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India, not Bollywood: For Strange Women’s Bollywood perfume

sariWhen I was ten, my mother joined an ashram. (Her hippie phase had been delayed by having children, but when it hit, it stayed.) I spent my childhood visiting the ashram fairly regularly, learning a little about yoga and how to wear a sari, enjoying my picturebook on Krishna’s defeat of Agha the demon as much as my precious Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and developing a lifelong love of Indian food.

To this day I cannot pass up one of those shops – you know the ones – with bright colors and beads and figurines and mysterious musical instruments and incense in the window. Whatever spot on the globe they purport to represent, they smell of a wonderful combination of sandalwood, incense, rose essential oil, and sweat.

That smell, the smell of those shops, the smell of the inside of a carved box I once very much wished to buy, is the smell of this perfume.

There is nothing at all modern about this perfume; nor do I have the least idea how “authentic” it is. It is the smell of my experience of Indians in America, and until I smelled it I did not know I had been looking for it. I bought the sample set of For Strange Women’s perfume oils because one of the perfume blogs I read mentioned that one of their perfumes (I think it was Winter Kitty?) reminded one of cat’s fur. That sounded appealing to me, so in true perfumista fashion, instead of going out to the living room to snort my own cat’s fur, I ordered all the samples from For Strange Women’s line from their Etsy shop. Bollywood just happened to be the first one I put on, and it bowled me over.

See, the thing is, last month I bought a sample set of Bertrand Duchafour’s trio of “India” scents for Neela Vermeire, and found them all lacking without knowing why. To me they all smelled like, well, Bertrand Duchafour perfumes. Though they are all quite different (purporting to represent an India in different stages of her history), none of them smell like India to me.

This little oil vial is so full of pieces of me.

The sweat smell may be offputting for American noses right away, unless you too are a descendant of this smell. To me it’s delightful because it’s familiar, but it could easily be interpreted as “Something has gone very wrong” to a nose unfamiliar with it. I would imagine it is saffron or something close to it. Underneath, it adds brightness and overall shape to the heavy combination of woods and spices that make up the body of this scent. If you were somehow to cut it out, you’d be flaying this perfume alive. You wouldn’t want to do it.

My favorite Indian film is “Lagaan”, which undeniably is a Bollywood musical but is also an idealized moment in the history of India that resonates with American viewers, who love rooting for underdogs and who also love freedom and justice. It was and is an incredibly popular movie in India; I love watching it here in America, where we too revolted against British rule to establish an inclusive democracy, and where we too must necessarily find Aamir Khan relentlessly charming. Bollywood by For Strange Women is a scent not of the blingy dancy silly Bollywood, but of this Bollywood: the scent of global relationships between India and America, perhaps the rest of the world. The scent of the love of freedom. Perhaps the scent of the Indian diaspora. Memories in a bottle.


Image is Sari by zaphodsotherhead, used under Creative Commons license; some rights reserved.

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4 comments to India, not Bollywood: For Strange Women’s Bollywood perfume

  • I understand that the scent has great memories for you but would you wear it as a perfume?

  • Judith

    You know, I honestly was thinking about that when I wrote this and consciously avoided answering the question. I think the answer is “No, I wouldn’t wear it as a perfume; but I would wear it for myself, when I want to feel, when I want to think, about the memories it evokes.”

    So many people are raving about the Neela Vermeire scents and honestly, they do nothing for me. (I seem to be suffering from a slight sinus infection though, and this last week very few things smelled good at all.) I will try them in warmer weather. This perfume got a much stronger reaction out of me, and for that reason alone I would be more likely to think of wearing it.

    However, I did not buy a bottle. 🙂

    I’m going to try the old thing about using up samples before I buy full bottles. Really, the urgency to own a full bottle, even of something I love, is all in my head. Unless it’s something discontinued. (I did get some vintage Rochas Femme this week that is ridiculously pretty. But most things are not that.)

    The problem is that I made room in a new drawer for perfumes, and then I think I felt like I had to fill it up. Sadly, it is now filled up…

  • I’ve just started to review the colognes of that line, which I like very much. I have a sample of Bollywood and all the others I’m quite sure but have yet to really give them all a serious go. I can only tell I liked Decadance & Debauchery so much I bought a full bottle: it’s is one of my favourite perfume ever (reminds me of Sables by Goutal, only better)!!

What do you think?