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  • Team - The Story Bar

What's in a fragrance?

It arrives with you, at times, even before you arrive. It's a part of you. How you look, talk, and act - when all of it is over, it even stays after you've left. Like an afterglow. What's in a fragrance – if not everything, certainly, more than what meets your sense of smell.

In the quest to understand perfumery, I stumbled upon Gaurav's Opulence Perfumery in Lucknow. And while the meeting was totally a serendipity, I wanted to get to the roots of it. This conversation was Lucknow's way of mehmaannavazi for me, a real treat!

What inspired you to get into this space?

I was pursuing my graduation in Mumbai. I saw a diversified market for perfumes there. Brands like CK, Gucci were quite popular back then in 2013. I was thoroughly researching about these perfumes and understood that even then, their sales were not high. At that time, owning a 700 Rs. perfume bottle used to be a big deal for us. After digging in a bit more, I could conclude that the maximum that people were ready to pay for perfumes was Rs. 10,000.

Mumbai is at the heart of every big change that happens in our country so this was a bit amusing. The market for perfumes was quite amateur back then and even now, I would say the same.

You have to be passionate about perfumery. One side of the story is people want to build a strong appeal with perfumes. But the genuine perfume users are the real enthusiasts and that market is still quite amateur. There's so much to explore.

In Mumbai, around that time, people were not ready to pay more than Rs. 10,000 for perfumes while France and USA were witnessing the arrival of premium perfume brands. That's what inspired a thought - there needs to be a space that offers a selection of niche perfumes.

I can proudly say that we are the pioneers of introducing niche perfumes in India. When nobody was selling niche perfumes in India, we were doing that. It's been a rollercoaster ride.

There was very less demand in the market. When you start selling something expensive, you get ultra niche customers, their number is very less. But eventually, our growing popularity through word of mouth inspired confidence in our work and we kept moving forward, building a community of people genuinely passionate about neesh perfumes.

India, a land of many religions, and every religion attaches significance to fragrance. The concept of scent is important. An integral part of cleanliness is smelling good. And cleanliness is seen as next to Godliness in our country. The responsibility and ownership to keep ourselves clean and smell good is on us. Despite an age old tradition of perfumery in Kannauj and the idea of scent being an inherent part of our religious and cultural ethos, why do you think the common Indian man or woman is so distant from the idea of perfumery?

What I have come to understand in my journey so far is that perfume as a product still does not exist. I have many customers who would not spend more than Rs. 3000-4000 on perfumes.

Smelling good and owning a perfume – these are two very different things. Even if you keep some talcum powder rolled up in your handkerchief, you would still smell good, right? If you apply some itra, you will smell good.

This market, as I emphasised earlier, it's still very new. For instance, you've got one pair of shoes for walking, whether it's Louis Vitton or Bata, both serve the same purpose. The same thing applies for perfumes.

You can smell good but that does not necessarily mean you own a perfume. It's not a necessity for people here in India. There are also superstitions, some people believe that if you apply itra, you invite evil spirits. Even my mother believes this.

Talking about the younger population of India, it's quite diversified. The college going students don't have a budget for expensive perfumes. A Rs.100-200 deodorant is good enough for them.

Do you get to see enough advertisements around perfumes on the television? No, right? We all grew up watching the ad for AXE. A guy sprays the deodorant all over and girls come flying around him. There's a lot that the marketing campaigns are shaping in terms of how the Indian consumer looks at perfumes.

People like getting compliments so yeah, they want to smell good. Even if it's a Rs. 200 priced perfume, if someone complimented you, you would feel good. If it's a Rs. 20,000 priced perfume you wore and you got a compliment, you'll be happy. In that moment, it won't matter to you, if it was Gucci or some local brand.

Smelling good is basic desire but how you do that is quite a diversified space, and everyone has a unique idea.

Even during our childhood, AXE was a luxury. So the memory of the first perfume for most of us, especially the boys, would go back to Nivea or Rexona, or the Old Spice aftershave. So for a young person, who just wants to smell good and make a statement among his peers, how would you explain the concept of perfumes? The market is flooded with products that don't serve the purpose, yet are extremely costly. What should a young person in India look for while purchasing a perfume?

It's not necessary that you can smell good only when you apply a perfume. Many people here in India don't know that deodorants are more important than perfumes.

You wear a Rs. 20,000 Gucci perfume but if your under-arms are smelling bad, nobody can save you. If you want to make an impression, you can buy a Rs.100 or 200 deodorant as well.

Smelling good, using a deodorant, is much more important. What people don't take into account here is the food we eat, the variety of spices it has. We Indians have a significantly strong body odour as compared to foreigners. They don't smell as bad as us - that's a fact. People hardly understand or know what their body odour is.

Invest in a good deodorant before you buy a perfume. Something that can mask your body odour. That should be the priority.

Fragrance is not limited to looking good, smelling good. What's the energy you are able to give to the people around you?

I would never recommend college students to overspend and to decide at once from where to buy perfumes or deodorants. If you are smelling 5-6 deodorants at once, you won't be able to differentiate amongst them.

At Opulence, we encourage people to try different perfumes but there's no push to buy immediately. The fragrance changes when you spray a perfume on your hand from how it smelled on the spray paper. We nudge people to select a brand that's not just good but well within their budget.

What is a sensible buy? There's a mass culture of cloning legacy brands. Are we running out of ideas on producing new scents?

Unfortunately, there's no patent for perfumes.

It breaks my heart to see the amount of effort that goes into creating a premium perfume and how that effort immediately gets trampled with a copy in the market.

It's important to note that if I wear an original LV shoes and the person next to me is wearing a copy, we both know that there's no wow experience for the fake pair of shoes. Both look good but the comfort will always differ.

Whenever you are buying a premium product, you are not just buying the product, you are buying the complete experience. At Opulence, we create and offer an experience, not just sell perfumes.

Certainly, you can get a copy of premium perfume brands in the market but you would never know what ingredients have gone into making it, and you will live in a perpetual state of suspicion. So much trouble for a perfume, which you the opportunity to buy an original, doesn't really make sense.

Many companies creating fake perfumes in India have been using methanol and heavy metals. In the long run, they can increase the chances of developing skin cancer.

Here, self-awareness is critical. Don't go by what I am telling you while selling my product to you. You should be a sensible buyer. Buy a solid stuff in your budget.

How to get a panty-dropper perfume? How to get a chick magnet fragrance? How to get long-lasting fragrances? These are triggers to nudge people into buying fake perfumes. What you need to pay attention to is – you will be applying the perfume on your skin. Wearing fake LV shoes won't damage your feet but bad perfumes can do more harm than short-lived wins.

I believe our government should take measures and ban these products. If today, I decide to buy certain oils from Dubai, make perfumes out of those and sell in the market, no soul would get the slightest hint of it.

That's how Opulence is different from other perfume retail stores. We understand the customer and then offer a selection accordingly.

The fine and few perfume lovers in India still feel there is a lack of innovation. In the race to launch more flankers of the original, changing the concentration here and there, the art of perfumery is being lost. What's your take on this?

Johnny Depp made Dior Sauvage popular. All the cult followers started purchasing it, the sale further boosted with Johnny Depp winning the case against Amber Heard. Despite the fragrance being synthetic, it had a mass appeal. People loved it. But it was meant for USA or Europe. So when it was launched in India, the lasting duration was 4-5 hours because we experience quite high temperatures here, sometimes even crossing 40-45 degree celsius. So what's working in London could be EDT and what's working in India is EDP.

Even there are varied concepts among perfume lovers – some like it for self-entertainment, some want it for compliments, and some like to make a statement wherever they go.

And then there is the International Fragrance Association (IFRA). If they intervene and find certain objectionable ingredients and put a ban on a perfume, companies dilute it and bring it back for sale.

Some companies are thriving on brand value and some are creating new formulas.

Do you envision India having its own Dior or Coco Chanel someday? How can our own perfumists gain more visibility in the international market?

It's a mindset issue. Products originating from India often lack the perception of luxury. Why is Rolex widely recognized while Jaipur Watch Company isn't? We, as Indians, often perceive those living in countries like France or the United States as superior. For instance, a shopper from Lucknow may choose Delhi for quality shopping, while someone from Delhi might opt for international destinations. Those with purchasing power seek a sense of prestige. It all boils down to perceived value.

We don't value what we have. The grass is always greener on the other side.

The day we start recognising the craftsmanship of our own perfumists, working in Kannauj, and other parts of the country, we'll see a dramatic change in how Indian perfumes are perceived and purchased.

The promise to appreciate perfumery in India

It is a narrative of evolution, where each note resonates with the essence of tradition, innovation, and the timeless pursuit of the perfect fragrance. And is there a perfect fragrance?

Thank you Gaurav for a brilliant overview of the perfume industry in India while offering valuable insights into consumer behavior, market trends, and the need for greater appreciation of indigenous perfumery traditions.

(Written by Garima, the Founder of The Story Bar, this article features an exclusive account of our conversation with Gaurav Verma, owner & CEO of Opulence Perfumery and Splash Fragrance. Follow Opulence Perfumery on Facebook and Instagram to explore their wide range of perfumes.)

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Mar 24
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