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Asghar Adam Ali: the perfumer

Nabeel Perfume’s Asghar Adam Ali (Al Attar) learnt to mix oils at home as a kid, and now runs a multimillion-dirham global empire

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Asghar Adam Ali.
Friday

A perfumer sounds exotic – how did you become one?

My family has always been involved in the perfume business, so I’ve been exposed to perfumes and their ingredients since I was a child. My father was an excellent perfumer. My mother, who comes from an Arab background, used to blend her own perfumes, and test them on me. I loved it! Eventually I realised I was naturally gifted with a sharp ability to be able to smell and judge a good perfume as well as memorise the fragrance.

How long was it before you created a bestseller?

When I started, I had a limited array of ingredients due to budget constraints. 
I experimented with what was easily available and affordable, mostly Indian ingredients. I used to blend mukhallat (a mixture of pure oils such as Dehn Al Oudh, rose, musk, sandalwood and amber, combined to create a perfume oil) and kept trying until I found the best formula. After several trials, I created an industry bestseller, Bakhoor Nabeel. Even today, after 20 years, it’s still very popular.

Where do you draw your inspiration for fragrances from?

I travel a lot, so different places abroad are an inspiration, and so is Dubai. I created a range of perfumes – The Spirit of Dubai – to do it justice. Meydan smells like leather, Oud like the traditional scent of Arabia, Rimal like the desert, Bahar like the sea and ocean, and Abraj smells like Dubai’s high skyline. It’s my ode to an incredible city.

Are there seasonal scents?

Arabian perfumery doesn’t follow a seasonal approach. That’s more of a French fashion, where winter corresponds to a heavy scent and summers indicate a light and fresh fragrance. I believe in wearing your favourite perfume, any time of the year.

What are your favourite scents?

I can’t name any one favourite but I do appreciate every brand. To name a few, I like House of Chanel, Creed, Tom Ford and Kilian.

What is the most amazing fragrance you have ever smelt?

I have access to very exotic ingredients today, but I still think pure Indian agarwood oil beats them all.

Perfumes can alter your mood, can’t they?

Yes – they have the power to put you in a pleasant state of mind and energise you. 
For instance, when I wear our Dubai Oud, it invokes a sense of nostalgia, which is not surprising as it is based on Arabian tradition and the sense of honour and hospitality. It infuses a positive note.


What is the best way to apply perfume?

It can be applied on the wrist, behind the ears, on your collarbone, clothes and so on. Applying a scent is a ritual. It is best to apply perfume before you get dressed. The key pulse points such as behind the ears and the wrists are well known. However, there 
are a number of other areas that can be effective, such as behind knees and in the crease of the elbow, where the natural heat of the skin slowly releases the ingredients in the perfume.

Rubbing your wrists together after applying perfume on them can break down the notes of the scent, and so isn’t advisable. Layering a moisturiser or bath oil under your perfume can ensure a long-lasting scent. Before dressing, apply your fragrance on the pressure points mentioned above and let it dry naturally.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to succeed in your field?

Talent and drive is all you need. We started very humbly with a small shop, and then grew to establish our own manufacturing facility. We now offer products in more than 100 countries and have distribution offices in the US, UK, India and Australia, among others. We have outlets in most leading hypermarkets, besides our own retail chains all over the UAE and GCC. If your perfume is good, you have a vision and can communicate it to your team, and evolve a good distribution strategy, you are bound to succeed.

What’s the one perfume you wish you had created?

I’m still working towards making the perfect perfume.

Finally, how would you describe your style as a perfumer in three words?

Modern, innovative and experimental.

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