We talk to an industry expert for insights on the latest in the perfume industry in India and across the globe.

What are your views on perfumery trends globally and in India? 

Globally, there are two significant developments. One is in terms of fragrance preferences, the trend that is going on and will continue to grow is the Oudh trend. In the last few years, brands are using Oudh as raw material and not just in nomenclature. The value of Oudh as a raw material in fragrances can be more than 50 per cent of all the other ingredients put together. Yet customers are willing to pay more for it as there is the presence of real Oudh.

Another trend that has come about is that of sustainability of raw materials. This also extends to packaging materials and in every aspect from procurement to production. Recycled plastic is now being used in product packaging.

Most importantly, the consideration is upon how do companies help the sustainability of the local community.

How do you see the perfume industry adapting to the pandemic?

The home fragrance category has grown substantially with people buying a variety of scented candles. Perfumes, whether used on the skin or in spaces, essentially help in time travel.

We are seeing a difference in the way people are applying perfumes. This is the feedback from a lot of our customers – instead of spritzing all over as they used to before heading out of home, they use it more on the pulse points.

Now, it is not surprising when we hear tales of how some people put on perfume to only sit back and watch Netflix. Or how they still wear perfume before turning up at an online meeting. In the past year, the perfumery industry has shifted focus to E-commerce to meet customer needs, and it’s heartening to see online sales picking up.

We saw the sales of classics surging, as people ordered repeats of what they are using or have used in the past. Having said this, it’s difficult for new brands as physically sampling the perfumes becomes a challenge. Most E-commerce companies sent out samplers to customers, but the new launches were few. Discovery sets, or a collection of minis, have been around before the pandemic hit, but now have become a good tool for sampling. The customer gets to experience all fragrances before investing in a full-size bottle.

Here’s why the trend of flankers will also continue. One is that the customers know the original so are open to trying out a sequel. Creatively what’s also happening is that the product life cycle becoming shorter.

Besides, the marketers are the ones who dictate the notes and not the noses anymore. The consumer wants novelty and perfumery is a biased market. If for example, your mother wore Chanel No.5, she wore it all her life. Brand loyalty has gone down, as today’s consumers would like a variety of fragrances and won’t stop at just one.

Your thoughts on India’s perfume industry and where do you see it in the next few years?

India is going to go on a full-throttle discovery phase. The western perfumery industry has had more than 100 years to evolve from chemical composition to floral, spices, fugere, fruity, floriental, Oudh etc. In my opinion, India will go through the same learning between the 10-year period. India adopts and adapts trends at a breakneck speed. The learning curve is getting shorter as people’s exposure through travel and movies is changing their behaviour patterns. In the lifestyle industry, there is a push to educate consumers about the perfumery industry.

Even with the creation of the AND and Global Desi fragrances, we did a creative blend of my personal knowledge with data of what families want in India. It was a combination of what would Indians like. We went for things that were marketing and data-led.

As of today, it takes time for international fragrances to be launched in India, partly because of the registration process but we can’t deny that the Indian market is not big enough for international companies to invest in. Their target market used to travel abroad and buy fragrances. But this will change in the next decade. India is on the cusp of becoming an evolved consumer of fragrances.

What do you think about homegrown perfumers and how are they evolving? 

While in terms of figures and statistics, India may lag behind the west, what we cannot ignore is how the roots of perfumery started in the east. India and Egypt are the two places where it’s said to be originated. We have a vibrant perfumed past, full of royal patronages and original compositions, with some players more than 200 years old. How many Grasse perfumers can say this? The new generation will combine the heritage of India with the western ideas of marketing. I know of a few families whose next generation is going abroad to study perfumery professionally and understand international trends.

As a perfumist, if we talk about the pandemic and changing work cultures, how has it changed for you? 

I am having to rely a lot more on collaborations, as compared to what I would be learning on my own. This makes a huge difference. Experiences and travel help create scents. You get inspired when you are travelling to places that are diametrically different from the experiences that you’ve lived in.

Inspiration can come from anywhere really but it’s getting lost due to the current situation we are in.

The medium of audiovisual is helping curb this issue but it’s not true inspiration as there is stimulation to the brain. There is an upside however as we shifted more focus into research and development. My team and I are looking more into raw materials which I wouldn’t have the time to do in the past.

Tell us about your journey as a perfumist? 

I was never formally trained in perfumery. I learnt everything under my late uncle Nazir Ajmal and I also have had a French mentor.

Uncle Nazir was the only recognised nose in the region and would work with international perfumers. He modernised the original traditional perfumery and was the one who created the original ‘floriental’ – the fusion of East and West. When I joined, he told me to find my niche. Having lived in western countries, my inclination was towards western perfumery and I was encouraged to work in that direction. Today, at Ajmal 50 per cent of the fragrances we create fall under the French, occidental, western-style fragrances. When I joined, I grew that side of the business more, and that perhaps is my contribution to the industry with my uncle’s support and it only continues.

An interesting milestone in my career would be the encouragement towards raw materials. We used to sell raw materials before also but it was never a focused division in the business. I decided we should also move into this and now it is an independent silo. To this extent, I call it our brand (perhaps) the only farm-to fragrance brand.

Another large milestone is coming back to the Indian market and collaborating with the House of Anita Dongre to create fragrances for AND and Global Desi. With this co-brand, we are trying to introduce a new category of perfumes that is aspirational yet affordable.