Whiff from the past — how a handful of Indian companies are reviving the glory of desi attar

New Delhi: India’s indigenous perfume-making trade is present process a transformation with a bunch of new companies reinventing the desi attar for the fashionable market.
From using analysis and expertise to tweak conventional fragrances, in order that they are higher suited to youthful sensibilities, to utilizing social media, on-line gross sales and customer-friendly pop-ups for advertising and marketing and retail — these companies are on a mission to make sure that the slowly fading scent of attar (or ittar, as it’s popularly known as) will get a whiff of new life.
Indian attars have at all times stood aside from artificial Western perfumes, deodorants and colognes. Completely pure, these oil-based fragrances have historically relied on harnessing the pure fragrance of flowers, herbs and spices — rose, jasmine, khas, amongst others. Typically, every attar was additionally meant for use throughout a explicit season. Khas, for instance, was a summer time attar.
“Since time immemorial, ittars have had the energy to chop by means of the strongest partitions, make troopers put down their weapons and kings speak in poetry. But someplace in the race of chasing international notes, ittars misplaced their supremacy,” claims a write-up obtainable on the web site of Kastoor, one of the new manufacturers searching for to revive the attar market.
Launched final yr (the firm mentioned it had been concerned in analysis and improvement for a few years previous to this), Kastoor calls itself a “fashionable ittar” model specialising in “magnanimously aromatic”, “gender-agnostic” Indian perfumes.

The model’s founder, Esha Tiwari, rues that, regardless of the nation’s wealthy heritage in attars, India is nowhere on the international perfume map. One of the issues that has labored in opposition to attar lately, she feels, is the in style notion of attars being very heavy and potent, prone to trigger complications even when used minimally.
“We have decreased the depth and altered to notes (descriptors of scents that may be sensed upon the utility of a fragrance) that are extra in tune with as we speak’s technology sensitivities,” Tiwari instructed ThePrint, describing how she has given a “up to date edge” to Kastoor perfumes.
Kastoor’s technique of firming down the fragrances can also be adopted by Boond Fragrances, one other new entrant in the attar market.
The firm was launched in May 2021. The firm’s co-founder, Varun Tandon, echoed Tiwari, saying that attar has been historically identified for its pungent perfume, which isn’t at all times appreciated by the youthful technology. “By altering the portion of base oil and flower extract, we have now tried to make it not simply natural and chemical-free but in addition palatable,” he added.

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Losing out to international fragrances
The sluggish decline in the attar‘s fortunes most likely began with the financial liberalisation of the Nineteen Nineties. The globalisation that adopted additional expanded the presence of international perfumes and deodorants in the market. The new scents weren’t simply extra fascinating for Indian clients, however usually cheaper than handcrafted Indian perfumes (natural attars price over Rs 1,000, whereas a bottle of deodorant might be purchased for a few hundred rupees).
Not surprisingly, the rising marketplace for these perfumes and physique sprays resulted in lots of Indian beauty manufacturers, too, getting into the fray. In the heady combine of new frangrances, attars began slowly fading away.
Bottles of attar by Kastoor | Instagram | House of Kastoor
The shrinking attar trade had, nonetheless, drawn the consideration of not simply the Indian media, but in addition offshore newspapers. Many articles have been written on the plight of India’s conventional fragrance trade.
In 2012, the Abu Dhabi-based English every day, The National, chronicled the woes of some of India’s boutique perfumeries on account of the inflow of canned deodorants and high-end perfumes from the West.
“The youthful children as we speak like spray-on deodorants. It’s a technology hole. It’s like classical music and pop. You can’t do something about it,” a 52-year-old perfume-maker was quoted as saying in the article.
Slowly, the fragrance makers of Hyderabad and Kannauj — the hub of perfume-making in India — began dropping out to perfumes from the West that introduced in not simply extra selection in phrases of perfume, however flooded Indian markets and malls, permitting simpler entry. Advertisements with celebrities solely helped in making them extra mainstream, as attars slowly bought sidelined.
Over the past two-five years, home manufacturers have been attempting to convey again the highlight on India’s perfumes, collectively bringing Kannauj and Hyderabad’s heritage aromas to vainness tables round the world.
Meanwhile, Sugandhco, a heritage fragrance model that dates again to the nineteenth century, has been reinventing itself and exploring new methods of reaching a youthful market. Instead of the conventional dab-on attars, the firm now has merchandise that may be sprayed like fashionable perfumes.
In addition to catering to the home market, all three companies mentioned they export to consumers overseas.
The making of attar
In India, attar is made by the distillation of varied flowers and herbs. It’s been mentioned that flowers plucked at totally different instances of the day pack totally different scents. They are usually collected at the break of daybreak, to retain their freshness.
For the distillation course of, the flowers are put into a deg — enormous vessels made of copper which might maintain 100kg of flowers of various sizes — after which capped with clay to maintain it tightly packed. The deg is related to a different copper vessel known as bhapka, which acts as a condenser and is positioned in a water tank. The deg is then place over a hearth, whereas the bhapka distills the steam.
The condensed extract or essence of the flower is then combined with oil that acts as base to complete the product. Most of the luxurious manufacturers choose sandalwood oil, because it helps the fragrance keep on the physique longer.
While Tiwari claimed to have refashioned attar by inventing concoctions that are unique to her model (“a steadiness between Western and Indian fragrances”), Tandon’s Boond hasn’t modified the authentic or quite “Indianised notes”, which he mentioned he at all times discovered fascinating and wished to introduce to the new technology.
“Those fragrances evoke reminiscences and nostalgia — like maati, which is the scent of rain on dry floor, and motiya (jasmine) that reminds one of the lengthy summer time nights, or khas and gulab (rose), which have obtained an overwhelmingly optimistic response,” he mentioned.
Tandon spoke of how many Americans and Australians have additionally proven curiosity in his perfumes for his or her distinctive Indian perfume, and how the enterprise has now expanded overseas. It has been most cherished by the NRIs, who, whereas visiting India, take these perfumes again with them, he mentioned. For them, he added, it isn’t simply a product, however a “piece of their land”.
Lots is in the packaging
While Sugandhco has began utilizing the Western approach of using alcohol as the base of their attars, Kastoor and Boond declare to have saved their perfumes natural. The contemporariness of their perfumes lies in maintaining the notes extraordinarily refined and progressive packaging, they mentioned.
“We didn’t need the bottles to exit with the conventional yellow caps (utilized in outdated attar bottles). Because folks shouldn’t have the behavior of seeing them,” mentioned Tiwari. “Also, it has a totally different notion in the minds of folks… So, if you happen to see a Kastoor bottle, it’s a glass, frosted bottle, eight ml with a giant wood cap. And once we maintain exhibitions, it seems to be lovely,” she added.
Attar by Boond | Instagram | Boond Fragrances
Tandon has gone a step additional. While the fragrance bottles are packed in a handmade paper field, made from recycled cotton scraps, “every bottle, we ship has a custom-made poem. Anyone ordering a perfume which is a latest launch will get a particular handwritten poem,” he mentioned.
The efforts have been appreciated by clients. On its web site, Boond contains feedback by customers.
“The so refined perfume of the gulab and motiya are pleasant…Thank you a lot for reviving such a lovely craft and serving to expert folks retain their craft,” is one remark in the part.
Another refers to the maati perfume, calling it the most genuine petrichor that they had come throughout. The remark additionally expresses appreciation for the poem despatched with the bottle.
Ishika Malhotra, a expertise acquisition lead at Vertex Global Services, instructed ThePrint how the “redesigned perfumes” by these manufacturers have been her favorite issues to provide as items. “Most of my associates are overseas. On their birthdays, I at all times ship one thing that reminds them of residence,” she mentioned. “These new ittars make nice items because it’s one thing most of our moms and grandmothers wore and are symbolic of residence.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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