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 – Mohur Extrait de Parfum by Neela Vermeire Créations: A Queen To Rule Them All

Va-Va-Voom! Mohur has put on her ball gown and is ready for a gala! The new Mohur Extrait** de Parfum by Neela Vermeire Créations (“NVC”) takes the existing Eau de Parfum formulation up a notch in sophistication, richness, luxuriousness and creaminess. It is — quite simply — spectacular.  **[UPDATE 10/20/13 – This article was originally written when the perfume was called Mohur Esprit de Parfum, but the name has subsequently been changed to just Mohur Extrait de Parfum. I believe legal and trademark issues were the reason. Consequently, I’ve changed this post to reflect the new name.]

Mohur Esprit de Parfum. Source: Fragrantica.

Mohur Esprit de Parfum. Source: Fragrantica.

Mohur Extrait de Parfum (hereinafter “Mohur Extrait” or “Extrait”) is a new concentration of Mohur and the very first pure parfum offered by Neela Vermeire. It will be released in early Fall of 2013. [Update: it will now be released in Winter 2013 or in 2014.] The perfume was recently shown at the Milan Esxence show, and a European friend got me a small vial. I don’t know if the Extrait has had any slight alteration in notes, or if it is exactly the same perfume in a greater concentration, but something about it feels a little different.

I’ve always felt a little badly for Mohur Eau de Parfum. Trayee is the mysterious, seductive older sister; Bombay Bling, the happy, innocent, playful, joyous baby sister. Mohur is the quiet, reserved, elegant one. Like many middle sisters, Mohur EDP always seemed a little overlooked and forgotten in the company of her much more exuberant or forceful sisters. I myself loved Mohur, but I was just a little more bouleversée by Trayee. While something about Mohur EDP stayed in my mind, inching its way further and further into my heart with time, it could never quite compete with the force of nature that is Trayee. Until now. Until Mohur Extrait de Parfum.

It may be useful to briefly refresh your memory of Mohur’s notes, at least for the Eau de Parfum. The incredibly long list — twenty-three ingredients in all — includes:

Top: Cardamom absolute, Coriander seed oil, Ambrette seed, Carrot, Black Pepper, Elemi oil;

Middle: Turkish rose oil, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Rose Accords 11%, Jasmine accord, Orris, Aubepin Flower [hawthorn], Almond milk notes, Violet Flower, Leather vitessence:

Bottom: Sandalwood, Amber, White Woods, Patchouli, Oudh Palao from Laos, Benzoin Siam [resin], Vanilla, Tonka bean.

rose de reschtI tested Mohur Extrait de Parfum side by side with Mohur Eau de Parfum. One on each arm. Twice. The differences are merely of degree and are not substantial — but they are there. Mohur Extrait de Parfum opens with a considerably greater degree of sweetness. The roses are concentrated and heightened, tinged only subtly with the other notes, instead of sharing equal space with them. The flower is touched with carrots, followed then by violets, all atop a lightly ambered base with muted almond milk. There is a much stronger note up top of lightly powdered iris and a quiet hint of white woods. In contrast, Mohur Eau de Parfum has the rose note well mixed in with the other tonalities. The carrot accord is partnered side by side, but the rose never full dominates in quite the same way. There are also much more noticeable spices, pepper and elemi right at the front with the EDP. The violet note is considerably more subtle right at the start but, later, it deepens more and is a much more consistent vein throughout the Eau de Parfum in its subsequent development.

Mohur Eau de Parfum is also much sharper in its opening minutes. Now, I have never thought Mohur to have a sharp note whatsoever. Until I put on the Extrait de Parfum. Side by side, on both occasions, the EDP has a sharper, thinner aspect to the initial opening minutes. In contrast, Mohur Extrait was deeper, stronger, richer and with significantly increased sweetness. The Extrait also has, quite naturally, a greater sillage and power. We’re talking Fracas levels of potency if you apply a lot!

As time passed, other changes were perceptible, too. The Extrait seems more ambered and spicy. The woodsy notes and oud are stronger, though the latter is still not a significant part of Mohur for me. It is far too well-blended and sheer a note as a whole; it adds subtle depth to the fragrance — in both formulations — but I would never consider Mohur to be a real or hardcore oud fragrance by any means. With the Extrait de Parfum, I also detected subtle hints of the leathery undertone which has always been negligible for me in Mohur EDP. The latter seems more purely floral, much more violet infused and slightly milkier. It also feels as though there is less noticeable patchouli in the EDP, whereas it’s a plush, velvety, almost mossy companion to the sandalwood that begins to come out within the second hour of the Extrait.

Lastly, Mohur Extrait differs in terms of both sillage and longevity. I applied the same quantities of both fragrances from a dab vial. While the EDP became close to the skin about 4.5 hours in, the Extrait de Parfum became a skin scent after 8 hours. Mohur EDP lasted approximately 9.5 hours on me. The pure parfum concentration is, naturally, much stronger and lasted almost 13 hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

"Proserpina" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

“Proserpina” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Again, the olfactory differences between the two versions seem, for the most part, to be very minor and just one of degree. But those differences somehow make Mohur Extrait de Parfum a much more sophisticated, more grown-up and regal version of the perfume in my mind. More importantly, they have taken away some of the wistfulness that seemed so much a part of Mohur EDP. Unlike her sisters, Mohur has never been a perfume that evoked India, one of my favorite places on earth. In my review of the EDP, I consistently compared Mohur to one of the slightly melancholy, pale beauties of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Pre-Raphaelite paintings, or to an ancient princess of long-ago, mourning a lost love. She was Iseult of Tristan et Iseult, Guinevere, or one of the countless maidens of legend whose beauty was tinged with loss. 

"Boreas" by John William Waterhouse.

“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse.

Mohur Extrait de Parfum is different. The melancholic heart seems lessened; the spicy sandalwood, oud and woodsy foundation seems stronger; the milky opening notes much milder; and the roses significantly sweeter and more concentrated. The violets which underscored the Eau de Parfum and which evoked, in my mind, faint parallels to Guerlain‘s 1906 masterpiece, Après L’Ondée are still very much a presence in Mohur Extrait. They are definitely more concentrated at the very top of the Extrait, particularly in the first thirty minutes. Yet, the note doesn’t create quite the same sort of haunting, brooding, and bittersweet thread throughout the long-term development and life of Mohur Extrait as it did in Mohur EDP.

The problem in attempting to ascertain minor differences is that Mohur is a brilliantly blended perfume in both formulations. Its prismatic nature means that the minor differences I smell today may not be the same ones I smell tomorrow, if I even smell them at all. When perfumes throw off different notes like reflective rays off a crystal chandelier hit by sunlight, the facets are sometimes mutable. But I definitely sense a difference in degree that goes beyond mere richness and depth.

The best way that I can explain the differences in feel, to me, between the two perfumes is through photos. The woman in the new Mohur Extrait starts off as:

Sarah Jessica Parker in Vogue, March 2010. Dress: Dior Haute Couture. Photo: Mario Testino. Source: Vogue.com

Sarah Jessica Parker in Vogue, March 2010. Dress: Dior Haute Couture. Photo: Mario Testino. Source: Vogue.com

She then turns into:

Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Source: FlipZone and Tweets.seraph.me

Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Source: FlipZone and Tweets.seraph.me

She is no longer quite the restrained, reserved, quietly elegant, haunting sister, living in the shadows of her more forceful sisters. Mohur is now full diva, a glamourous star in her own right, luxuriating in her femininity and richness, dripping with opulence. The wistful princess has now become a powerful queen. She may well rule them all. 

[ED. Note: You can find a review for the new, upcoming Neela Vermeire perfume, Ashoka, which will come out at the same time as Mohur Extrait here.]

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Mohur Extrait de Parfum is extrait de parfum concentration. I have no idea as to pricing or size, particularly as this is the first pure parfum released by Neela Vermeire Créations. I will update this section when information becomes available. 

Perfume Review – Mohur by Neela Vermeire Créations: A Princess’ Wistful Rose

The princess stared out into the garden from her cold marble bench. The sun was setting, turning the sky into an artist’s canvas of pinks, yellows, and fiery oranges before the oncoming wave of violet and blue. In the horizon, the silver birch trees trembled in the night wind. Delicate and frail, their thin bodies added a touch of somber beauty to the tableau of colours filling the sky behind them.

Source: my own photograph, taken in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Source: my own photograph. Location: Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

The Northern light rendered everything crisp and silvered, casting the tall rose bushes surrounding the princess into stark relief. Every pink petal — and every red one, too — seemed brighter, more concentrated and filled with the force of life. Their intensity was a sharp contrast to the princess’ pallor. As she welcomed the coming night, her large, dark eyes were filled with longing and wistfulness, as she remembered her lost love. How many times had they sat in this very spot, watching the sky turned violet and blue?

Source: my own photograph, taken in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Source: my own photograph. Location: Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

As the sun bid its final adieu, the princess took out a violin and played in the violet, blue light. A single tear streamed down her milky, almond skin to drop on the irises at her feet. The tall rose bushes around her quivered, as if trembling with the force of her longing; the peppered trees swayed over the water, sending out her call to distant shores; and her sandalwood satin dress glowed amber in the night like a beacon.

Fjallnas Sweden

Source: My own photograph.

Princesses of old, legends tinged with beauty and loss, the coming of violet night, and wistful remembrances of times past…. that’s what I feel when I wear Mohur by the French perfume house, Neela Vermeire Creations, Paris (“NVS“). So many times in the past — often in reference to a Guerlain classic — I’ve heard talk of wistfulness in a scent, but I’ve never truly felt it until now. Mohur is a stunningly haunting perfume whose very quietness lends strength to scenes of longing and melancholy. Filled with restrained elegance and classic notes of violets, irises and roses, it never takes me to India but, rather, to the silvery light of northern Scandinavia. It is a fragrance for Isolde in Tristan and Isolde, for Guinevere, for the countless maidens of legend whose beauty was tinged with loss.

Mohur.

Mohur.

Mohur is technically not supposed to evoke any of that. It is a tribute to 500 years of India’s history from Moghul era of the Taj Mahal to the end of the British Raj period in 1918. It is particularly inspired by India’s most powerful Empress. As the Neela Vermeire website explains:

Known as Mehrunissa, the most powerful Empress of the Mughal dynasty, Noor Jahan was the favorite wife of Emperor Jehangir. She was the true power behind the throne while her husband lived, so much so that after his death her male relatives had her sequestered (in comfort!) for the rest of her life. In her confinement, she devoted herself to the art of perfumery as it had been passed down from her mother.

Mohur is a rose-based fragrance, a combination of opulent moghul rose perfumes and a distinguished spicy leather bouquet that can only be imagined during a high tea after a polo match. To capture this moment, Mohur has been created as a refined rose-oudh alliance that pays tribute to Noor Jahan’s power and talent.

As for the name of the perfume, Neela Vermeire Creations explains that “the word ‘mohur’ derives from Sanskrit and refers to the most valuable gold coin in India’s history, the last of which were minted in 1918.”

Mohur is the second in a trio of scents, all of which were made in collaboration with the legendary perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, and all of which were released in 2011 to great acclaim. Mohur’s stunning sibling, the award-nominated Trayee, is perhaps one of my favorite perfumes that I’ve smelled in years and years. And Bombay Bling is pure joy in a bottle — so incandescent, bubbling, bouncy, happy and ebullient that people repeatedly call it their “happy” scent or the perfume equivalent of an anti-depressant.

I actually hadn’t expected to like Mohur as much as I did. It’s considered to be the quiet sister to the other two, each of which were said to have more immediate impact — and I’m generally not one for the quiet, subdued, and restrained. Trayee is the mysterious, seductive older sister; Bombay Bling, the happy, innocent, playful, joyous baby sister. Mohur is the quiet, reserved, elegant one. To my surprise, however, it was immediate love upon first sniff. I never thought it could equal Trayee in my estimation, but it does. Oh, but it does!

Mohur has an enormously long list of notes. Unlike many perfumes nowadays with their six or, maybe, ten ingredients, Mohur has twenty-three! The fragrance has:

Top: Cardamom absolute, Coriander seed oil, Ambrette seed, Carrot, Black Pepper, Elemi oil;

Middle: Turkish rose oil, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Rose Accords 11%, Jasmine accord, Orris, Aubepin Flower [hawthorn], Almond milk notes, Violet Flower, Leather vitessence:

Bottom: Sandalwood, Amber, White Woods, Patchouli, Oudh Palao from Laos, Benzoin Siam [resin], Vanilla, Tonka bean.

In the opening seconds, Mohur begins with single note of great purity: roses. The most absolute, concentrated note and it quivers in the air, like the very first stroke of a bow on a violin. It’s as tens of thousands of rose petals — pink and ruby-red — have been distilled into a single drop. The purity and strength of that note is beautiful, but it’s never cloying or sickly sweet.

Immediately thereafter, other notes trip and dance on its footsteps: woody notes that seem soft and like the white woods of the description; spices; amber; almonds; and a base of creamy sandalwood. There is the merest hint of cardamom and, perhaps, some saffron too. The latter is never red, rich or reminiscent of Indian desserts. Rather, it just adds some underlying sweetness and depth to the fragrance. 

There is also something which truly surprised me. My notes read, “Oh my God, I actually do smell carrots!” Here, the carrot note is exactly like that in a really creamy, sweet, spiced carrot soup, the sort you’d mix with butternut squash or pumpkin to create a velvety sweetness and richness. And, somehow, it works magnificently with the roses — probably due to that amazingly creamy sandalwood which is such a significant note in all of Neela Vermeire’s creations.

VioletsAs time passes, the violet and almond notes become more distinctive, contrasting with the black pepper and the subtle hint of creamy vanilla. The violet notes…. words can’t describe its beauty or its melancholy. Yet, two hours in, the violets and almonds recede a little to make greater way for the peppery elemi woods which — in combination with the actual black pepper — turn the rose into something spicy and fiery. At the same time, the patchouli works in the background to make the rose very jammy and plummy as well. One can’t smell any actual patchouli, but its effect on the rose is distinctive. Parts of my arm smell like pure, sweet pink roses, while other parts smell like fruited, purple, jammy roses.

Roses may be the motor, but violets (and their accompanying purple sibling, irises) are the petrol which truly drive Mohur forward. They are the exquisite center of the fragrance, adding a classique and very European backbone to the spicy rose. It is these purple notes which add that longing and wistfulness to the scent, emotions which are so hard to explain in the context of perfume. When people talk about Guerlain‘s L’Heure Bleue‘s blue hour or the inherent sadness of certain perfumes, I’ve always been left a little at a loss. I’ve never found L’Heure Bleue to evoke melancholy, or any other perfume for that matter. Until now. 

"Proserpina" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

“Proserpina” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Mohur definitely seems to be a call back to the most classique of French perfumery and, for a thirty minutes, I struggled with what it was. Finally, it hit me: Guerlain‘s 1906 masterpiece, Après L’Ondée. Like Mohur, it too is a fragrance whose notes are filled with violets, irises, almonds, sandalwood, amber, vanilla, oriental resins and, yes, some roses, too. Bois de Jasmin has a lovely, emotional review of Après L’Ondée’s “radiant and exquisitely graceful composition… [with its] suggestion of a brooding darkness hiding in its opulent layers,” and its “bittersweet beauty” with its “wispy and ethereal” velvety iris heart.

I feel as though all those words are the perfect description for Mohur. That said, there are substantial differences in the two scents. Mohur is predominantly a rose fragrance which is significantly woodier, as well as spicier. And, unlike many Guerlain perfumes, the powder note is subtle on my skin. But, despite those differences, there is a definite connection between the two fragrances in my mind. If Après L’Ondèe had an affair with a very tall, dark, woodsy, peppery Orientalist, their love child would definitely be Mohur. And she would be as blue as the blue hour of L’Heure Bleue, mourning a lost love like those fragile beauties who so stole my heart in Pre-Raphaelite art. In truth, Mohur’s representative woman probably would be one of Gabriel Dante Rossetti’s feminine, graceful beauties with their long necks, large eyes, quivering lips and haunted gaze.

"La Ghirlandata" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.

“La Ghirlandata” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.

As Mohur develops, it shifts away from the blue wistfulness of the violets and the dark, brooding heart of elemi and black pepper. Now, it turns softer, creamier, sweeter. The sandalwood is out in full force: creamy, heady, and as lush as custard. At the same time, the amber and benzoin resin turn things soft and hazy; the milky almonds return; and the vanilla becomes much more noticeable. There is also the merest suggestion of oud. It’s sheer, light, far from pungent, and never (thankfully) medicinal or antiseptic. For some on Fragrantica, however, the oud was a significant part of the perfume’s later hours; and a few smelled leather. I did not.

It’s an odd experience but, on both occasions, when I tested Mohur, different parts of my skin would reflect different scents — all at the same time. It’s not only the constantly shifting nature of the rose note — sometimes pure, sometimes peppery, sometimes spicy, sometimes jammy or fruited — but the perfume as a whole. It’s so incredibly well-blended that I suspect it will throw off different prisms at different times, like a light-reflecting crystal. All of Neela Vermeire’s creations are like that; they reflect different facets each time you wear them.

Despite Mohur’s prismatic nature, the final hours were — for the most part — the same during both tests. There was endless creamy sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, and dollops of jammy rose that would pop up, then flit away. Sometimes, there seemed to be more vanilla; at other times, there would be more almond. Sometimes, it was slightly more amber than sandalwood; at other times, the reverse.

All in all, Mohur lasted a little over 9.5 hours on me. For my perfume-consuming skin, that’s very good, though I have to note that it was much less than Trayee which lasted around 13 hours. (And, almost 14.5 on a recent day). But, then again, Mohur is a much softer fragrance. As noted on Fragrantica, its sillage is good-to-moderate for the first hour. If you apply two good sprays, the scent noticeable from a few feet away; if you put on a few dabs, the projection will obviously be significantly less. At no time, however, is Mohur ever bullying or bludgeoning in its presence; it’s not going to keel over your office mate. After that first hour, Mohur becomes much softer and hovers about five inches over your skin. It becomes fully close to the skin after about 4.5 hours, but it remains like a lovely silken caress for much longer.

I think Mohur is an extremely versatile fragrance. Its moderate sillage also makes it very suitable for the office, especially if you don’t apply it heavily. However, I must be frank, I don’t think the majority of men would be able to wear Mohur. Despite its woody underpinnings and the occasionally biting black pepper, the sheer quantities of roses — with one accord being at 11% concentration — makes this a very feminine fragrance.

"Boreas" by John William Waterhouse.

“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse.

It also has such a retro, classique, restrained elegance that I wonder if very young women might think it too mature a scent for them. Or, perhaps, one just has to have experienced a lot of life and heartache to respond to Mohur’s wistful, longing calls. To be frank, it actually bowled me over. And I found that to be an enormous surprise. Traditionally, I am not a huge fan of rose scents, and I certainly am not one who usually falls for restrained florals. Yet, Mohur stole my heart from the very first sniff. I find its blue-violet melancholy to be absolutely exquisite — and exquisitely haunting.

I fear that, like many middle sisters, Mohur will get lost in the much more exuberant or forceful company of its sisters. Those who expect the immediate POW that they get from Bombay Bling or the WOW glam of the FiFi-award nominated Trayee will undoubtedly be disappointed upon the first sniff of Mohur. I think Mohur is like one of those quietly elegant women whom you never notice amidst all the exuberant, fun, laughing girls, or the smoldering seductresses. But, if you gaze upon her face long enough, you suddenly wonder: how did I ever missed her beauty?

When you apply Mohur for the very first time, I think you need to close your eyes, imagine Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and see that princess on her marble bench surrounded by roses amidst the incoming wave of violet night, as she thinks wistfully of the past and of her one true love. I think, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be haunted by her quiet beauty, too.

[UPDATE: Mohur will be released in a pure parfum concentration in Fall 2013. It will be called Mohur Esprit de Parfum, and it’s magnificent. You can read my early review for it here.]

DETAILS:

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Cost & Availability: In the U.S., Mohur is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Luckyscent where it costs $250 for a 55 ml bottle. Samples are also offered at $7 for a 0.7 ml vial. (And the site ships world-wide.) Samples are also available from The Perfumed Court where they start at $7.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. A much better offer than both of those comes from Neela Vermeire Creations itself which offers Mohur as part of two different sets: A Taste of India set and the Discovery Set. Both sets are exclusive to the Neela Vermeire website and both include the award-nominated Trayee and the fan-favorite, Bombay Bling, Neela Vermeire’s fruity-floral perfume.The Taste of India set costs: €21 (or about $27) for three, much larger, 2 ml vials; the Discovery Set is $117 or €85/90 (depending on your location) for three, large 10 ml decants. Shipping is included in the price. In Europe, Mohur costs €200 for the 55 ml bottle and is available at Jovoy Paris, along with the Swiss Osswald Parfumerie. You can find a few additional retailers from the Netherlands to Moscow which carry Trayee on the store’s Points of Sale page.