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Scents and Sensibility

Posted by vmsalama on July 11, 2008

Vivian Salama

The National | July 08. 2008 9:40PM UAE

Throughout history Arabs have used fragrance as a form of art, a symbol of reverence and a token of beauty. In the 13th century the Sufi Arab mystic, Ibn Arabi, wrote in his masterpiece, Pearls of Wisdom, “of all the worldly goods, three things are dearest to my heart: perfume, women and prayer”. 

Centuries earlier, the art of perfume-making was documented on the walls of the tomb of Petosiris by ancient Egyptians, who used different scents for everything from hygiene and prayer to animal sacrifice and mummification. When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened some 3,300 years after his death, the scent of perfume could still be detected there.

Today perfume still plays an integral, albeit more subtle, role in Arab and non-Arab societies alike. And, with oils and fragrances ranging in price from a few dirhams to thousands of dollars, it is big business. Revenue from perfume sales in the Middle East is an estimated US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) a year, with the UAE accounting for one quarter of sales. 

“Unlike in other parts of the world the perfume industry here stems from the rich culture and heritage of the people of this region,” explained Salim Kalsekar, the managing director of Rasasi Perfumes in Jebel Ali.

Perfumes are the highest-grossing products at Dubai Duty Free, last year earning $122 million, or 14 per cent of total sales. Leading perfume makers estimate that their profit from sales in the city of Dubai is between three and five times greater than any other market in the region. Industry professionals estimate that each person in the GCC spends an average of $334 on perfumes and cosmetics per year.

“Call it an obsession or a love connection with fragrances,” said Abdulla Ajmal, the deputy general manager of Ajmal Perfumes. “In this part of the world it’s about individuality. Men wear the dishdash and women wear abayas. Their faces, whether via make-up or grooming, and their scent, are the clearest ways to exert their individuality.”

The global perfume industry is in a period of expansion and diffusion, with new fragrances, a new emphasis on bottle design, and the use of celebrity endorsement to boost sales.

A 2008 Euromonitor International report showed that global fragrance sales were worth $30.5bn in 2006. The French perfume industry commands a 40 per cent share of a global market in which the world’s emerging economies are becoming increasingly important. 

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