. Indeed, the value of pepper was held very dear – for instance, when the Visigoths attacked Rome in 401 AD, the ransom paid for Roman citizens comprised several tons of gold and silver, thousands of tunics and hides and 3000 pounds of pepper. Apart from seasoning, it is used to in curing muscle aches and aromatherapy.
In perfumery, the essential oil is derived through steam distillation of the dried, unripe fruit. The aroma tends to be warm, soothing and spicy as well as fresh, the blend of which adds a bit of depth to the scent. Today, Indian & Indonesian pepper is primarily used in distillation.
Though it is often used as top note to pique interest, for our Calicut perfume, we’ve used Black Pepper as a heart note. The heart notes form the body of the perfume and emerge when the top notes dissipate. Along with black pepper, we have used nutmeg and cedarwood for the heart notes which add a sweet & spicy pungency and sombre woodiness, respectively, that all together provides a well-rounded body of scents.
ART FOR SOLITARY REAPERS
Out for a Long Walk in Sulawesi
Seawall by Richard Diebenkorn
Go-Kart Track by Jill Peters
Undergrowth with Two Figures – Vincent Van Gogh
Retour by Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen
Taberna by Robert Young
THE PATCHOULI APPEAL
From haute to not and back again, Patchouli has played a colourful role in trade and lifestyle rituals. Extensively cultivated in tropical countries, the plant has a variety of uses ranging from perfumery and aromatherapy to cooking.
The plant first gained fame on the international stage when luxurious wares were exported from India and wrapped in patchouli leaves to preserve them. Over time, the smell of patchouli oil was irrevocably linked to genuine Oriental products. It is said that Napolean introduced patchouli oil-infused silk shawls to the discerning European clientele when he picked them up by way of Egypt. As a result, the scent would be transferred to skin and hair, thereby making it the scent of an age. However, as trends rise and wane, this too met its end and the same luxurious shawls made their way to prostitutes’ wardrobes and the aroma of patchouli oil was reviled.
The plant came into the spotlight centuries later when it was strongly associated with the Hippie Movement. Though used extensively for its scent and restorative powers, it did get a bit of notoriety by those who were not part of the culture.
Within perfumery, legend has it that the patchouli oil mixed with lemongrass and rose oil was first used by Indian nobility and the strong sweet yet musky scent was a marker of distinction between the wealthy and those less privileged.
Image by Mike Cohen via Flickr
Though there are synthetic variants available, Bombay Perfumery uses the real deal, sourced from Indonesia. For our Sulawesi perfume, patchouli is a base note, bringing depth and boosting the top and heart notes.
V FOR VIOLET
Symbolizing the beginning of spring, Violets are one of the most loved flowers across the world with their dainty nature and myth-laden meanings. There are many variants of the flower and is used in medicine and perfumery predominantly.
There are several legends that speak of violets – in fact, it is the natural flower of Greece because of the abundance of its presence in myths – and stands for spirituality, purity & humility on one hand and royalty and power on the other.
Here’s a few of our favourite myths…
Athens is often called the ‘Violet-Crowned City’. It harks back to ancient times when Ion, the founder, was crowned and the water nymphs expressed their support by offering violets as a sign of their support. The flowers became Athens’ symbol and no hearth or home was complete without these.
Another legend talks of how Zeus fell in love with Io, a nymph. To hide her from Hera’s range, he turned her into a cow and then created the sweet violets for her to eat, instead of coarse grass.
In Christian art, violets symbolize The Virgin Mary’s humility. One tale talks how violets were originally white until Mary saw her son suffer on the cross. At the time, all the white turned to purple to echo her anguish.
In modern times, Napolean, when he was exiled on the island of Elba, stated he would return in spring with the violets. This was used as a code by his supporters, who when asked ‘Do you like violets’, instead of saying yes or no, would say ‘Eh Bien’, thereby expressing their loyalty.
In our Seven Islands perfume, Violet is a heart base, along with Peach, Jasmine and Frankincense. Its woody-floral scent is enhanced by peach’s sweetness, jasmine’s freshness and frankincense’s citrusy woodiness.
THE LEGEND OF MYRHHA
The Legend of Myrhha 17 September 2016
Revered since the past 5000 years, myrhh has been used for medicinal to devotional purposes. Perhaps the most enduring memory of myrhh has to be when it was one of the three gifts the wise man carried to offer the baby Jesus.
When a tree wound penetrates through the bark and into the sapwood, the myrhh gum is emitted and is harvested to be used. It has a bitter aroma. Through history, it has been used in perfumery, incense and medicine and can even be used in the culinary arts, when mixed with wine.
Such a long history would yield certain lore and perhaps the most iconic, and tragic, is that of Myrhha. The daughter of King Cinyras and Queen Cenchreis of Cyprus, Myrhha claimed she was more beautiful than Aphrodite. Upset that a mere mortal sought to overthrow Aphrodite’s power, the goddess instilled in the girl an unnatural attraction towards her father.
Myrhha tried to take her own life to escape the torture but was stopped by her nursemaid who aided her in deceiving her father by getting into his bed. When he found out, he was justifiably enraged and tried to kill her. Full of remorse, a pregnant Myrhha escaped to the desert for nine months. Zeus finally took pity on her and turned her into a tree – neither living nor dead as the crime was too severe for either realm.
At the time of the delivery, she was aided by Lucina and her nymphs, who bathed the baby boy in the tree’s fragrant ‘tears’ – myrhh. The boy grew up to be Adonis, desired by both Aphrodite & Perspephone that created a rift between them. The situation was resolved when Zeus decreed it so that Adonis must be in the mortal realm for six months and in the underworld for the next six.
So as it is said, the tree weeps bitter & fragrant tears of guilt that are often converted to incense – an offering to appease the Gods for Myrhha’s sin.
Perhaps the most iconic flower across the world, the rose has captured our imagination through the ages, be it through art or its symbolic value or just by virtue of its natural beauty. A favoured ingredient in perfumery, the value of roses goes beyond its fragrance to its medicinal, ornamental and symbolic uses.
The symbol of the rose has changed through centures. For instance, in the pre-Christian era, the rose was symbolic of the goddess Venus and later became reminiscent of the Virgin Mary. The symbol eventually led to the creation of the rosary prayer.
For the ancient world, the rose was also a symbol of silence. It is said that Eros presented the rose to the god of silence and the term ‘sub rosa’ that means under the rose stands for silence.
In Islam & Sufism, the rose is often used as a literary device to mark loveliness as well as in architecture and landscaping where the rose is the central motif in well-thought-out geometric gardens. Persian legend says that as Mohammed was taken to Heaven, his sweat fell to earth and became the first rose.
The importance of the rose continued till later ages where it became the national flower of England, inspired by the War of the Roses where the House of Lancaster were represented by a red rose and the House of York was represented by a white rose. Across the pond, Henry VIII’s recipe for a rose perfume is still recorded at Oxford, ‘Take six spoonful of rose oil, the same of rose water, and a quarter of an ounce of sugar. Mix well together and two grains of musk and one ounce of ambergris, then boil slowly for six hours and then strain”.
For our Madurai Talkies, we have used roses from Turkey that have a certain flair associated with them. The rose, or gül as it is called in Turkish, has been blossoming in the country for generations.
Notes : The Magical & Ritual Use of Perfumes by Richard Alan Miller & Iona Miller
NOTES ON LES CAYES
The Oil of Tranquillity – Vetiver
Quiet mornings in – that quick jolt of recognition when you spot a kindred soul – nonverbal conversations – a rejuvenating piece of art is all what Les Cayes believes in.
Named after the Haitian port, Les Cayes belongs to the woody & citrus family, with a bouquet that boasts of both rich and fresh notes – a sharp move away from conventional men’s fragrances. Indeed, at the heart of it, Les Cayes draws an element of minimal cool from one of its key ingredients Vetiver.
A traditional oil in India, its usage in Ayurvedic medicine ranged from healing and pacifying to beauty. Within perfumery, the oil is well-regarded for its distinctive scent and is often used in more masculine fragrances.
Vetiver’s warm earthiness is tinged with a bit of lemony cool – it’s related to the aromatic lemongrass – that makes it very tough to replicate in a synthetic form. The tropical grass is native to India, where it’s known as khus, however, we source it from Haiti that’s known for its artistry in distilling the oil and for its floral aura as compared to Java’s smokier vetiver, for instance.
For our Les Cayes, Vetiver is one of its three base ingredients, along with Clary Sage & Musk; while the clary sage provides a nutty scent to the mix, the musk adds balance to the composition. Together, a vibrant base is created upon which Les Cayes is built.
FIELD NOTES : IN SEARCH OF HAITIAN VETIVER
I’m visiting the beautiful island country of Haiti (again) to source the finest quality vetiver oil in the world. Vetiver is an important ingredient in every perfumer’s palette with warm woody facets, subtle refreshing citrus-grapefruit aspects and rich earthy tones. Interestingly vetiver (known locally in India as khus) was first introduced to this region by Indians. At Bombay Perfumery, we developed one of our fragrances with Haitian vetiver as a central component to highlight this beautiful root that plunges deep into the earth and soaks up all its golden warmth.
Even before landing in colourful Port Au Prince, I’m welcomed to the Caribbean by some of the most stunning waterscapes I’ve ever laid my eyes on from my airplane window – turquoise waters and coral stretching for miles
I’m spending some time in the bustling capital first, a city that would make any Instagrammer worth their salt stop every few seconds to capture the explosion of colours on homes, shopfronts and street side stalls selling beautiful Haitian art. Not to be missed are the coolest public transport buses you will ever see, that second as moving art-pieces paying homages to football stars, local musicians and Rihanna.