Nice perfume,” complimented a colleague as one teammate walked in for the editorial meeting. “Yeah, it’s nice, right?” she asked, “What’s nicer, though, is that it isn’t a perfume. It’s an ittar.”
Many of us were surprised. The fact that ittar or attar, as it was traditionally called, could exude a fragrance that wasn’t overpowering, but had a subtle undertone, came as a revelation to us.
These are now blended with ingredients like spices, essential oils and fruits, says Mohammad Mohsin, an ittar manufacturer from Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, one of the largest ittar manufacturing towns in the country.
Mahmoud (who goes by just one name) of Ajmal Perfumes in Nizamuddin, Delhi, says the blends have been made keeping in mind the sensibilities of urban buyers.
“You say ittar and the world of strong aromas, djinns and magic incenses comes to mind. But today’s ittar is being made for the modern world,” says Mahmoud. “If traditionally, musk was popular, today we’ve introduced a blend of musk, rose and sandal. The result is an aroma that lingers.”
Mohsin who belongs to the fourth generation in a family of perfume makers, has been experimenting with essences and spices. “For the summer, we made a fragrance called Mausam, a blend of essences reminiscent of a morning by the ocean,” he says.
Fragrances such as hina (an amalgam of spices and oils), lemongrass (lemongrass oil, sandal and other essential oils from herbs), ruhani (citrus fruits and oils) among others, have also been introduced. What hasn’t changed though, say ittar makers, is the purity of ingredients.
It still remains a concentrated form of essential oils. Unlike spray perfumes, it hasn’t been diluted with alcohol. “The fact that ittar is safe for the skin, makes it even more popular,” says Mahmoud of Ajmal Perfumes.
With a 10ml bottle costing between `100 and `200, it is good value for money, too.
The transformation of traditional ittar is not limited to subtler, more sophisticated fragrances.
Even the packaging has become more user-friendly. The pretty, small glass bottles remain but the little ply stick has been replaced with roll-on bottles.
“The younger generation wants a mix of the old and the new. While they like the idea of an ittar as compared to a perfume as they find it more exotic, they feel the stick is too cumbersome to be used on the move and hence the roll-on,” says Gulbaksh Khan, a third-generation ittar maker.