Travel Diary: SIFR Aromatics – Kampong Glam, Singapore

Perfume Oils - Sifr Aromatics
Perfume Oils – SIFR Aromatics

One of my latest obsessions is perfume oils. Last year I discovered a wonderful old shop in Delhi’s Chandini Chowk district, called Gulab Singh Johri Mal. This Mughal era parfumery specializes in attars – scented oils derived from botanical sources. I was hooked. So when I landed in Singapore, one of my first stops was SIFR Aromatics, a niche perfumery passed from father to son.

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Parfumier Johari Kazura

SIFR Aromatics is on Arab Street in Kampong Glam – Singapore’s oldest Muslim district. Owned by parfumier Johari Kazura, SIFR has a range of small batch scents handcrafted by Kazura, as well as a beautiful perfume bottle collection mounted on beautiful dark wood cabinetry built by Indonesian craftsmen. What intrigued me most, was the possibility of creating my own bespoke fragrance.

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Luckily for me, Kazura was in the shop and available. (An appointment is recommended.) I gave him a list of my favorite fragrances and scents – Tom Ford’s “Jasmin Rouge” (Sambac jasmine and spices) , Kilian’s “Back to Black” (cherry, leather, tobacco and honey) as well as Comme des Garçon’s “Ouarzazate” (pepper, spice, incense).

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Since I’m new to this arena and had limited time, I started by smelling Kazura’s line of fragrances and found a smoky perfume oil to use as a platform to build on. He continued to add ingredients – jasmine, oud and other oils – until we arrived at balance I liked. He then encouraged me to leave for an hour or so to let the oil settle on my skin. So we took a nose break to check out the historic Raffles Hotel and grab a Singapore Sling (crossed off the Bucket List).

Nearby Abdul Gafoor Mosque.
Nearby Abdul Gafoor Mosque.

It’s important to let a fragrance settle because the notes change as they are exposed to air and the oils in your skin. And after an hour or so of smelling a bunch of different fragrances, it’s easy to have sensory overload. Taking time out to sniff coffee beans is a great way to wipe the olfactory slate clean.

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After checking out Singapore’s colonial past, we cabbed it back to SIFR and I collected my new fragrance – “Jasmine Smoke”. Johari wrote down the ingredients in his notebook, along with my contact information so I can order more when the oil is gone.

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The wonderful thing about oils, is the fragrance lasts a lot longer than an eau de parfum. Perfumes are mixed with alcohol and the fragrance dissipates much quicker than oils. And there’s something really cool about wearing a fragrance no one else has.

Customized perfumes range from $75-$200.

SIFR is at 42 Arab Street, Singapore
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-8.30pm
Sat 11am-9pm
SIFR Aromatics Website

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Travel Diary: Attars & Incense in Chandini Chowk

Indian Attars – Gulab Singh Johri Mal, Old Delhi

We ventured forth into the dirty, narrow streets of Old Delhi on the back seat of a cycle-rickshaw. My mission – Gulab Singh Johri Mal – an attar manufacturer founded during Mughal rule.

Attar is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources through water or steam distillation. The oils obtained from the herbs flowers and wood are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired.

Oud from Cambodia and India

In the Eastern world it is an ancient tradition to offer attars to guests. The perfumes are stored in ornate tiny crystal bottles called as itardans. Some of the first lovers of attar, were the Mughals of India. In fact I read that an Indian princess’s bath was considered incomplete without incense and attars.


Established in 1816 by Gulab Singh, Gulab Singh Johri Mal is now run by the seventh generation owner – Ram Singh. We stepped inside and removed our shoes. I started by asking what were their more popular Indian attars.  Before I knew it, I was literally up to my elbows in scented oils.

In particular I liked Attar Gil – an “after the monsoon” scent made from sandalwood oil and dirt. Yes, dirt! It has an intoxicating earthy scent that captivated my imagination. I was also entranced by Attar Gulab which is made from rose and sandalwood oils. I had visions of veiled harems bathed in heavenly fragrances for their visiting Raj…

Besides traditional Indian attars, Gulab Singh Johri Mal carries essential oils – Patchouli, Ylang-Ylang, Cypress, Oud, Cardamom, Rosewood, Jasmine, Tuberose, Cedarwood and many more. They also produce perfumed incenses of many varieties – including Oud, which I particularly love. Visiting Gulab Singh Johrimal was truly a treat for the senses.

Gulab Singh Johri Mal – 320, Dariba Kalan
Chandni Chowk, Delhi – 110006, India
Ph#: 23271345 Email: info@gulabsinghjohrimal.com