Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah doesn’t give the impression of someone heavily invested in the fragrance industry; he’s tall and muscular and sports a shaved head with a tight-fitting shirt. But Al-Sabah’s The Fragrance Kitchen (TFK), founded in 2005, is an international fragrance powerhouse that caters to those who crave quality at $225 to $320 USD a bottle.
The Kuwait–based TFK, which was launched in memory of Al-Sabah’s grandmother, frequently uses ingredients like oud, Taif rose, and agarwood as an homage to her usage of them. Though the brand is based on past impressions, Al-Sabah and TFK are not antiquated at all—each year TFK keeps up with the pace of the fashion industry by launching between four to six new fragrances.
As well, each TFK bottle has a matte, opaque surface, and printed on the outside are graphic images, sometimes in bright colors like pink or lime green; at Bergdorf Goodman, where Al-Sabah had a press breakfast for his line and a bigger explanation of the brand, he spoke Arabic to his family on the phone, taking a selfie video for Snapchat while displaying the launch at Bergdorf Goodman. He has more than 1,600,000 followers on the platform and, in some countries, fans will stop you on the street after recognizing your face on his feed.
“I took the scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta, when they’re dancing,” says Al-Sabah with a smile, “I also took the inspiration from Beverly Hills’ palm trees and palm-print wallpaper. We called it Palm Fiction. It’s fresh, different.” It’s also a cheeky way to name a scent: It inspires a little off-script madness. The fragrance itself, with notes of pink pepper, bergamot, iris, rose, jasmine, patchouli, and musk, plays it a little safe, but it’s still fun enough to go dancing in.
Al-Sabah mentions his Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani fragrance, of which only 1,000 bottles were ever made, and only 300 are exclusive to Bergdorf Goodman. It’s the brand’s most recent launch, and one that conveys a certain elegance that Al-Sabah hopes will create a craze.
“When these bottles are gone, they’re gone,” laughs Al-Sabah. “So, we hope that they’ll do well here.” The Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani fragrance, which contains notes of ylang ylang, bergamot, oud, rose, leather, cedarwood, musk, patchouli, and moss, is certainly something of an oriental dream, and was of course named after the recently departed royal member.
TFK’s secret to a decade and more of success, Al-Sabah says, is its ability to market specific scents to specific cities, and to stay in touch with what’s happening in the larger industry. “Our scents range from green and fresh to heavier scents, but we’re always careful to select ingredients that are the highest quality we can find. The industry is so tied into what happens naturally.” If there's a shortage of sandalwood, TFK’s perfumers have to find a different way to create the scent.
As well, Al-Sabah says the small production sizes allow the brand to add more quality ingredients—if only 1,000 are made, it’s easy to keep the formula consistent. The problem is that, for many retailers, it’s hard to take a risk on such a small run, especially if they’re not sure of the market. “The big connection is that when there are products that are not selling well, a brand can’t justify the expense,” says Al-Sabah. Perhaps though, the small run sizes are also what makes it easy to launch quality products so quickly. “We have 65 fragrances that we’ve launched since 2005—that’s the true core of the brand.”