To be a perfumer, ideally, yes, you do need training. There are institutions in countries like France and the US, where they have courses for perfumery…says Abdulla Ajmal
Commemorating 70 years in the fragrance industry, Ajmal Perfumes is globally known for its rich heritage and wide array of fragrances.
Established in the year 1951, the first store was launched in Nagdevi, Mumbai, today this family-owned business is steered by the passion of the second and third-generation Ajmal, each playing a key role in the brand’s development. At present, Ajmal Perfumes is present in 34 cities with 56 company-owned outlets across India and 240 retail outlets globally.
We caught up with Abdulla Ajmal, Business Mentor and Perfumist, and Saurav Bhattacharya, President- Operations, NHA Division, Ajmal and Sons to discover more about the legacy:
The Indian weather requires strong long-lasting scents, which is why ittr or attar have always been preferred to international perfumes. Do you agree?
Abdulla Ajmal: For the Indian climate, we need fresh fragrances rather than strong fragrances. Let’s understand what attar is, it is a concentrated perfume, which means it’s 100 per cent perfume oils. It’s no doubt strong and long-lasting. However, it doesn’t mean that attar is the only solution. A majority of modern consumers find its format and formulation a bit overwhelming. Here’s where western perfumery scores as it makes using perfumes in everyday lives easier. Although the concept is true that attar does last long, Eau De Parfums can be designed to last long as well. What’s important is that the person needs to feel fresh and feel good after using these fragrances, and use fragrances as a part of their daily regime.
The brand is now three generations old, what additions do you plan to undertake to enhance its legacy?
The brand is three generations old and this year we celebrate 70 years of Ajmal. We are the regional leaders in the traditional sector however, our vision is to become global industry leaders. This year was a milestone year for us, especially in the India region. We launched our co-brand with House of Anita Dongre, foraying into fashion and accessible fragrances, and we also launched our most cherished project -Make in India Fragrances. Our vision is to balance quality and aspiration with attractive price points.
Our contribution to the brand is to keep increasing its equity in the marketplace, taking more market share from competitors, and going to newer countries. Yes, today we are a transnational brand, but I would not call it a global brand yet. The main vision is to become a globally recognised brand. Other than that, we are looking at other categories that we want to get into to extend the brand equity. And as we come to that point Inshallah we should be able to share that with you.
As a perfumer, did you need a particular education or training?
To be a perfumer, ideally, yes, you do need training. There are institutions in countries like France and the US, where they have courses for perfumery. These are structured courses that train people to become either evaluators or perfumers.
The other way, the traditional way, which is how I learnt was an apprenticeship. I was my uncle’s apprentice. My uncle was a Nose, and I became his apprentice and learnt nuances of perfumery, via the old school method. Every day my uncle would make me sit and study ingredients. Not a lot of chemistry but a lot more creation and understanding of raw materials. The new age perfumery has a lot more chemistry to it as well, but that does not change the fact that creativity is the singular most important quotient requirement.
How did you first get involved in the perfume industry?
Abdulla Ajmal: We come from Assam, and my grandad (Haji Ajmal Ali) was a farmer but wanted to get into business because farming was not a sustainable line of work, especially for him as he kept fragile health. He wanted something that was more stable as he had a large family to feed. He was not educated but was very foresighted. He wanted to get into business that could support the family. Having tried his hand at various other things, mostly grains and rice etc he realised that a lot of skulduggeries happens in that industry and trade. My grandfather was a simple man with the highest moral code and he never wanted to participate in that. Somebody introduced him to the concept of Oudh.
Oudh was in the backyard, so to speak. Oudh only grows in Assam & the best quality Oudh in the world is the Indian quality. That’s how we got the first entry into fragrances. The fact that he was told that there is a commodity called Oudh, Arabs who come to trade in Bombay, they come and buy among other things; they used to trade mostly in textiles and spices, one of the things was perfumes. That’s how he got started in the industry. Rest is part of Ajmal history.
Digital commerce has only accelerated the pandemic. Does expansion on brick and mortar outlets make sense in this scenario?
Saurav Bhattacharya: It is indeed true that digital commerce has accelerated the transaction element as far as e-commerce is concerned. But, one needs to look at it both, in terms of the consumer as well as in the context of time. Firstly, in the context of time, a short-term view would be that in the current situation, brick and mortar is affected because of the curbs that are there.
But, within that, we also need to split it and see in terms of the brick and mortar in the modern trade space as well as the brick and mortar in the bazaar space. As we can all see, if we look at three aspects/channels of business – there is E-commerce and, there is Retail split into two parts – modern retail and bazaar.
The ones that are flourishing right now are e-commerce and the bazaar phenomena, retail taking a slight backseat because of the curbs and footfalls etc at malls and organised retail. People are veering more towards the bazaar, which has lesser restrictions at this point of time.
Having said that, it is also important to understand that with digital e-commerce communication happening, the recipient population is more veered towards modern retail. They will be the beneficiaries and eventually once Covid moves from pandemic to an endemic stage, which is gradually happening, modern retail will not be affected at all. So, opening brick and mortar makes sense in the long-term view for sure. In the immediate term, it may not yield high results but moving forward that trend will change back to normalcy.
When it comes to men, grooming products are flying off the shelves. Do you believe you cater to their grooming needs as well?
Saurav Bhattacharya: It is indeed imperative that the current metrosexual man wants more to look good. It is very clear that it is not just about feeling and smelling good, but looking good is equally important. We always believe in the mantra that ‘looking good, feeling good and smelling good is essential to success. Our endeavour over a three-year vision will be to augment the looking good as well.
But I want to open up a dialogue in terms of the larger opportunity sitting here, which is more in the context of the upcoming, younger set which I would classify as the millennials, for them, it’s extremely important. For the more mature market, it is about maintenance. For millennials and Gen Z looking everyday grooming regime is part of being.