Like Christina Ong and Mohammed Fayed, 43-year-old Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, the name behind new perfume brand the Fragrance Kitchen, is a global player in the luxury retail market. If you don’t know his name, you may know that of the Middle Eastern upmarket department store he founded back in 2002 – Villa Moda – developed into a 10-store empire and then sold in 2009 so that he could embark on his next project: scent.
“Fragrance is my personal passion, while luxury retail is my business passion,” he says, adding, with a Chekhovian twist, “Luxury retail is my wife, while fragrance is my girlfriend.”
It’s arguable that we don’t need another growing niche perfume brand, and that niche is becoming as cynical and commercial as the mainstream, but Sheikh Majed doesn’t seem bothered by that. Perfume, he says, had an important part in his upbringing: incense was constantly burning, fragrance suffused the air in his home and his grandmother was fond of blending oils. Indeed, wealthy Middle Eastern families often concoct their own distinctive perfume blends, “like French châteaux with wine”, he explains.
If so, he is launching with a full vineyard. There are 36 “signature line” perfumes (£100 each) and 17 “exclusive line” perfumes (£150 each) in the Fragrance Kitchen offering, and some further “handmade” editions with bottles created by young design luminaries. In addition, one new scent will be introduced every month. Traditional Middle Eastern ingredients such as rose, musk and amber feature heavily: Son Of A Rose, for example, is a fleshy, spicy, full-bodied rose with a real heft to it; Pass the Amber is a pure, dry wood.
Indeed, it’s possible to see the Fragrance Kitchen as the final expression of a contemporary trend. Anyone with a passing interest in perfumery can’t have failed to notice the huge influence of Middle Eastern scents recently. The ingredient Oud, once a precious and rare extract only used in regional blends, has become ubiquitous in the past few years, with everyone from Jo Loves to Illuminum to Tom Ford and Givenchy making use of it.
“Oud has become to perfumery what the It bag is to fashion,” Majed says. If so, he’s bidding to be the Birkin.