Many of our most powerful memories are formed through our sense of smell. Think of the distinct aroma of the ocean air or a favorite dish — brings you right back to the scene, doesn’t it? The phenomenon occurs because the pathways through which our brains process scent, memories and emotions are closely intertwined. So, what could be more special than coming home from a vacation in the kingdom with a fragrance featuring local essences to help you relive your trip time and time again?
Fragrance has been part of Middle Eastern culture for centuries. In fact, it was Middle Eastern perfumers who perfected the commercial distillation of rose water around the seventh or eighth century. To this day, “a typical Saudi — male or female — wears fragrance daily,” says Abdullah Bahabri, founder of Nota Nota, a fragrance company that has combined 3D printing with the art of perfumery to create a personal perfume mixing machine that is available online and through select retailers in GCC countries.
Testing the aromatic oud oil
Bahabri explains that part of the inspiration for the company’s perfume-mixing machine is based on the way — and the quantity in which — Saudis consume fragrance: “In most Saudi homes, you’ll find several tolahs [small containers] of oud [derived from the wood of the agar tree] or Taif rose attar [fragrance oil],” he says. “Some people wear the oil against their skin and spray a different perfume on their clothes.” (Bahabri likes to wear a dab of Taif rose with a spritz of his favorite Christian Dior fragrance on top!) Burning oud is also a tradition practiced in almost every home in Saudi Arabia; during Eid, it is customary to fill the home with this scent while receiving visitors. Many people also wear oud oil when they go to Eid prayers.
Arabian oud attar perfumes or agarwood oil fragrances in mini bottles
Back to the Nota Nota machine, which took three years to develop and allows users to mix up to 42 5-milliliter samples from a variety of different fragrance notes — including popular Saudi aromas such as the aforementioned oud and Taif rose, as well as the essence of a juniper tree from the Asir region. (Once you’ve concocted your favorite blend, you can order a full-size bottle of it through the company, which may then be refilled to your heart’s content.)
For a slightly less hands-on but also customizable experience, visit Abdul Samad Al Qurashi. The famous Saudi fragrance house has deep roots and specializes in oud fragrances and incense. Abdul Samad Al Qurashi founded his eponymous perfumery in 1932 and has handed the business down through the generations of his family.
Today, there are more than 500 ASQ stores throughout the world, offering incense, fragrances, colognes, balms and perfumes for hair and body. The products are all packaged in beautiful glass bottles, which make them a stunning souvenir or present (scents are often given as gifts when visiting friends or family in the kingdom; oud wood itself may be tucked into the same boxes as presents for special occasions like weddings and engagements).
And finally, for a more intimate experience, check out O100° (pronounced “oh one hundred degrees,” which refers to the evaporation point of an essence during the distillation process, according to Wyndonelly David, the boutique’s brand manager). Opened in 2015, O100° offers a staff well-versed in the art of perfumery and the history of fragrance, as well as some of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious scents, including those from Byredo, Le Labo and Diptyque. A visit to one of the two boutiques in Riyadh is a history lesson on the enduring heritage of perfumery in the kingdom and a shopping excursion in one.
Concept stores, which offer traditional items (such as fragrance oils and perfume) and more contemporary ones (for example, niche fashion accessories and home decor) all under the same roof are springing up all over the kingdom. Click here for more unique shopping experiences in Saudi Arabia.
— By Didi Gluck