One of my favourite past times is listening to Radio 4’s longstanding series ‘Desert Island Discs’. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the premise is simple: a famous face or person of interest is shipwrecked on a desert island with eight records of their choice. The idea being that the person tells the story of their life through the songs that have made a significant impact on who they are today.
It has long been my belief that scent, much like music, allows us to travel back in time and experience moments past – moments that have influenced, changed and shaped us in to the human beings we have become. This series (nattily entitled ‘Desert Island Sniffs’) looks to explore the way perfume has influenced the lives of prominent members of the perfume industry.
For Desert Island Sniffs my castaways will be asked to present five perfumes that have had a significant impact on their life – scents that are so important they would be the ones they’d pack if they were unfortunately marooned on a remote desert island. Along with their five perfume choices my castaways are entitled to one luxury item and a ‘perfume bible’ of their choice.
Let’s meet our first castaway…
Neela Vermeire is the visionary behind Neela Vermeire Creations, a brand that offers three (and soon to be four) wonderful perfumes inspired by her homeland of India but made in her adopted France. Now residing in Paris, Neela is a multi-talented individual who qualified as a Solicitor and has worked as an Art Promoter in addition to her role as Artistic Director for her very own brand. On top of all of this Neela can easily be defined as one of the loveliest and kindest people on the planet!
TCPB: Neela, thank you for joining me for the first episode of Desert Island Sniffs, it really is an honour to be on this desert island with you!
NV: Thank you very much for asking and it is a great honour to participate. I am also a great fan of “Desert Island Discs”.
TCPB: Let’s start with your very first perfume choice – Bois des Iles Extrait by Chanel – what makes this perfume so special to you?
NV: It is a beautiful fragrance and it is one of my all time favourites much before I started my own venture. It is warm, chic and comforting. I must also add that I adore N°22 Extrait very much and have also worn it for several years.
TCPB: Both are wonderful choices! Are there any specific times when you have sought solace in that warmth and comfort?
NV: Coping with challenges in life, variable weather and our perception of these challenges.
TCPB: There is something special about Chanel fragrances, especially the Extraits – what do you think that is?
NV: The original four exclusive perfumes have been beautifully crafted. They have a retro-modern feel with perfect complexity.
TCPB: Your next choice is another classic and one that many respect if not love. What is it about Guerlain’s Jicky that you love?
NV: I adore many vintage classic Guerlain Extraits. Jicky was a firm favourite and I love all of the notes but I do not wear it any longer. I have a vintage extrait box – I take this box out periodically just to sniff and dream.
TCPB: That’s a very interesting point – I find that we often find fragrances that we often admire but do not wear, especially if we have worn it excessively at an earlier time. Do you have any strong memories associated with Jicky?
NV: Yes but Jicky was always quite balanced (in temperament) in terms of the perfume and times when I wore it.
TCPB: For your next desert island sniff you have picked Trayee from your own line, why?
NV: To connect me to my spiritual India.
TCPB: Out of all of your fragrances I find Trayee to be the most instantly evocative of India, would you agree?
NV: I do agree and am very glad that you find Trayee evocative of India.
TCPB: You created your fragrances with Bertrand Duchaufour; do you think he was the only perfumer ‘qualified’ enough to capture India so aptly, seeing as he travelled there so often?
NV: Not primarily, but it was a question of meeting a perfumer who had been to India and he understood my concept very well. We worked closely on every stage of the development of all the perfumes for over a year.
Most of the natural ingredients in the perfumes were suggestions from my own research and BD naturally suggested all the aroma chemicals. I also plan on working with other noses on future projects.
TCPB: I think I speak for many perfume lovers when I say that we very much look forward to those future projects! Our next desert island sniff is another from your line of perfumes – Mohur. What is special about Mohur to you?
NV: It is my favourite perfume.
TCPB: It truly is gorgeous and a very unusual rose. What sets Mohur apart from other rose fragrances?
NV: Perhaps because of several layers of floral notes, spices, leather, precious woods like sandalwood, Oudh…. I cannot compare it with others but perhaps you can tell me?
TCPB: I’ve always found it to be a very grand perfume, almost as if it’s presented in 3D on an IMAX screen but it also feels very intimate. Did you set out to create such a contrast?
NV: A great description! I wanted to portray two very contrasting and complex periods in Indian history – the Mughal era and the British East India era. It was not easy but the result is that Mohur is sophisticated/elegant and intimate/comforting at the same time.
TCPB: For your final perfume you have chosen your new fragrance – Ashoka – which represents where you are today. Tell me about the inspiration behind Ashoka.
NV: Ashoka is a tribute to a great Indian Emperor. The perfume’s evolution traces his life from being ruthless to a benevolent king after converting to Buddhism.
TCPB: How does it differ from the initial three fragrances?
NV: Ashoka is a tribute to a great historic personality. The first three are based on vast eras of Indian history.
TCPB: In addition to your five perfumes you are allowed to take one luxury item with you to your desert island, what would you choose?
NV: A solar charged (or infinite battery life) smart phone with my entire music collection (Presuming the island is close enough to mainland for any signal issues).
TCPB: A very sensible choice – life on the desert island could get lonely. You would be pretty far from civilisation so it would be handy to have a phone to call your loved ones – we can’t promise good signal though!
You’re also allowed to take a perfume book of your choice (a ‘perfume bible’ if you will). Which would you take?
NV: ‘Le Sens du Parfum’ by Guy Robert.
TCPB: One of the greatest perfumers of all time! What makes Le Sens du Parfum so special?
NV: It is a precious book as it is out of print. Guy Robert shared his precious insight into the world of a perfumer and is a great introduction for many readers.
TCPB: Finally Neela, before I leave you on your desert island with your five perfumes, I have one last question: if you had to pick just one of your perfume selections to take with you, which would you choose?
NV: Mohur EDP – I can wear it every single day and in any weather.
TCPB: There cannot be a greater endorsement for a perfume than its creator being so in love with it. I like how you’ve chosen something that will comfort you and I can imagine you smelling ever-so elegant on your desert island!
Well Neela, I shall leave you now with your perfumes. Thank you so much for taking part, as always it’s a pleasure talking to you and I personally look forward to the many wonderful things you will continue to bring to the perfume world. You and Neela Vermeire Creations both have a very bright future!
NV: Thank you!