Scented Stories: Decoding the fragrance trends in the Middle East

Saudi Arabia and the UAE emerge as the dominant players, constituting the two major markets for perfumes and fragrances in the region

By Shweta Kinkale

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The stock photo is used for illustrative purposes
The stock photo is used for illustrative purposes

Published: Thu 29 Jun 2023, 6:28 PM

As traditional oud fragrances and international scents compete to be the top pick of perfume enthusiasts, we delve into the hidden formula behind the most sought-after perfumes in the region.

From setting aside dedicated budgets to always looking for exclusive scents, perfume consumers have created such a high demand in the region that, according to market projections, the fragrance industry in the Middle East is expected to attain a market value of $4.4 billion by 2027. Saudi Arabia and the UAE emerge as the dominant players, constituting the two major markets for perfumes and fragrances in the region.

Beauty buyers and fragrance experts believe that branding exercises have had a major impact on the purchasing decision of younger generations, including Gen Z and millennials. Niche brands, such as Frederic Malle, Creed, Memo Paris, Le Labo, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, By Kilian, and Byredo, have successfully fostered a cultural resurgence by crafting region-exclusive scents infused with notes of oud, amber, musk and myrrh.

That being said, traditional Arabic perfume has always stood the test of time, literally and figuratively, with age-old scents that last on clothing for up to two-three days. A brief stroll in Gold Souk, Dubai Mall, is proof for the aforementioned statement. Oud being the king of scents in the market is either sold as perfume mixed with ingredients like jasmine, peppermint, citrus fruits, almonds, aniseeds, cedar, animal fats and vegetable oils or in its purest form as ‘Dahn Al Oud’. These traditional perfumes not only attract the loyal locals, but also the souvenir-savvy tourists who want to get their hands on the liquid gold.

Local favourites, including Oud Elite, Arabian Oud, Taif Al Emarat and Ajmal Perfumes, have long been cherished by customers due to their assortment of incenses, authentic oud oils, bukhoor, and home fragrances. These brands have promoted the art of layering fragrances, which is native to the region — bukhoor for hair, oud oils on pulse points and perfumes on clothes is a ritualistic and cultural practice, which is now travelling abroad as well. International brands like Christian Dior (Oud Rosewood), Narciso Rodriguez (For Her), Memo Paris (African Leather) and numerous others are all encouraging the practice of adding fragrance to hair by crafting specially formulated hair mists.

As warm climates rule over the weather in the GCC region, a demand for stronger scents is evident in the purchasing pattern of consumers. Musky, woody and leathery scents are major players in the market, whereas countries located in the Mediterranean and the Levant region are experiencing a notable increase in the popularity of fragrances that incorporate refreshing and natural elements with a base of leather or wood.

‘Western scents’ have also had an influence on the experimental local consumer with summer-friendly ingredients, like tuberose, bergamot or cedarwood. However, according to a perfume expert at Sephora, “Nobody does fragrances like the Middle East does. Brands like Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, Acqua Di Parma, Guerlain and many others are all aping the (Middle) East. Oud is way more than a single note or an ingredient in these perfumes. It is the sole reason why international consumers prefer it over other common scents.”

Shweta is a Dubai-based beauty and fashion writer.

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