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Bespoke Perfumes, the Ultimate in Luxury

Bespoke Perfumes, the Ultimate in Luxury

Welcome to the world of bespoke perfumes, the ultimate in luxury

Illustration by Anirban Ghosh Illustration by Anirban Ghosh

Imagine having an utterly unique fragrance composed just for you. Designed keeping in mind your loves, your nature and even how well it sits on your skin—it is the smell of you. Welcome to the world of bespoke perfumes, the ultimate in luxury.

Smells have the power to evoke strong memories. The whiff of a perfume can transport you to childhood or remind you of a past love. Your fragrance can easily become your signature as it is linked to how people will remember you. Little wonder, then, that a one-of-a-kind distinctive smell is so alluring.

Of course, the Holy Grail of bespoke luxury does not come cheap. A 100 ml bottle can cost you upwards of Rs 5 lakh, depending on the ingredients used.

Traditionally, bespoke perfumes have their roots in Europe where they were blended chiefly for royalty and wealthy patrons. Across Europe and the US, there are several perfumeries—such as Guerlain and Jean Patou in Paris, and Kilian Hennessy in New York—that make bespoke creations. In London, Floris, a family-owned perfumery established in 1730, is the oldest retailer of fragrances in the country, and is the ‘appointed perfumer’ to Queen Elizabeth.

In India, it was the Mughals who introduced perfumery to the country. Ittar, natural perfume oil derived from herbs, flowers and wood, has been around for over 400 years. Ittar (a term with Persian roots) is still popular in Old Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad. “Perfumes are an extension of our personality. To have a fragrance made especially for you is really quite exclusive,” says Anil Panda, Co-founder of 3003 BC, a bespoke perfume company that set up operations in India in 2017. The company is named so because the earliest reference to perfumes is from the Mesopotamian Age.

Panda uses a combination of creativity and technology to decode your fragrance preferences and design a scent that’s unique to you. After you answer 10-12 questions about your olfactory preferences, personality and the mood you want the perfume to create, 3003 BC’s AI platform analyses several combinations and creates three samples exclusively for you. After trying all three, you can select any one. Since there are hundreds of permutations and combinations, each sample created is unique, says Panda. A 100-ml bottle costs Rs 7,749, as Panda says he wants personalised perfumes to be within people’s reach.

However, if you want the real deal, an appointment can be fixed with British perfumer John Stephen, who has over four decades of experience, and counts Queen Elizabeth and the late Prince Philip amongst his clients.

With Stephen, personalisation is a lengthy process and can take around 16-24 weeks. It starts with filling out a form to get a sense of the type of scent you are looking for, the ingredients you are drawn to, and so forth. And this is just the starting point. Stephen then has a detailed conversation with you about your memories, moods and feelings. You could maybe describe to him the scent of a favourite aunt or your passion for horse riding. The challenge lies in him translating your ephemeral descriptions into a blend of flowers and oils. Stephen then creates a few samples that you need to wear for a week and observe how you feel. To know if you really love a fragrance, you need to notice how it wears on your skin, if the scent changes over time as it blends into your skin, and how you feel while wearing it. The scent is then tweaked as per your feedback, and off you go with the sample and wear it for another week or 10 days. This to-and-fro happens till you are satisfied with the final fragrance and are ready to call it yours. The perfume is handed to you in a specially-handcrafted bottle and you even get to name it.

The composition is yours and is not replicated for anyone else. You can also order more of the same later. If you go with 3003 BC, it’s also cheaper the next time round, says Panda, explaining that it’s creating the composition that costs the big bucks.

London-based Floris—where Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe got their vials of bespoke perfumes from—offers three services. For £675, you spend two hours with a perfumer, choosing from a wide variety of fragrance bases. Once you have identified a fragrance direction, the perfumer will work with you and tweak the perfume to refine your composition till it is as per your liking. This then becomes your bespoke scent. Its second service is called ‘Together’ and is meant for couples. For £1,100, you have the opportunity to create two completely bespoke fragrances. Its third service, Bespoke Perfume Design, allows you to design your perfume over six months. You work closely with Director Edward Bodenham—who is also the ninth-generation descendant of Floris Founder Juan Famenias Floris—and develop a perfume that is uniquely you. For £6,000, you get six 100-ml bottles. Once the perfume is created, your custom fragrance formula is archived in the Floris ledgers for you or your future generations to reorder.

On average, a bottle of perfume has between 30 and 40 ingredients. These can vary in price, from a few thousand rupees per kg to several lakhs. Oud, made from agarwood, is one of the most expensive perfume ingredients known to the human nose. A kilo of oud oil costs Rs 21 lakh, says Panda. There are other expensive ingredients as well such as Bulgarian rose oil (around Rs 12 lakh per kilo) and natural tobacco oil (Rs 9 lakh per kilo).

A perfumery typically has nearly a thousand ingredients. Stephen says maintaining consistency is a challenge. You would expect a perfume to smell the same every time, but when you are dealing with natural materials, they may vary with weather and, hence, change.

While a perfume ages constantly, the rate of change slows down over time. The biggest change in a fragrance takes place in the first 24 hours. Stephen recommends keeping perfumes in a cool place (below 30 degrees) as the low temperature slows down chemical reactions, and the perfume continues to smell the same.