Did you know that people in the Middle East are some of the world's biggest spenders on fragrances? When in Dubai, make sure you get acquainted with this fundamental part of Arabian culture by discovering its unique and intoxicating mix of luscious scents.
It's customary for Arab men and women to ritualise the act of applying and layering scents. They often start by soaking their hair and clothing in bakhoor (incense of wood chips infused in perfumed oil), before layering different oils onto their skin and finishing off with a spritz of perfume. While you don’t have to do all of this yourself, bringing home a bespoke fragrance certainly makes for a thoughtful gift, if not a nice souvenir for yourself.
Ignite your senses at the perfume souk
A 20-minute drive north from Millennium Plaza Hotel Dubai, one of the city’s most central and luxurious hotels, is the Dubai Perfume Souk – a mecca for all things fragrant. Be prepared for an olfactory overload as you discover stall after stall of incenses (in crystal, powder, rock and wood forms); exotic Arabian perfume oils; intricate handmade perfume bottles and jars; and essential oils made with frankincense, myrrh, jasmine and bergamot. Most of the shop owners are practised in creating custom fragrance blends that meet a client's needs, skin type and personality. The perfumes are accessibly priced, but make sure you bargain.
An introduction to traditional scents
Like the Dubai Perfume Souk, perfume shop Malik al Oud offers traditional fragrances made in-house. The store, which has two locations in Dubai, is the ideal place to pick up the basics for experimenting with fragrance layering at home. Unlike Western fragrances, which already have base, middle and top notes built in, Arabic fragrances are traditionally layered on manually. Malik al Oud offers an abundant selection of incenses, fragrances, top-grade rose oils and more than a dozen varieties of oud (agarwood oil) – the base of all fragrance layering in the Middle East.
Shopping for bespoke fragrances
If you're up for a bit of a splurge, visit Parfum Monde, a luxurious emporium sprawling 20,000 square feet. It's dedicated to all things sweet smelling, with a small perfume bottling factory; a lounge devoted to scents from the Orient; a VIP area; a large shop offering designer fragrances from around the world; and a perfume bar where you can create your own scent. Use your imagination to craft your own aroma or take advantage of the in-house fragrance specialists’ expertise. All perfume bottles created here are engraved with the client's name as an added luxury.
Villa 515 brings bespoke fragrances to the next level. Founded by an Emirati entrepreneur, designed by a Dutch creative and led by the nose of an Italian perfumer, the result is a marriage of Middle Eastern and Italian fragrance styles. Although it carries limited-edition luxury fragrances by the likes of Maria Lux, Nasomatto and YOSH, the stars at Villa 515 are its bespoke fragrances. The beautiful shop also houses a perfume laboratory, which churns out only a few bottles of custom fragrances each year. The recipe of each concoction is truly yours as your blend is never revealed or sold to anyone but you. Looking for an equally luxurious hotel room to retreat to at the end of your shopping spree? Check out Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ Dubai accommodation options.