The craft of perfumery is an essential part of Muslim culture. Arabian perfumes were refined and revered even as early as the early 16th century. In Shakespeare’s MacBeth written in 1606 Lady MacBeth cries out, “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” as she attempts to remove all trace of a stain left by a criminal act.
The reputation of Arabic perfume as a means of eradicating unwanted smells has been lifted to an entirely different level. Today the most skilled perfume makers in Europe are being increasingly influenced by the extensive repertoires of Arabian scents with once taboo ingredients being used by the main perfume houses. In addition to unusual combinations, knowledge of how to combine rare or temperamental elements has been learned by Western “noses” who must strive for something new every few month.
This is something the Arab market is adept at coping with. While in Europe fifty years ago the launch of a perfume was a once every five year event, and a woman would stay with one perfume all her life. the Gulf has no such qualms about searching for something new to wear to a wedding.
Arab fragrance is not usually for the faint-hearted, it makes a statement and it is worn to be noticed by those who are in the vicinity of the wearer. Perfume also has a prominent physical position in the house with bottles containing a selection of perfumes available for visitors to use.
Perhaps one of the most famous novels devoted to the subject of scent, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, examines in graphic detail the influence of scent on our lives
“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”
Coco Chanel’s comment, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” is more than matched by Christian Dior’s words. “A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting ” – the latter becoming ever more relevant as social media removes the need to apply pen to paper.
The oldest perfumer in the Gulf, Junaid Perfumes, first opened in the souq in Manama with a phial of perfume that had no name. (Junaid Perfumes)
This is where it all began over a hundred years ago. Syed Junaid Alam began mixing his own perfumes in a small shop in the Souk in Manama, Bahrain influenced by his mother.
While he was still very young, these concoctions had no name but as Syed established himself he began dealing with some branded perfume oils from European manufacturers to add variety to his repertoire.
Today the same family keeps its fragrance secrets close to its heart revealing only that many scents have ‘oud at their heart.
Such has been the increase in demand for fragrances that with ever smaller differences between the actual scents, the bottle is very important in setting up the story of a fragrance.
Junaid Perfumes have created thousands of scents since they first began. They have seen changes not only in perfume tastes but also in the type of client that comes into the shop with young Bahrainis preferring the shopping malls, whereas foreigners seek out an authentic Arabian adventure and like to browse the souk.