The Mistress Of Scents

Ahalya Mathan of Ally Matthan retails her brand of fragrance and fragrance-based products for personal care. Trained for three years at a French perfumery, this lady with a nose that’s conditioned much differently from yours or mine, is one of the few perfumers in the country to have made a success of her brand Areev. RITZ meets the creative genius who makes skin and hair care products that smell good enough to eat and even creates bespoke fragrances depending on a person’s intrinsic traits and characteristics

Ahalya Mathan always wanted to be a perfumer. Her Bengaluru-based brand Areev is little known because she chooses to keep things low profile still. But her main business for the last decade has been creating and providing spa and hotel chains with customised body care products and fragrances. Tells the 38-year-old lady on her unique choice of profession as a perfumer, “I can’t remember a time when I had plans to be anything else,” she says. Ally, as she is fondly called, was exposed to the perfume 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, she 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 College in Chennai. She then enrolled to ISIPCA in Versailles, the first perfume school in the world, and hasn’t looked back since.

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“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. Apparently creating and relearning a vocabulary relating to scents is the first line of action for anyone who wants to be a perfumer. “I had to disassociate words with different scents in my mind and re-associate them with new words that we were supposed to use in order to have the right vocabulary,” she explains.

Calling herself the “perpetual dreamer who is constantly dreaming of new fragrances to create,” Ally has been seeing a huge boom in her business over the last few years. “India is like a riot on the senses as far as scents are concerned. I think inside every Indian woman lies a dormant kitchen beautician for we’re always experimenting with ingredients like turmeric, tulsi, amla, pepper, honey etc. These ingredients have proven beauty and health benefits through Ayurveda and I try and use these to create gentle and high-quality body care products, but with a more contemporary and modern day twist,” she tells us.

A very popular vertical of Ally’s business is the bespoke fragrances that she creates for clients. She says she needs a while to sit down with clients, understand them and their intrinsic characteristics and quirks, before coming up with a bouquet that would suit their personality. “There’s a way to match a particular scent with a trait and that’s what is done when bespoke fragrances are created. Though it is hard work, very time consuming and sometimes trying, the final product is usually spot on. Bespoke fragrances make the perfect gift and sometimes go a long way in enhancing a person’s personality,” she explains.

Of late Ally Mathan gained much popularity in the city for having kicked off the 100 saree pact, a movement that went viral in Bengaluru and many other parts of the south, where women were challenged to wear a hundred or more sarees during a year. “There’s something so unique about India and being Indian,” she says, as she casually adjusts her pretty mustard, black and red saree and poses for our lensman. “Telling the story of how you got the saree, why you chose to wear it and its sentimental value, is an experience unto itself. This pact brought a large community of like-minded people together and though it is more than a year now since the pact, women are still holding strong and continuing to wear sarees on a daily basis.”

As we walk through Ally’s factory, she leads the way with a skip in her step, a dreamy expression on her face, already concocting the next scent in her head, simultaneously planning her next saree for the week, the colours of which might just give rise to another magic formula in the creative genius’s head.