The pandemic has led us to find solace in new and unexpected places. The first wave’s Dalgona coffee and banana bread trends stand witness. As do the knitting and embroidery enthusiasts of the second wave.
For the longest time, I tried my hand at several of these things (from baking to painting) and was left exhausted with more cleaning to do and little peace of mind. The cake was always underdone, the paint spilled easy, and well, I never made it as far as knitting.
As I worked through the pandemic, reading, writing and binge-watching Netflix shows, I did a little ritual that brought me some solace: A spritz of post-shower perfume. A ginger-orange mist on days I felt productive, lavender eau de toilette on tense ones, an herbaceous patchouli on calm ones…. There was also the occasional stick of Tibetan incense of the tradition Sambrani (a fragrant resin blend).
Also read: What's hurting the Indian perfume?
While my mood has always reflected in the fragrance I choose to wear, but this was different.
A fragrant find
When I first came across Make Your Own Perfume Kit by Isak Fragrances, which recently received funding on TV show Shark Tank India, it felt that my pandemic wishes had come true. Disclaimer: I have some training in perfume-making and had a general disdain for DIY perfume kits sold by niche fragrance houses. Most supply you with a limited list of essential oils and a complicated set of instructions. Understanding and situating these oils and absolutes on the fragrance wheel is a time-consuming process, as is memorizing them to begin your journey. Think of it as an amateur baker being asked to produce a three-tiered wedding cake. The result is messy and even though the product may be cake, it’s far from what’s expected and promised.
Lucknow-based Isak Fragrances is the brainchild of Vidushi Vijayvergiya, a sixth-generation perfumer. She had no formal training and learnt the ropes of the trade from her father and uncle, and her own research while living in Switzerland and France.
Small wonder then she understands the needs of amateur perfumers. The slickly designed kit, which she calls her pandemic baby, is testimony to that. She has also sold over a 1,000 of these since its launch last year. “Though it was always on the cards, the pandemic seemed ideal time to launch the product. Everyone is sitting at home and wants to create something,” she Vijavergiya, the 39-year-old managing partner of the brand. “This is also an extension of the brand’s vision of bringing people back to forgotten beauty of Indian perfumery.”
The creation journey
Here’s what sets the Make Your Own Perfume Kit apart from others available in the market. The ingredients are not isolated essential oils and absolutes, but pre-blended bases that make up for different notes. The result as such isn’t a perfume that lacks balance but one that is seamless and as close to a perfume off the shelf, you might get to in your first try.
These bases (categorized by base note, top note, and middle note) are a harmonized blend of natural oils and synthetic ingredients. So, while your perfume might include four ingredients from the box, it could be a blend of as many as 50 ingredients. The provision of bases also does a lot for the longevity of the scent you are about to create.
The kit is designed like a perfumer’s organ (or a lab) in a box, the size of briefcase with a golden clasp. It has everything you need to create two 15 ml bottles of your signature scent. There are 12 bases, two beakers, two atomisers (spray bottles), perfumer’s alcohol, pipettes, smelling strips, coffee beans, a perfumer’s workbook, and an instruction card.
A weighing scale, more commonly used by perfumers, is missing for the sake of practicality. The instruction card suggests you use drops as a measure instead. I started out with a bunch of smelling strips to familiarize myself with the ingredients. The base notes first, followed by the middle, and then the top notes. At this stage, I also spent some time visualizing the kind of fragrance I wanted for myself. I matched some of the smelling strips, the lavender with the woody base, and the aquatic top, for a better idea.
I then proceeded to add ingredients to the beaker, a few drops at a time, to build the base. The oudh base went in next, followed by the woody and the spicy base. You can use as many or as few of the bases in your perfume if you keep to general formula (base notes 20%, middle notes 50% and top notes 30%). After every addition, I dipped a smelling strip to get a whiff. Once I had built a deep amber base with a hint of spice, I worked on the middle notes. I chose the floral bases, alternating between lavender and rose till I had achieved the balance I wanted. I noted all of it down in the workbook. This helps keep track of what’s in your perfume and helps you recreate the formula when you want to. Yes, it requires some mathematical calculations, too.
But largely, perfumery is an art, and often there is no right or wrong. As you spend more time smelling the ingredients, the process becomes meditative. At the end of two hours, I had arrived at a blend that worked. It was invigorating, with a mildly citrus top, calming with its floral heart, and rooted in ambery vanilla base. It was also unmistakably Indian. I tested it on my skin and loved how it felt. I topped my accord (a scent made up of several perfume notes, or ingredients) up with the perfumer’s alcohol up till the 10ml mark. Then I went on to bottle and label my fragrance (yes, there are labels in the box too). I called it “a moment of calm”, and it has now formed part of my daily fragrance ritual.
The Make Your Own Perfume kit priced at ₹3,250 is value for money and can produce two 15ml spritzers of perfume. However, it is the experience of creating a wearable scent of your own that is quite invaluable. For all you know, it might be the start of your love affair with perfume creation.
Also read: Meet Delhi's oldest perfumers