Bombay Perfumery’s Manan Gandhi on The Scents of Modern India
30-year-old Manan Gandhi’s family has been in the perfume industry for the last 4o years, sourcing ingredients for international brands such as Chanel, Guerlain, and Victoria’s Secret. After managing the family business in Grasse for over five years, Gandhi felt the need to develop Bombay Perfumery — a progressive fragrance house that bottles the scents of nostalgia, of elements that are truly Indian. From the sweetness of jasmine to the spicy aroma of masala chai and the unexpected whiff of black pepper, his brief was simple, “I wanted to build contemporary and complex scents that spotlight Indian ingredients.”
His team consists of international perfumers, Jacques Chabert, Alexandra Carlin and Pierre Kurzunne, who have worked on a combination of notes, creating a line of 10 distinct perfumes. “The scents we developed are neither stereotypical nor play to westernised notions of India. I also wanted people to be aware of an India that is confident, complex and experimentative.”
As Gandhi takes us on an aromatic adventure, he talks about his experience in Grasse and the best part about his job: sourcing ingredients.
Your favourite place for picking ingredients…
“I have been travelling to a sleepy town in Haiti called Les Cayes, where most of the vetiver roots are collected and distilled. We usually take a tiny three-seater plane to get there. It is a bumpy and scary ride, but the view of turquoise blue Caribbean waters, unspoiled beaches and lush green landscapes is surreal. The local community and economy of Les Cayes are heavily dependent on vetiver production and it’s fascinating to meet locals who have been distilling this root for decades and have stories for every crop season.”
What is the story behind Chai Musk?
“Our perfumer Alexandra Carlin has been regularly visiting India. She once came across a tea seller in Juhu who used fresh lemongrass in his preparation. Instantly captured by the strong aromatic freshness, she wanted to create a woody addictive fragrance with heady notes of masala chai while ensuring the scent is smooth and luxurious.”
Tell us about the India-inspired Madurai Talkies and Calicut.
“Madurai Talkies is inspired by Indian jasmine which is a noble ingredient and a must on every perfumer’s palette. As jasmine is ubiquitous in India and often over-powering in gajras, agarbathis and soaps, we wanted to develop a fragrance that is a sophisticated, subtle and dreamy with elements of rose and violet.Calicut is inspired by black pepper — the king of spices. We wanted to develop a fragrance that pays homage to India’s importance in the spice trade.”
Living and working in Grasse…
“I set up my company in Grasse five years ago. While working in the south of France sounded like an ideal job, it came with its own challenges. Starting something from scratch was very difficult because of the country’s complex and bureaucratic administration.
Building and nurturing relationships in the tight-knit perfumery industry is also a big challenge for a complete outsider. But my experience in setting up a successful and self-sustaining business in Grasse was what encouraged me to create Bombay Perfumery.”
When in Grasse…
“Your first stop should be Musee International Parfumerie (MIP). You can learn about the fascinating history of the world’s perfume capital, modern fragrances, and ingredients. The historic centre of Grasse has a lot of colourful buildings and narrow lanes filled with small boutiques and perfumeries. If you visit in July, you must head to the breathtaking lavender fields in the Provence region.”
Your first perfume…
“I remember using Carolina Herrera 212 in my younger days.”
Which are the fragrance houses you look up to?
“I love Byredo for their unexpected and daring fragrances. Editions de Parfums by Frederic Malle is another brand that works closely with master perfumers to develop groundbreaking scents.”
An evergreen scent…
“I have grown up with my mother using J’Adore by Dior every day, and she still continues to even today. Hopefully she’ll switch to Bombay Perfumery soon, but that for me it is a classic fine fragrance.”
Which is a scent that you would want to capture in a bottle?
“I would like to develop a very green, almost bitter fragrance that is close to the smell of crushed leaves. I think for fragrances to be memorable it’s important to have a subtle disturbing, unbalanced element which makes people want to smell it over and over again.”
A fragrance for the Verve woman…
“I think the perfect scent would be Moire. It is a heady mix of tuberose and leather and is a sensual fragrance for women who are confident, well–exposed and fashion forward. Tuberose is a marvelous Indian ingredient and often proves to be difficult to control due to its dominating narcotic aspects. Hence, it requires the wearer to understand the complexities of perfume, and the interplay and balance between strong ingredients such as tuberose, jasmine, sandalwood, and leather.”