The pandemic has been a boon for the perfume industry.
Fragrance sales were up 45 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, according to data from US market research company NPD Group, compared with only 27 per cent for the same period in 2019.
As one of the industry's most recognisable names, celebrated British perfumer Roja Dove is not surprised by the upswing. With more people staying home and families separated in the wake of Covid-19, he thinks perfumes took on a more resonant role than a fashion or luxury item.
"Perfume sales, particularly in luxury or niche fields, put on the most enormous increase globally," he tells The National. "I believe it's because we have all been at home and we can't travel. So that breath of perfume can remind you of a member of your family that you miss or a favourite place you visited.
“It reminds us of people and moments we can't see and ultimately makes us feel good in a time where we haven't felt that way."
It is a situation resulting in renewed appreciation for perfumery from customers and practitioners alike.
"It makes you realise how important scent is to us. And it's not just a commodity, but an expression and extension of who we are," Dove says. "What I love about what I do is I can create something that not only becomes part of the wearer's life but something with which you are immediately associated."
Capturing a classic
Dove, 65, has captured everything from personalities to places and cities through bespoke scents created with a sensibility steeped in research and exploration. He has designed The Spirit of Dubai, a line of seven perfumes dedicated to the emirate.
This month was the release of Turandot, a fragrance to celebrate the 10th anniversary season of the Royal Opera House Muscat. Named after Puccini’s 20th-century opera that opened the venue in 2011, Dove received the commission in 2020.
"The process normally takes me a year because of the research involved,” he says. “The work is similar to a writer in that you need to build a structure for the fragrance and find out how you can take people on a journey.”
Dove recalls pulling apart Puccini’s dynamic score for sensory cues.
"Those familiar with the opera will remember the opening of Turandot being almost discordant. So I wanted the beginning of this perfume to feel very connected with the earth, so it opens with these notes of mosses and woods," he says.
"Like great music, a perfume also needs to catch your attention, so I added big citrus materials like bergamot and lemon to set the scene for what is to come.”
Dove is not concerned that only the most discerning will pick up those references.
"When you go to a restaurant, you don't want to know the ingredients that made the dessert, you just want to know if it's delicious," he says. "How a person feels when leaving a restaurant is the same thing a perfume should do to you when you smell it, it's all about that interaction."
Marking our territory
When opening the first standalone Roja Dove boutique in Oman in 2017, the perfumer recalled meeting some of the most knowledgeable customers.
"Because it is so entrenched in the culture, I found people in the Middle East have an incredible appreciation of very good perfumes and that is something others outside don't understand," he says.
"It's almost meeting people from the opera world who appreciate the complex and intense stories and arrangements as opposed to some simple little melodies.”
When it comes to these learned clients requesting a bespoke scent of their own, Dove says the process takes a more personal turn.
"Scents fall into four major categories – floral, oriental, woody and fresh – so what my team tries to do is find the style you like the most through your understanding and the language you use," he says. "It requires a lot of listening from our end because what people say is ultimately subjective.
“So if a client says 'I want something sophisticated', then the question is 'OK, what does that mean?' because it can mean something different to other people."
While not everyone can afford Dove’s services, he is an advocate of people investing time in finding their signature scent.
"We mark territory with smells, even if we don't know we are doing it," he says. "One of the most beautiful things when you get to know somebody – particularly romantically – is when you embrace [them] … you smell their imprint on your skin.
“When we lose somebody, what is one of the first things we do? We pick up an item of clothing and smell it. It's as true in the opera as it is in real life."