Neela Vermeire Creations is a recently-launched niche perfume line that currently includes three perfumes: Trayee (pronounced Try-ee), Mohur, and Bombay Bling. These three perfumes were inspired by Neela Vermeire’s own childhood memories of India and were co-created by her and perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour.
As I settle in for happy hour (the cocktail of the day is iced amaro), I’m excited to share a discussion between Neela and me (she told me she prefers the term “discussion” to “interview”).
Neela has proven to be warm, friendly, oh-so-gracious, and full of enthusiasm for perfume. I hope you enjoy the discussion.
Natalie: In reading about your line, I’m fascinated by your transition from perfume aficionado to starting your own label. And I do want to ask you about that, but I thought it would be most appropriate to begin with your inspiration, which is India. You state on your website that your olfactive memories of India from your childhood have shaped your love of scent. Can you tell me what scents are particularly associated in your mind with India, and what images those scents call to mind for you?
Neela: I have been fascinated by most non-aquatic smells in general; in fact I do not like smells of most fruit notes, cucumbers, aquatic notes in perfumes. I love sandalwood, flowers, herbs, spices (in moderate doses, mainly cardamom—I don’t care for cumin in perfumes, but Bertrand did a great job with the all the spices), almond, wet earth after monsoon, green leafy smells from lush gardens, etc. Then there was always some exposure to attars. Sandalwood is the most important ingredient in any ceremonies and rites, and I remember the smell as a comfort smell since I was young. When a fresh paste is made, it is truly beautiful—milky and soft.
I also love the smell of tea, darjeeling tea in particular. My favourite flowers include jasmine, tuberose, rose, and many others you will find in the India trio. I love to look at lotus, marigold, and hibiscus—all sacred flowers.
Natalie: I am not surprised some of those are also notes that feature in your perfumes! One of the things that strikes me about your first three perfumes is that they feel like a cohesive exploration of some common themes—joy being one of them. Trayee feels to me like a meditation on contentment, and Mohur like a happy moment that is fragile, ephemeral.
I guess there isn’t really a specific question in here; I just enjoy this aspect of the fragrances and wanted to hear your thoughts and intentions in terms of both the historical inspirations and the “feelings” behind the fragrances.
Neela: Your summary is perfect and thank you for finding them joyful. Trayee is a tribute to the vedas and vedic ceremonies as you know. The ingredients used were/are key to drawing an image of those periods—all three. Mohur is a celebration of the varied periods of the Moghols and the British Raj Era. Rose is the common ingredient as a dedication to Noor Jahan and British ladies who lived in India. Oud is also present. (Oud was used in India for thousands of years, and let us please underline that I did not want to make a big deal about the fact that there is oud in Trayee—almost 1% according to Bertrand—but thank god we did not call it Trayee Oud. It is also present in Mohur—but imagine Mohur Oud!). Mohur has leather notes to acknowledge how polo was revived (from an ancient middle eastern sport) by British army officers. Polo happens to be an ancient sport that originated in Persia and was later played in India, and the British first got introduced to the game in India and it later spread to the UK.
I wanted to keep Mohur well balanced because the Moghul rulers were opulent (imagine all those brocades, bright precious jewels, gorgeous architecture, big BIG roses—they would make the word bling really appear understated …) and the British were certainly more discreet/understated. It had to be a mix of both. A rich rose with many softer features.
I usually run a mile from fruity florals, hence Bombay Bling was a challenge. It had to be something I could appreciate and wear. All I knew was if we had to do a “punch-like” floral that it had to have green mango and lychee (my absolute favorite). Then huge amounts of white flowers to compensate for this “Ouch, what have we done?” feeling. The result right from the start was so sparkling, joyful, and fun. We went through tries that would result in an optimistic perfume. Leave meditative seriousness to Trayee and chic elegance to Mohur.
Natalie: Going back to the process of starting your line. I understand you have had a long-term passion for fragrance, and used to be active on some of the fragrance boards and forums online. I’d be curious to know what motivated you to start your own line, and how you came to choose M. Duchaufour as your perfumer.
Neela: I wanted to reconnect with India, my family, and friends from India, so it is a very personal journey while being a tribute to an ancient culture. Over the past several years, I have promoted various artists, creators, perfumers etc. I also worked with Indian artists. That was one way of reconnecting with my past.
The concept developed and I worked on doing research on ingredients and a feel of the periods before seeking out a perfumer. I have been trying to understand how perfumers work and get to know their work. Over the past few years, besides sharing my passion I also hosted a few “meet the perfumer” round tables. I know several perfumers as a result and I met with them for my project but none really knew India except Bertrand, who has visited India on several occasions. Bertrand understood the complexity of the concept and really welcomed the challenge. I did have my “let’s add this and that” moment and Bertrand was a great sport all the way.
The creation of the line was organic, heartfelt and not done with the help of PR agents.
Natalie: I still find that laudable. It’s no small thing to launch your own line from scratch, and it must be gratifying to see it gaining ground in recognition. Can you tell me a little about your co-creative process with M. Duchaufour?
Neela: It was a great experience and lucky that Bertrand was very keen to work on all three perfumes. Bertrand and I met to discuss all the tries. Bertrand took on board all suggestions, and then we could see the changes over a period of time. They were all very good tries, but they had to be steered in the right direction that would smell of the eras.
Natalie: You mention on your website that your perfumes contain concentrations of natural and costly ingredients that would be considered “frankly ridiculous” for most commercial perfumers. And in an interview with Fragrantica, you indicated that Mohur contains 11% rose. Do you feel that use of these ingredients at higher concentrations is one way to set you apart from other perfumers? Or do you feel it was it creatively necessary because these are scents historically sourced from and associated with India (in the case of mysore sandalwood) and the region (in terms of oud, certain roses, jasmine sambac, etc.)?
Neela: I think my idea is to stick to exceptionally high quality raw materials that can make a perfume truly beautiful and a major olfactive difference to the wearer. As a perfumista, I always look for “great quality” ingredients that don’t smell uninteresting or banal on my skin.
What we set out to do was stick to the periods of Indian history that would actually tell the story to the wearer. It is very important as a creator to respect my audience and know that we are catering to a market where users are as discerning as I am. We also cannot ignore the fact that of the thousands released each year, many fail to stand out in terms of the creative beauty, mainly because of the low-cost ingredients imposed in order to make higher profit margins.
It is sometimes a choice between diluting in terms of quality of essence or making truly memorable perfumes.
Natalie: On that note, let’s talk about the perfumes! I would love to hear your impressions as a “wearer.” What are your favorite aspects of the perfumes, what do you enjoy about them, etc.
Beginning with Trayee. It is linked in my mind with another scent created by M. Duchafour, Traversee du Bosphore. They share some notes, I believe, a creamy spicy accord with prominent saffron and clove being one. But Trayee has slightly medicinal top notes, and the creamy spiciness of the heart and drydown are given an edge with an incense note.
Trayee reminds me of my childhood, my spiritual connection and growing up in a hindu brahmin family, and is therefore a multi-faceted and a deep spiritual fragrance for me. I like the fact that no single note stands out because that is what India is all about.
A client who is an Indian expat in France wrote to me telling me how Trayee reminds him of all the ceremonies and takes him back to his happy childhood in India. I was delighted; that was similar to my impressions and idea for creating the perfume.
I am always truly pleased when I have direct contact with my clients and they often let me know that these creations have made a big difference to them.
None of them scream out or have big sillage (well maybe with the exception of BB which I guess is the youngest of the three). None of them go “hey smell me I am here.” Trayee and Mohur are perfumes that remain close to the skin and I like the fact that they are perfumes that are for you or ones who are lucky enough and can get close enough to smell them.
As a private person, I don’t think I like big sillage in any event. Some, yes, but not enough to annoy people.
I love perfumes that do not enter or make an impact before one does. My most annoying experiences are when I go to an opera or concert and someone close to me overwhelms my senses with some annoying perfumes. That happens in restaurants and at times I cannot enjoy my food.
My ideal perfumes are those that remain subtle, mysterious, create a lasting impression, and are quietly confident.
Natalie: This is exactly how your perfumes seem to me. Overall quiet, but well made and of high quality. The word I think of is “crafted” because they do feel hand crafted to me.
Mohur is a transparent violet rose. The violet has a gauzy quality that is mirrored in the sheerness of the rose. I also smell an accord of something that vaguely reminds me of chlorine, which gives it a “clarified” feeling that takes me by surprise — in a good way. And I like the idea of combining violet, a scent typically associated with Victorian England, with a spicy rose as an emblem of this era in India.
Neela: Beautifully described, Natalie. Mohur is by far my most used perfume. I love the soft elegance and reach for it easily. It was the second most challenging perfume to finalize in the trio; the most challenging was Trayee because of all the memories and connections.
Mohur is beautifully comforting. I have a very good client from the US who loves all three (she spent part of her life in India), and she wrote to let me know that she is recovering from an illness and that none of these perfumes make her ill. In fact, Mohur is what she can spray on her pillows so she can sleep.
Natalie: Bombay Bling is a close second for the place of my “favorite.” It feels so optimistic, with a very international flavor that comes off as modern and forward-looking. Mango and lychee remind me of some of my favorite flavors in Indian and Asian food, and until now I’ve never smelled a perfume which present these fruits in a “serious” way and do them justice. They often feature in cheap, fruit-bomb fragrances, and Bombay Bling is not one of those at all. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with one of my friends, who loves lychee and its associations with her native Costa Rica.
Love your description again. Like I mentioned before, I have never been a fan of fruity notes. In fact, I was reticent to do one and have people run a mile, including myself. The reason we have green mango in BB is because mango (green to ripe) and lychee are some of my favourite fruits and are my idea of happy fruits. They also give a rather massive blast from the start, if that makes sense. I wanted it to feel like fireworks and the feelings associated. Modern India is like multi-coloured chaotic fireworks to me, in a very good way.
BB is the happy yet confident perfume. Young modern India for me reflects that mood. I reached for BB a lot over the winter days. It works well in all seasons. All the perfumes will work in all seasons.
Recently another client wrote to let me know that BB is the only perfume that has made her “feel better” in a long time. For a few, it is like “sunshine in a bottle” but perfumes are so subjective and words cannot describe most feelings that are associated.
Natalie: I’m curious about your plans for Neela Vermeire Creations. Is there anything you are free to share with us about the future of the line?
Neela: I hope to continue to sell these perfumes through my official partner stores in a few countries and my own website and keep trying to make the packaging better. I am planning to work on a couple of other perfumes for this India line. Stay tuned, but they will take some time. They are in seedling stage. It is a question of managing all the elements of a brand.
Natalie: I’m sure you will have many people who are excited about smelling them when they come out. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with me and the readers of APB. I appreciate it! And, congratulations on the launch of your perfumes. I wish you all the success you deserve for bringing these lovely fragrances to market.
Neela: Thank you for all the encouragement, appreciating the perfumes, and for supporting a truly niche brand. I am grateful for all the kindness.
Image courtesy Neela Vermeire.