A Nepalese seller of oil and fragrance in Doha, Qatar.
The whiff of the Arab spring is reaching the shores of Europe. This time it’s not the smell of tear gas, pepper spray or burning rubber but a substance rather more fragrant.
As western minds grapple with the political conundrums of the region, so western designers such as Christian Dior, Tom Ford and Giorgio Armani are showing greater interest in Arab-influenced fragrances. Perfume manufacturers are embracing ingredients from the Middle East, launching new fragrances and competing to bring the exotic scents of the region to western sensibilities. From the Black Iris of Jordan to the roses of Ta’if in Saudi Arabia, frankincense trees in Oman, Casablanca lilies inMorocco, Persian saffron to the region’s oud wood, the Arabian Nights spirit appears to be catching on.
Estée Lauder’s Jo Malone London and Christian Dior launched fragrances this week based on oud wood and Damascus rose. Others including Armani Privé and Ormonde Jayne have come up with their products.
Katie Puckrik, a perfume writer, said western interest in ancient perfume materials such as frankincense, myrrh, and oud wood has been building for several years. “I believe the rediscovery and renewed appreciation for these Arabic perfume materials by western consumers has less to do with world events and more to do with what I call ‘the fumehead movement’ – the proliferation of niche perfume houses, fragrance blogs and YouTube channels, and the hobbyist’s delight in seeking out the unsniffed.
“The aficionado seeks out the rare and exotic, spurred by their burgeoning interest in perfume. They’re the ones who will have been wearing attars and incense blends over the past few decades.
“The casual shopper browsing department store perfume counters will note the sudden appearance of the funny word ‘oud’ on offerings from Jo Malone, Trish McEvoy, Giorgio Armani and Christian Dior. They’ll idly try the tester bottles, and maybe end up buying an Arab-flavoured scent, but I don’t believe they’re thinking ‘There’s revolution afoot in the Middle East! I need me some oud, pronto’.”
Mark Heah Kian Lip, a 20-year-old student of fashion at the University of the West of England, is among the Middle Eastern fragrance enthusiasts. He prefers to wear a perfume that becomes his signature and that’s why he finds something unique with Arab perfumes that he can’t find with what he puts “mainstream/mass market” fragrances.
“If my perfume should be my signature, then it should not be the same as what everyone else is wearing,” he said. “Therefore one of the reasons why I decided to start wearing Middle Eastern fragrances is simply because not many people do.”
Describing one of his favourites, he said: “[When wearing it] I dream of a Persian love story with heated romance and the excitement of danger. It embodies the essence of elegance, romance and to be foreign. It consists of everything that I seek in a divine essence. A signature essence that I would wear to create a fantasy that is mysterious and exotic.”