Though based in Paris, Neela Vermeire Créations’ perfumes are inspired by India: the Vedic period (Trayee), the British Raj/Mughal Empire (Mohur) and modern India (Bombay Bling). With its new fragrance, Ashoka, we’re promised a glimpse of Buddhist India. (It’s funny that Mauryan Buddhist emperor Ashoka, as an older man at least, would have probably been dismissive of those earlier perfume ideas: he rejected sacrifices of animals and what he deemed the “empty” rituals encouraged by the Vedas; he would have fought both domination by outside forces — the Brits — and blind faith in “tradition”; and he certainly would have shown disdain for the “foolish” antics, the flash and cash, of Bollywood.)
In honoring (or channeling) Emperor Ashoka,1 Neela Vermeire Créations, utilizing the talents of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, has incorporated many standard Buddhist elements in its Ashoka perfume: a temple (sandalwood, incense, styrax), the symbol of purity rising from the muck (pink lotus, white lotus), and fig (a tree under which Buddha meditated and reached enlightenment).2
Ashoka begins on my skin with a striking sandalwood note (sandalwood that’s slightly smoky/incense-y, with a touch of fir balsam). The opening sandalwood note is “relieved” of some of its heft by food-y/fruity notes — a dash of coconut milk and fig (not quite "ripe") . In mid-development a hint of spice comes to the fore and, believe it or not, the heart of Ashoka reminds me of vintage Yves Saint Laurent Opium (but dimmed considerably). Also in Ashoka’s heart is a floral incense aroma that anyone who loves Indian incense will recognize (think: rose incense). In its base, Ashoka presents hazy, residual sandalwood, the odor of incense ash, and a clove-like scent (mixing with some faint tonka bean or vanilla). Too bad the perfume experience didn't end there. The final phase of Ashoka's development (reached within the first two hours of wear) presents a candy-like, too-clean musk (smelling suspiciously like "white musk"). For me, this is NOT an auspicious ending to Ashoka, but a cheapening of what came before.
Overall, Neela Vermeire Créations Ashoka brings to mind (via my imagination) a 1950s Paris, or New York City, salon — not an ancient Indian palace or Buddhist shrine; in the salon, everyone is smoking (imagine ashtrays full of cigarette nubs) and the ladies are wearing old-school spicy-floral perfumes. Ashoka is, thus, “modern,” without an attempt to capture (in a literal way) long-ago India or a famous emperor. For me, what Ashoka, the perfume, needs is some of Ashoka (the ruler’s) youthful energy and pride, his power and (yes) violence. Ashoka is too smooth (and tasteful) for me; it presents no "battle" or struggle between the worldly and the otherworldly, perhaps the defining motif of Emperor Ashoka’s life.
I appreciate Neela Vermeire Créations perfumes (with their expert blends of high-quality ingredients) but Ashoka is my least favorite of the collection: it has mediocre sillage and lasting power, and it does not smell "luxurious" (something I'd expect at $250 for a 55 ml bottle of Eau de Parfum, even if the perfume was inspired by a man of restraint).
Ashoka will be available later this month, at the Neela Vermeire Créations website.
1. Neela Vermeire Créations’ logo is based on the Ashoka Chakra.
2. The compete list of Ashoka fragrance notes: fig leaf, fig tree, leather, pink lotus, white lotus, mimosa, osmanthus, rose, water hyacinth, styrax, vetiver, incense, sandalwood, myrrh, fir balsam, tonka bean.
Note: top image via Wikimedia Commons.