Roja Dove at his Burlington Arcade store

A master creator of perfumes that evoke, mesmerise and uplift, Roja Dove is among the finest and few ‘noses’ of the world. In an engaging interview, he tells Anne Kurian about his first memory associated with fragrance, the creation of the brand, the art of wearing perfume and more…

  • Please tell us about your earliest memory associated with fragrances.

I remember when I was very young, maybe five or six years old, I was in my bed, my mother came to kiss me goodnight: she was standing at the entrance of my room in her golden cocktail dress, the light shining from the corridor made her glisten as if she was surrounded by a palpable aura, by a corona. Enchanted by the vision, as my mother came and kissed me goodnight, the smell of her scent together with one of her face powder pervaded me. It was at that moment that my life’s pathway was laid out before me.

  • Do you believe perfumes have the ability to make people happy? If yes, why do you say so?

Fragrance is one of the best things you can buy to make you feel good as each ingredient works on our subconscious, releasing hormones, which amongst other things give us energy, lift us from glumness, or enhance sensations of pleasure. Whilst fashion is often as unkind as nature and will do nothing for the feel-good factor, scent is un-judgmental, it is kind to everyone.

It is often said that our eyes are the windows to our soul. I believe them merely to be observers, whereas, our nose absorbs the world’s life essences. Since the dawn of civilisation, perfume has been with us, evolving within the complex fabric of the human psyche and culture. Scent is intangible. It can touch us, move us, and inspire our very being. It can transform us into seducers or seductresses, elevating and transporting us to an ethereal realm of memories and fantasies.

Unlike fashion and nature, fragrance disregards age, colour and vantage. As we age, our bodies start their slow inevitable decay, our skin starts to shout the truth however hard we try to silence it – our clothes betray the slow inevitable metamorphose we wish would not occur. Like a true friend, fragrance is loyal, non-judgemental and kind. Sit with someone and breathe in their scent and they give you one of the most beautiful of all gifts – the gift of memory. You may not have seen someone for years but, with one breath of their scent, the memories come flooding back. Fragrance has the ability to bring a smile to our lips, or tears from our eyes – it can both repel us and attract us.

  • How different are your Middle East clients to those in other parts of the world?

We have an enormous Middle Eastern clientele. Directly or indirectly, we supply almost every royal household in the Middle East. For three years, I spent a couple of weeks per month in the Middle East, where I started to learn as much as possible about Aoud. I would stay at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai, where they often held weddings. I could always tell by the smell of the bakhoor whether the wedding was a good one or an aspirational one.

Traditionally, Middle Eastern clients will mix Aoud into their skincare, bath or body products. Most will use Aoud as a base for other fragrances, due to its extraordinary ability to hold scent. My Middle Eastern clients can hardly believe that the Roja Parfums’ Aouds was created by a western perfumer. The greatest compliment I ever receive is when my Middle Eastern clients ask, “how do you know our smell?”

  • A signature fragrance or an array of choices. What would you suggest and why?

With a perfume when you wear it, it becomes not just part of your life but it becomes part of the life and the memories of everyone you know. I think it is great to have many fragrances for mood, etc, but I think there is little that beats being known and remembered, for having your own signature scent.

  • How should one choose and wear a fragrance?

The Roja Parfums collection is unusual as it is, I believe, the first time in the history of perfumery that someone has set about making a balanced palette of perfumes – something for every olfactory taste. It is the expression of my fundamental belief that there is a perfect perfume for everyone, but that every perfume cannot be perfect for everyone. So the collection takes a bespoke approach, adapted for a commercial range. These are my tips for shopping for a perfume:

Go it alone…never take a friend. You have your perfume agenda, they have one that’s completely different. Something you love on yourself, they may think doesn’t suit you at all. Contrary to what you may currently believe, it has little to do with how perfume develops on the skin. The idea that fragrances smell different on each individual is becoming a thing of the past; the more synthetics are used in the creation process the less individual the fragrance will smell. A fragrance has to suit a wearer’s personality.

Try lots…but how many can you try in one shopping day? More than you imagine if you take time. If you smell fragrances freshly sprayed your nose will tire after the third one or so. This is due to the alcohol content, which works like an anesthetic. It’s a bit like drinking three gin and tonics and still expecting to have razor sharp perception.

Smelling the perfume on paper on the ‘dry down’ (when the perfume has settled and the alcohol has evaporated) means you can smell fragrances all day without fatigue. Testing on paper is the only sane way to try a fragrance. It’s free from glues or binders and is as near to skin as is possible to recreate; the only thing missing is the warmth of the skin, so breathe out very hard on them to warm them up before you inhale.

Spray a few on blotter cards, turn them over to conceal the brand, and then smell them away from the perfumery department.

Smell them one at a time, comparing each one to the next, eliminating the one you like least of the two you’re comparing, then continue the process until you have only one or a maximum of two left, then turn the card to see which one has seduced you.

Always have unperfumed skin when going to buy a new scent, or the scents will fight against each other.

Now go back to the counter and spray one and only one on your skin. And it shouldn’t be a small squirt on your wrist. Spray it all over, then go away and sleep on it. A quick sniff is like flirting – just like a lover, it’s only when you spend the night together that you know if the relationship is going to work out or not.  If you’re still in love in the morning then buy it.

Applying your chosen scent is an art form. For those of you gaily dabbing it behind each ear, don’t it’s a cardinal sin. The sebum-producing glands will interfere with the perfume and alter the scent that develops. Instead wear it on your wrists, elbows and collarbone – don’t rub it in, just let the perfume unravel and work its magic on your individual canvas. A body lotion or cream with the same fragrance as your perfume a great way to make the odour last. Always apply your fragrance first and the lock it in with the lotion or cream afterwards – not only does this increase the lasting quality but the alcohol in the fragrance doesn’t break down the cream so the moisturising factor is maximised.

When to apply perfume – In the morning, but don’t do it in a rush as you’re running out of the door. Instead, spray on your perfume as soon as you’ve dried off after showering/bathing – before you’ve even stepped into the dress/suit. Your body heat will intensify the base notes of a fragrance so the sooner you apply it, the better.