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Rituparna Chatterjee
Tuesday , January 22, 2013 at 14 : 54

'Kuchh kam nahi ho sakta?' How to buy perfume in India


If you look at it from a man's point of view, a tiny, 30 ml bottle of perfume costing anything between Rs 2500 to Rs 8000 is probably a crime against humanity - ranking just under serial killing.

But there are stranger things on heaven and earth and thankfully men often have no control over them. How an Indian woman buys a bottle of perfume is testimony to her sly ingenuity.

In India you get brilliant fakes of every foreign luxury brand available, which makes wearing a Gucci a bloody headache to parties. Your ill-informed friends are bound to embarrass you by asking 'Is that a real Gucci?' To which you would give a supercilious smile and say 'yes'. To which they'd respond - 'Kamlanagar se liya? (Got it from Kamlanagar?)'

Long suffering franchisees have taken to drastic means to sell foreign perfume in India as I recently found out. You have to give Indian customers their money's worth to stay in business.

From the moment I walked up to the perfume counter at a posh mall in one of Delhi's satellite townships, I was overwhelmed by the heavy cloud of mint, fruit and green tea that hung around the area - a testimony to customers who have tried on several brands before me.

Out of nowhere 15 sales executives materialized before me, mirroring each other's slightly cloying smiles. "Erm, I'm looking for a good fragrance."

"Right. Madam, what exactly is your preference - new wood, autumn melange, green tea, cherry blossom, wholesome fruity (we have a papaya now, just FYI ) or something stronger? Is this for evening events or day-long, office wear?" asked a particularly aggressive young man.

I saw this would take a long while. So I get right down to business and speak the language they understand (all the while waving freshly painted pink nails in their face, so they understand that I'm tough).

"How much for a 60 ml Estee Lauder?"

Their faces clear, they break into relieved grins as they understand that the sophisticated pitch wouldn't work and the men and women around me roll up their sleeves at the weekly vegetable market to battle out the last price they'd offer me on their fares.

Between repeated sniffing of Hugo Boss, cocoa beans, DKNY, cocoa beans, Nina Ricci, cocoa beans, Dior, cocoa beans, I jotted down a catalogue of the 30 ml prices of various brands. They cost anything between Rs 1700 - Rs 2850.

The 100 ml bottles, which were more economical for daily use, were priced between Rs 3800 - Rs 5500. I had a problem. The 100 ml was way out of my budget. But in India when you tell an eager salesman you have a problem, they treat it as seriously as their mother's hernia operation and come up with ingenious suggestion.

I was down to two brands - DKNY and Hugo Boss - and both salesmen were breathing down my neck extolling the virtues of the fragrances. The DKNY guy was impertinence incarnate. "Men will be drawn to you madam, this is so good (grin)." "I hope not, I'm married," I fix him with a frigid smile.

"Madam, don't listen to him, Hugo Boss is currently India's best selling perfume. Over 60 per cent of women use it," said the other, clearly a disciple of Markandey Katju. The difference in the price was not that much - one was for Rs 2850 and the other for Rs 2500. I simply had to make up my mind. But I think DKNY misread my silence.

"Ok madam, just for you. I think this will help you to make up your mind. Prakash, zara woh DKNY ka free clutch purse laana (Prakash, get the clutch that's free with DKNY)", he ordered a colleague. A golden DKNY embossed clutch appeared in front of me as I felt Hugo Boss stirring uncomfortably.

"I totally forgot madam, Hugo Boss also is giving a free purse." I was holding small white purse in my right hand and a golden one in my left.

"I don't know....this white coin purse is actually nice," I said.

DKNY: "But we are also giving a laptop bag free! Didn't I tell you? Ha ha."

Hugo Boss: "Listen, madam, I can throw in a Hugo Boss body wash but that's the last offer".

Well, so much for posh upper middle class, urban shopping experience in the hushed ambience of instrumental music and whispered references to 'price on requests.' Hah.

I am now the owner of a DKNY perfume, a golden clutch with a cute bow in the corner and a golden laptop (Cringe, but who cares, it's free!) bag.


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More about Rituparna Chatterjee

In her 10 years in the media, Rituparna has worked both on the field as a reporter as well as off it, on the desk. Lover of cumin flavoured "authentic" Chinese food. God is watching but that's no compulsion to keep the desktop neat.