Interviewing Roja Dove
Posted on April 04 2019
Interview with the internationally renowned fragrance specialist and perfumer, Roja Dove of Roja Parfums and Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie.
With almost forty years of experience in fragrance, I had the great pleasure of meeting with Master Perfumer Roja Dove at his opulent flagship store in Burlington Arcade, Mayfair. Sitting down with one of the most exceptional noses in the world, we discussed the importance of fragrance, not only for an individual but for the home and Dove's impressive journey to the internationally recognised and highly sought after perfumer that he is today.
When was it that you first realised that you had a passion for fragrance and perfume?
I fell in love with perfume when I was very small. I was about six or seven years old and my mother came into my bedroom to tuck me in and give me a kiss goodnight. My mother was going to a cocktail party and I remember she was wearing a very glamorous evening dress and as she kissed me goodnight, I remember the smell of her face powder and the smell of her perfume. That was the first time that I made some sort of connection between scent and a moment in time. When she left the room, this image of her, my ordinary mother had having been metamorphosed somehow by the way she was dressed and the glamour of her scent. Very quickly, I became fascinated by perfume and scent and I think that they suggested a world which was very attractive, a glamorous world, one of fantasy.
How did your career in perfume begin from this passion and your talents develop?
I was offered a job by one of the most highly respected French perfumery houses which were owned by three cousins and one day, one of the cousins asked who I was because I had been writing to the subsidiaries of the brand across the world. They had to contact one man every time to check if they could give the information to me. You have to bear in mind that this time was pre-email so he would constantly be getting phone calls from the subsidiaries around the world and he said that I would be less of a nuisance to be in the company rather than being out of it. I don’t know if it would happen today, but I had the enormous good fortune that I was offered a job by this company. I went off to learn about perfumery and was sent down to the south of France to start to learn about the raw materials. I was introduced to a wonderful Scottish woman called Nancy McConkey who in her day was a very famous perfumer, her perfumes were a huge success. I could not believe that I was suddenly in front of a very famous perfumer and that I was seeing all these raw materials being worked on and that really was it, I fell under scent’s spell.
You now have your own brand 'Roja Parfums' which is known all around the world. How did you go from working in the industry to launching your brand?
After working in the business for twenty years, I left as the company was purchased by a large corporation. I was approached by a very lovely man that I had originally met at a function. He asked if I could make a perfume for an auction for the Terrence Higgins Trust, which has an auction once a year at Christie's. I had an idea that if I could get one of the crystal houses to blow me an empty bottle, the bottle could be put up for auction and that I could make the scent for whoever bought It. I had a very specific bottle in mind which was designed for the 1925 decorative arts fair and knew the Head of Design and Communication at Baccarat which potentially had the mould for it. After locating the mould, they very kindly blew me this bottle, which was put up for auction against a Mercedes sports car and a holiday in the Maldives and my perfume fetched the most money. I was very happy and proud that it was supporting a charity, but it made me realise that people cared about how the smelt, enough that they wanted to have their perfume made. The lucky bit was that the partner of the person that purchased the bottle decided that they needed to have a perfume made for themselves, so I got my first main client. This was how I came back into perfumery through bespoke.
Many people will associate your name with Harrods. How did this develop to the point that you now have an association with the Salon de Parfums on the Sixth floor of the department store?
Around the same time, I was invited into Harrods where they discussed opening a perfumery. The concept that came to me was to draw up a list of brands that I loved, and thought was great, selecting perfume creations from them that was the best. I explained to the houses that I wanted to create a celebration of perfumers and that I was only looking to feature specific products, not the full collections, something that had never been done in the industry before. With the huge power of Harrods, the most important store in the world financially and for the status of a brand, it was the first time I realised that people were starting to take me seriously. For a large global brand to break its international policy was not a small thing. The impact that this new perfumery had on the global market was enormous, so much so that Harrods has now developed an entire floor to the concept that we had created and that you can visit today. Roja Parfums was the first brand to be given a space on the floor which we created a consultation room we named ‘Salon de Parfums’, a name that has now been given to the entire floor.
When you started your business, you only created bespoke fragrances for individuals. What was the inspiration behind developing your range of perfumes?
In 2009, my mother died. This was the main inspiration behind me creating a range of perfumes which launched in 2011. My mother had told me that she was sad that my generation of the family would be where the family name would die out. As a gay man, I was never going to produce children or grandchildren for her. I decided that, if I launched perfumes and that if they were successful, I could leave a legacy and that the family name can carry on this way. On the back of every bottle in the smallest writing, it says, ‘A fragrance by Roja Dove’ and it is there as a legacy. We launched in on 2nd July 2011. Having never made a commercial perfume before, I asked the head of merchandise “how much do I make, what is a lot for Harrods?” She informed me that if I made a certain number of bottles that it would last between 4-6 months. We sold out of every piece of stock in ten days. There was no advertising and it became the most successful launch in Harrods history. We are still the most successful brand by way of revenue in that store, something which I am very proud of.
The designs of your bottles have become an icon in their own right. How do you create a container that encapsulates the luxury of one of your perfumes?
Luxury, to me, is about never compromising on the detail. There are many design elements to our perfume bottles that have not been compromised to create the desired look. The caps and the plaques for our bottles are dipped in gold. We do it so that they do not have that brassy finish. The cap design originally comes from my diamond ring. I was told that the design I created would be impossible to make and that no company would make it due to its difficulty. Not to be deterred, we managed to achieve it, though it takes much longer to create. The cap takes five days to make as every side of crystals needs to set before the next set are added. The time adds more cost and whilst many companies may choose to remove the side crystals, it would not have the look that I wanted to achieve.
We also line all of our boxes in pure silk crepe de chine. When I was eighteen, I went into a shop called Joshua Tailors in Cambridge. I saw a shirt and fell in love it. The woman that was serving told me it was silk crepe de chine. At the time, I had no idea what was, but it sounded gorgeous. When I put my arms into this silk shirt, I was surrounded by luxury and loved the concept of it. People may not even realise this detail however, I know that it is silk and not a piece of rayon that you often see used with brands.
When you create a bespoke fragrance, you build it with that individual and their tastes in mind. How does this change when creating a fragrance for your brand?
A type of person, a personality trait or even the name of the person can be a source of inspiration. For example, if you take my perfume with the name ‘scandal’, what causes a scandal? Sex, money or a combination of both? A scandal has to come about by me hearing or reading something, making a moral judgement and then telling someone about it. If you make the same moral judgement, then you will tell someone else so more and more people hear it. There is a lot of volume to a scandal. When I created the scent, I used an ingredient that costs more than gold; tuberose, to relate to the money part. The sexual part comes from the other white flowers used in the perfume that produce indole, creating the overall scent.
There are many more unisex fragrances now. Are we seeing gender attachments to scents change?
By association, we tend to think of flowery notes as being very feminine and we think of mossy, woody notes as being masculine which really is reinforcing a Victorian stereotype. I am pleased to say that one of the biggest changes that have happened over the past ten years is that more scents do not say who they are made for than ones that do. We have about ten fragrances that say 'pour homme' out of a collection of fifty. I find it interesting that women will generally wear anything that they like, they are more liberated than men when a fragrance is concerned generally. In some parts of the world, and parts of this country, people still need to see the words ‘for men’ on something but that really is changing. It should be about wearing what you really like, that is something that our brand is about.
There is so much talk about home fragrance at the moment. What are your thoughts and should it be a continuation of what you are wearing?
Yes, of course. Two things I think should be taken into account are, of course, your taste in scent and will it end up fighting with how you naturally smell of sublimating it. The second is how you want your home to smell. I think most people when they are buying a candle buy it because of the smell of the candle, rather than the olfactive effect that it will have on the house. One of the things that we do is talk about creating a unique scent for your home by blending certain candles together. If you have three candles together, it creates a unique scent overall in the home but within each of the rooms one of the candles Is in, you want the effect to be a little less sensual.
I want to thank Roja Dove for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet and discuss his impressive story and the passion behind the brand. For further information on the brand and to view the full collection of fragrances and accessories, click to see the official Roja Parfums website.