How perfumes came to be associated with luxury? The answer is: ‘Nobody knows.’ However, we do have the Clive Christian No 1 Imperial, released in 2005 at $205,000 for 500 milliliters. Shamukh is another luxurious fragrance costing $1,295,000 for three liters. The result of three years of research and 494 perfume trials, the perfume is contained in an Italian Murano crystal bottle, which is adorned with a gold falcon, Arabian horses, roses and a globe, contains 3,571 diamonds, giant pearls, 2.5 kilograms of 18-karat gold and 5.9 kilograms of pure silver.
The list could go on, but I’d rather stop with the world’s first one-million-dollar perfume, the 100 ml DKNY Golden Delicious floral-spicy-woody eau de parfum presented in an exquisite yellow and white gold bottle adorned with 2,700 diamonds and 183 yellow sapphires.
Do these super perfumes exist to tantalise us with the ultimate, unrestrained hedonistic possibilities that we may superimpose on existence?
Whatever the case may be, the Arab region, especially the Sultanate, is known for its people’s strong affinity to fragrances. Globally, the region logs the highest per capita spending on premium fragrances.
And it’s natural. With Dhofar in Oman remaining a key hub of frankincense trade for over 6,000 years, Omani life is inextricably linked to vibrant scents. Beyond frankincense, the land’s aromatic landscape is made of premium bakhoor (scented wooden chips), oud (made from agarwood), powdered flowers, essential oils, ground seashells, and others.
Bakhoor has been extensively used — burnt daily — in Omani homes not just to add fragrance to the ambience, but to ward off evil spirits and bad luck as well. It seems there are specific bakhoors that suit particular seasons, functions and even individual moods.
While the tiny ornamental orchard of Boswellia sacra (the purest and most appreciated frankincense found only in Oman as against the 25 or so frankincense species grown elsewhere) at the Museum of Frankincense is an ode to the land’s love for the sublime fragrance, the soul-comforting Frankincense Reserve at Wadi Dawkah that boasts over five thousand trees points to a culture that is steeped in a divine, woody fragrance. Some consider that the frankincense trees in the crannies of Jabal Samhan, Dhofar’s highest mountain, is the best.
No wonder, Dhofar used to be known as Arabia Felix, meaning “Happy Arabia” in Latin, indicating the rich and luxurious life Dhofari people led thanks to a thriving frankincense trade, and also the cool climate of the region.
So highly regarded were these frankincense trees by the locals of Dhofar that foreign visitors to the region had been made to believe that Dhofar’s mists are toxic and the frankincense groves are fiercely protected by fire-spewing flying serpents.
History tells us that Oman’s frankincense trade reached its zenith before World War II. During that period as many as three thousand families used to harvest nearly six thousand tonnes of frankincense annually.
Even today the perfume industry is thriving in the Sultanate. However, it has just a single international fragrance brand: Amouage. It was founded in 1983 towards nourishing the Omani frankincense industry supported by the tools and techniques available at a modern perfumery. Sold in bottles featuring designs that link to Omani culture and heritage, Amouage uses some 120 ingredients to create some of the world’s most expensive perfumes.
But is frankincense potentially allergenic, at least to some? Yes, feels the International Fragrance Association. Thus, to target the international audience, Amouage makes premium fragrances that are completely non-allergenic; and they use synthetic molecules instead of the wild frankincense to create perfumes for the global market.
The perfume makers and lovers of the Sultanate had something to celebrate in 2017, when its own Oman Luxury Fragrances Co, founded by Mutassim Rashid al Hinai, Muadh Majid al Sinawi and Ahmed Yahya al Aisari — three enterprising Omani nationals who believed in the country’s fragrant soul, bagged awards at the ‘Fragrance Foundation Arabia’ 2017 competition held in Dubai: One for the ‘Best Arabian Male Fragrance of the Year’, and the other for the ‘Best Social Media Marketing Campaign’.
It may be noted that Fragrance Foundation Arabia is a chapter of global entity The Fragrance Foundation (TFF) that has almost all the renowned international fragrance and cosmetic brands under its fold. Oman Luxury Fragrance Co uses only authentic Omani incense, spices, narcissus, jasmine, basil and others to make its premium perfumes.
The Perfume and Luxury Show Oman, to be held in the first week of December, is but a natural extension of Oman’s rich fragrance-inspired culture and history. The event is expected to offer a great platform for the perfume and fashion industry’s ultra-luxury retailers and brands to network, explore opportunities and engage with the Sultanate’s fragrance-obsessed people.