India once again lends itself to inspire a modern day perfume story. In this case the story is told by Penhaligon’s, one of England’s oldest and most respected perfume houses. What began as a private commission for India’s Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur has been reinterpreted and last year it became a permanent addition to the house’s commercial line. The brand’s CEO, Sarah Rotheram and French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour made several visits to India’s regal state of Rajasthan, to understand the likes and tastes of the Maharaja and to experience the seasonal smells of Jodhpur and the surrounding desert land of Marwar. No stranger to the creation of this style of location perfume, in 2012 Bertrand recreated the scent of dawn in Seville for L’Artisan Parfumeur and blogger/writer Denyse Beaulieu. In the same year he authored three fragrances for Neela Vermeire, inspired by India during three different eras. For Penhaligon’s, Bertrand takes us on another Indian journey in the form of Vaara, an eau de parfum named after the Maharaja’s granddaughter. Unlike Neela Vermeire’s lavishly coloured Mohur, Vaara is a sheer, watercolour portrait of garden flowers. With India offering so many intense colours, smells and tastes to inspire perfumers, it is interesting that Bertrand chose to create a more universal fragrance, which for me communicates emotion rather than a geographical location or culture. In this way Vaara is not the Discovery Channel equivalent of a perfume about India, it feels much more personal. Although the project was seen as an “opportunity to explain or paint a landscape of Jodhpur” a city the Maharaja is very active in promoting, Vaara’s lush floral heart and clean-edged dry-down evokes serenity, an emotion that is not often felt by travellers navigating the never ending bustle of India’s crowded streets. Instead, Vaara is like a quiet moment of contemplation enjoyed by the royals on a morning stroll through their palace gardens. The result is a beautiful cascade of floral notes across an airy background of transparent woods with oriental nuances. To make a study of the local flora, Bertrand and Sarah spent time in the Maharaja’s summer palace working with the palace gardener. Native Indian jasmine sambac and magnolia or champaca, with its sweet, over-ripe fruity profile was included in Vaara’s portrait.
The satin-like combination of rose and saffron is one I always enjoy. For Vaara, Bertrand took the idea and played with it in a different way. Instead of the more common pairing of rose otto with saffron, which has a decidedly Eastern feel, he used a rosewater accord, which still gave the scent of lush rose petals, but with a transparency and weightlessness that is strikingly novel. Another novelty is the pulpy quince note that runs throughout the fragrance. Falling somewhere between pear and ripe tropical fruit, quince works harmoniously well with the bouquet of peonies, freesias and champaca. It is an exquisite collection of flowers befitting a royal garden. As the perfume settles on skin, iris counterparts the carrot seed note found in the top end of the fragrance. Benzoin and honey bring a subtle sweetness, which helps to give Vaara its oriental profile. Notes of cedarwood, sandalwood, tonka bean and musk round off any sharp edges bringing the fragrance to its close. Reading back through the ingredient list you would expect to smell a classic, rich oriental fragrance but in reality, Vaara has a freshness and light watery aspect lovers of fresh floral fragrances will no doubt enjoy.
I took Vaara with me on my recent trip to India in order to smell it in the country that inspired its creation. Wearing fragrance in India, my observation was that many Western perfumes could not compete with India’s complex smellscape; other odours simply drowned them out. One morning in Mysore, I was wearing Vaara and I noticed how well this fresh floral bouquet complimented the surrounded smells of wood-fired ovens, spices, temple incense and humid air. Wearing Vaara that morning, I felt rejuvenated. The fragrance is intensely floral, which some men may find too feminine if they are accustomed to wearing more traditional gendered scents, but for those men looking for a masculine floral, this unisex gem is well worth discovering.
Alternatives: Cire Trudon Merida (Candle), Creed Spring Flower, Ormonde Jayne Champaca, Magnolia Grandiflora Michel
Perfumer: Bertrand Duchaufour
Bottle Designer: Adapted from an 1872 Penhaligon’s bottle
Release Date: 2013
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody Oriental
For Penhaligon’s stockists in Australia and New Zealand see Agence de Parfum