Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Life: India’s perfume capital threatened by scent of modernity

Kannauj, a city located on the Ganges River, was once a key trading center for Indian perfumes, boasting almost 700 distilleries up until the late 1990s. Today, due to chemical alternatives and paraffin-based perfumes, that number has dwindled to less than a third

By Abhaya Srivastava  /  AFP, Kannauj, INDIA

“Now the numbers have come down to about 150. Chemical alternatives and paraffin-based perfumes are much cheaper to make so it makes business sense to switch to these,” Jain told AFP.

A study by the country’s leading trade body ASSOCHAM in May this year said the domestic perfume market was seeing annual growth of about 30 percent and was currently worth about US$270 million.

The sector, which includes attar and other locally-produced perfumes, accounted for nearly 30 percent of the total fragrance industry sales, it said.

Armani, Azzaro and Burberry were listed as the top three “most sold” leading perfume brands in the country, boosted by a trend for male grooming among urbane Indians, the report said.

Shukla of FFDC conceded the industry needed to find new uses for attar to stave off international competition, such as in aromatherapy where essential oils are used for their healing properties.

Love for attar

In the narrow winding streets of the old area of New Delhi, Praful Gundhi, 49, runs his perfume business which was started by his family in 1816 and draws well-heeled customers as well as those looking for cheap rip-offs.

His shop — Gulab Singh Johrimal — stocks perfumes in beautifully carved and colored glass bottles displayed neatly on shelves all around.

Workers take great care to ensure the essence is not lost in the air as they prepare bottles tagged with names such as Iceberg, White Musk and Sandal Gold.

“Muslims form the biggest customer base for us because Islam prohibits them to use alcohol-based perfumes which is what most of the foreign brands are,” said Gundhi, himself a Hindu.

“Even tourists coming to India flock to our shops because of the natural and organic quality of these perfumes. They know attar is kind to the skin, you won’t have any allergies.”

Gundhi said he usually charged US$252 for 10 millilitres of pure rose oil but synthetic ones could be had for as cheap as US$8.

“It is all about taste and choice. The true connoisseur will not mind spending as long as he is satisfied about the quality.”

But for many like Delhi businessman Anshul Agarwal, nothing compares to the high-end brands that he is fond of buying from the modern glass and steel shopping malls in the city.

“One of my friends had gifted me an attar around a year back. It is still lying unused because I love my Calvin Kleins and Davidoffs,” said the 34-year-old.

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