Perfumes can be a lot like wine sometimes. Too many adjectives, lofty descriptions, superfluous complexity and people following the herd without pausing to think about what they really enjoy. So when a homegrown Indian brand like Bombay Perfumery makes fragrance relatable through names like Chai Musk, Calicut and Madurai Talkies in an elegant, no-nonsense package, it really is a welcome change. And while their perfumes are quite Indian in terms of olfactory sensibilities, the quality, approach and refinement is top notch and right up there with the big names.
Bombay Perfumery’s strength lies in how layered, refined and contemporary their fragrances are. This young Indian brand lets quintessential local ingredients shine in distinctive perfumes, without distracting you by lusty imagery – an unfortunate industry standard. Their bottles and packaging, too, have a clean, minimal design that make the brand’s ambitions amply clear; which is to make memorable, unique fragrances inspired by India. Think natural oils extracted from black pepper, cardamom, jasmine, mint and tuberose.
I am very pleasantly surprised by how high quality and well-rounded the perfumes are. It is more proof of what the young, indie community in India can create and achieve. Chai Musk totally has my heart.
Bombay Perfumery’s collection of fragrances
The folks at Bombay Perfumery believe in the ‘do less, do better’ philosophy. They have a collection of 8 fragrances, split into women’s, unisex and men’s perfumes. Moiré, Madurai Talkies and Seven Islands are for women. Calicut, Les Cayes and Sulawesi for men. And then Chai Musk and 1020 for those who couldn’t care less about stereotypes.
This category of unisex perfume is quite interesting, because perfumes are typically not marketed this way. Most advertising is centred around celebrity portraits that tell you absolutely nothing about the product itself. Try looking at one of these ads for more than 4 seconds and you may find yourself sniggering and confused about what they’re really trying to go for.
I’m quite pleased that Bombay Perfumery let the fragrances speak. They’re straight-talkers and one look at their website is enough to validate that.
In terms of fragrance strength or concentration, they only make EDP (eau de parfum) which typically has 15-20% fragrance, and is usually stronger than EDT (eau de toilette). While they use a mix of natural and synthetic ingredients, which are, at times, necessary for consistency, availability and other reasons, the core Indian ingredients (such as black pepper, mint, rose, tuberose, cardamom, jasmine, ginger) are naturally extracted.
To get a feel for what Bombay Perfumery’s perfumes are like, I picked out one from each category and put them to test. These were Chai Musk, Calicut and Moiré.
My time with Chai Musk, Calicut and Moiré
Before getting into a little bit of detail about each of the fragrances, there are a couple of things I observed, based on my interaction with these three.
There is a certain finesse to the perfumes; they don’t have rough edges. In fragrance terms, I mean there is no harshness when you first smell them. This clearly points towards the use of high quality ingredients. At different times, from the first application to the dry down, I am able to smell a key note, while other notes work around it as harmonious embellishment. And that key note smells natural and organic. Though that isn’t to say there isn’t complexity. There is. But just enough for the fragrance to be nicely rounded.
I know all this probably sounds very abstract, but it’s better than just listing notes, I feel. The experience of a fragrance is made up of something greater than just the sum of notes. Besides, note-talk takes perfume into the same wine territory I mentioned earlier.
Chai Musk is just so damn good. So different. I know it’s one of those things where the name itself does so much in terms of attraction and intrigue, but I fell for it before knowing what it was called while I was being handed different tester strips at an event.
Chai Musk is calming, yet almost sensuous. It’s got a fruity-citrusy vibe going that makes way for musk as you let it linger. I don’t smell chai, per se, but its overall uniqueness really got me. This is totally new to my olfactory vocabulary and I have absolutely nothing to compare it to!
Longevity on my skin was medium (faint after 4-5 hours), though it settled smoothly. Perfumes are extremely personal choices, but Chai Musk is easily my pick of the lot. My wife went through the three and came away with the same preference.
As per Bombay Perfumery, the notes in Chai Musk are:
- Top: Lemongrass, Ginger root, Green tea
- Heart: Osmanthus flower, Mate, Roasted nut accord
- Base: Cade oil, sandalwood, hot milk accord
Calicut is an explosion of pepper and spice as soon as you spray it – Crisp and sharp. After a while, it goes into the zone of woody freshness and my nose gets pepper from start to finish. I really like that even once it dries down, the spicy and woody character doesn’t make it too dark.
Longevity on my skin was medium, perhaps a bit less than Chai Musk. But my skin gets dry often and if you don’t face that, you may get it to last longer.
One funny thing my senses kept doing was reminding me of the scent from Pears soap. That is probably because of the general spicy character of Pears. They may not have a single common ingredient, but this memory told me how personal these fragrances are and how each of us perceive or connect with them uniquely.
The most interesting thing while wearing Calicut happened in an Uber. A few minutes after getting into the cab, my driver curiously asked me what was special about my perfume – he thought it was different. Momentarily after, he said it smelled like something straight out of an Indian kitchen. We had a good laugh and he summed up the exchange with the words ‘desi masala hai’. The job of a good fragrance is to transport you, evoke memories and emotions. Clearly, job well done.
As per Bombay Perfumery, the notes in Calicut are:
- Top: Elemi, Bergamot, Cardamom
- Heart: Nutmeg, Black Pepper, Cedarwood
- Base: Vetiver, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Musk
Of the three I tried, Moiré was closest to one where I felt I have smelled something similar before. Tuberose (rajanigandha) is the main note, and owing to its strength, it is intense and long-lasting. This ingredient can be overpowering, and while Moiré isn’t mild by any stretch, it has been contained well by balancing it with woody and fruity elements . Tuberose being at the heart of the fragrance also explains why I feel like I have come across something like it earlier.
Once it starts to dry down, with jasmine and sandalwood in the bouquet too, Moiré feels unabashedly Indian and traditionally floral. This perfume goes to show that Bombay Perfumery likes to take risks, as classical scents seem to be becoming a bit more uncommon and niche.
As per Bombay Perfumery, the notes in Moiré are:
- Top: Cardamom, Cassis bud, Neroli
- Heart: Tuberose, Jasmine Sambac, Apricot
- Base: Sandalwood, Cashmeran, Leather
Bombay Perfumery’s packaging shows they’re truly Indian at heart
Their packaging is consistent with their message of putting the product first. The perfumes come in a simple white box, under which you can see a band of colour. Open it and the insides fall away like petals of a flower to reveal the bottle and and a collage of things that served as inspiration for that particular fragrance. From the Gateway of India to a chaiwallah’s kettle, it’s all there.
The same thing happens when you go from the holding the bottle to spraying it. Unassuming on the outside, complex on the inside.
From the purposefully elegant bottle to the typography, everything is done in a very clean, honest manner without any hoopla.
Indian brand with a global outlook
Manan Gandhi, founder, launched Bombay Perfumery in 2016. He comes from a family of perfumers and has had experience of working in the fragrance industry in France. This exposure to the global capitals of perfumery shows in how he approaches things with his brand and his vision of what makes a good fragrance.
Bombay Perfumery aren’t looking to please everyone, but want to create something unique and memorable for those who understand and appreciate the cutting edge work they do.
Our very strange relationship with perfumes and colognes
Now we’ve spoken in some level of detail about fragrance families, notes, dry downs and all that, but I do believe we are inclined to act a bit strangely when it comes to choosing and buying perfume. Maybe it deserves to be a story on its own, but I’ll just briefly touch upon a few things.
- We buy perfume at shops and duty-free in a rush, without even spraying it on our skin, in most cases.
- We smell the top note (that will soon disappear) and take a call about whether we like it or not.
- The perfume says quite a lot about the wearer, yet we don’t think hard enough about it, the way we would about our other accessories.
- We’re influenced by names, but forget that people can only smell what we’re wearing, not see.
- We get too caught up in categorisations – fresh, manly, fruity, winter, summer, feminine, evening, sports, work, daily, date, …..
The nature of marketing done by the international brands doesn’t help, of course. Some of us are lucky to have found our expression in a scent. But if you’re doing one of the things listed above and considering getting a new perfume, you could think about it. Especially if you’re leaning towards something more individualistic like Bombay Perfumery.
Prices and buying
You can buy Bombay Perfumery’s perfumes online through their website here.
They are also available at select physical stores in all major Indian cities. Check out a list of their stockists here.
Each of the 8 perfumes (EDP) are available in 100ml bottles and are priced between ₹3,900-₹4,100.
Arguably, these prices are equivalent to what you’d pay for a fragrance from an international label. But more likely than not, you get to tell the story here when you get a compliment, rather than “Hey, you smell nice – isn’t that Bleu di GioVentus?”.
They also launched a range of 3 scented candles in 2018. The candles are priced at ₹1,600 each, weighing 165 grams, and can also be bought online here.
After a couple of weeks of using the perfumes, the primary differentiators in experience were the Indian scents, names and tasteful intricacy with which they had been created. Each of the perfumes appears proud of how exotic India can be. Bombay Perfumery dare to stand on the strength of their product and conceptualise fragrances with the modern, Indian buyer in mind. And these are the things which fostered a greater closeness between the brand and I.
Who’s it for: Anyone who thinks fragrance is expression, not conformity.
Talking point: Chai Musk. Enough said.
Best thing about it: Local Indian ingredients being the focus of the perfume.
Winning combination: Minimalist packaging + Distinct fragrance
One thing I’d change: Increase longevity (though this varies for each person)
How did you hear about Bombay Perfumery? Would you buy from them? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this story interesting or useful, please spread the indie brand goodness by sharing it!