Beauty / Scented By South Asia: How These Designer Fragrances Take Us On A Scent-ual Voyage

Scented By South Asia: How These Designer Fragrances Take Us On A Scent-ual Voyage

Beauty Oct 31, 2019

South Asia is many things, including being incredibly fragrant. Each holiday is marked with incense. The foods are teeming with spices. The desserts are a tango between rose water and sugar. The region’s tropical and extreme climates bless it with flora that inspires fragrances the world over. Check out these fragrances and how they are scented by South Asia. 

Despite its dramatic nature, fragrance is a subtle but an incredible tool to develop a self-identity which permits us to balance South Asia and Canada; create links to our parents, and also jettisons us to the future…


To fully mine the identity enhancement potential of fragrance it is imperative to apply it properly.  The rule of thumb is that of subtlety because after a certain amount of time our noses become accustomed to the fragrance.  Consequently, the impact of the first spritz is powerful if it is new to your senses but over time the first spritz becomes common and you may be tempted to add more to perceive the scent. The result is that you become a cloud of headache rather than a flash of invisible seduction.

The best way to apply fragrance is to spray it once on the pulse points such as the wrists, behind the ears and on the cleavage.  Let the fragrance settle into the skin and NEVER rub your pulse points. The rubbing motion crushes the molecules and prevents them from developing on the skin.

Patience is key when applying a fragrance because it will take approximately 15-20 minutes for it to fully develop.  Therefore a fragrance may start off fruity and fresh and then 20 minutes later smell powdery like iris. When you select a fragrance prepare to wait this amount of time to assess whether it is the right one for you.

Always remember that the same fragrance can smell like roses on one person and musk on another.  The variance is due to body chemistry which is the result of diet, lifestyle and sweat.  Therefore, even if a fragrance is your signature one do not hesitate to share it with your friend because no one can ever imitate you.


In my survey of fragrances, I discovered that not only South Asia’s flora inspires fragrance but its history and culture also drive perfumers to create works of art. It is comforting to realize that I am able to bring so much of South Asia to my daily life without evoking Bollywood. A few spritzes and suddenly I bring forth what is beautiful about the region to enhance my self-confidence and heighten my elegance.


The esteemed and legendary house of Guerlain is a fantastic way to explore how South Asian culture inspires fragrance. It is renowned for Samsara, which means the cycle of life, death and rebirth in Sanskrit, and Shalimar, which was directly inspired by the grand garden located in Lahore,  built by  the Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia: Shalimar. Photo Credit: Guerlain Canada

Samsara is a sweet mix of sandalwood, a classic South Asian wood; jasmine, a ubiquitous flower of the region; and ylang ylang. It is incredibly sweet and reminds me of the sharbat that people drank on Eid in South Asia. The drink is potent mixture of sugar, lemon and water, and is sweetness itself.  From the first spritz, I was taken back in time to my mother’s ancestral home is Uttar Pradesh and I recall how the adults would drink the sharbat and were overjoyed that Ramadan was over. I love how the fragrance starts off incredibly sweet and then settles into a powdery jasmine scent that lasts all day.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia:  Samsara. Photo Credit: Guerlain Canada

Shalimar is the world’s first Oriental fragrance and is an ode to the temple of love. This romantic fragrance debuts as fresh with bergamot, then develops into a tango between rose, jasmine and iris, before settling into a warm embrace of vanilla and tonka bean. My mother always remembers India when she wears it and she feels closer to her roots.

I prefer the modern incarnation of Shalimar, which is called Shalimar Souffle de Parfum.  The box bears an image of the Taj Mahal and provides a summary of the love story between the Shah and his beloved wife. This fragrance’s exotic mix of jasmine and vanilla make it modern and I love showing the box because of its explanation of one the world’s greatest love stories. Lest you think that vanilla is not terribly South Asian, I was delighted to discover that the Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka cultivate vanilla because their climate permits the beans to flourish.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia: Shalimar Souffle de Parfum. Photo Credit: Guerlain Canada


Another important source of fragrance inspiration is the olfactive memory. It is incredible how a scent can bring you to a specific shop, or a field that you visited while on vacation. Sari shops with their constantly-lit incense are a dominant scent memory but not only in the way that you would think, i.e. whenever I smell incense I would automatically be taken back to my mother’s favourite sari shop in the Chowk part of Allahabad. Scent is not just the ingredient; it is also intensity and mixture.

When I think of musc, I do not necessarily associate it with India. However, I was quite surprised that from my first whiff of Pure Musc for Her by Narcisco Rodriguez  which is a mix of orange blossom, heart of musc and cashmeran, transported me back to my mother’s favourite sari shop. None of the ingredients possess an obvious connection to South Asia but the intense sharpness of the fragrance, reminds me the strength of the incense lit by the sari shop owners. Pure Musc is perfect for visiting the sari shops in my mother’s hometown and  for a night on the town.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia: Pure Musc for Her by Narcisco Rodriguez. Photo Credit:

I had a similar experience with Jean Paul Gaultier Scandal, a seductive mix of blood orange, honey, gardenia and patchouli.  At first whiff, I was intrigued by the honey.  As the fragrance settled onto my skin, I was hooked by the gardenia, a flower native to South Asia, and piqued by the classic South Asian ingredient, patchouli. The patchouli is what gives the fragrance its edge, transforming the fragrance from a  regular sweet liquid to something a tad more naughty.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia: Jean Paul Gaultier Scandal. Photo Credit: Devon Consulting


Maison Christian Dior Souffle de Soie is an unforgettable mix of tuberose, jasmine and rose; three flowers that flourish in South Asia.  It is no surprise that this delicate fragrance reminded me of how the glamourous aunties of my time used to smell as they sashayed past the kids’ table in their silk saris.  One would think that three strong flowers would create a cloud but this fragrance is literally a whisper of modest sophistication that is equally at home at a one dish party and the boardroom.  It truly is a souffle de soie that is equal parts nostalgic and modern.


Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia:Maison Christian Dior Souffle de Soie. Photo Credit:

Perhaps the most touching experience in my research was when I tested Encens Divin by Givenchy. I discussed the fragrance with my dad because its gorgeous mix of incense, rose absolute and vanilla, gives it a masculine edge.  My dad has not visited  India for many years due to health issues and the moment he smelled it he got  wistful look in his eye.   I asked him to share his thoughts and he responded, “Santal ki lakarhi.” He loves the fragrance because it reminds him of India in a deep, visceral manner.  There is not a single note that is associated with sandalwood but the impact is such that my dad thinks of it. I decided to make him my chief tester for this fragrance, and my mom said, “Your dad used to take my Charlie without my permission and spray himself when you were young.” (My mom is such an aunty!)  I am delighted that my dad has finally found a fragrance that evokes a positive emotional response that smells terrific.  I also like to spray it on my skin, and marvel how it smells sweeter on me. This fragrance evoked memories, and now is creating sweet new ones for my dad and me.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia: Encens Divin by Givenchy. Photo Credit:


It is easy to shackle fragrance to classic South Asian ingredients such as patchouli, incense, rose and tuberose but fragrance like fashion and beauty is ever-evolving. I discovered two fragrances that evoke South Asia but are so different from anything I have smelled that they seem to be futuristic.

Mugler Les Exceptions is a collection is an artisanal fragrances that defy categorization.  Oriental Express bursts forth with crispy green notes and the settles into a sensual mix of sandalwood and vanilla. It can be used with great panache by anyone and smelling it is like embarking on a journey, destination unknown. The base notes are definitely South Asian but the olfactory journey is out of this world!

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South Asia: Mugler Les Exceptions Oriental Express. Photo Credit:

Another nose bending fragrance that left me somewhere between Canada and South Asia is Nest Fragrances Cocoa Woods.  This warm and spicy fragrance comes out smelling like bitter cocoa and slowly morphs with the assistance of sequoia wood and white sandalwood which are blended with exotic hints off tiare blossom and Thai ginger. I have never smelled sandalwood interpreted in such manner and this makes it modern and daring.   Each minutes softens the scent and its sensuality charms the skin.

Scented By South Asia
Scented By South AsiaNest Fragrances Cocoa Woods. Photo Credit:


Fragrance, when selected carefully and applied properly, possesses the power to take you travelling through time.  It allows you to experience your vacations without the hassle of travel and jetlag. Our parents, who have spent a lifetime working for our betterment, can also be taken back to their youth with a quick spritz. Since time travel goes both ways, there are fragrances that re-interpret South Asian flora in such a way that we are surprised and forced to challenge ourselves — which is essential to strengthening our identity.


Main Image Photo Credit:, Guerlain Canada

Meena Khan

Meena Khan


Meena (@meenalaregina) always loved the idea of exploring the non-conventional idea of beauty. Having grown up as a pimply chubby teenager, she wanted to see the change in the world that best reflected your uniqueness as well. Her well-received collection of blogs where she tries on various beauty p...