“You see greenery everywhere when you’re in Singapore. And now you can bottle it up and take it with you.”
There’s an amiable vibe about Prachi Saini Garg. The 47-year-old is the founder of Singapore’s latest attraction at Sentosa – the aroma wonderland of Scentopia. I’ve been seeing a lot of this AR perfume experience all over social media in the last few weeks. I was keen to find out more about this buzz, but mostly, about Prachi and her journey. So I sat down with her to chat.
Prachi laughs nervously when I ask her how she would describe herself as a scent. She shares that she’s an INFJ personality type (just like me, actually!), and this plays a part in the scent she’d choose for herself.
“The INFJ personality translates to floral and woody scents. I used to love woody scents, but as I’ve grown and matured as a person and a boss, floral scents are closer to my heart,” Prachi says. “If I had to mix a scent to represent my personality, it would be a heavily floral scent that smells fresh, with some oriental notes.”
I love the idea of a scent that truly belongs just to you, created by your own hands. And just like how Scentopia allows its guests full autonomy in the creation of each bespoke scent, Prachi took charge of each facet of her life to eventually build this thriving attraction in Sentosa.
Meet Prachi: Ex-architect, mum of two, perfumer extraordinaire
Surprisingly, Prachi didn’t start out exploring perfumes and scents. Instead, she was an architect (what!). In fact, she’d graduated from one of India’s best colleges with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture, and even worked in the US as a consultant for DCNet. It was the erratic working hours in this job that first led her to discover perfumery as a hobby.
“Back then, my work would start at 5am and end at 3pm – sometimes earlier,” Prachi shares. Because of this, her evenings were always free. Ever a curious mind, she filled her time by picking up different art forms. Yet it was perfumery that stood out and became a hobby she loved.
She continued to progress at work. But in 2005, motherhood came calling and Prachi chose to temporarily hit pause on her career to care for her children. It kept her busy, but she craved more mental stimulation. And so, with what spare time she had, she chose to study and pursue an MBA. “Mums out there, don’t feel bad about giving up a few years for your kids,” she adds. “It can prepare you for the future.”
When her children were grown, Prachi finally returned to the workforce in 2013. But employers were concerned about hiring her after such a long break. Prachi felt the salary she received didn’t match up to her capabilities, and she wasn’t going to settle for it. “This was when I decided I would reinvent myself,” she says. “I borrowed $10,000 from my husband and began a new venture.”
A whole new world of aromas
Not long after, Prachi was re-introduced to perfumery after working for an artist couple who dabbled in scents. “Sometimes, they would mix two oils that had no smell, and it would produce a fantastic scent. This magical process enticed me,” she shares. In 2014, she decided to turn this interest into her profession.
With the money, she rented out a project studio in Goodman Arts Centre and began holding workshops that taught individuals to craft their own perfumes.
“I also worked with several museums and community centres like the National Museum and Science Centre, and that’s when corporate partnerships started coming in,” Prachi says. This was what led her to Sentosa’s team-building event in 2019. She led 70 employees in a perfume workshop and at the end of it, she was approached by an individual in the corporate welfare division.
He told her about the Sentosa X Enterprise scheme and asked if she wanted to give it a try. It would be a six-month project at Imbiah Lookout, and Prachi would have to come up with a concept that was not only interesting but digitised. “That’s what I did, and I guess they liked it so much they gave Scentopia its own home at Siloso Beach,” she shares proudly.
Past customers will find that the Scentopia perfume-making experience differs greatly from Prachi’s perfume workshops at Goodman Arts Centre. It taps on augmented reality and personality tests to help you formulate a personalised perfume unique to you. What I love most about it? Instead of sitting around a table, you get to walk around and pick 10 scent wands based on your test – as though you’re plucking flowers from a garden.
On scent and Singapore pride
Prachi understands the power of a good scent. After all, she also runs Singapore Memories – a fragrance brand that revived the iconic Singapore Girl scent from the 70s. “The older generation remembers this scent so fondly. It’s a smell that everyone loves, even me! And we’re always sold out – especially during Mother’s Day,” she says.
I ask if she thinks scents can play a part in the pride we feel for Singapore. “Oh yes, absolutely!” she gushes, explaining yet another difference between Scentopia and other types of perfume workshops. This particular experience that she’s dreamed up utilises local flora and fauna from Singapore’s own backyard.
Prachi tells me there are only five to seven coastal rainforests left in the world that are as easily accessible as the one in Sentosa. “Take a train or a taxi in, and you’re right in the middle of it – it’s so beautiful and amazing,” she says. “You walk away from Scentopia with an appreciation of this nation’s floral heritage. You see greenery everywhere when you’re in Singapore. And now you can bottle it up and take it with you.”
We love that Prachi’s highlighting the best aspects of our garden city, one scent at a time! Perhaps this might be your next weekend activity? You can bet you’ll find us there.