September 25, 2010
Friend in fragrance Mr. Akshay Bhatia, Owner and Perfumer of independent perfume house Surabhi Fragrances, from the city of Jaipur in the beautiful desert state of Rajasthan India was inspired during a perfume conversation between perfumers from all around the globe to create a perfume that he called Kathmandu.
The conversation had started as a discussion of the “green” or herbaceous notes in perfumery and had taken a turn when a piece of writing about the “smells” of Kathmandu by young Nepali writer and budding filmmaker AbhiManyu Dixit was inserted into the group discussion…
Mr. Bhatia indeed did take the time in his lab to make two different versions of “Kathmandu”, one that was made with almost entirely synthetic materials and the other an almost completely natural version of the same with the addition of synthetic aldehydes which he advised me did not have a natural substitute. As I eagerly anticipated samples of said fragrances I was surprised when instead of physical glass and liquid bottles of perfume he sent me perfume briefs (notated formula for perfume) and suggested that I make them myself. Being an entirely Natural Perfumer and having absolutely no experience with synthetics I was rather intimidated by the long list of chemicals needed to create such a product but nonetheless ordered the (to me) exhaustive list and the natural equivalents in order to “have a go” as my British relatives would say.
When I opened the box of materials I had purchased as per Mr. Bhatia’s brief the mixture of chemicals together wafted a wonderfully delightful smell …enticing me to delve into the little bottles…which surprisingly individually did not smell… perfumey at all or even pleasant. There was a huge difference between the combined scent of the ingredients and the individual chemicals. This is not the experience I had (or ever had) with naturals which for the most part smell quite wonderful individually.
Undaunted I followed the perfume brief and created the perfume from the listed chemicals. As the formula progressed it took on the original “upon opening the box smell” which was musky, heady intense and sweet.
As a Natural Perfumer I was shocked that something so commercial smelling could take shape under my hands. It was as if I were possessed of another personality, someone alien moving my hands, using my body to create something totally foreign to me.
The scent itself opens with the aldehydic “sparkle of crushed glass” reminiscent of Chanel #5 and bursts little champagne bubbles of orange flower and citrus essences before moving through to the floral heart of the fragrance, a fragrant cloud of ylang ylang, rose, jasmine and iris. The base notes of Kathmandu weave a heavy support with cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, and the animalic notes of musk and civet.
As per the two Perfume Briefs for “Kathmandu” I did make up the synthetic version, an almost completely natural version, and “my own” combination of the two. In the combination version I tweaked the formula to significantly increase the patchouli, vetiver and sandalwood giving the fragrance a rather dirtier dustier feel than both the other versions. The wholly synthetic version was lighter, rather “cleaner” with a chemical bite softened by sweet musks on the drydown. The almost completely natural version was rich but the aldehydes seemed to “sit on top” of the fragrance rather than integrating fully leaving a rather discombobulated feel to it. By far my favorite version was the combination of the two perfume briefs with the more generous proportions of patchouli, vetiver and woods. The richness of the rose absolute, Jasmine Sambac Co2 extract and Ylang Ylang Flowers was nicely “lifted” by a combination of aroma molecules and then held down by a warm woody, patchouli-esque and animalic musky civet base. The sexuality of the fragrance is a powerful force. It is all encompassing, a nose to the toes kind of experience.
To me this fragrance is all mink coat, champagne and roses. I think I would feel underdressed without black silk stockings, lace garters… and plenty more silk and lace…under the fur coat. The only other option would be to be completely nude.
It has been said by some perfumers and fragrance writers that one can immediately experience the emotionality of the Perfumer by experiencing his or her fragrance creations. From the perfume “Kathmandu” I get the vibes of a person who is emotionally warm, intensely sweet and loving.
If perfume had corresponding musical notes and colors then I would say the perfume Kathmandu vibrates in a D natural, the musical note of the heart, and the color cloud vibration of soft pink.
Personally I felt a little embarrassed by this fragrance, or maybe overwhelmed. Being a simple bare feet and jeans, one flower and patchouli girl, this would be a fragrance I would have to grow into. Or maybe spray onto some articles of clothing such as soft sweaters.
As far as the name “Kathmandu” I think of the juxtaposition between the often fatiguing stench of the unwashed streets and heart wrenching social issues and the true elegance and beauty of the city and its artists, intellectuals, social workers and business owners that live and breathe therein. To me the fragrance is an ode to these magnificent people and a celebration of their talent, heart and generosity of spirit. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes Kathmandu is a scent that wafts a prayer of goodwill to beautiful people a world away and yet so close.
Blended or natural: Blended. Over 80 % natural.
Photo credits: Award winning Nepali Photographer Sameer Tuladhar
[Author’s Note: “Sameer Tuladhar has an incredible eye for beauty in any given environment and the talent for recording it with his camera.”]
Feel my heat takin’ you higher,
burn with me, Heaven’s on fire
Paint the sky with desire, angel fly, Heaven’s on fire.
Heaven’s on Fire – KISS
–Monica “Skye” Miller, Natural Perfume and Senior Editor