A mother’s warm, comforting embrace, holding you close and protectively. A journey into a green wood of peppered vetiver. And a final resting place of creamy sandalwood infused by smoke, ambered resins, and gingerbread vanilla, caressing your skin like the softest of golden veils.
That was my experience with Ashoka, the newest release from Neela Vermeire Créations (“NVC”) which will be released in early Fall of 2013. The perfume was shown at the Milan Esxence show this past March and someone thoughtfully sent me a small vial. The quantity wasn’t enough for my usual two tests, so I may update this review later in the Fall when I obtain a greater sample, especially if it is from a spray. But I certainly had enough for a very thorough test, and I really liked the perfume.
Ashoka is very different from Neela Vermeire‘s existing trio of Trayee, Mohur, and Bombay Bling. For one thing, it has three, very distinct phases. For another, parts of Ashoka represent Comfort for me. If Trayee could be categorized as “Sexy Seductiveness” that can sometimes feel like a wonderful force of nature, Mohur as “Sophisticated, Elegant Femininity,” and Bombay Bling as “Ebullient, Joyful Energy,” then Ashoka is, in large part, “Soothing Comfort.” There is a middle phase where that doesn’t really quite apply, but the perfume as a whole is an easy, wearable, very soothing, relaxing scent.
Ashoka is meant as a tribute to a legendary Indian emperor whose personal history very much matches the perfume’s development. Intentionally so, if I may add. The press release explains both points further:
Inspired by a legendary ruler, Neela Vermeire Création’s new release, Ashoka, is a tribute to an emperor who was conquered by his own compassion at the moment his victory was assured. He converted to Buddhism and devoted the rest of his life to spreading the Buddha’s teachings, to truth, to justice and to compassion for all living creatures beneath the sun.
His own evolution from ruthless conqueror to benevolent emperor is reflected in Ashoka’s journey from the fierce opening to a softly floral heart & the gentle embrace of its richly complex drydown.
Ashoka is an eau de parfum that was created in collaboration with Bertrand Duchaufour. According to an article on Fragrantica, the fragrance underwent numerous formulations to try to achieve a development that matched that of the Emperor himself. Over a year’s worth — until it finally matched Ms. Vermeire’s exacting standards, and the olfactory image she had in her mind of Ashoka’s character and life path. The perfume’s long list of notes includes:
fig leaves, leather, white and pink lotus, mimosa, fig milk, osmanthus, rose, water hyacinth, vetiver, styrax, incense, sandalwood, myrrh, tonka bean, and fir balsam.
I’d read a few things about how Ashoka’s pyramid of notes feels inverted, with the darker, heavier elements being first, starting with leather and green notes, followed by a descent into milkiness. My experience was different, and the usual pyramid scheme seemed solidly in place. In fact, from the very start when I sniffed the perfume vial, there was a lovely bouquet of sweet, milky figs, accompanied by green leaves and a dryly woody note like that of a stem. In essence, it replicated the whole fig on a vine — sweet, fresh, milky, green and woody.
The perfume was a bit different on my skin as Ashoka opens primarily with lactonic notes. It’s fresh, sweet, and supported by what definitely feels like coconut underneath. Fig leaves are said to smell like coconut, and that is certainly the case here. Generally, I’m not a fan of coconut in perfumery because it’s almost invariably blob-like, heavy, gooey, thickly buttered, and verging on Hawaiian suntan oil. But not here where the aroma is much more like coconut milk: fresh, light, delicately sweet, never buttery, or unctuous. It’s a lovely note that helps bolster the fruit’s naturally light aroma and milky sap.
Accompanying the various milky elements is some bitter green, adding balance and ensuring that the perfume is not excessively sweet. The green notes feel like leaves that have the faint vestigial hint of the trees they came from, creating a canopy over the fig and coconut milk. Sweet floral notes lurk behind in the shadows, feeling almost watery in their delicacy. It must be from the lotus flowers which are said to have an aquatic, sweet aroma. I like the contrast of the slightly bitter green leaves with the milky fig and coconut, but I was a little surprised not to get any of the heavy leather that I had read about. Frankly, I think it works better this way.
Five minutes in, Ashoka is a swirling blend of creamy milkiness with dark greenness, and delicate, watery florals. Vetiver and a subtle hint of vanilla arrive on the scene, accompanied by what feels most definitely like a small dash of ISO E Super. The earthy vetiver with the velvety wood accord of the ISO E Super are subtle at this stage, mere backdrops for the milky notes. The latter starts to turn sweeter and more floral; and the bitter leaves begin to fade away.
Ashoka slowly turns into an incredibly soft, soothing bouquet of milky flowers that strongly evokes a mother’s embrace. It feels like a mother’s loving caress when you’re ill and feverish. It’s the sense of comfort that you feel when, as a child, you would nestle in your mother’s arms at bedtime. Ashoka, in this stage, really reminds me of hugging my own mother. Her arms, velvety soft from the milky cream that she slathers herself in at night; the warmth of her body bringing out the light smattering of sweet flowers left on her neck and chest from her morning spray of perfume; the comfort as she holds me close, nestled, protected, and safe. The peppered wood notes underlying Ashoka never really take away from that image because they are just beneath the surface at this point. What is up top is that incredibly maternal, nurturing, comforting combination.
At the end of the first hour, Ashoka starts to slowly shift, and the second phase in the perfume’s development begins. The wood and ISO E Super rise in prominence, overtaking the lactonic elements which slowly recede to the background. Now, Ashoka is primarily heavily peppered vetiver with ISO E Super on a quiet base of coconut-fig milk. It’s as if your mother — or, in this case, Father Ashoka — has taken you to play outside amidst the grassy vetiver at the outskirts of some peppered woods.
The ISO E Super is not overwhelming and never has the feel of rubbing alcohol underneath it, as it sometimes does. Unfortunately, after an experience last month, I think I have almost a Pavlovian response to the note, and I react even if the bell is the smallest one around. The faintest ring — or, in this case, the lightest note — will send my senses tingling. I simply don’t like it. Yes, I realise that prior experience has scarred me for life, but that is solely my own, personal, slightly neurotic issue. Thankfully for the rest of you, most people seem to be completely anosmic to ISO E Super which has been found, in some cases, to act almost like an aphrodisiac pheromone. So the majority of you should have no worries, and only those few people with acute sensitivities to ISO E Super may want to take heed.
At the start of the third hour, my favorite part of all NVC perfumes begins: the sandalwood. As always, it is that opulently creamy, richly spiced note that feels like real Mysore sandalwood and which is the hallmark of all the fragrances thus far. The wood is so rare, it might as well be priceless, so heavens only knows how astronomical the cost to have it as the base here. But it’s lovely, especially as the milky coconut-fig accord melds in seamlessly to add extra creaminess. The spicy sandalwood is accompanied by quiet hints of incense smoke, vanilla tonka and amber, but they are subtle at this stage, just flickers in the campfire glow of that wood. I smell a few vague, almost abstract, light florals too; something that seems like the suggestion of rose, accompanied by mimosa, but it’s not strong on my skin. The peppered vetiver is still present, but it has softened somewhat, letting the other players share some time on the stage. I should add that the combination of these notes makes Ashoka a definite Oriental in my mind, regardless of Fragrantica’s classification of it as a “woody aromatic.”
The rich purr of the sandalwood and the peppered woodsy notes with amber continue their dance for a few hours. There are occasional flickers of osmanthus, smelling like light apricots and black tea, but it’s extremely subtle. There is also a fleeting impression of powdered vanilla that darts about here or there, but it might as well be a ghost at this stage. I never smell the leather. I suspect that, if I had enough perfume for the equivalent of two big sprays, it may be a very different story. I’ve noticed in the past that it’s much easier to detect the subtle nuances in NVC perfumes if one uses both a spray and a fair portion. The fragrances are simply too well-blended to allow the small, microscopic elements to be detected with a small dose, since everything blends so seamlessly into each other. Still, I’m surprised to get no leather at all, especially as that it’s a heavier molecule and one which is supposed to be quite prominent in the perfume. The leather is intentionally meant to reflect Emperor Ashoka’s early life as a cruel, ruthless, military conqueror, so either my skin is wonky or I need a good few sprays.
By the start of the sixth hour, Ashoka smells of a cozy gingerbread accord with vanilla — all sitting atop quiet, velvety, softly polished woods. The perfume has the same sort of subtly spiced, vanilla-infused, ambery resin base that some of the Chanel Orientals have (like Bois des Iles, for example), but the lingering traces of ISO E Super turns Ashoka’s base into something much woodier and, to my nose, peppery. By the very end, almost 10.5 hours later, the final notes are of creamy vanillic amber. I suspect that length of time would be significantly increased if I had a greater amount to apply, as NVC fragrances usually last between 12-14 hours on my perfume-consuming skin.
As a whole, Ashoka is a very airy fragrance that is moderately strong at the start, while being lightweight in feel. Its projection is moderate to low. The latter may stem from the reduced quantity that I used but, in general, I think Ashoka is fully intended to be a softer, lighter perfume than something like Trayee or Bombay Bling. It is in line with the whole goal of replicating Emperor Ashoka’s transformation into an advocate of Buddhism, peace, and serenity. The perfume’s comforting, soothing, maternal (sorry, this perfume simply doesn’t fit my mental associations and image of a paternal scent) opening was strong but gentle, never forceful or overpowering, and its final drydown is even softer.
I think all that makes Ashoka an easier fragrance in some ways as compared to its more intense siblings. It’s not that Trayee, Mohur or Bombay Bling are not versatile. They are, especially Mohur. But none of them is so gentle, soft, and casual. As I noted at the top of this review, Ashoka fills a gap in the NVC line, one that I never realised until now: cozy comfort. Bombay Bling may comfort a lot of people, but it does so through its energizing, ebullient nature. It’s not restful, the way that Ashoka is for much of its development. (I’m leaving out the middle part’s trip to the vetiver forest in my assessment, since I personally don’t equate vetiver with soothing embraces.)
I really enjoyed Ashoka. I absolutely adored the milkiness of the opening stage, and really liked the final drydown. My personal issues with ISO E Super made me struggle with the middle part, but that’s my own peculiarity. Most people I know can’t even detect it! So, don’t let it stop you. I think Ashoka’s creamy gentleness and soft embrace will make it a big, big hit.
[ED. Note: You can find a review for the new, upcoming Neela Vermeire “Mohur Esprit” which will come out at the same time as Ashoka here.]
From your description it sounds like a perfume that I will like. Thank you for the newest lemming 🙂
I thought of you as I was testing it because I think you’d very much like this. It’s not just that you like ISO E Super but the smoothness of the wood notes, combined with that incredibly comforting opening, and cozy finish. It definitely reads “Undina” to me. 🙂
Oh dear! This was a lovely review and though I’ve vowed not to try any more really expensive fragrances until summer, you got me at lactones.
Your wallet and credit cards are safe for now, Nancy. It won’t be out until the Fall. For some reason, I have the start of September in my mind as a general release date. BTW, you know how you think of me when you see pink, rubbery bandaids? I think of you when I smell milky notes! lol
LOL! Well, my grandfather owned a dairy and it got stolen when he died…I suppose I’m making up for that now. 😉 (And seriously, if you would have told me that I’d suddenly be obsessed with milky notes I would have laughed, but it’s true, I am.)
I wonder if she will offer the little sample spray on her website, in the same way I got the 3 pack of Trayee, Bling, and Mohur. I do like a good comfort scent.
I’m sure she’ll offer something. Given that NVC is also releasing a totally new concentration of Mohur in the Fall, there will essentially be *two* new things for people to try. Perhaps a revised sample set to include the 4th and 5th perfumes? Whatever the case, Luckyscent is also bound to offer samples, though theirs are never quite as large in size.
How come you already have it! I WANT it toooooooooooooooooo!
Great read, will have to wait until Autumn to try it.
I think you’d enjoy this for the most part. I know you are a bit iffy on vetiver, so that part may depend. 🙂
Yup, might depend. I don’t like when vetiver is sour or rooty, woody vetiver (like in Carner Barcelona D600) is a thing for me.
No, the vetiver here is not sour or rooty/earthy/black. It’s definitely woody, so that’s good news. 🙂
That’s a great news. And taking into consideration that I liked all 3 NVC scents so far (some more some less) I think I will like Ashoka too 😀
Aw, this sounds lovely! Glad you were able to try it and share an early review with the rabble. 🙂 I will certainly look forward to trying this once it comes out. As long as the ISO-E isn’t in too great of quantities so that I can smell the other elements, this sounds like something I’d enjoy smelling, even if I wasn’t tempted by a full bottle. NV seems to be a tremendously talented woman.
You seem generally anosmic to ISO E Super unless it’s something like the Molecule 01, so I doubt you’d even detect the quantity here. How I wish I were anosmic to ISO E Super….
My Mom passed away in 2007. How can I not want it? She was a complicated woman and the finest person I have ever known. Mohur reminds me of her sophisticated side, the jewelry and clothes collector, the woman who took tea at the Ritz and loved touring The White House at holiday time. I think this will remind me of our cuddly moments.
I told you you’d love Mohur! I’m currently testing the Pure Parfum version which will be released this Fall along with Ashoka. I think you’d really enjoy Ashoka too, Vicki, for precisely the reasons that you mentioned. 🙂
This sounds gorgeous. The part about sandalwood made me feel a bit wistful. Despite living in the country of sandalwood, it’s such a rare thing now here as well, thanks to sandalwood smugglers. Ironically, when Veerapan was alive (the legendary dacoit who evaded the police for a decade or so) he and his army ruled the sandalwood forests in and around Karnataka and so he acted as a natural deterrent to sandalwood smugglers. Ever since his death the Indian forest department have, predictably, fallen down on the job, so to speak. Sandalwood smugglers have been having a field day. One of my favourite soaps is now off my shopping list because it is not real but artificial sandalwood, and the difference is palpable. I cherish my sandalwood block which has many more years left in it and from which I can get enough for a daily face mask, but eh. I do miss my soap.
Lovely review for what sounds like a fantastic perfume.
Thank you so much for sharing some insight into the situation on the ground, so to speak. How absolutely terrible about the smugglers. When did Karnataka die? What is a dacoit? Was he some sort of Robin Hood who protected the sandalwood forests?
As for perfumery, true, real, Mysore sandalwood is almost impossible to find in the vast majority of perfumes nowadays; no-one can really afford it, so they often use synthetic replacements or the Australian version (which is not even the same tree at all)! There have been numerous attempts to grow Indian sandalwood elsewhere and to use sustainable sources, and Australia’s plantations (of the Indian Mysore) may be a new hope. But I haven’t smelled any thus far, so I can’t say. One reason why Neela Vermeire perfumes are such a huge, huge hit with me is that she actually DOES use real Mysore sandalwood. Her production costs are enormous given the price per kilo that she spends on all these rare and/or absolute essences, but the difference shows, imo. That sandalwood foundation is really a signature to her perfumes in my mind which sets her perfumes apart from many other “sandalwood” scents out there.
I keep forgetting that dacoit is more of an Indian word. It’s the equivalent of a bandit. 🙂 He wasn’t a Robin Hood, although he did steal from the rich. He would kidnap high-ranking police and government officials and hold them to ransom. He got away with it for a long time. I forget how his story started, but it began as payback against a corrupt official who had wronged him in some fashion. If you can, you should google him. It’s a fascinating story.
Private sandalwood forests are protected here now, for the most part. But the trees that grow in the wild are subject to government protection only. The government doesn’t care about the people who live here, so trees, plants, and the wildlife don’t really have a chance. I’ve often said that India doesn’t deserve her wildlife. Look at how we’re battling to save the tiger now, and without much success, I might add.
I think that it’s important that she continues to use the real ingredients and essences despite production costs. Using quality shows in the end-product. It’s like my baking; I only use real butter – and it shows. It’s why people keep coming back to me. Other people use margarine (*gag*) to keep their costs down – and THAT shows in their stuff. We all know which one tastes better, and is better for you too. 😉 I hope she doesn’t give in to those horrible EU allergy regulations and starts to substitute artificial for authentic. But given that she hasn’t so far, I’m hopeful that she never will.
Everything written in this review makes me want to try Ashoka in the worst possible way! (and perhaps even succumb to a full bottle 😀 !! )
Oh, I’m so glad you liked the review! And I know you love soothing, comfort scents, so this may definitely be one for you to try. 🙂
I am a sucker for a milky fig scent (Bois Naufrage I have in duplicate!), and I could really use some soothing comfort at the moment, so thanks for piquing my curiosity further with this mellifluous review (however that is spelt…)
Vanessa, I think Ashoka is the NVC perfume that is most your style and to your tastes. I can’t see you wearing Trayee, for example, but I could see you wearing Ashoka. 🙂
I haven’t even smelled this and I want it too. If its anything like the other 3 scents in her line than it’ll be a keeper I’m sure. It sounds fabulous and the notes sound great for a fall release.
Oooh, Ashoka! Want! Need I say more?
BTW, last week for 3 straight days, I decided to douse myself with Mohur to wrestle it to the ground, pencil shaving smell be damned. It still smells like (elegant) pencil shavings but I definitely get the oily rose. I can’t wait to try the pure parfum!
I’m really looking forward to smelling this. I was very fortunate in being in the right place at the right time last year in Florence and Neela sprayed a work-in-progress version of it on my wrist, which I then had Bertrand smelling from my wrist- it was surreal. I still really love Mohur. I’m going to save some dollars for a bottle of it or the newer Esprit de Parfum once I compare the two.
Hello, Clayton, nice of you to stop by. 🙂 What a wonderful experience you had in Florence last year! As for Mohur, it was always my 2nd favorite of the trio, slowly creeping its way over time to match and equal Trayee in my estimations. However, the new Esprit de Parfum concentration of Mohur may trump them all. I just posted a review of it and, though the differences are only of degree, they were definitely there to my nose. If you loved Mohur EDP, I think you’ll fall hard for the Esprit. I look forward to reading what you think of both Ashoka and the Esprit when you get the chance to smell them both.
Cool. I’m even more excited to get my hands on a bottle then : ) The original Mohur is near perfect for me so if the Esprit is close to it, it sounds like heaven. Thanks for the review! NVC is hard to find for me being in Australia, so I’ll definitely have to get onto Luckyscent!
K – Neela never disappoints so I have no doubt that this will be an incredible winner.
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While sitting on pins and needles for my samples of the Discovery Set and admiring the beautiful photography on the Trayee review, I posted a comment to see if anyone had tried Ashoka yet,(lol)
I really should pay more attention and should have known it would already be posted here, and yes I can smell it already just from the wonderful review !
Ashoka is very popular and much loved already by many perfumistas, perhaps because it is a much easier scent than the others. It isn’t my favorite from the line, but then, I love the complicated, fiery, dusty, spiciness of Trayee. 🙂