Anita Lal: “It Was My Dream to Create a Line of Fine Fragrances That Highlight Iconic Indian Ingredients”
(From left to right) LilaNur Parfums’ collection of eau de parfums: Malli Insolite, Rajni Nocturne, Gul Rouge, Vettiver Mousson, Davana Cèdre, Agar Épicé, and Incarnation
The Word.: What inspired you to launch LilaNur Parfums?
Anita Lal: “Ever since I can remember, I have had a deep love of fragrances…and I became increasingly fascinated as I learned more about centuries-old Indian scenting traditions and the large role scents play in our culture. I have often wondered why it is that while Western fragrance brands have historically sourced Indian ingredients to create some of the world’s most renowned perfumes, but there hasn’t been an Indian-inspired fine fragrance brand. That was my dream: to create a line of fragrances that truly highlight iconic Indian ingredients and our ancient scenting rituals like attars, from an Indian lens.
Through LilaNur, my goal is for India to be acknowledged and recognised for its enormous contribution to ancient and modern perfumery. I want to share the natural abundance of India’s flora with the world.”
TW.: What’s the story behind the name of the brand?
AL: “I wanted a name that reflected the many dimensions of our country, our heritage and our spirit. Our name LilaNur represents India’s syncretic culture—Lila is Sanskrit for the illusionary celestial play of creation, and Nur is an Arabic/Persian word for divine light.”
TW.: ‘Born in Madurai and Crafted In Grasse’—tell us about the roles these two cities play in the final LilaNur product.
AL: “Madurai is the Jasmine City, and the cultivator of the finest quality of jasmine sambac in the world—an ingredient that is the signature of some of the best perfumes. Grasse is best known as the perfume capital of Europe and home to many renowned ‘noses’ or perfumers working today. Both cities have a deep connection to flowers and the grand traditions of perfumery. But, for LilaNur, our connections go even deeper. In Madurai, we established a foundational partnership with our good friends Jasmine CE, the perfume industry’s gold standard and source of Indian floral absolutes from ingredients such as jasmine, tuberose, and rose amongst others. As part of their joint venture with Firmenich’s Naturals Innovation Lab in Grasse, LilaNur was able to create scents with a traceable line, between these two cities, from field to flacon.
One great example is our Rose Attar Absolu, which is a complete re-imagination of the traditional attar, and developed between Madurai and Grasse. Over the course of many months, the Rose Attar Absolu formula binds the absolute of pure Indian Rose Centifolia—grown, cultivated and processed exclusively for LilaNur Parfums near Madurai—and used for the first time in international perfumery with pure, ethically sourced sandalwood oil. The formulation is the result of a slow, proprietary infusion process which was developed with Firmenich’s head of Naturals Innovation in Grasse.”
TW.: Why did you decide to launch the fragrances internationally first, versus in India?
AL: “While the luxury perfume markets in London, New York, and India share some commonalities, such as a desire for quality and exclusivity, there are substantial differences in terms of consumer behaviour, preferences, brand presence, and market maturity. The markets in London and New York are more established and diverse, while the Indian market, whilst growing rapidly, is still nascent and developing.
One of our big goals and challenges with LilaNur, was to establish India as an authority within the global and niche perfumery worlds. It was important for us to introduce the brand through globally-renowned retailers and I am proud to say that we are the first Indian-inspired fine fragrance brand to be invited into the likes of Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, Neiman Marcus, and Moda Operandi.”
“[For me,] there are no rules as to how you can wear fragrances. As someone who loves to mix everything in my life, fragrance is no different. I’m constantly layering different fragrances—like LilaNur’s Attar Absolus with our Eau de Parfums!”
TW.: We’d love to learn more about the Rosabagh Foundation’s initiatives, Project Flora 365 and Project Vettiver.
AL: “While we were creating LilaNur, I wanted to ensure opportunities and sustainability for both India’s floriculture as well as those who rely on it for their livelihoods. With our partner Jasmine C.E, we initiated two projects to create additional sources of income and employment for the flower pickers, who play an integral role in our journey and story. Together, we set up Project Flora 365, where in addition to jasmine which only blooms seasonally, we have supported the planting of an additional rose crop, to create year-round income and work for the harvesters. This crop was then used in our Gul Rouge parfum.
Led by Devika Krishnan, who I admire for the work she’s done to empower craft-based livelihood enterprises, we set up Project Vettiver. Through this program, the rural women are trained with weaving skills that empower them to make homeware from upcycled perfume ingredients, which they can sell.”
TW.: “What is your earliest perfume memory? Has it impacted the perfumes you have created?
AL: “I have so many memories of fragrance… I vividly remember inhaling the scent of pink damascena roses in our garden and being transported. In the monsoon, you could smell the cooling scent of vetiver roots mixed with the intense scent of jasmine—a scent I still love. For me, fragrance has always had the power to unlock old memories and transport me back to those moments.”
TW. If you had to pick your favourite note, which one would you choose?
AL: “Jasmine holds a special place in my heart—I find it to be a simultaneously soothing and invigorating note. It is so intrinsically and iconically Indian—it features so heavily in our rituals and celebrations across the country—and it was one of the ingredients I was most excited to work with and develop into a fine fragrance.”
TW.: What’s the biggest myth about fragrances that you would like to debunk?
AL: “As far as I am concerned, there are no rules as to how you can wear fragrances. As someone who loves to mix everything in my life, fragrance is no different. I’m constantly layering different fragrances—like LilaNur’s Attar Absolus with our Eau de Parfums!”
“Jasmine holds a special place in my heart—I find it to be a simultaneously soothing and invigorating note. It is so intrinsically and iconically Indian—it features so heavily in our rituals and celebrations across the country—and it was one of the ingredients I was most excited to work with and develop into a fine fragrance.”
TW.: You began your entrepreneurial journey over 25 years ago…did you have to battle any hurdles along the way?
AL: “When I started over 25 years ago, India was a closed economy, and there was no organised retail so to speak. So one of the challenges was that there were no real experts in upmarket retail sales. We had to learn everything from the ground up—how to get quality suppliers for small-volume orders, how to set up teams for different functions, how to sell! But, over time, we built relationships and people gained confidence in us.
TW.: What are the key lessons you have learned in your entrepreneurial journey?
AL: “When I launched Good Earth, I started without knowing anything about retail or business, and I learnt everything backwards. I never thought of these things…it was just an impulse to create something special, unique and beautiful, and to offer that to people in India. What I learnt is that once you have pure intent and the willingness to work hard, the universe makes things happen. This has been our guiding principle and it has held us in good stead.”
TW.: What advice would you like to give to women who aspire to be entrepreneurs?
AL: “You have got to be passionate. If you truly want to do something, if it truly makes you happy, then you will find a way to make it succeed. I see that young, Indian women today are very empowered. Even at Good Earth, all the top positions—from retail and HR, to the CEO and Creative Head—are helmed by women! That’s the key…build a strong team who share your vision and values, and that will serve as the foundation for your success.”
TW.: Do you think, over time, it has become easier for women in business to attain their goals?
AL: “In the last few years, a lot of women-led businesses have come up—It’s quite wonderful and I fully support it. I think it probably has become a bit easier, with more avenues opening up but it still takes passion, determination and a lot of hard work to achieve your goals, in business or otherwise.”
TW.: When you look back at your journey, what are you most proud of?
AL: “My intent was always to create beautiful things that highlight and inspire appreciation for Indian craft and culture and to open up avenues for other Indians to do the same. I think this is something we continue to do and that is what I take pride in.”