When Mohammed Ne’emah followed in his family’s footsteps and founded Kuwaiti perfume house Ne’emah, he had no way of knowing that his passion project would develop into a company that holds its own amongst the industry’s biggest names and on the shelves of beauty retailers worldwide. The key to his success lies in his ability to create scents rooted in Middle Eastern tradition but geared towards an international audience, perhaps the result of decades spent traveling the world.
Savoir Flair caught up with the perfumer to pick his brain about the role of the Middle East in the global fragrance industry and the trends to look out for.
Please start by telling us a little bit about Ne’emah. When was it first founded and what was the driving force behind its creation?
My journey as a perfumer began in 1997, at the age of 17. I tried experimenting with a few ingredients to create a perfume that became hugely popular among family and friends, and from there on I realized that I could be the third generation pursuing the art of perfumery in my family. I would attend university in the morning and head over to my shop to sell perfumes in the evening. From selling fragrances at a small shop in Kuwait to retailing at 32 stores across 10 countries, the journey has been incredible.
Do you design with an international or GCC customer in mind?
Ne’emah fragrances reach out to people from different cultures with varied tastes and preferences. With the perfect combination of oud along with a variety of other elements, we try to keep the flavors of the Orient alive, yet make perfumes that are suitable for the modern times.
The demand for exotic natural ingredients like sandalwood, amber, and oud has risen considerably and Oriental scents are now the trend worldwide.
Stronger, more intense scents are more desired now and major international brands are increasingly creating special editions with an Oriental touch to suit the changing tastes of people.
What have the advantages and disadvantages of being based in the Middle East been?
Growing up in the region and in a family that has been involved in perfumery for three generations has had a big influence on my life and career. Trading in scents has been huge in the Arabic culture for over a decade now. With the increasing number of regional and international perfume houses creating new fragrances every season, I’ve realized that there’s no room for error in this industry.
On the brighter side, the Middle East is home to a very diverse multicultural society – I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds and understand the likes and tastes of different people, which is of utmost importance in the perfume industry. What’s more, tourism is big in this region and it is a growing fashion hub where people splurge on fashion and cosmetics.
How has the global response been to a Kuwaiti perfume brand? How much of your business would you say is represented by international sales?
People the world over love Oriental scents and Ne’emah is all about Oriental. The outstanding response that I received when I started selling Ne’emah in Sephora Middle East in 2008 drove me to stock Ne’emah at Sephora stores worldwide. I’d say almost 30 to 40 percent of my business is represented by international sales. To cater to the needs of its international customer base, Ne’emah will very soon be available for purchase online with worldwide shipping.
How do you feel the age-old tradition of fragrance in our part of the world has evolved over the centuries?
Perfumery has grown into a vast field over the years with infinite possibilities. A simple ingredient on its own would be considered a luxurious perfume a few decades ago, but now fragrances with a combination of ingredients and textures are of enormous value. A few decades ago, fragrances were used only on special occasions and ceremonies, but wearing perfume has evolved into a fashion statement over the years.
How does the Middle East continue to impact the global fragrance world? Are any trends born here?
We all know that the Middle East is traditionally known for its love of fragrance. The region’s concept of long-lasting scents made from earthy raw materials like oud (a trend that has become huge the world over) encourages the use of natural ingredients while taking people back to their roots. Some international perfume houses are also using essential oils and incense, a trend that was started in the Middle East with the use of attar and bakhoor. The Middle East continues to influence the global fragrance world and alter the path of perfumery in numerous ways with its evolving trends.
This region is home to a rare Saudi rose, which has been favored by brands the likes of Valentino. What other ingredients found in luxury fragrances originate here?
That rose is known as the Taif Rose. Another exotic ingredient found in the Middle East is the luxurious oud, also known a Black Gold.
What’s next in the world of fragrance trends? What’s the next big thing to look out for?
It’s all about artisanal, handcrafted, bespoke fragrances. Real perfume lovers take great pride in understanding the art of perfumery and being known by the scent that they wear. In a world of mass-produced products, signature scents take personalization to a whole new level and give perfume connoisseurs the opportunity to convert memories and emotions into exclusive scents.
What’s next for Ne’emah?
Ne’emah will soon be known for more than just fragrances. From essential oils to bath products and gift sets, there’s a lot in store for us. Ne’emah will also soon be available in stand-alone boutiques across various locations globally.
Ne’emah products are available at Sephora stores across the GCC.