At Ahalya Mathan’s new store in Bangalore, Areev: The Factory Store, you can not only see how enchanting fragrances are created but also try your hand at putting together a flowery concoction or two.
Mathan, 35, always wanted to be a perfumer. “I can’t remember a time when I had plans to be anything else,” she says. Mathan was exposed to the perfumery industry ever since she was a little girl, as her father owned a factory that provided ingredients that went into fragrances. “I used to collect empty perfume bottles like a maniac,” she recalls. At 15, Mathan decided to seriously consider it as a profession but her mother wouldn’t hear of it as “it involved joining a perfume house and training under a perfumer, with no formal degree,” she says. So she researched and zeroed in on a school in Versailles, France, that offered a formal course.
However, it required a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, which she went on to complete at Stella Mary’s in Chennai. She then enrolled to ISIPCA in Versailles, the first perfume school in the world, and hasn’t looked back since.
After a few initial hiccups, Mathan began to revel in the art of fragrance making. “I didn’t know a word of French, but I had to learn it within the first three months of being there or I would have been sent back home. Day in and day out, I was memorising descriptive words and feelings and the names of the essential oils and ingredients,” she says.
After returning to Bangalore, Mathan worked mainly out of her home but with two dogs in the house, she was always, “freaked out that dog hair would end up in her products,” so she set up a factory in Domlur, Bangalore. Her Areev range of products includes body soaps and shampoos, made using ingredients such as coconut oil, olive oil, spices, herbs, melon and peach sourced from Bangalore and Kerala. These are available at stores such as Thom’s, Nilgiris, Health and Glow and Mom and Me. “Areev has received such a great response because it smells different. It’s purely Indian aromas, but contemporary, as opposed to ayurvedic and purely herbal concoctions. Unlike the Western world, India is a riot on the senses. But Indians always seem to go after the big brands, like Chanel or a Dior. However, I think that is changing now,” she says.
Apart from Areev, she also provides fragrances to stores and bodycare products to spas and hotels. But her true passion comes into play when she creates bespoke fragrances called Ally Mathan. “It’s like bottling a dream. I take what my client describes to me and translate that into something they can carry with them wherever they go,” she says. The ingredients for her range of customisable products are sourced from all over the world, but what she enjoys the most is working with natural ingredients, that are “harder to contain and do not blend easily with other ingredients,” as they are more challenging to work with. She also has a soft spot for notes that are light and subtle.
“Everyone has some association connected with smell. Often it’s a memory that makes you nostalgic. Smell is such a wonderful thing to open up to,” she beams.