Perfumes and fragrances have a long winding history with South Asian identity. From the ancient streets of Kannauj to the palaces of Mughal emperors, fragrances crafted from flowers, leaves, wood and animal parts have been ever-present. These went beyond luxury and adornment reserved for the royals and rather pervaded into daily exchanges - almost an aid in evoking an air of power, persuasion and more. Perfumery is also a creative, intricate art that holds the potential to create an olfactory atmosphere. While perfumes have become more cosmetic, there still are dedicated perfumers who create bespoke scents with the potential to evoke feelings and memories.
Firdaus is such a fragrance, that arose from the collaboration between perfumer Jahnvi Nandan who is the founder of The Perfume Library — a bespoke fragrance label based out of Paris and Goa — and author and historian Aanchal Malhotra, and her novel ‘The Book Of Everlasting Things.’ The creative exchanges between these passionate individuals gave rise to Firdaus — a scent that is inspired by the heroine of Malhotra’s novel, her blooming romance, all set to the overarching presence of war. Firdaus is also crafted within the book by the protagonist as an homage to his beloved, created decades after his self exile far away from home and his beloved.
The story of Firdaus began in March 2017, when Aanchal met Jahnvi in Paris. Aanchal, armed with the concept of her olfactive novel, sought to shadow Jahnvi, initially just to draw inspiration for her characters. Little did she know that her curiosity for perfumery would turn into a five-year-long collaboration. According to Aanchal, “Our first conversations were about the smells of war - what does soot smell like, and what about the chemical gas Vivek is assaulted with on the battlefield, and the water-logged trenches, the sweat, the faeces, the smoke?” Jahnvi in turn responded with a suggestion to create an olfactive landscape of war while taking out bottles of ingredients, dipping them in smell strips, and taking notes on catalogue cards. This interaction set the tone for their creative journey as they delved into the intricacies of scent.
Firdaus is not just a perfume but a bridge between literature and fragrance, a harmonious interplay between two arts that have long drawn inspiration from each other throughout history. Aanchal's novel and Jahnvi's expertise converged to create Firdaus, a fragrance that encapsulates the memories of Samir and his beloved Firdaus - down to the scent of rose in her Ubtan. It is also a reflection of Jahnvi's lifelong engagement with the rose as an artist, dancer, and perfumer. In her instagram story talking about this fragrance, Jahnvi went on to say, “Our senses serve as windows to the exterior world. Amongst all the senses, scent is the one that evokes the most memories. While memory may inform all pre-verbal art forms like dance or music, perfumery is the only art that uses memory as its notation. In the midst of our ever-evolving world, memories remain steadfast, whilst scents bring us fulfilment.”
The olfactory world, with its ability to transport us through time and space, is a testament to the sensory richness of our lives. The fragrance Firdaus features delicate notes of amber, incense, geranium, galbanum, musk and rose. But the fragrance leans heavier into the scent of the rose, evoking not only the scent of the flower but the memories and emotions associated with it that may be unique to each person. Aanchal and Jahnvi's collaboration is a testament to the intertwined nature of our skin and scent, where the fragrance becomes a part of the person. In "The Book of Everlasting Things," the characters' encounters are often defined by the scents that envelop them. Jahnvi's expertise allowed Aanchal to explore the impact of scents on the characters within the story, adding depth and richness to their experiences.
The perfume ‘Firdaus’ and ‘The Book of Everlasting Things’ is an archive of the senses. Together, they offer a unique experience that combines the power of storytelling and the art of perfumery. This collaboration is a celebration of sensorial memories, where scent and words come together to create something truly extraordinary. In the words of Samir Vij from the book, "Fragrance possessed the power to provide instant, pure pleasure."
Firdaus is more than a perfume; it's a piece of art, a creation born from a profound connection between literature and fragrance. It is an invitation to explore the world of scents and memory and to let the fragrance transport you to the world that it holds within its delicate notes and would linger long in your memory, much like a good piece of literature.
You can learn more about Firdaus here.
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