Perfumes are a very personal thing. Anyone who’s ever been given a dud scent for their birthday will know a fragrance that doesn’t suit is at best a useless waste of shelf space and at worst just plain offensive. Many of us have our signature fragrance and it will take a brave (or foolish) person to try to prise it from our grasp, but that’s not to say you should let yourself get stuck in a rut – in one of the most fragrant regions on the planet, you would be missing out on a whole world of accessories. After all, perfumes can lift your spirits, make you stand out and give even the most simple of outfits an edge, and, whether you want to feel girly and pretty or powerful and mysterious, there’s a fragrance for every mood.
As the Middle East is the land of perfume, we decide to forgo the French for a day and venture into some of Dubai’s more traditional shops. Steering clear of the usual department stores with their gaudy geometric bottles, celebrity-endorsed aromas and even scents inspired by TV series (we’re looking at you, 24: The Fragrance), we pay a visit to Yas Perfumes, an established Emirati business that makes and stocks an enormous variety of scents. The staff give us an introduction to the more popular perfumes, showing bright bottles of French-Arabic blends, such as Flirt, a pink and pretty perfume with delicate packaging and sweet citrus scents (apparently popular with teenage girls), as well as the Musk collection – a deep and woody range of fragrances with a floral, fruity edge. While they also stock a variety of purely Arabic perfumes, the French-Arabic varieties comprise delicious aromas that are surprisingly palatable for Westerners and make an easy introduction to scents with a more local edge.
Moving on, we decide to stop by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi for a lesson in purely Middle Eastern perfumes. Rows and rows of ornate oil-filled bottles line the walls behind the oud-chip filled glass counters. And it’s not a simple case of spritzing your pulse points before a night on the town – this is perfume with a sense of occasion. We’re curious about the enormous metal burner (mabkhara) standing in one corner, and the friendly staff are more than happy to give us a demonstration (albeit in a scaled-down version) – putting a small circle of charcoal inside the burner and covering it with perfumed oud chips before setting it alight. As plumes of spicy, fragrant smoke billow around us, they explain that the burners are used in Middle Eastern homes to perfume hair and clothes – and we can certainly vouch for its effect, returning to the office with the warm scent clinging deliciously to our skin and hair. Of course, for those who like their perfume pre-prepared and flame-free, there are also hundreds of bottles lining the shelves. From intense, spicy scents to crisp, cool fragrances, the range is surprisingly vast; contrary to popular belief, it’s not all heavy, overbearing odours (although if that’s what you’re after the Black Musk is about as powerful as it gets). We sampled a few varieties, with the sharp edge of the Amber and the clean, refreshing fragrance of the Saudi Rose sticking in our memories.
Next time you find yourself in the market for a new perfume, rather than straying into the mammoth Paris Gallery for a fruity French fragrance try exploring something a little more local – you might be surprised by what you find.
Yas Perfumes, The Dubai Mall, (04 434 0180); Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, WAFI (04 324 2002).
Dubai Perfume Souk
If you’ve fallen for the rich, lingering allure of Arabian scents and would like to pick up more for less, either as souvenirs or for layering options, try the Dubai Perfume Souk by Sikkat Al Khail street near the Gold Souk in Deira. There are several perfume shops (which seems enough to warrant the title of a ‘souk’) selling a great range of Arabic attar and oud, as well as plenty of incense burners. While there are a number of ready-made scents, a few owners are even open to creating a custom scent just for you. Just be prepared to haggle if you’re on a tight budget.