Emirati perfumer Mona Haddad on the fine art of making a traditional Arabic perfume

The family recipes were taught to Haddad by her mother – and she now uses that knowledge to make scents from her home – which sell between Dh200 and Dh2,000.

Emirati perfumer Mona Haddad believes that each scent she creates relays a message from her to its wearer.

“That means I have to be happy when I make the perfume,” she says. The 23-year-old shared her love of all things sweet when she hosted a Scents and Sensibility workshop at Warehouse 421 in Abu Dhabi recently.

Haddad, who was unable to convince her 74-year-old grandmother Alaweya Mohamed to join her, was proud to share her family’s generations-old perfume recipes.

When she was younger, Mohamed made clothes for Emirati brides and putting perfume on them was considered an essential custom.

The family recipes were taught to Haddad by her mother – and she now uses that knowledge to make scents from her home – which sell between Dh200 and Dh2,000. When it comes to creating a scent, Haddad first mulls over what she feels the person should smell like, based on their aura.

“Just think of someone you love. What do you smell when you imagine them?” she asks.

Haddad is fond of using musk, which was traditionally extracted from the glands of deer.

“I use it to get out of a depressed mood ... it represents pureness to me,” she says.

Scented sachets

Haddad first laces white-musk powder in a large bottle, then adds several drops of musk tahara oil from a flask. “Always start with musk. It makes the smell lighter and longer-lasting,” she says. “Musk tahara is the pure musk that brides use before their weddings.” Brides often use it so they sweat out musk. It is a very important ritual,” adds Haddad, continuing to sprinkle in brown oud powder, rubbing the mixture between her fingers.

Musk is the lightest perfume powder to use as a base, she says.

“Be careful of sandalwood – it is really strong,” she adds.

Haddad adds a few drops of Elie Saab scent, which raises eyebrows from those expecting pure, traditional scents. In Mohamed’s days, perfumes were made from the only oils available to her: oud, amber, sandalwood and musk.

Haddad then kneads the concoction with her hands and places it in a white, cotton sachet – it is then ready to be added to a bath.


Haddad also demonstrates how to prepare the woodchip form of oud that’s burnt over charcoal – a centuries-old tradition known as bokhoor.

“You burn it and waft the smoke underneath your clothes,” she says. “The smoke makes the ladies’ clothes catch the smell, which lasts for up to five days, even after washing.”

Haddad adds saffron oil and oud oil, which she stirs by hand. “Saffron is too strong, so I only add a little,” she says. “Adding oil perfume is more advisable than powder, as powder brings the fire out when it burns. But don’t let it swim – only a little liquid.”

The pot of scented wood chippings is left to steep for 15 days and absorb the scents before it is ready for burning.

Oil perfumes

Oils are collected from flasks using syringes before being funnelled into 12ml bottles.

“Before you add any perfume, first try it on your hand,” says Haddad. “If you add flower oils with musk, make sure you use the same amount of each to start with, then you can add more of the one you prefer.”

It takes Haddad 15 minutes to make each perfume, the scent of which lasts for six to 12 hours.

• Some of Haddad’s perfumes and ingredients can be found as part of Warehouse 421’s Lest We Forget exhibition, which runs until August 27. For more details, visit www.warehouse421.ae