On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I enter a café in Pune’s old neighbourhood of Shivajinagar to test my sense of smell for two hours. There are 10 others like me, who have assembled for a perfume-making experience conducted by Trove Experiences, a platform that curates unique artisanal craft experiences, along with Lucknow-based perfume makers Isak Fragrances. The reward at the end of this exercise will be making my own unique fragrance.
Now I am not someone who has a refined sense of smell. Having regained my ability to decipher different smells only late last year after recovering from the side effects of covid-19, the fragrance-making experience has left me with a deep appreciation for the work my nose does.
The “guided experience” lead Vidushi Vijayvergiya, a sixth generation perfumer and co-founder of Isak Fragrances, starts with a crash course on how to memorise fragrances and translate the smell into a language—the words, textures and feelings that come to mind when you smell a fragrance. “The most interesting part is blending but we have to first try finding our own adjectives or words that come to our mind when we smell it. It will help us memorise the fragrance,” insists Vijayvergiya.
The conversation, however, meanders towards more practical queries like the difference between Western perfumes and ittar or attar (a more concentrated form of perfume), what’s the right way to apply a perfume, should you rub it on the wrist or spray it on clothes (Vijayvergiya says spraying the perfume on clothes helps the fragrance last longer; ittar, on the other hand, should be applied on the skin), why eau de parfume is more suitable for the Indian climate than eau de cologne or eau de toilette, and how there are handful of perfume smellers in the world, called "nose", who can identify over 3,000 fragrances.
We quickly get a rundown of the 12 fragrance bottles waiting for us on a long table. These will act as the ingredients for my bespoke fragrance. To create it, there's a booklet of fragrance strips, a beaker, a dropper, a 10ml roll of ittar bottle, and coffee beans to cleanse the nose.
While some fragrances conjure up old memories, others take us by surprise. For instance, the sweet smell of vanilla, which others didn't pay much heed to, reminds me of my favourite aunt, a big attar user. Aldehyde makes most people in the room remember Chanel No.5. “The experience is akin to how one swirls wine to release its aroma,” says Raunak Munot, co-founder and CEO of Pune-based Trove Experiences, who started the company in 2019.
After getting acquainted with the concept of top, middle and base note fragrances, it’s time to get start making the perfume. We blend the fragrances that have left an impression on us after smelling them. Then starts the labourious task of scaling it up, recreating that blend to generate 10ml of fragrance. The task forced us to concentrate and be very certain of our combination formula.
One participant's creation was heavy on floral notes as, he explained, it had a calming effect on him. My combination was more woody, musky, fruity and floral. It uplifted my mood.
The idea behind my creation was to essentially to see what the result would be after combining the ingredients I liked during the smelling session. The fruity part smelled like bubblegum and cotton candy, the floral one reminded me of my aunt's chiffon saree, and the woody-ness came from a mixture of sandalwood, patchouli and cedar wood. There was also some calming Oriental touch and spicy-ness (a combination of Indian spices with a hint of lavender). Something was still missing. “Hmmm…it's not combining well. Add Musk,” advised Vijayvergiya, after taking a whiff of my creation. Musk, a base note, has the superpower of helping blend fragrances at a molecular level. Finally, there was harmony. I loved it! While my fellow participants went with the conventional perfume names like Morning Dew and Mishti for their creations, I decided to go with Powerpuff, reflecting energy and excitement.
While we celebrated our creations, many joked about how they can't pick any more scents after being inundated by those 12 notes. “You just had to smell 12 fragrances. Usually perfumers, on an average, work with around 200 fragrances to create a new fragrance,” laughed Vijayvergiya.