Scent is part of a daily life in the Middle East, used for both religious and secular purposes. Launched 2010 by Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, grandson of the 10th emir of Kuwait, The Fragrance Kitchen or TFK blends that unique culture with the expertise of some of the top noses in the world.
If you have any residual expectations of how a sheikh should look and behave, Al-Sabah defies every one of them. Sitting in Selfridges, where the brand launched its first UK outpost, Al-Sabah is trim and alert, with a restless, far reaching intelligence. He is a compelling presence, both in real life and on social media where he has 222K Instagram followers, 1.6M on Snapchat.
‘In the Middle East, people love newness,’ he says. ‘They love diversity and change. We want that to communicate [that aspect] of the Middle East to the world – the young, fun, approachable face. That is the key to the collection: what Middle Eastern people like not just in terms of ingredients but newness.’
An element of playfulness permeates the brand. Bottle design is bright and modern, white etched with strong graphic illustrations. Names come an original source: ‘I gave my three daughters a list of ingredients and asked them to come up with names for the fragrances,’ smiles Al-Sabah. ‘Because the imagination of kids is far beyond ours. So we’re having fun developing the collections. The world needs fun, young, twisted, diverse fragrances. We’ve filled that gap.’
His love for fragrance started young, with his grandmother: ‘She’s not a chemist,’ he smiles. ‘She’s a pure perfumeur. She goes with her senses and her nose. I watched her blending the oils and started making my own.’
He created his own bespoke fragrance in his 20s when, ever the entrepreneur, he launched Villa Moda, a luxury bazaar that offered – and, in some cases, introduced – Kuwaiti customers to brands such as Fendi, Marni, Ferragamo and Prada. Al-Sabah commissioned Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Pucci to create a line of caftans for Villa Moda, which were later styled and shot in Kuwait by the late Isabella Blow.
‘I wore my fragrance to shows, meetings, parties,’ remembers Al-Sabah. ‘People would ask me what I was wearing but I didn’t have the confidence to develop my own brand.
That was to come – when Al-Sabah met Tom Ford as the designer was leaving Gucci. ‘He liked my blend and so I said, how about collaborating on a fragrance?’he says. The result was Arabian Wood, launched in 2008 for the Kuwaiti market but soon becoming one of the top three bestselling fragrances in the world.
TFK is his own brainchild and today, the brand can be found at Bergdorf Goodman, Nieman Marcus, across the Gulf and now in Selfridges and Avery Perfume Gallery. Six lines express its founder’s diverse interests: from Exclusive, ‘narrative-driven’ scents and My, blends prepared with some of the finest noses in the world, to Self Portrait, tributes to inspirational artists. To coincide with the UK launch, TFK has created an exclusive scent, Spike Odyssey. Strong, woody, leathery, the scent was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and, topically, Bowie’s Space Oddity.
How does Al-Sabah see his label developing? ‘I want diversity,’ he says. ‘And not diverting into the conventional traditional ways in which you see the brand turned into scented candles and skincare. We come up with an experimental project every six months. In the first six months, we decided to convert the top four bestselling fragrances in the range into chocolate, shaped like blotters, because blotters are the foundation of the fragrance industry.’ If this is the sense of playfulness the Sheikh celebrates in his label, there’s lots left to come.