We Just Met the Most Interesting Man in Perfumery

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Some know Roja Dove as a perfumer with a knack for luxury scents, but to describe him this way would only scratch the surface of who the British-born, olfactory historian really is. His accomplishments alone qualify him as the most interesting man in the world of perfume. One of only 30 people to be an ambassador for Britain with record-breaking sales at Harrods, he has mastered the art of creating opulent scents that women can’t stop wearing. All that being said, the man behind the bejeweled bottles is just as luxuriously complex as his perfumes and their compositions.

Though he’s an olfactory encyclopedia, Dove is also a romantic in real life and knows that scent is more than just liquid in a bottle. It’s love, emotion, and all the beautiful parts of our memories. When working with the intangible, he has figured out how to describe his creations in a way that makes one fall for them before even taking a whiff. When Dove speaks of his work, it’s not just his words that tell a story – from his mannerisms to that youthful charm, his enthusiasm for each project helps each scent come to life.

With a vast knowledge of the craft and a vivid story behind each scent, Dove is part perfume historian, part olfactory storyteller. In this exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, he opens up about everything from his new boutique in The Dubai Mall to the common mistakes that women make when shopping for perfume.

Photo: Courtesy of Roja Dove

Can you tell our readers a little about how you got into the industry?
I fell in love with perfume when I was a young boy – around five or six. My mom came into my bedroom and gave me a goodnight kiss, and I remember noticing the smell of her perfume and face powder. It was the first time I made a connection with a person, a perfume, and a minute in time. I became fascinated with smell after that. Perfume, for me, has always had the ability to take me on a journey somewhere, away from where we are. I’ve often explained perfume as releasing a genie that takes you on a journey – you just need to go with it because you don’t know where you’ll end up. It could be somewhere fabulous.

After studying and working for an old French perfume house in the south of France, I realized it was something I had an aptitude for. In 2001, I started my own company, after which I was invited into Harrods. They asked me if I would like to open a perfumery – an odd request because I wasn’t a retailer – back when scent was all about marketing. Perfumes weren’t lasting a year in the market. If I had to explain it, it’s the difference between pret-a-porter and haute couture. It’s a haute perfumery. So we opened it, the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie. It was an enormous success, so much so that it has inspired a new floor of Harrods called Salon de Parfums.

With that success, when did you decide to launch your own line?
After my mom passed away in 2009, I realized I’d spent my life talking about other people and their work, so we launched in Harrods in 2011. I made enough stock for four to six months, but we sold out in ten days. Within six months, we were the number one selling brand in Harrods and still are the most successful launch in its history. We had no advertising and marketing, and that says David really can beat Goliath. I am proud that I do what I do the way I do it because it’s all I know.

What’s the creative process like?
The name is always the starting point of the creation. The original names, I dreamt up in my garden over a pot of tea. I came up with a list of names, scratched a lot of things out, and eventually saw which ones we could take. In the end, we had a list of names: ‘Scandal’, ‘Innuendo’, ‘Danger’, and so on.

What is a scandal?
A scandal is where people make a moral judgment about something and then tell a friend, that friend makes a moral judgment and they tell a friend. For there to be a scandal, there has to be volume. What raw materials have volume? White flowers; I use natural tuberose as the heart of the perfume. The flower is worth its weight in gold, and the oil you end up with is worth several times the weight of gold. ‘Scandal’ ensures that you’re always talked about, most likely because people are jealous of how fabulous you smell.

Speaking of fabulous smells, how can one find the right scent and are there any mistakes women make when they shop for perfume?
Going with a friend. Never go with a friend when you choose a perfume because it’s such a personal thing. If you love something, you know what suits you. If you go with a friend and she finds a scent horrible, she will really influence your perception of it. Scent is one of the most personal things to each of us because it’s about our own memories and our own life experiences.

Your friend might put you off something you might fall in love with and want to share your life with. Here’s what you should do: Never go with a friend. Always allow time and live with the scent. We’re so busy that we only snatch a minute to smell. You should allow time to really get a sense of it. That’s why we have this seating area, so that you can sit and take the time to help yourself find the fragrance. You’ll then wonder how you ever lived without it!

How did you come to the region?
The first area we launched in after Britain was the Gulf. I worked here two weeks every month for three years, so I got to know the region – and its scents – very well. The very first oud I made is an homage to oud, rose, and saffron, the three major scents from the region. When my Middle Eastern clients come to me, they say “How do you know our smell?” I think that it’s only because I was here for so long that I understand it’s more than just oud.

Photo: Courtesy of Roja Dove

Can you give us some insights into the new boutique?
The one thing that I spent my professional life doing is coming to the region and personally training the staff. I do that all around the world, I always have. I think it’s essential that they hear the stories from me, and saying a little about what was going through my mind during the process of creation. Having a boutique here is another “pinch me” moment. I’m a long way away from my home, but it doesn’t feel like it here. We have, in my opinion, the best location you could have. All of this is very personal; I’ve put my life savings into creating a legacy for my family name and it turned into this extraordinary thing.

So who is the Roja Dove woman?
She is self-confident – whether she’s 18 or 80 – and young in terms of her approach to life. She’s current and doesn’t follow trends. She’s an individualist who loves luxury and to express her personality. I think that our brand is that. If you love this brand, you love it because the perfumes have something to say. You’re not getting it because it’s the coolest and latest thing, you’re buying it because of what it stands for.

What scent do you personally wear?
I wear a scent that I make for me – it just has my name on it. We didn’t sell it, then everybody wanted it. And like a petulant child, I’d say, “No, it’s mine.” In the end, I agreed and said I would make 25 bottles on my birthday, 25 for Britain, 25 for the rest of the world. If it sells, great. And if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. It did sell, so I now make 250 bottles for Britain and 250 for the rest of the world once a year. It’s one of the smallest editions.

That sounds impressive! What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
I got a call from 10 Downing Street, I took the call, and they invited me saying they wanted to make me an ambassador to the country. I’d say it is the greatest privilege of my working career. I am one of 30 people to represent the country as an ambassador for my creative work – yet another “pinch me” moment.

Lastly, what is your life motto?
Please don’t take me seriously, because I don’t!

Roja Dove Parfums is located on the second floor of ‘Fashion Avenue’ in The Dubai Mall. 

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