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Alexandra Carlin, the nose behind scents such as Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Blush, is something of an Indophile. The French perfumer has been to India several times since 2007 on extended visits, once even staying back in Tamil Nadu to learn Bharatanatyam. What she saw—and smelt— one evening, as her group was to perform at a local temple, stayed with her. It was dusk, and as it grew darker, women with jet-black hair strung with jasmine flowers came in with offerings of tuberose, as the warmth of the evening aarti slowly filled the air. Carlin held on to this memory for years. The fragrance, called Moiré, was finally made last year and launched last month as part of a collection by new indie label Bombay Perfumery. Moiré plays with the concept of light and dark coming together, just as the whites of tuberose and jasmine became visually vibrant during dusk.

Set up by Manan Gandhi, whose exposure to the perfume business comes from his family’s trade of nearly three decades, Bombay Perfumery isn’t just about beautiful scents but also potent memories. After having spent the last five years trying to expand the family business in Grasse, a small town in southern France known as the perfume capital of the world, Gandhi has grown into more than just an entrepreneur.

Concept art detailing the ingredients in 1020 by Pierre Kurzunne.
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Concept art detailing the ingredients in 1020 by Pierre Kurzunne.

He is keenly observant of the ingredients that go into a scent. “Lately, the hero of the scent, in many cases, is the ingredient," he says, recounting his annual trips to Haiti to personally source vetiver, to Indonesia for patchouli and to Madurai for jasmine, tuberose, pepper and precious sandalwood.

Gandhi notes that there is a “progressive perfume" movement in the West and he combines that with his knowledge of the need for home-grown brands in the domestic market to pay homage to all things Indian. Even the label’s name was adopted when he stumbled upon an old signboard of an abandoned family business in Mumbai, the city of his growing-up years.

While Carlin’s Moiré plays with her vivid olfactory memories of dark and light from all those years ago, her colleague Pierre Kurzunne, another nose on-board Bombay Perfumery, was on a mission to bring out the pure freshness of spices, separating the idea from any stereotypical associations of heady, heavy Indian masalas. His scent 1020 plays with two roots: ginger’s purest scent and vetiver’s refreshing yet cosy smell. The trick with vetiver, though, is this: Its scent is realized only when it is wet. A root (ver) that’s often used in wet blinds and cooler mats to keep out the summer heat, vetiver’s light scent has flooded many a south Indian household’s summertime memory. “We visited whole fields of vetiver plants once while on this project," Kurzunne says.

“It took us more than a year to develop our line of eight scents," says Gandhi. While the bottles are priced at par with any popular international brand, Bombay Perfumery hopes to overturn the way in which most of us buy our perfumes—at a store, confused after smelling too many bottles.

“We want you to experience the scents perform on your skin, to get used to them, and only then buy a full bottle for yourself," he says, explaining the sample kits of five of their eight fragrances (three for women, three for men, and two unisex), priced at 500—an amount waived off from your bill when you finally invest in one of their bottles.

Bombay Perfumery is, however, not planning to expand its line of perfumes in the forseeable future and is only offering its perfumes online.

Their focus for now is on creating a community around their label and engaging with artists of different kinds. Gandhi set the tone for this at the brand’s Mumbai launch. Nine local artists were invited to interpret each scent through installations and artworks. This resulted in Bombay Sensation, an Art Deco-inspired piece that uses an impression of Bombay Perfumery’s trademark handi-shaped bottles, by Krsna Mehta, the brain behind IndiaCircus, as well as Taxi Fabric founder Sanket Avlani’s Chai Diagram, an intersection of four, cot-like structures with coloured fabric symbolizing the notes in Chai Musk, one of Carlin’s scents.

For a perfumer like Carlin, making a fragrance is like writing a story; the ingredients are her words. “It’s like having our own language," she says. “Seeing other artists come in and understand our stories through their own craft was a great feeling."

Bombay Perfumery’s scents are available at Bombayperfumery.com.

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