'It is an art and a science': How to find a perfume to match your personality

There are many places in the UAE to help you find, and even create, your personal scent

“At the bottom, you have your base notes – everything from leather to musk. Then you have to select your middle notes – floral, spicy, violet, rose and so on. Finally, there are the top notes – aldehyde, aquatic and ozone. Base notes are the ones that last the longest, but you would be surprised by the top and middle notes, which have a stronger scent,” explains Khulood Al Busaid, marketing communications and retail assistant at Oo La Lab. 

<span>A lot of people fail to grasp just how important their sense of smell is, and they tend to neglect it</span>

I’m in a futuristic black and white setting, surrounded by bottles, beakers and test tubes. What appears to be a very chic chemistry lab is actually Oo La Lab, a craft fragrance boutique that opened its first Dubai branch in Alserkal Avenue in October.

The brand, which originated in Singapore, specialises in what it calls the chemistry of emotion – giving customers the opportunity to create their own olfactory combinations by mixing perfume ingredients. Or as Al Busaid says: “It’s all about creating your own scent.”

“We want people to experience a scent and then relate it to themselves,” she says. “A lot of people fail to grasp just how important their sense of smell is, and they tend to neglect it. At Oo La Lab, creating a scent is both an art form and a science.”

Customers can choose a Splash and Dash service – mixing together three to five components to create a personal scent – or sit in for an hour-long workshop where they are talked through the intricacies of picking base, middle and top notes to create something unique to them.

I opted for the workshop, and was presented with a total of 27 notes. A maximum of four base notes had to be selected, three middle notes and then two top notes. Khulood explains the composition of each note (Oriental, for instance, is a mix of florals and spices and Gourmand has hints of vanilla, caramel and pineapple) as they are dabbed on to a blotter and evaluated (read: sniffed).

She then demonstrates how to mix the notes together using eye droppers and test tubes to create a personalised perfume. “There are no right and wrong combination of scents in this case,” Khulood says.

“We want people to go in unbiased, and simply pick out the scents that appeal to them. Some worry that they will not like the final product – but that is impossible because it is specific to their taste.”

Oo La Lab is one example of a growing shift in consumer attitudes when it comes to perfume. Although the Middle East has a rich history of perfumery, in the past few decades, customers have played it safe with fragrances – either by sticking to well-known brands or choosing those endorsed by personalities, says Angela Turovskaya, the founder of Balmessence, an e-boutique for ethical beauty brands and niche perfumes.

“There has been a shift in mindset lately, resulting in a change in demand. More sophisticated clientele want exclusivity in their fragrance, and wearing a unique scent is like wearing a different outfit.”

The demand for more personalised scents over the past few years has also led to the trend of layering, the process of wearing different fragrances simultaneously. Although the term is commonly heard when it comes to stacking accessories such as necklaces and bracelets, it is now picking up in the perfume industry, with brands such as Jo Malone and The Body Shop launching products specifically for this beauty regime.

“Layering is not restricted to perfumes, it can also include fragrant body lotions and creams, and applying these onto the skin before spraying on a perfume,” says Turovskaya. “The Middle East has a very strong perfume culture, and people here love to feel special, which is why the popularity of layering is taking off.”

<span>More people are treating perfume like just another accessory – a handbag or a pair of shoes. You are not fully dressed without it</span>

While there are no hard and fast rules regarding layering of perfumes, Turovskaya says that having a basic understanding of notes, and what scents complement and enhance one another, helps. “Oriental fragrances mix well with woody fragrances. Rose can be blended with oud for sharpness or gourmand for sweetness. You can still go bold and experiment.”

And with the internet being a never-ending source of information, it has been easier for people to learn more about the intricacies of perfume-making. Melanie Jane, the founder and creative director of the eponymous brand, explains that it’s possible to be a self-taught perfumer in this day and age.

“People go online on to forums and educate themselves on base notes and top notes. It is also a faster way to learn about perfumes. If you go to professional institutes like, say, the Grasse Institute of Perfumery, which is where I went, you spend three years learning about scents without ever making your own perfume.

“You then go on to apprentice at big perfume houses, which still will not allow you to make your own scent – you are merely following direction. People opt for online courses because it is an easier, faster way to learn about the art form.”

Jane lives in France, although she spent 22 years before that in the UAE, and has conducted workshops on the art of perfume-making. According to her, classes on creating personalised perfumes have been a hit in the region as it gives people a chance to learn how to handle ingredients in a safe manner, and to create their own scent, of course.

“People these days are more confident. They don’t want to follow the crowd, they want something unique. And more people are treating perfume like just another accessory – a handbag or a pair of shoes. You are not fully dressed without it.”