Scent Sutra And The Power Of Artistic Perfumery
Of all the human senses, scent is perhaps the most powerful. Its ephemeral nature links it so close to memory, that its lingering mist will long be remembered after one’s left the room. It’s with these intentions that Neha Kedia and Vivek Chidambaram of Scent Sutra brought perfumes from around the world to India, where the business is still occupied largely by mass-produced fragrances that barely last. Located in Pune, the store retails perfumes, which use the rarest of raw materials, reflecting exquisite craftsmanship and an avant-garde exclusivity.
We speak to these entrepreneurs as they demystify the world of perfumery for us.
Excerpts from an interview with Neha Kedia of Scent Sutra…
How was the idea of Scent Sutra conceived?
The year of 2013 was the defining moment in our lives. We discovered our fascination for perfumes, which later metamorphosed into a passionate entrepreneurial quest. The more we learnt and saw, the more fascinated we were by the subject. Our discontent with the commoditised way in which fragrances were retailed in India grew by leaps and bounds. We embarked on a journey to explore the universe of perfumes across the world, be a part of the new movement to revive the true art of perfumery and meet perfumers who are at the crest of artistic creations. That’s how Scent Sutra Inc. was finally crystallised as a window into the world of artistic perfumery – redolent with romance, steeped in subtlety and celebrating nuanced aesthetics. It is a movement against the banality that exists in the perfume world by mass production of designer fragrances that are launched every year.
You’ve mentioned that you travelled across the world to discover more about the art of perfumery. Could you tell us where it took you and what you learnt?
We started our journey with a beautiful haute parfumerie store we had heard about in San Sebastian, Spain to understand more about niche perfume brands. From there, we travelled to Grasse – the Mecca of perfumery, visiting various plantations, meeting perfumers to understand the perfume-making process. To get more insights about packaging and brand identity, we participated in the luxury packaging exhibition that is held in Monaco every year. We travelled to various other destinations in Europe like Germany, Lithuania, and the Netherlands to visit parfumeries and departmental stores that were dedicated to niche perfumes to understand the store design, customer experience strategies and the portfolio of brands they represented.
These visits also included meeting the founders/perfumers (The Nose) of some of the top brands in niche perfumes, understanding more about their creations and devising strategies to build the brand in India.
Can you tell us a little about each of the perfume brands in your store?
We represent a few niche brands right now; Dalí Haute Parfumerie from France, Nasomatto from Italy, Amouage from Oman and Eight & Bob from Spain.
We discovered Dalí Haute Parfumerie in an exhibition in Cannes. Its perfumes draw inspiration from the Dalí- Jewels exhibition and borrow several emblems from the surrealist masterʼs iconography. The bottles are designed expressively, paying homage to the artist’s masterpieces. Symbols such as the eye, butterfly, goblet, hand and the clock were chosen from the artist’s works for the first five Eau de parfums.
We had heard a lot about Nasomatto and Amouage from the owners of parfumeries that we met in France.
Nasomatto, which literally translates to ‘Crazy Nose’ in Italian, creates perfumes, which “have an intelligence of their own and are not just slaves to my meaning” as Alessandro Gualtieri, the nose behind perfumes, says. The little bottles topped with wooden caps carry intensely strong fragrances. While some perfumes are unisexual, it’s remarkable how they use psychoactive substances.
Founded 30 years ago, Amouage reflects the rich heritage and tradition of perfumery from the Sultanate of Oman, while borrowing inspiration from across the world. The scent bottles for women pay homage to the Palace Ruwi Mosque in Muscat while the ones for men are shaped like a Khanjar, the traditional dagger of Oman, both embellished in gold and studded with a Swarovski crystal.
Eight & Bob was first produced in the 1930s, by self-taught perfumer, Albert Fouquet. A young John F. Kennedy encountered him and fell for his signature cologne. The perfumer then sent him nine samples (eight for the future president and one for his younger brother, Robert Kennedy and thus, the name). It wasn’t long before the name caught on in celebrity circles, and actors such as Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart were wearing it. Even though Fouquet died almost a decade later in a car crash, his family butler perpetuated his legacy. What’s noteworthy is how he shipped the perfumes in books to hide from Nazi interception.
All the brands that we represent are carefully chosen based on the brand story, heritage, uniqueness of their creation and how they are aligned with our vision and philosophy.
What inspired your store’s design?
Vivek and I wanted to have a store that had a contemporary identity and open spaces and hence we used glass elevation for the entire store. Led by the vibrant artistic vision of Kunaal Seolekar, StudioHaus has created a unique design experience that fits the brand in an aesthetically poetic and expressive way.
To encapsulate the identity and purpose of the brand, we envisioned a contemporary Indian aesthetic. A majority of the display is against the back walls of the store, inviting the viewer to enter and communicate. A metal archway grill work against the glazing defines the concept and visual perspectives. Along the display units, a communal counter serves as an interaction space for clients and the perfume consultants, which allows for the store customer rituals to operate seamlessly. An abstract tree of shelves combines various brands to intrigue the passer-by with its branches displaying an array of products.
How is the experience of purchasing fragrances different at Scent Sutra?
The choice of the fragrance of the customer depends on many factors like the preference for the olfactory palette, the occasion for wearing the fragrance and the mood for a particular fragrance.
Our fragrance specialists begin the conversations by telling the story of brands that we represent. After understanding the needs and preferences of the customer, we recommend not more than five fragrances for them to try — two fragrances are based on their current use of perfume brands, two fragrances are selected based on our understanding of their preferences and the final fragrance pushes their boundaries of what they like and what they’re averse to.
We use ceramics specially made in France that can retain fragrances for weeks. We also use perfumable ribbons by Dali, which are crushed in a diffuser pot. Instead of smelling the fragrances on a blotter, you smell the pre-perfumed ribbons, which can give you an exposure to the top, heart and base notes in a fragrance.
A fragrance responds differently to everybody based on the body chemistry. We insist that our customers wear the fragrances on their skin for a few hours and then return to us to make a purchase.
What have you planned for the brand’s future?
Our vision is to become a destination for niche perfumes in India and curate the finest olfactory experiences for our customers. We constantly strive to bring something new to our customers, and have plans to launch a new brand every quarter. We are quite excited about our expansion to other cities this year and some strategic collaborations that are in the pipeline.
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