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A Scented Love Letter from Paris to India
   


Neela Vermeire, founder of a niche perfume brand Neela Vermeire Créations based in Paris came to Warsaw’s Quality Missala Perfumery to launch her scents. She spoke to Voice’s Marzena Robinson.

You studied social sciences, then law, practiced as a solicitor to eventually become a perfume designer? What’s so special about perfumes?
I’ve loved perfumes since my childhood. Growing up in India I became hypersensitive to smell. In India, everywhere smells, you are surrounded by smells. The good ones, like sandal wood or incense in religious ceremonies, flowers, spices, oud and tropical fruit, but also those bad ones. Everyday life in India has a sense of smell and I think, in our subconsciousness, we get trained to have a better sense of smell.

My brand developed in an organic way. I did not get up one day and decided I wanted to have a perfume brand. Before it all happened I was already in my early forties.

But I became interested in perfume business already at an early age when I started collecting fragrances. I actually became a big collector for about two decades before I launched my brand.

At that time, I left India to study in America, then England and France. I enjoyed studying law in London intellectually, but I was not passionate enough about practicing legal profession. My soul and heart was more with arts and perfumes.

So I quit my job and moved to Paris, where I started to promote some young artists by organizing shows of their works in private spaces. At that time, I also started exploring every perfume I could find. I did research in raw materials, met perfumers, creators and I found out about all the niche brands.

And with all this French know-how you started thinking of creating your own line…
Living in France, I feel I’m in between – Indian in my soul and European in my interests. So I thought by creating a perfume brand I can send a love letter to India but at the same time be connected to where I am now.

So my first three perfumes were inspired by three periods of Indian history as well as by memories from my childhood in India.

Trayee was my first creation. I call it a spiritual perfume, good for those seeking inner peace. It represents the Vedic period when yoga, Ayurveda and Hinduism came about. It has the deepest link to my personal story, my childhood and my spiritual upbringing in India.

My next creation, Mohur was inspired by a very rich and intense period in Indian history, the start of the Mogul Empire, which gave birth to great architecture, music, poetry and rose perfumery. Therefore, rose had to be the key ingredient in Mohur. This fragrance also represents my education in art and culture.

The third in the trio, Bombay Bling, which is my most joyful and positive fragrance, reflects the contemporary India. It is a tribute to the energy of the whole country. It’s called anti-depressant in the bottle.

The next composition was Ashoka, inspired by one of India's greatest emperors, a cruel ruler who turned into a devoted Buddhist. It was followed by Pichola, named after Lake Pichola, the crown jewel and central focus of the princely city of Udaipur.

My most recent creation Rahele (traveler) is an ode to the 17th century French travelers to India.

You have created all your six fragrances in collaboration with a French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, one of the most famous noses in the world. How do you communicate your vision, ideas to him?
Bertrand understand my logic, my ideas very well. Even then, you cannot just give him a brief and walk away. We work together from the scratch. I give him the concept, the story, the naturals and he comes up with formulas, which we push together. He is the master perfumer working under my guidance. And I never categorically say ‘this is terrible’. It is always the constructive, positive feedback.

In your olfactory creations, the longtime French tradition of perfumery is reinterpreted with the Indian influences. How important is the role of fragrance in India?
The perfumery in modern-day India is based on the traditional use of oils. Perfumes came to India with Moguls, and because they were Muslims, they did not put any alcohol in perfumes. They were oil based instead. Today, Muslims are still main perfume makers in India. They have little shops called Attar-wallahs where they sell perfumes using natural oils like oud, sandalwood or jasmine. These traditional Indian perfumes are highly concentrated and extremely heavy. Beautiful but not refined.

Of course, many Indians are fascinated with western perfumery. There are Dior and Chanel perfumeries in big shopping malls but not everybody can afford it. Therefore, some companies have started making cheaper substitutes which are not very good quality.

I really like the logo embossed on the cap of your perfume bottle. Does it have any particular significance?
The logo incorporates the Ashoka Chakra with 24 spokes. It is also reflected in the bottle design by Pierre Dinand. The old-fashioned, stylish column has 24 ridges, just like the chakra, but with a little French twist. The spokes represent 24 Eiffel towers to reflect a perfect mix of East and West.
As a family business, we produce and project manage everything in small batches, including our own bottle. We want people to experience the whole feel of the brand, because for me perfumes are a dream.

Do you think it’s important to wear a perfume?
I do. Perfume is an extension of our aura. When you wear something people smell it before they come up to you, before they get to know you. That is like a visiting card of your personality.

I believe there is a perfume for everyone. When a fragrance makes you happy and the ingredients are good quality you don’t need to analyze it any further. The right feeling about the scent is all that matters.