An interview with Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah of The Fragrance Kitchen


06th April, 2017

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.

With exclusive fragrances at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, and boutiques in cities like Moscow and Milan, TFK caters to a client that is both sharp, but also, regal. To explain: Al-Sabah mentions a recent scent Palm Fiction, and its obvious reference to Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 cult hit, Pulp Fiction.

“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.”

TFK fragrances are available at Bergdorf Goodman in the US, and Selfridges in the UK

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About the author: Haniya Rae

Haniya often writes about art and architecture for Architectural Digest, and has been a perfume fanatic since she was a child.

Website: http://haniyarae.com/

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    Comments

      • cytherian | 6th April 2017 23:11

        I learned about The Fragrance Kitchen in the fall of 2016, almost missing their slightly hidden section along the far wall of the fragrance floor at Bergdorf Goodman. Quite a captivating house with catching names and intriguing compositions. Sheikh Al-Sabah launched his tfk brand in 2012, and had a grand opening of a US exclusive boutique at Bergdorf Goodman's in 2016. He was interviewed around this time last year.

        Is this a new interview? If so, where did it take place?

      • gandhajala | 7th April 2017 07:33

        [quote] frequently uses ingredients like oud, Taif rose, and agarwood [/quote]

        Forgive me, but is this a typo or is a distinction here being made here between oud and agarwood?

        I've always thought the two were simply Arabic and Indic names for the same plant (Aquilaria genus).

      • cytherian | 7th April 2017 16:21

        I've long been perplexed by this whole agarwood/oud understanding. The terms are used somewhat loosely and conflated. Some say they are synonyms, while others make a distinction. I've tried once again to really understand it. Hopefully this is closer to the reality:

        • The Aquilaria tree is ultimately used for deriving oud.

        • When the aquilaria tree is infected, it creates a resin in reaction. The wood that is embedded with the resin is called agarwood. When the agarwood is processed, the oud resin is extracted from it.

        So in essence, agarwood would be the oud saturated wood that can be burned as wood chips, or processed into an essential oil to obtain just pure oud. Now, is it possible to process the agarwood such that the essence of the wood itself is retained, resulting in an "agarwood oil", as opposed to just pure oud? That's something I'd like to know. If not, then in essence, agarwood and oud as notes are really the same, just synonyms of each other.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agarwood

        EDIT: Epapsiou confirmed for me that this is correct. And a great analogy is to consider the Orange Blossom and Neroli. The orange blossom is used to achieve the neroli oil. Same is true of the agarwood being used to achieve the oudh oil.

        I do still wonder if there's an aromachemical for agarwood, to capture the burned wood chips aroma, which is different from refined processed oud resin.

      • gandhajala | 7th April 2017 18:08

        ^ Being the case, it is confusing to me to speak of oud and agarwood as separate ingredients in a perfume; notes I could just about understand.

        Bigarade/Neroli/Petitgrain are, at least, all oils (produced from the fruit peel, flowers, and leaves and branches, respectively).

        I'm nitpicking here, but I do think there's some value in clarity.

      • AlanG | 7th April 2017 18:14

        65 fragrances your "core"?

        Since 2005?

        Okay.....

      • cytherian | 7th April 2017 18:59

        EDIT:

        Ah, I see what you mean. Sorry, I had overlooked that passage in the article.

        After 1,000 or so bottles are produced, a tfk fragrance is finished. It won't be made again as the same fragrance, because material sources will be different. Based on this, I don't think he meant the 65 fragrances are core. But the principle of producing many short run fragrances is core to the business.

      • AlanG | 7th April 2017 19:06

        “We have 65 fragrances that we’ve launched since 2005—that’s the true core of the brand."

        What I meant to impart was that 65 fragrances in 12 years is quite a lot.

        To describe those 65 as being the "core", implies that there are many others, but these are central.

        I'm pretty sure I read the article properly and posted on the right topic.

        Alan.