The man developing a new culture in Mongolia - right under our noses

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  • Apr 27,2016
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By LUCY THOMPSON “Perfume is an art.” This is the firm belief of Orchlon Narantsetseg. N.Orchlon, a Mongolian born lawyer working in the Netherlands, is passionate about fragrance collecting and has spearheaded a movement which is seeing fragrance loving develop at an incredible rate in this country. The Mongolian Fragrance Lovers Group on facebook currently numbers 72,000. N.Orchlon built this following up from nowhere in just under three years. But how and why did he do it? The “why” is fairly simple. Since his own fragrance revelation as a teen has “opened a whole new world,” N.Orchlon has been trying to aid other Mongolians in exploring and understanding perfumes, and finding their own sensational scents. The first fragrance which truly affected him was Axe Africa. Discovered one day at a market in his early youth, he can recall the experience the spray brought. “It took me away completely. I felt like I was in Africa, with the sunshine, the weather, and the animals. There was something so exotic about it.” From then on, N.Orchlon’s fascination was absolute, but no-one around him was interested in fragrance. “In Mongolia, in Asian culture, men do not care about fragrances. It is seen as very effeminate,” he says. However he is not fazed by this, and in fact, it makes him more passionate. “Your sense of smell is one of the main senses! The appreciation of fragrances is like listening to beautiful music, or observing a ballet.” While his love has lasted for years, N.Orchlon’s perfume collection only really began growing in the last four or five years. At first, he only discussed his hobby among friends, having “a couple of hundred people [on facebook] who were interested in what I was sharing.” But as more and more people joined his following, he decided to set up a group online. Did he anticipate the community becoming this large? The answer is an emphatic no. “I really didn’t think of this happening!” Despite how unexpected this success is, N.Orchlon couldn’t be more pleased - and he has high hopes. “We’re the biggest fragrance group in the world. We are expecting to have eighty thousand members by the end of this year, and at one hundred thousand we’re thinking of attempting the Guinness World Record for the biggest meeting of fragrance lovers in the world!” Nonetheless, N.Orchlon remains clear about what the real intention for the facebook collective is, which is to “educate people… and initiate them to the culture of fragrance.” He is passionate about “enriching [the members’] knowledge,” and the result is that he has cultivated a friendly, positive community which has spread its influence far and introduced many more Mongolians to the world about which N.Orchlon is so enthusiastic. “It is a new culture we are building in Mongolia,” he says. Not only is N.Orchlon accomplishing this through the ongoing conversation which is thriving online, he has also organised many perfume lovers’ meetings in Mongolia. An annual event is held on November 7, the anniversary of the group’s formation, while twice the group has held a fragrance gifting day where members and companies contribute perfumes for everyone to sample and share. “We even had too many people attending our last exchange!” he laughs. Although N.Orchlon's following is mostly female, he is keen to show people that fragrance is not just for women. "There are whole cultures built around the sense of smell, for instance the incense used in the Catholic Church. Humanity has lost its sense of smell since ancient times; we can differentiate foods by taste, we can tell hundreds of flavours apart, but in a perfume, people don't know what fruits they're smelling." Besides this, he rejects the notion that you can have smells specific to men or women. "There is no masculine or feminine smell," he explains. "Sense of smell does not have a gender." Just as he refuses to conform to gender norms regarding fragrances, N.Orchlon does not follow trends in the perfume industry. "I don't follow trends, I follow the notes that I like." This underpins his belief and advice in recommending fragrances, which people often ask him to do. "It all depends on what you like about a fragrance," he says. When he is asked what makes a good perfume, it is "a very tricky question. Everyone has a different sense of smell, that's why people need to educate themselves and understand what they really like." He far prefers informing people about different bodies, such as oriental or woody, and different notes. Musk, for instance, “is very animalic. Perfumes which smell seductive often have animalic ingredients.” It is this process of learning and self-discovery which really engages people in the community and N.Orchlon is a strong advocate for such a personal involvement when it comes to scents. Rather than giving technical reviews of fragrances, which he doesn’t enjoy, he says he prefers “articles which connect to people, which share experiences or stories.” When talking to his followers, the aim is to get them to relate. To this end, N.Orchlon will often share personal experiences or connections as a fragrance recalls them to him, for instance regarding the Taif Rose he says that in his opinion, “if true love had a smell, this rose is what it would smell like.” Writing about different cultures and places to explain what a scent evokes is incredibly important, as he aims to convey the experience of being transported by a fragrance. Having tried “hundreds, maybe thousands” of perfumes means it is “difficult to find a fragrance I really like. It is difficult to find something original!” N.Orchlon says he now only buys scents which “make me connect on a much deeper level and fall in love.” However, he has come to realise that “this is a journey” and as his sense of smell changes over time, he will always have new fragrances to discover. “I think I will be collecting all my life,” he concludes. Due to his incredible network with the Mongolian Fragrance Lovers community, this journey will be one he shares with many like-minded people across the country.