10 Questions With Manan Gandhi Of Bombay Perfumery

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10 QUESTIONS WITH MANAN GANDHI OF BOMBAY PERFUMERY

WORDS BY KRUTI DALAL

If you’re one of those romantic souls who wishes they could seal memories in a bottle, try inhaling a heady dose of nostalgia from one of Bombay Perfumery’s eight signature scents. From the scents of jasmine and sandalwood-infused temples of Madurai to masala chai on Mumbai’s wet streets, these perfumes have the power to close the distance of many miles with a single whiff.
Bombay Perfumery is also going the extra mile to introduce enthusiasts to the art of perfumery, with a special focus on food to celebrate the launch of Gather magazine in India in collaboration with Paper Planes and Baro. We caught up with Manan Gandhi, the force behind the progressive perfumery, for a quick chat ahead of the event on July 15.
TCS: Your family has an established business in sourcing perfume ingredients. What prompted you to strike out and launch your own perfume brand?
MG: After working in Grasse for five years sourcing ingredients, I saw that there was a growing trend of indie European fragrance brands doing interesting things. Despite having such a strong fragrance culture, history, and raw material basket, there weren’t really any contemporary fine-fragrance brands in India. So I set off on the journey to develop Bombay Perfumery as it gave me a chance to draw on my perfumery background and also do something interesting and creative.
TCS: Let’s talk about the name. Why Bombay Perfumery? Why Bombay specifically, not Mumbai?
MG: The name is quite personal for me as it draws from our family history in the business. One of the first companies my father started a long time ago and is now defunct was called Bombay Perfumery Products. During the time I was thinking about building the brand, I spent a lot of time struggling to come up with a name for it, and one day I happened to see an old signboard that was lying at our office and it immediately stuck.
TCS: Your marketing strategy is quite unique, concentrating on providing experiences, rather than hard selling. What’s the idea behind that?
We wanted to build the brand slowly and not be plastered all over the place from the get-go. We also wanted to build a culture and community around the brand. I think for an indie label, the most crucial element is a loyal group of early-adopters who are invested in the brand and become its word of mouth ambassadors. Perfumery lends itself to a lot of things – culture, art, fashion, food – and we lean on these various mediums to do fun events where people can discover various aspects of the brand and the ingredients we use in an engaging setting. Perfumery has often been a bit uptight and mysterious, and we wanted to pull the curtain a little bit and let people play and explore.
manan gandhi bombay perfumery
TCS: How did this event in collaboration with Baro and Paper Planes come about? What was the trigger point?
MG: We had met Srila [Chatterjee] a few months ago when Baro had just opened. We were just taken by how beautiful the space was and its contemporary take on design, art, and objects. Their space, which is set up as an interactive lab where people can linger and explore, is right up our alley. We immediately started brainstorming about doing something together.
Several people on the BP team subscribe to Paper Planes. We love Nupur [Joshi]’s carefully curated magazines and look forward to receiving our copies each month. During a conversation she told us about her plan to launch Gather in India and immediately we were taken with the idea of building an interactive event together around the senses. Fragrances, food, and flavours are the perfect fit!
TCS: It’s been almost two years since the launch of Bombay Perfumery. Any surprises, lessons learnt along the way?
MG: It’s been a learning journey with many mistakes made along the way. Starting anything is hard and doing something that is a bit niche and has never been done before will lead to a lot of people questioning your plans. The pleasant surprises were that so many people immediately got invested in the brand and our story and have now become champions. It’s truly heartening!
TCS: What’s next on the anvil? New fragrances? More events?
MG: We’re working on some new products that we hope to launch in early 2018. As for events, we’re always trying to cook up fun events. We are planning some more intimate events in the coming months in other cities across India.
TCS: Any fragrances you’re partial to? (Apart from Bombay Perfumery of course)
MG: I really like the Swedish brand Byredo. Their fragrances are always abstract and quite unexpected. A good Sandalwood agarbatti is always nice too, luckily at my other job [in the family business], I get to work with all the agarbatti brands in India and see all the new stuff that’s coming out.
TCS: What are some of the typical Bombay smells that immediately make you feel like you’re home?
MG: The salty sea, of course. And coming home a bit too late and passing by all the vendors setting up at Dadar market. The air is full of coriander!
TCS: The following smells often generate mixed responses. What’s your take on…
MG: Petrol: I love the smell of petrol. There’s something sexy about it.
Leather: Yes please. Warm, rich, a little sweetness – what’s not to like!
Vicks: Not my favourite smell. It has a lot of eucalyptus, which is not my favourite ingredient. In fact, when our perfumer Alexandra, showed me the first trial of one of our fragrances (I can’t reveal which one), my first reaction was, it smells too much like Vicks Balm. Of course she wasn’t pleased. But after many trials we’ve perfected it, and now it’s my favourite scent in our line!
Jackfruit: Yuck!
TCS: What memories/places/people come to mind with these smells? 
MG: Freshly baked bread: I am the biggest bread fiend. It probably reminds me most of my time in France. It’s hard to walk past a boulangerie without wolfing down a croissant or two
Incense sticks: We don’t use agarbattis at home too much. So I guess probably Ganesh Chaturthi, when my chief job in replacing agarbattis all day.
Mint Leaves: MOJITOS!
Old, dusty books: It’s a shame nobody goes to libraries any more. Old books remind me of my college days – camped out in libraries during finals week, trying to cram a semester’s worth of procrastination into one week.
Fresh laundry: Laundry is my arch-nemesis, but fresh laundry smells so good. Thanks to perfumers! A lot of people assume perfumers are just sitting around all day concocting the next designer fragrances. In fact they work on cutting-edge functional scents and technologies too, such as making laundry smell so fresh, so clean for a long time.
Tickets for the launch party of Gather Journal on July 15 are available online. You can purchase a copy of the magazine from here.
The City Story is media partner for the event.