Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On the hunt for that fresh aroma

On the hunt for that fresh aroma
By Ivan Gale, Staff Reporter
Dubai: Abdullah Ajmal is a walking fragrance test strip.
As assistant general manager to Ajmal Perfumes, one of Dubai's largest perfume manufacturers, he regularly splashes on the latest scent in development and offers himself to the discerning judgement of friends, family and co-workers.
In the office, in the car, even, he'll douse himself with a "fresh coat" and makes sure he's wearing a jacket billowy clothes help the fragrance waft out.
The results range from the good, the bad and the smelly.
"I've been told a fragrance smells like dry paint or burnt plastic," said Abdulla, a gregarious man who on this day at the Ajmal factory suited himself in dark tones, with greased back hair and dot-com glasses the perfect representation of "urban chic" the company is trying to reach with its new line of scents.
But more often than not Ajmal Perfumes hits the right note, with nearly 100 retail outlets and revenues of $125 million last year.
The Middle East fragrance market has shown remarkable fortitude. The spicy, drunken luxuriousness of Arabic perfumes incorporate natural floral and resin scents discovered thousands of years ago, and were a major part of the $590 milion in GCC sales of perfume last year, according to International Cosmetic News-Middle East.
Last year the GCC fragrance market grew 17 per cent, led by sales in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Not one to be left behind, Ajmal has begun creating new fragrances that straddle the worlds of East and West as tastes change.
Ajmal's latest fragrances, Shadow and Teyf, have been outstanding successes; in three months on the shelves the pair have sold 30,000 bottles each, forcing the company to airlift supplies to keep pace with demand. The success of his two latest creations makes Abdullah proud. Seated in the Ajmal boardroom, he cocks his head to one side and a grin dawns on his face. "Hamdulillah, that's pretty good!"
Abdullah calls Shadow a modern man's classic cologne with a spicy Arabic enhancement. Teyf represents the oriental mystique, and includes the age-old Arabic ingredient, oudh.
Originating from only five nations worldwide, oudh is an oil produced by the Agarwood tree after a parasitic fungus attacks it. The tree is harvested and boiled down to extract the precious oil, which can sell for up to Dh3,000 for a tolla, or 11.3 grams. Ajmal Perfumes has patented the process of inoculating Agarwood trees with the fungus, ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of oudh.
Abdullah acknowledges the many responses to the quixotic scent. He describes oudh as "animalistic," "sweet," and "earthy." "One French perfumer said it smelled like horse, but he said he loved the stuff," he says.
At the Ajmal factory, one room is the Fort Knox of oudh. Squat round tanks hold priceless gallons of the stuff, with each jug representing a different source one from Indonesia, one from the Assam, the region in India where the Ajmal family originated. (Once they began making perfumes, it didn't hurt that their family name, Ajmal, means "most beautiful" in Arabic).
In the oudh room, no doors can hold the aroma in; one member of Abdullah's entourage during the tour retired to the hallway to rest her nostrils from the room's pungent power.
The two fragrances were three years in the making, twice as long as usual. Extra time was needed to design the transparent bottles, whose top chamber holds the potpourri representing the perfume's ingredients.
Both meet Abdullah's expectations for "urban chic," a growing customer segment for Ajmal. No longer satisfied as a niche player, Ajmal has set its sights on becoming a global brand.
"What we are trying to accomplish is to transcend the beliefs and preconceptions about us and get people to realise we are a fragrance house," he says.
"Yes we speciality in oriental, but what we are good at is making fragrances and we can make all sorts of perfumes," he adds.

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