Brands are now passé, and exclusively customised choices are the new world order, says Ketaki Latkar
“Make us a fragrance that smells like the Antarctica…,” was the plain one-line brief given to London-based Anil Panda, co-founder of 3003 BC, a personalised luxury fragrance service, which has recently made an entry in the Indian market. The buyer was one of the big-ticket corporate firms of Mumbai, and the idea was to gift 100 “Antarctica-like” fragrances to its employees, who had just returned from a visit to the southernmost continent.
For Panda and perfumer John Stephen, whom 3003 BC has collaborated with, creating a fragrance like Antarctica was indisputably one of the greatest ideating challenges, so far. Stephen is United Kingdom’s celebrated big daddy of bespoke fragrances, with a crème de la crème of clientele, including Her Majesty The Queen of England, Prince Philips, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence and celebrities like Elton John, Pierce Brosnan and Ozzy Osbourne. Ask him on how the duo finally lived up to the given brief, and Panda eagerly reveals: “Honestly, there was quite a deadlock for some time, as the Antarctica does not smell of anything, given that it is uninhabited and full of snow and penguins. But after mulling over it for days on end and trying a series of choices, we created a fragrance with notes of citrus, mint, menthol, seaweed and a dash of herbs.”
Such is the glitzy and flamboyant world of ‘bespoke’. And in today’s socio-culturally evolving society, with an inclination towards finer life choices and the preference for experiences over mere possessions, the room for ‘personally crafted’ is only expanding.
Chappers is a Pune-based brand that makes handcrafted sandals, which have been inspired by the traditional Kolhapuri chappals. Explaining how the preference for tailor-made is exclusive yet sought after, Harshwardhan Patwardhan, the founder of Chappers says, “Right from the colours, to the cushioning of the soles and the designs, everything can be created according to the specifications of the buyers. The people who usually opt for personally created varieties are celebrities and connoisseurs, who have no qualms spending to get that perfectly handcrafted pair.”
It is no surprise that the millennials may not end up saving a fortune for the next generation. But what they’re busy investing in are experiences. It may involve taking a year-long, soul-searching trip somewhere in the European interiors, or taking a shot at skydiving, or maybe, translating their entrepreneurial ideas into home-grown start-ups. Taking chances, spending on experiences and inquiring about what we really want, as opposed to what is available seem like the new ways of being. In sync with these philosophies is the preference for customisation, and right from footwear and clothes, to fragrances and incense sticks, everything is designed as per choice.
The 125-year-old Vithaldas Narayandas and Sons’ (VNS) is an old-worldly little incense store in Pune and is the city’s oldest manufacturer of incenses, which range over 70 distinct natural extracts and fragrances including Kashmiri saffron, yellow plumeria (chafa), rose, lemongrass, amber and geranium, to name a few. And while the makers are one of the very few in the country who steer clear of any synthetic intervention to craft incense sticks naturally, it is the art of customising these incenses and bringing to the table tailor-made fragrance sticks that sets them truly apart. Ranging anywhere between Rs.15 to Rs.70 for about 20 sticks, the costs of incenses may vary depending on the choice and blends of fragrances and of course, the quantities.
“These days, there is a need to adapt to ever-changing consumer behaviour and demands. We are living in times where the need for bespoke incenses, like so many other customised products and services, is rising. Besides, people are beginning to develop more awareness about the art of perfumery,” says Shreyas Sugandhi, the sixth generation scion of the family, which not just customises incense sticks, but also deals in ittars and other religious paraphernalia. While VNS has made way for customisation to keep abreast with the evolving buying trends, 3003 BC’s Panda has different reasons to sell bespoke. Says he: “Living in London gets you connected to some finer things in life. The city gave me a chance to discover fragrances that were beyond premium, and the ones that were exquisite, yet not heavily advertised. I found the world of fragrances rather intriguing and after lot of research, I realised that to get the finest fragrances, I would have to go beyond brands. And that is where the journey of 3003 BC began.”
Few years back, Patwardhan (of Chappers) returned to India after completing his business management studies from the United Kingdom. He joined his father’s transportation business, only to realise that he did not belong there. Soon after, his love for the Kolhapuri chappals and the inspiration from PM Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative culminated into his specialised business of making Indian handcrafted sandals.
And ever since, there has been no looking back. With the who’s who, including BJP MP Varun Gandhi, Yuva Sena Chief Aditya Thackeray and ABIL Group’s Avinash Bhosale, to name a few, the customisation spell is only spreading for Chappers. Reserved purely for the specialists and the lovers of luxury, every “crafted” work comes at a price; a price that is just as high as the quotient of the product’s prestige. A pair of customised Chappers can cost anywhere between Rs.6000 to Rs.9000. The bespoke perfumes by 3003 BC start at Rs.5 lakh, and then, says Lamba, with a chuckle, “…the sky is the limit.”