Making scents: the business of perfume

Philosophy is as relevant as science in the art of making perfume and success stories blend memories, journeys and personal experiences with an expert nose for ingredients

After making his name in fashion with Kuwait’s luxury department store Mecca Villa Moda, Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah turned his focus to perfume. He blended Arabian Wood, his first scent, for US designer Tom Ford in 2009, delicate mix of precious wood, exotic flowers and spices. Four years later he heads up a global perfume business The Fragrance Kitchen, TFK, with retail outlets in fashion-conscious Russia and Italy and a new outlet in Bloomingdales Dubai last month.

He brings together traditional aspects of Middle Eastern perfumery – including scents indigenous to the Gulf region - the technical expertise of a laboratory in the French town of Grasse and family secrets from his perfume-making grandmother. “Ancient ingredients never go out of style. They are timeless and seductive.” explains Sheikh Majed. Part of TFK’s attraction for both a regional and global audience are the combination of traditional Arabian scents - such as Taif Rose, and burning Agarwood - and contemporary presentation, including minimalist packaging and slick website design.

Paris is arguably the home of modern perfume. Iconic French scents which have stood the test of time include Joy, developed by Jean Patou in 1930 and sold with the tagline the “costliest perfume in the world” - just one ounce contains 10,600 jasmine blossoms and 336 Bulgarian roses. L’Heure Bleue developed by Jacques Guerlain in 1912 and inspired by twilight walks in his garden as well as a desire to outdo the neroli, carnation, and vanilla-infused success of arch perfume rival François Coty.

TFK is a new innovator in the perfume sector while these classic French brands now sit within the portfolios of huge multi-nationals LVMH and Procter & Gamble. There is plenty of opportunity for operators at each end of the scale. A 2013 report by Global Industry Analysts expects the global fragrances and perfumes market to reach about US$45.6bn by 2018. This figure will be driven primarily by growth in the underpenetrated emerging markets and innovative product launches say the analysts.

Yosh Han is a San Francisco-based perfumer who has introduced her portfolio for the first time in the Middle East at Saks Fifth Avenue Dubai. Han began her perfume career in 1994 when she became an apprentice to a perfumer in Aspen, Colorado learning to identify and combine essential oils and perfume essences. Like the great French masters Guerlain and Coty before her, Han continues to be inspired by things that evoke emotion. When creating signature scents such as the seductive ‘Ginger Ciao’, she draws inspiration from nature, art, people and conversations. She puts stock in what she calls the “vibrational power of perfume”.

Operating from rural Devon, England, Cath Collins perfumes are designed around the specific scents of English garden bouquets. Collins is down to earth when she talks about what’s behind the success of her eponymous brand, worn everywhere from Australia to the Gulf: “My inspiration really is my garden,” she explains. “That English country garden inspiration means my fragrances are not like other brands – people get something they don’t get anywhere else.”