Have you ever been surprised by a whiff of something that brings back a memory, strongly, sharply? If you could bottle memories, to just be reminded of a time or place or person, what would you choose? Would you do it? Can nostalgia be translated in perfume? Jahnvi Dameron Nandan of The Perfume Library thinks, yes. At the India Art Fair this year, we were privy to the launch of the Memory Pod Project. Scattered with bottles, memory cards, funnels and finished perfumes was a window into perfumer Jahnvi’s work, what she chooses to call ‘a theatre of memories’ or ‘graffiti made with smell’.

Trained at ISIPCA, Versailles and after a career in a Paris-based fragrance house, she started The Perfume Library in 2014. “I create scents based on memories,” she says, in an attempt to summarise what her work is about. 

For Jahnvi, it began in 2012 when she met contemporary artist Hema Upadhyay in Paris. Upadhyay, known for her mixed media and sculpture installations like ‘Sweet Sweat Memories’ and ‘Made in China’ was working on a piece titled ‘This Space in Between You & Me’. The work involved her planting seeds on tilled earth in the form of a letter. The result was a sapling letter written to her mother. A friendship ensued between Hema and Jahnvi as they began collaborating on an unusual project. Over the next three years, they worked together documenting and capturing Hema’s memories to co-create a perfume by the same name as the artwork.

The result of the confluence was a perfume with the uplifting notes of bergamot with Indian basil (tulsi) and dark notes of sandalwood. A perfumer’s long search for a scented garden had come to an end and an artist’s unique scent memories were on its way to being bottled and immortalised. 

The perfume, Jahnvi explains, was literally like a story of their lives in scent form. “My first take from the art work was the grassy smell. So we started with crisp green notes. Then we added a watery note which took over and wanted to go back to some green. That’s how the tulsi and mint came in. For a touch of shimmer I added a citrusy bergamot note. Once I had worked on the memories I started to take a perfumist’s look at the blend. That’s when the iris and sandalwood notes came in to balance out the perfume,” explains Jahnvi. The collaborative work continued until December 2015 and the perfume was launched at the India Art Fair, Delhi in January this year, a month after Hema’s untimely and tragic death.

Interestingly, each of Jahnvi’s perfumes, including ‘The Space in Between You and Me’, use a tea note in their composition. Having grown up in the northern parts of India and spending her adult years in East Asia, primarily Japan, Jahnvi was always surrounded by tea. “I am not a tea drinker at all but I have always loved smelling all kinds of tea. There is a fresh green earthiness to it,” she explains. “My favourite one has to be the Chinese Pu-erh tea that has a beautiful earthy note to it.”

In her second Memory Pod project, Jahnvi’s work with Greek artist Iris Touliatou resulted in the creation of her newest scent, ‘Florida’. It was launched in Berlin in June along with a sculpture titled ‘Five litres of fragrance’. Jahnvi describes it as ‘a futuristic fragrance with new naturals with very strong animalic notes, “It also has notes of peony, sandalwood, patchouli and a lot of green notes,” she says.

Each fragrance takes as many as three years to be developed. It’s a slow process, as Jahnvi explains. Her perfumes are now available in select stores in Delhi.