Rare fragrances underpin UK firm’s growth in the UAE

A high-end London perfumer's use of oud has been key to its success in the Emirates.

Linda Pilkington, the founder of the fine fragrance company Ormonde Jayne, at work. Courtesy Ormonde Jayne
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“What put Ormonde Jayne on the map in the UAE is that we were the first house to put oud into an international fine fragrance,” says Linda Pilkington, a perfumer and the founder of the fine fragrance company Ormonde Jayne, as she straightens a box featuring the brand’s new deep coral linen packaging in her boutique off London’s Bond Street.

At the heart of Ms Pilkington’s signature men’s fragrance, Ormonde Jayne Man, is oud, a rare oil highly-prized in the Middle East. When she launched the fragrance in 2004, she could not make it quickly enough to meet demand. Since then, oud has been incorporated into mass-market fragrances created by most of the major international fragrance brands.

Ms Pilkington says her use of high-quality, rare and unusual ingredients in her fragrances – including oud and black hemlock – is key to Ormonde Jayne’s appeal to the UAE’s discerning consumers. Many of her Emirati clients first discover her 14 fragrances in her bijou store in Mayfair’s exquisite Victorian-era Royal Arcade, the city’s oldest shopping arcade, although they have also been available in the UAE for more than five years.

“We’ve built up the brand in Bond Street for the last 15 years and we’ve got a following from Dubai, so we’re lucky that we see the same customers year after year, that come back to see if we’ve got anything new. They know the perfumes intimately, they’re very knowledgeable about the brand, they like the brand and they’ve remained loyal to us no matter how many other brands have launched.”

Ormonde Jayne is part of growing sector of independent niche perfume brands that are finding success in the UAE. The country is Ormonde Jayne’s most important market after Russia, Ms Pilkington says, and its luxury fragrances and candles are stocked in 22 outlets in Dubai, including department stores and even a flower boutique. After it launched its Black Gold fragrance at Harrods last year, the firm gave the UAE market a period of world exclusivity ahead of its launch globally. It has similar plans for the fragrance’s successor, Rose Gold.

Last month, Ormonde Jayne opened an in-store boutique at the new Robinson department store at Dubai Festival City Mall. In September the brand will launch a concession in Dubai’s new Harvey Nichols store. Ms Pilkington also plans to relaunch her bespoke perfumery service in Dubai this year, with workshops where she will help clients to create a one-off fragrance from different rare oils. In addition, she hopes to eventually create a fragrance specifically for the Middle East region.

Fragrance is big business in the UAE. Consumers in the UAE spent Dh2.35 billion on fragrances in 2016, making it the leading category in the beauty and personal care market ahead of men’s grooming, skincare and colour cosmetics, according to research by Euromonitor.

While international brands dominate overall, local fragrance brands are highly competitive within the UAE beauty market.

“Local players such as Arabian Oud and Abdul Samad Al Qurashi have snuck into the top 10 in sales volume in recent years,” says Ahmed Pauwels, the chief executive of Messe Frankfurt Middle East, the organiser of Beautyworld Middle East. The annual event is the region’s largest trade fair for beauty, hair, fragrances and well-being. “This is due to the love of fragrances in the UAE, which these two companies specialise in, and they offer premium traditional Arab fragrances such as oud which are popular among locals and tourists alike. “In the fragrance category, the trend toward niche fragrances is growing,” says Mr Pauwels. “At Beautyworld Middle East 2016, we launched Quintessence, which is an exclusive showcase of rare and niche fragrances, perhaps not readily found in your everyday department store – although that may change soon. What differentiates niche fragrances from their commercial counterparts is that they comprise ingredients that commercial or mass-market produced perfumes simply won’t touch [due to their expense], and that’s what makes them so unique.”

Ormonde Jayne will be returning with Quintessence at Beautyworld’s 2017 in Dubai in May. Ms Pilkington will be taking part alongside perfumers from at least 18 high-end fragrance brands including Thomas Kosmala, Maison Francis Kurkdjian and Ulrich Lang.

“The UAE has had a long, rich association with fragrance but now customers are looking for a more personal experience,” says Mr Pauwels. “They want to know more about how their perfume was created, the ingredients that went into it and its source of inspiration.”


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