Interview – Neela Vermeire: Ashoka, Perfume, Food & Life

In Rig Veda Psych4u  blogspot

Source: In Rig Veda Psych4u blogspot

A while ago, I asked Neela Vermeire of Neela Vermeire Créations (“NVC”) if she would be kind enough to do an interview. She graciously agreed, and I sent along some questions. “Some” is an understatement — not being one for brevity, I’m afraid I inundated her with rather a lengthy list. Ms. Vermeire never blinked, and never once said that her incredibly busy schedule couldn’t accommodate such a barrage. Instead, she spent a portion of her holidays answering them. (And she never told me to fly a kite when I came back with follow-ups, twice!) I’m incredibly grateful for her graciousness, her time, her enormous patience, and her always sunny disposition.

Neela Vermeire. Source: NVC

Neela Vermeire. Source: Ms. Vermeire.

My goal with the questions was for us to learn as much about Neela Vermeire the person and perfume lover, as about the one who creates beautiful perfumes. Many of you know the brief outlines of Ms. Vermeire’s story. She was born in India, living life in the lushness of Calcutta (now Kolkata), before travelling around the world. She studied in America, completing a Master’s Degree in social sciences, then eventually moved to England where she studied law and became a solicitor. She spent a little time in Aberdeen, Scotland, practiced in London, and, for a brief period, moved to Paris where she remained for two years. She went back across the pond to England, then, six years after she left Paris, Ms. Vermeire and her Belgian husband moved back for good, this time for her husband’s work.

Bertrand Duchaufour. Source: mparis.ru

Bertrand Duchaufour. Source: mparis.ru

Ms. Vermeire was always passionate about perfumery and, in an almost organic process, she decided to express her love concretely by starting her own line. So, she approached Bertrand Duchaufour — one of the most famous perfume noses in the world, who has worked with everyone from Dior, to Acqua di Parma, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garcons, Givenchy, Penhaligon, and many others. The result was Neela Vermeire Créations, three highly acclaimed fragrances, an award nomination, inclusion at the top of many perfume sites’ annual “Best of” lists, and a passionate following of admirers. And now, a fourth creation whose release is just a week away: Ashoka, Imperial Buddhist, a scent intended to capture the essence and life of India’s most famous Emperor, the man whose very symbol (a chakra) is now placed right in the center of India’s flag.

Emperor Ashoka.

Emperor Ashoka.

I asked Ms. Vermeire about Ashoka, its creation, and the feelings that she sought to capture. But what about the woman herself? As I said earlier, I wanted you to know the complex, intellectual, extremely diverse, fascinating woman behind the fragrances, as much as the perfumista who created them. Ms. Vermeire kindly shared everything from some of her favorite perfumes that she used to wear, to her favorite television shows, her culinary weaknesses, and even her favorite type of chocolates. I hope you enjoy the answers as much as I did.

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What are some of your favorite notes in perfumes? Notes that make you sit up with excitement when you see them on a perfume list?

There are too many to list but here are some: iris, jasmine sambac, tuberose, rose, lavender, vetiver, galbanum, sandalwood and most precious woods, styrax, resins…

Are there any perfume notes that you struggle with or that you don’t like at all?

Certain fruits, heavy patchouli, overtly sweet “gourmand” notes.

Which fruit notes don’t you like? Peach? Grape? Grapefruit? Blackcurrant?

I have difficulty with fruity notes in general – difficult to point to and blame certain fruits. It really depends on how a perfumer works with some of the fruity notes.

What was your earliest perfume memory? 

It comes of course from my childhood years in India –smell of sandalwood paste, incense, tea, spices, flowers…

Before you started your own perfume line, what were some of your favorite perfumes?

There are too many to list as I collected many fragrances over the years. What I reached out for the most were:

Chanel Bois des Iles Extrait; Chanel No. 22 Extrait; Guerlain Jicky, Vega, and Sous Le Vent; Frederic Malle Iris Poudre and Une Fleur de Cassie; Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist and Bois de Violette. used to wear the Le Labo Tubereuse 40 NY exclusive, Iris 39 and Labdanum 18.

Also, I love and collect vintage perfumes. My main haul this year include an unopened Shalimar extrait in the box from the 1940s with the original wrapping paper, vintage Femme, and vintage Madame Rochas over summer from an antique fair, among a few…. [All font emphasis to the names added by me.]

Did you ever have a signature fragrance?

I don’t have a signature fragrance; I have always been too interested in experimenting or trying new scents. That said, I do wear NVC Mohur frequently, and a future creation which is still work in progress. [Font emphasis added by me.]

When you started your own perfume house, you obviously had a clear overall vision and inspiration for the perfumes that subsequently became Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling. What happens after you have that initial idea for a scent? Can you share a little about the steps in the creative process, and the methods by which you and Bertrand Duchaufour rendered your initial idea into something concrete? For example, would both of you test out different formulas each week? 

Once I have clear vision – it is expressed to the perfumer. Sometimes we can start with a part of the entire vision and then build the foundation of the fragrance – we usually work on a couple of options in line with the original idea.

For Ashoka, the challenge was rather different compared to the first trio (which express vast periods of history) and not a legendary personality who helped spread a magnificent religion Buddhism. [Font emphasis to the name added by me.]

Can you expand a little on the process of building the perfume’s foundation and working with different options in line with the original vision?

It is one of the ways for me to develop and flesh out ideas – when you express an idea – you may not get (as a mod) what you think it is going to be. [Me: “Mod” is industry-speak for “version.”] The guiding factor is in imagination of the notes and the balance of the work-in-progress creation.

A perfume can take shape from those early stages to something very different from what was presented at say stage one. It is truly a matter of being on the same page for all parties involved in the creation.

Things take time in general – it is either a matter of being quick/hurried and accepting mods which may not be fully formed or the tougher route when one decides to carry on with the development and make sure that one reaches a satisfactory stage where the “eureka moment” actually happens!

Why did Emperor Ashoka appeal to you in the first place as a source of perfume inspiration, as opposed to some other Indian figure representing peace? Has he always interested you?  

Emperor Ashoka's Chakra, which is the very symbol in the center of the Indian national flag.

Emperor Ashoka’s Chakra, which is the very symbol in the center of the Indian national flag.

Personally as an Indian, Ashoka has always held a very special place since my childhood. One cannot ignore his importance if you grow up in India.  In a nutshell – he was a true humanist (after his self-realization) and possibly one of the greatest emperors ever. He believed in secularism and was way ahead of his times.

NVC LogoIn fact, our logo was adapted from Ashoka’s famous Chakra.

The bottle for Ashoka, as designed by Pierre Dinard.

The bottle for Ashoka, as designed by Pierre Dinard.

Our new bottle, designed by Pierre Dinand, has 24 ridges just like Ashoka’s chakra. The logo [adaptation of the chakra] is also embossed on the metal cap. [So, the perfume] is about the meaning of this important symbol.

H.G. Wells summed up what you need to know about Ashoka in his book A Short History of the World. (1922):

“Asoka was at first disposed to follow the example of his father and grandfather and complete the conquest of the Indian peninsula. He […] was successful in his military operations and —alone among conquerors—  was so disgusted by the cruelty and horror of war that he renounced it. He would have no more of it. He adopted the peaceful doctrines of Buddhism and declared that henceforth his conquests should be the conquests of religion.

The Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, constructed by Ashoka. Two monks are meditating in front of it. The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment is on the left, behind the monks. This temple is the number 1 pilgrimage site of Buddhism in the world.  Source: Wikicommons.

The Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, constructed by Ashoka. Two monks are meditating in front of it. The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment is on the left, behind the monks. This temple is the number 1 pilgrimage site of Buddhism in the world. Source: Wikicommons.

His reign for eight-and-twenty years was one of the brightest interludes in the troubled history of mankind. He organized a great digging of wells in India and the planting of trees for shade. He founded hospitals and public gardens and gardens for the growing of medicinal herbs. He created a ministry for the care of the aborigines and subject races of India. He made provision for the education of women. […]

Such was Asoka, greatest of kings. He was far in advance of his age. He left no prince and no organization of men to carry on his work, and within a century of his death the great days of his reign had become a glorious memory in a shattered and decaying India. […] But beyond the confines of India and the realms of caste Buddhism spread—until it had won China and Siam and Burma and Japan, countries in which it is predominant to this day…”

Perhaps the sole sculptural depiction of Emperor Ashoka that remains today.

Perhaps the sole sculptural depiction of Emperor Ashoka that remains today, though the identity of the figure has not been fully established.

What made you both decide on certain notes, like fig, being a perfect way to reflect a stage in Emperor Ashoka’s life?

The main idea was to ensure that the fragrance has a contrasting start from a strong top note to a gentle drydown. We included some floral notes, fig leaves and fig milk, styrax, and sandalwood as some of the important notes to bring about this contrast.

Buddha achieved his enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree/Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) and the fact that Ashoka converted to Buddhism to gain his own enlightenment.

Ashoka.

The new NVC bottle design by Pierre Dinand.

For each of the perfumes, including the upcoming Ashoka, when did you finally know that a particular version or formula was “the” final, perfect one? Was there one of the perfumes that was a little harder to finalize and perfect (according to that mental vision) than the others?

I could go on perfecting a perfume forever and I do not care to rush towards any deadline. In the case of the trio, Trayee was the toughest to declare “final” as well as Mohur. Bombay Bling appeared to be relatively less complex to finalize in comparison to the other two.

Ashoka was incredibly tough and took many iterations. [All font emphasis to the names added by me.]

Speaking of Ashoka, there is already a tidal wave of anticipation and excitement. I read your interview with Fragrantica back in April about the two versions of the perfume that you showed at Milan: versions 108, 110 and their differences. To quote the relevant part of the Fragrantica reviewer’s perceptions: “108 is more masculine, green and harsh, with a fierce start recalling the period of the youth of Ashoka—a fearless hunter, cruel warrior and a great conqueror. 110 is more lactonic and sleek; it shows Ashoka after his enlightment [sic], as a kind and compassionate person…” Given his description and your own words about having different versions in Milan, it sounds like you went through numerous different interpretations for the scent. Did you finally settle on #108? And, if so, what made one formula seem like a better, truer, more representative fit for Ashoka than the other?

The numbers got juxtaposed somehow and did not get amended! It is 110 we settled for as it “is more masculine, green and strong, with a fierce start recalling the period of the youth of Ashoka—a fearless hunter, cruel warrior and a great conqueror.”

110 was the overall character of the perfume that we had in mind for Ashoka.

108 was relatively gentle in the opening.

One of the many, many things that I think will make Ashoka such a hit is that it hits that sweet spot in your line-up for a comfort fragrance. Each of your other ones represent a certain type of fragrance: Trayee is the seductive temptress with flair; Mohur is quiet, refined elegance; and Bombay Bling is fun, jubilant, exuberance. For me, Ashoka represents soothing comfort, a sort of serenity mixed with a mother’s protective embrace. Obviously, that’s my subjective interpretation of it, but I’m curious if you thought about the types of perfumes that you had already, and if you sought to create a type of refined, sophisticated comfort fragrance for your line-up?

Thank you for your faith in our fourth creation! To answer your question, for us – it is about the general mood of a fragrance.

Trayee is spiritual, contemplative and refined.

Mohur is elegant and glamorous as the same time.

Bombay Bling is sheer sophisticated fun.

Ashoka is intended to be that sophisticated comfort fragrance that you describe, both powerful and gentle.

All are created for men and women. We wanted everyone to be able to select a fragrance wardrobe from the collection. [All font emphasis to the names added by me.]

If you had to choose a painting, picture, photo or place that you think sums up the overall feel of Ashoka, perhaps as an emotional experience, what would it be? 

It is very much a collage of various images – it is very tough to link it to one single image. The only image I can think of right now is the Ashoka’s chakra.

Emotionally it is a fragrance that works from a powerful top note to a very warm and comforting heart and base notes.

Ashoka's Chakra in stone

I’m always in awe of the quality of your ingredients but, especially, of that stunning sandalwood in your original trio. Without getting into trade secrets, can you tell us anything about the sandalwood or perhaps the Laotian Oudh that you use?

I have faith in a specialist perfumer like Bertrand Duchaufour’s choice of materials – naturals and aroma chemicals he uses in the compositions and we know that in the case of the NVC perfumes we did not cut any corners for the sake of economics.

We have used some precious woods like Mysore sandalwood oil and Laotian Oudh.  We hope to continue on this path.

To what extent has your creative process or the perfume’s development been impacted by sourcing issues for ingredients? For example, that beautiful sandalwood is neither cheap nor in great abundance.

As mentioned above, I leave this to the perfumer and the essence company. The perfumers are specialists and know their materials well. It is their tool. Using some of the rare and precious raw materials can make a formula exorbitantly expensive.

When you work with experts/professionals in the fragrance world and I will underline experts – who know how to create a formula and know that if the ingredients are excellent – the end result will usually be very good.

There is a level of complexity to get an idea or message across through the perfume – even though the message is used mainly as an intellectual prop.

The perfume should make one “feel”/emote…

You make very French perfumes, even if they have an Indian inspiration. I think there is a very definite style to French perfumery as a whole or, at least, there was. Do you think that may be in danger in the years ahead due to things like IFRA or EU restrictions? Do you see any changes ahead for French perfumery?

Yes, but as long as one can conform to the new rules – it will hopefully be ok.

Perfume and your company obviously take up a vast amount of your time. What do you do to relax? Or, to put it another way, what are some of your non-perfume-related passions? Do you have any guilty pleasures — whether in television, books, food or something else — that you would confess to? 🙂

Music – all forms – I do enjoy going to classical concerts and productions of baroque opera.

Theatre when we visit London or NYC. We enjoy some French Theatre.

Art – everything from street art (like Space Invader), to Chagall.

Food – see below.

I adore the Cinema but rarely find the time to go.

I am also a fan of intelligent TV series – enjoy some excellent HBO productions, BBC and Nordic productions.

I know you love the TV show, Borgen, but what else? Which HBO or BBC series?

Borgen, Wallander, The Killing, The Bridge. On the BBC, there are too many to list, as I grew up with the BBC – crime, justice, comedy. But I am a Downton Abbey fan. I’m also a HUGE Poirot fan.

From HBO or American television, there are also too many, but some include The Wire, Boardwalk Empire (fabulous), The Sopranos…. I also watch other shows like: Engrenages (French), The Shield, and The Good Wife.

I’ve enjoyed Mad Men very much. It’s very stylish, and I love John Slattery’s part, as well as many other characters. Homeland is also great, and I liked the original Israeli version, Prisoners of War. Another show I like is the new Netflix series, House of Cards, mainly for Kevin Spacey. I’ve been a fan of his since early in his career with The Usual Suspects.

I do not dare to mention feature films, as I am film buff and have an endless list that may bore everyone.

Source: Ms. Vermeire.

Source: Ms. Vermeire.

Since you live in Paris with all that glorious food, and since I’m a foodie myself, I have to ask as my last question: what are some of your favorite dishes, cheeses, patisseries, breads, or other aspects of French culinary life? Please let us live vicariously through you!

Even though I live in Paris, I remain a huge fan of all types of Asian cuisine (which I still like the best). Second for me comes Italian cuisine. I also enjoy savoury Persian and Lebanese cuisine. In fact, I am known to impose Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine on my friends.

There is nothing like good organic bread and we have some excellent artisanal boulangeries near us.

Sadly, we have not found a truly great Indian restaurant in Paris, the UK and the US just seem better for that.

In India, the cuisine is varied – I love most regional cooking. My favourite type of cuisine is Dum Pukht. If you are in New Delhi, you must try the restaurants Dum Pukht and Bukhara for an excellent culinary experience.

I also enjoy creative meals from any of the great French chefs and from chefs from all over the world. There, I go more for quality than quantity.

Source: goodealmart.com

Source: goodealmart.com

However, if I have to go for general French cuisine, I enjoy good fish restaurants. I enjoy platters of my favourite French oysters — speciales Gillardeau with some vintage champagne — followed by a deliciously cooked sole (grilled or fried), or grilled sea bass with olive oil or cooked in salt crust.

Biscuits Roses de Reims. Source: agence-des-grands-crus.com

Biscuits Roses de Reims. Source: agence-des-grands-crus.com

I also enjoy wine tasting wherever we go. And we enjoy looking for good champagne houses that are rather niche in production. My favourite champagne maison is Jacquesson. I also enjoy dunking rose biscuits from Reims in champagne.

I’m not fond of heavy patisseries, but I enjoy some good dark chocolate from time to time. My favourite chocolatiers include Pierre Marcolini (Belgian), Patrick Roger, Debauve et Gallais (French)…

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Oh my God, I don’t know about you, but I salivated like a dog reading her food answers! Wouldn’t you love to go eating and drinking across Europe with Ms. Vermeire?! Coincidentally, I went to the famous Bukhara in New Delhi years ago, and can attest that it is as good as Ms. Vermeire says it is. (Actually, it was completely mind-blowing. And I gained 6 pounds to prove it!) Ms. Vermeire clearly knows her food. And her oysters, too! The New York Times calls Gillardeau “the most famous name in oysters.” If you’re curious about Jacquesson, the champagne house has a fascinating history that goes back to 1798 and not only pre-dates Krug, but arguably gave rise to the latter.

Macarons, Pierre Marcolini, via Wikicommons.

Macarons, Pierre Marcolini, via Wikicommons.

Lastly, if you’re a masochist who loves to torture yourself with food porn from afar (as I do), then you really should check out the handsome Pierre Marcolini, his lovely website with its various chocolate collections, and his e-Boutique that offers everything from macarons to your own choice of chocolate selections. (No U.S. deliveries, alas.) A much less visually appealing website is that of Debauve & Gallais, and it offers chocolate deliveries on a more global basis, including FedEx shipments to the U.S. The company was founded in 1800, and became the official chocolatiers to Emperor Napoleon, as well as to several kings who followed him.

As for the perfumes, I think we would all agree with Ms. Vermeire that the fragrance should make us feel. And the very best ones always do. I have felt the soothing comfort of Ashoka, and I think many of you will love the Emperor’s embrace. I’m still madly in love with the upcoming Mohur Extrait above all else (yes, even more than Trayee!), but I think Ashoka has a refined gentleness that makes it very appealing and perhaps the most versatile of all the NVC creations. I can’t wait for you all to try it!

I would like to repeat my grateful thanks to Ms. Vermeire for taking big chunk of time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer my questions. She is working on a new fragrance, is constantly on the move, and is also preparing for the new launch of Ashoka that is mere days away. The fragrance will be officially released at the Pitti Immagine Fragranze Faire in Florence on September 13th! In light of all that, her graciousness, and patience mean even more. I shall see if I can one day repay her with dark chocolates or, perhaps, with some grilled sea bass.…

[AVAILABILITY UPDATE: Ashoka will be available for sale starting on September 23, 2013. In the U.S., it will be sold at Luckyscent and Min New York. I asked Ms. Vermeire about Ashoka samples and the Discovery Sets. This is her reply:

Here is what we are planning till we have Ashoka in the sets.
Try your India sample sets (3×2 ml) and Discovery sets with Ashoka EDP from late autumn from the site.

We will include a free glass vial sample of Ashoka with every purchase of the NVC Discovery set 10 ml x 3 of the first trio.

Please stay tuned for news on e-boutique.

The full flacons of Ashoka will be available at 190 Euros plus shipping.

So, starting on September 23rd, if you order the Discovery Set, you will get a glass vial of Ashoka. Ms. Vermeire says that samples of Ashoka won’t be available to go with the smaller “Try your India” sample set until much later in the Fall. So you can only get a sample if you order the NVC Discovery Set. As for a possible 10 ml bottle of Ashoka, at some point much later in the Fall, Ashoka will be added to the Discovery Set, but it is not offered being right now. (When it is, the Discover Set’s prices will presumably change for 4 x 10 ml, instead of 3 x 10 ml, but that is just my guess).]

Perfume Review – Bombay Bling by Neela Vermeire Créations: Dance, Dance, Dance!

Source: National Geographic

Source: National Geographic

India stole my heart. I’ve said it before, and I will no doubt say it again, but it really did. While the ancient temples and palaces left me in awe, while the stunning beauty of Matheran left me speechless, it was really Bombay (as it was known then) which did it. For someone like myself with a nomadic upbringing and who stopped counting all the places she lived in before she was even twenty-one, Bombay somehow felt like home. It was the perfect mix of East and West, a city of contrasts with such incredibly high energy and with such a gusto for life that it left one feeling just a little more alive.

Marine Drive, aka The Queen's Necklace. Source: Floyd-n-Milan Deviant Art

Marine Drive, aka The Queen’s Necklace. Source: Floyd-n-Milan Deviant Art

Source: UncorneredMarket.com

Source: UncorneredMarket.com

Among my many memories of Bombay was one day which began with lunch at the Queen’s Necklace, a sweeping, gleaming curve of beautiful white buildings by the sparkling, electric-blue sea, and which ended at the wee hours of the morning the next day, staggering out from an exclusive nightclub to see lines of mango sellers with their stalls before us. There were cars and people everywhere, the street lights glittered, and the sheer volume of noise outside quite rivaled anything inside. Mumbai at night is as much an electric jolt of energy as Mumbai by day — perhaps more so.

Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai. Photo: Ravindra Zende. Source: Kemmanu.com

Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai. Photo: Ravindra Zende. Source: Kemmanu.com

From Moscow and Shanghai to New York or Paris, I’ve never quite seen or felt anything to rival the brightness, bustle and expresso-in-the-arm energy of Mumbai. Nor have I ever encountered a perfume that encapsulates the sights, the sounds, the colours, and the very feel of a city. Not until Bombay Bling, a ravishing, euphoric explosion that really has to be tried to be believed. I fear that I simply won’t be able to do it justice, this wildly energetic creation that — unbelievably — has managed to bottle a whole city’s bursting zest for life.

Bombay Bling is one of a trio of Indian-inspired scents from the Indie perfume house, Neela Vermeire Créations, Parfums Paris (“NVC”), and it was justifiably chosen by the prestigious perfume website, CaFleureBon, as one of their top 25 fragrances for 2011. Launched in late 2011, it is the result of collaboration between Ms. Vermeire and the famous perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour. Each of the three fragrances that they created is meant to pay homage to a different part of India’s history, with Bombay Bling (the third and last in the line) representing modern India and, in specific, the glorious vitality of Mumbai.

As the company’s website explains:

This joyful creation embodies every aspect of the very modern, colourful, eclectic, esoteric, ecstatic, liberal, happy side of buzzing India, a world economic power, where nothing is to be taken for granted, where the underbelly of the big city combines with the glitter of Bollywood on the vast sandy stretches of Juhu Beach and the Queen’s Necklace. Fortunes are made and lost on the Bombay stock exchange and gambling dens of Mumbai. Abandon yourself to the nightlife as dawn breaks over the city. There is nothing like it and there will be nothing like it. Welcome to a vibrant new India!

I can’t recall the last time I read a press release or perfume backstory and thought to myself, “I’ve actually experienced part of that tale!” And I have with Bombay Bling. (Well, minus “the fortunes made and lost” bit, unless you count the small fortune I lost shopping and at the races.) But I can tell you that Bombay Bling delivers on its promise because it truly took me back to the city, collapsing space, time and geography in a remarkable way.

The perfume manages this feat, in part, due to its long list of notes. Unlike many perfumes nowadays with their six or, maybe, eight ingredients, Bombay Bling has seventeen! The fruity-floral oriental has:

Mango, lychee, blackcurrant, cardamom, cumin, cistus, Turkish rose, jasmine sambac, Madagascar ylang-ylang, tuberose, plumeria [frangipani], gardenia, patchouli, tobacco, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla.

Bombay Bling opens with a veritable BOOM of mango! It’s an explosion of the mumbai-mango fiascogelato dot cazestiest, sweetest, juiciest mango you’ve ever tried — short of cutting in twenty fresh ones and reducing them down to their most concentrated levels. It’s unbelievably fresh and bright. Even though Ms. Vermeire has used green mangoes — not yellow ones — yellow, red and orange are the colours that practically shine before your eyes. 

Black currants or cassis. Source: NWWildfoods.com

Black currants or cassis. Source: NWWildfoods.com

Seconds later, other notes follow. There is tart black currant (or, as I call it, “cassis”), carrying a hefty punch of zesty tanginess, and sweet, light lychee. There are also light hints of jasmine and rose, too, but the accompanying floral notes are primarily dominated by sweet plumeria. It’s soft, fruity, almost peachy, and has a subtle creaminess.

Thirty minutes in, the fruity-floral notes take on another hue with the arrival of sandalwood. It adds a slighty smoky creaminess and an element of woodiness to the mix. There is also a growing whisper of tobacco. It’s not sweet or fruited like pipe tobacco, nor is it anything close to cigars, but rather, like tobacco leaves being cured in the sun: honeyed, dry, and a little woody, as well as a little nutty. Or perhaps that last note comes from the cardamom — it’s sometimes hard to tell with a perfume that’s as superbly well-blended as this. Either way, the tobacco note adds a lovely depth and contrast to the perfume’s sweetness. It’s never masculine, heavy, or coarse but then, nothing in this lovely perfume is.

Source: Riflebirds.com

Source: Riflebirds.com

For some reason, my nose also detects something that really smells like bright, zesty lemon, along with a hefty dose of fresh ginger. To my surprise, there is also something that smells distinctly like anise or black licorice. None of these ingredient are in the perfume, but that’s what it smells like.

Plumeria or frangipani.

Plumeria or frangipani.

What I don’t really smell in the perfume is any one particular flower. Though there tuberose, rose, gardenia and ylang-ylang, they’ve all been blended into a single, very feminine, sweet floral accord. This isn’t a perfume where you can smell, for example, tuberose in any dominant way; by the same token, neither the ylang-ylang nor the rose trump all the others. Perhaps the plumeria does most of all but, as a whole, no single flower really stands out — and that’s a very good thing. Tuberose, gardenia and ylang-ylang can be very indolic, heavy, even bullying notes. In less capable hands, they can lead to headaches and a sense of over-ripeness that verges on rotting fruit, sourness or plasticity. None of that ever happens here.

All these new additions add further complexity to the perfume and take it far beyond the confines of a mere “fruity” scent. The sudden spiciness, subtle dryness, and smokiness are a noted contrast to zesty mango and the tart cassis fruits, as well as to the sweetness of the slightly tropical florals. Each note adds up to much more than individual parts, creating a balanced, harmonious whole that is never boring, singular, or generic.

The combination of these contrasting elements means one thing: Bombay Bling simply doesn’t smell like any fruity-florals I’ve encountered. And it is a testament to the very sure, very expert hand of the legendary Bertrand Duchaufour that all these eclectic, rich notes melt so perfectly together without any discord or abruptness.

Shopping at Colaba Causeway, Mumbai. Source: MyGola.com

Shopping at Colaba Causeway, Mumbai. Source: MyGola.com

By the second hour, there are still further newcomers on the scene. This time, it’s pine needles! The cedar tree has a distinct role here, adding some chilled freshness and coolness to the mix. It brings to mind a pine forest where the floor is covered with sweet florals but there are tangy black currant berries in bushes nestled near the giant roots of the tree. It’s unexpected — like much of this perfume — and it’s the one time that Bombay Bling didn’t truly evoke Mumbai for me. Then again, eclecticism and sharp contrasts is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of that city of paradoxes.

Four hours in, Bombay Bling is a fascinating mix of tart cassis, cool cedar pines, creamy sandalwood, and some slightly musky jasmine, with just a faint dash of earthy, dry cumin. The earthiness and spiced dustiness underlying the sweetness really brought me back to the dusty, spicy, sweet aromas of Bombay’s bustling street bazaars. But the really entrancing part is the sandalwood. It’s copious and positively swoon-worthy.

As Ms. Vermeire showed in the astoundingly beautiful Trayee, she prefers to use real Mysore sandalwood. That is a very rare thing in perfumery today given its prohibitive cost and the Indian government’s protection of this over-sourced prized wood. The expert perfume critic, Luca Turin, has often bemoaned the use of a synthetic replacement in “sandalwood” perfumes or the reliance on the very different Australian sandalwood, and he’s right. Real sandalwood is usually too expensive for most perfumers, especially if used in any significant quantity.

Here, as in Trayee, there is a significant amount of absolutely genuine, lovely sandalwood. And it dominates the final hours of Bombay Bling’s development. At the ninth hour, the perfume is sandalwood and cedar with tart black currant and hints of some musky jasmine. By the thirteenth hour, it’s just sweet, soft vanilla and creamy sandalwood. Yes, I said the thirteenth hour. Bombay Bling’s pure essences and rich ingredients makes this one very long-lasting perfume! Even on my voracious skin where very little lasts for a significant amount of time, Bombay Bling had incredible longevity. I smelled faint traces of it here or there well past thirteen hours, truth be told.

It is remarkable and supports everything Ms. Vermeire has said regarding her goal of using only the finest raw materials and expensive essences in her perfume. For example, her amazing Trayee was made without regard to cost:

I did not give a budget cap so Bertrand Duchoufour never had a budget – Trayee is one of the most expensive perfumes he has created. We made sure there are lots of high quality natural ingredients…. Most niche companies want to spend 150 euros or so max per kg of essence. We went more than 7 times that so the essences are expensive (and hopefully exceptional).

The same “to hell with the cost, we’ll only use the very best” approach shows with Bombay Bling, too. Neela Vermeire Creations is a tiny company that clearly has put the bulk of their resources in their production costs. The perfumes are not cheap, but they don’t work with giant distributors to add further mark-ups to their expenses. There is no corporate slickness behind any of this. When you order from the company, you will receive a handwritten note from Ms. Vermeire herself.

The goal is one thing and one thing only: to make truly rich, luxurious-smelling perfumes that are the very best they can possibly be. And Neela Vermeire Creations has succeeded in that goal with one perfume, Trayee, receiving a Fifi award nomination (the perfume world’s equivalent of an Oscar nomination) and the other, Bombay Bling, being critically-acclaimed as one of the best perfumes of its year.

Bombay Bling deserves that accolade without question. What you have is an unbelievably vibrant, bouncy, joyous scent. Like the Bollywood movies that it is a partial nod to, Bombay Bling screams out high-octane energy and begs you to “be happy!” and “go dance!”

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that when the perfume blog, Olfactoria’s Travels, recently asked “What is the most uplifting perfume you know?,” the repeated answer was “Bombay Bling!”  Read the answers; the references to Bombay Bling are so numerous, that Birgit at one point said it should be considered as “prescription medicine.” It’s not just the readers of Olfactoria’s Travels, either. On numerous different sites or perfume groups, people repeatedly turn to Bombay Bling when they’re blue, when the weather is grey and chilly, or when they’re in need of an energetic pick-me-up.

On Fragrantica, there is almost a uniformly gushing assessment of the perfume. One commentator raves that it is like ” like the spirit of Mardi Gras or Carnival captured in a bottle,” while another writes “[h]appiness and sunshine in a bottle, this makes me see the perfume in rainbow of colours. Full bottle worthy???? Every last penny of it to me.” Clearly, Bombay Bling’s happy, incredibly exuberant heart seems to make it people’s “secret happiness weapon.”

Bombay Bling is not cheap. It costs $260 for a 1.8 oz/55 ml bottle. In perfumery, as in many other things in life, cost is no guarantee of either quality or a positive experience. But, in this case, I think you are actually getting what you pay for. There are many similarly priced perfumes out in the luxury market (albeit, usually for a slightly larger sized bottle) but the luxuriousness of Bombay Bling’s ingredients make it truly stand out. To me, it is the equal of perfumes from Ormonde Jayne and the uber-luxury perfume house, Amouage, and far surpasses many fragrances from better-known, luxury perfume houses. Thankfully, however, Ms. Vermeire offers a Discovery Set (see below, in the Details section) which lets you try 10 mls of all three of her perfumes for a very reasonable price. 

I highly recommend Bombay Bling. The complex notes mean that you don’t have to be just a fan of fruity-florals to like this scent. Nor do you have to be a woman. There are a number of men who adore and wear Bombay Bling. On Luckyscent, the perfume is categorized as “unisex,” and I think it is.

The sillage is not overwhelming, either, so it is definitely something that can be worn to the office. In fact, I was surprised by how moderate the projection was for a perfume with notes as rich and as heady as these. After the first thirty minutes, I’d say the perfume could be detected only from a distance of about two feet away. It’s a strong perfume, and you can smell it on yourself, but it’s softer than Trayee. And it’s definitely no Fracas that’s going to immediately overwhelm someone across the room. Thereafter, the projection became much less and you’d have to be close to someone to detect it. I also noted that Bombay Bling is even more moderate when you only dab on a little, as opposed to applying a few sprays. It’s office-friendly, but it’s also something that is extremely versatile. I could see this being used as an antidepressant in a bottle, to go on a date, or just to have dinner with friends.

In short, it’s sexy, it’s happy, and it wants you to dance, dance, dance! I suggest you take it up on its offer.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Neela Vermeire Creations. However, that did not impact this review in any way.

 

DETAILS:

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Cost & Availability: In the U.S., Bombay Bling is available exclusively at Luckyscent where it costs $260 for a 50 ml bottle. Samples are also offered at $7 for a 0.7 ml vial. (And the site ships world-wide.) A much better offer comes from Neela Vermeire Creations itself which offers Bombay Bling as part of a Discovery Set that includes the award-nominated Trayee and Mohur, Neela Vermeire’s rose perfume.The set is available exclusively on the company’s website. It costs: €21 (or about $27) for three, much larger, 2 ml vials; or $117 or €85/90 (depending on your location) for three large 10 ml decants. Shipping is included in the price. In Europe, Trayee costs €200 for the 55 ml bottle and is available at Jovoy Paris, the Swiss Osswald Parfumerie and Munich’s Sündhaft. You can find a few additional retailers from the Netherlands to Moscow which carry Trayee on the store’s Points of Sale page.