A cur­tain-raiser to the most scent­sa­tional night of the year.

Friday - - Contents -

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

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