A curtain-raiser to the most scentsational night of the year.
SShahzad Haider, chairman of Fragrance Foundation Arabia, is wearing three different colognes when he meets Friday, but he won’t say which ones. ‘I can’t be seen promoting one brand over another,’ he demurs, but declares that layering is all the rage in 2015.
‘In Arabian culture, a unique fragrance has historically been seen by both men and women as a way of expressing individuality and identity,’ he explains. ‘So there is a trend of not wearing just one brand – which might be recognisable to others – but mixing and matching to create something personal.’
Perhaps he sees Friday subconsciously sniff the air, but after a pause he continues. ‘The result can be some beautiful smells. If you ever go into an elevator after an Arab gentleman, for example, it can be a wonderful experience for the nose.’
Wonderful experiences for the nose are what Shahzad has been an expert in since 2008, when he founded Fragrance Foundation Arabia, an umbrella organisation that supports the region’s cologne, eau de toilette and perfume industry through marketing, promotion, research and education. It is an offshoot of a group first established in New York City in 1949 by such odour luminaries as Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Coco Chanel.
And, at this time of year, all eyes (or should that be all noses?) turn to Shahzad. That’s because we are in the run-up to the foundation’s Fragrance Awards, also known as the Middle East’s fragrance Oscars.
At a glittering dinner and ceremony at the Madinat Jumeirah on November 11, the region’s finest fragrances will be celebrated. Some 200 products will compete to be named the best in 15 different categories including Arabian prestige male fragrance of the year, Arabian prestige female fragrance of the year, niche fragrance of the year, popular fragrances of the year and exclusive collection of the year. The big names hoping to be honoured will include Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Arabian Oud and Oud Elite.
The event will be presented by none other than Raya Abirached, the hugely popular presenter of MBC’s entertainment show, Scoop with raya. In short, it promises to be an evening of scented excellence.
‘This is the sixth year [of] these awards and it’s always a great evening,’ says Shahzad, who set up the foundation because he realised there was nothing like it here, even though Arabia is one of the biggest fragrance markets in the world. ‘Winning is a huge deal for manufacturers and brands because not only are they recognised as brilliant creators, it also has a huge impact on sales.
‘I can’t mention names but one winner in 2013 reported an increase in sales of 43 per cent after winning an award. That’s massive.
‘But it’s also a big deal for customers and perfume lovers. The fragrances that win aren’t necessarily the ones that have had the biggest marketing budgets or advertising campaigns. They are judged purely on how they smell and how beautifully they are presented in their bottles. That means we cut through all the hype to get to the best so people looking to buy a new fragrance can be sure the winners are really special indeed.’
Cinnamon, vanilla, patchouli flower and leathery notes – these are the in-vogue ingredients dominating Middle East fragrances at the moment. Floral and subtle are out, strong and imperious in. Such essences are expected to feature heavily among the perfumes nominated this year. ‘The Middle East is a unique
market for perfumes and colognes,’ says Shahzad, who (strangely perhaps) has only about six or seven colognes himself. ‘That uniqueness is partially because more than anywhere else in the world, fragrance is used as an expression of personality. But it’s also because of the weather. When it’s this hot, your perfume needs to be a little stronger, while not being too overpowering. That leads to some beautiful creations.’
How the winners will be picked is divided into two parts. Four will be put to an online vote, while the other 11 will be chosen by judges 10 days before the ceremony. The panel – a dozen experts from across the industry and region – will gather in a room to sniff and debate and includes Friday editor Karen Pasquali Jones; Ali Jaber, TV director of MBC and judge on Arabs Got Talent; Menno Oosterhoff, managing director of P&G Prestige, Middle East and Africa; Serge Kotovsky, president of perfume manufacturer Creation; Mai Badr, editor-in-chief of Hia
Magazine; and Lina Samman, an international brand ambassador.
‘It’s always an intense day because the judges are passionate about this,’ says Shahzad. ‘I wouldn’t say there are arguments, but there certainly are some lively discussions before we reach a conclusion.’ Last year, the judges marked each nominated product out of three for overall presentation, uniqueness, personality, memorability, packaging, innovation and bottle design, and a similar format will be followed this year.
Ali will sit at the head of the jury. ‘Fragrance to me signifies an emotional connection and a strong cultural identity,’ he told Friday. ‘My earliest memory of a perfume is the one my dad used to spray. It was Paco Rabanne. I still love that smell.’ Fellow judge Menno says he likes the afternoon. ‘I am used to smelling several fragrances every day,’ he notes. ‘But I really enjoy this process. It is very invigorating.’
Previous winners of the titles include Dolce & Gabbana Velvet Desert Oud (Arabian prestige male), Gucci Oud (Arabian prestige female), Montblanc Emblem (international prestige male) and Hugo Boss – Boss Nuit (international popular appeal female).
‘These were all worthy winners,’ says Shahzad. ‘So whoever takes the crowns this year will be in prestigious company.’
From left: Shahzad Haider, chairman of Fragrance Foundation Arabia; Raya Abirached, TV presenter; and Ali Jaber, TV director at MBC
The judging panel includes Ali,
Friday editor Karen Pasquali Jones and Shahzad