An interview with Paul Djirkali

18th February, 2005

In 1994, inspired by the lack of Australian fine fragrance, Paul Djirkali introduced the men's scent Vertigo. Ten years on, and a name-change later, Basenotes catches up with the man himself.


How did you get your interest in the perfume industry?

It's a bit yuck but, as a young child using deodorants I suddenly became allergic to most of the big branded ranges available.  To compensate this embarrassing problem, I began to substitute it with fragrance until the allergy subsided.


So, what made you decide to create your own scent?

It all came about when I was travelling with a female friend through New York.  After endless hours of waiting at cosmetic counters, I walked off to suddenly find myself in front of the men 's fragrance counters.  It was at this point that I thought to myself, 'wow I wonder where the Australian fine fragrances are?'  Of course there weren't any and so the story begins!


Do you think Australia will ever match France in the fragrance industry as Australia has done with wine?

I'm not too sure whether we would be able to 'match' France in this department.  I would prefer to carve our own little niche in the market rather than being a direct competitor.  The industry is big enough for everyone.


Why aren't there more Australian scents? Or are we just not hearing about them?

Unfortunately the size of our country creates difficulties in establishing businesses.  With a population of only 20 million people spread over the size of the U.S.A, it 's very hard to logistically and financially make the venture viable. 

We have incredible native flowers that we can utilise for distinct scents, but without the profitability we are very limited.


What makes this scent "Australian?"  Do you mean it is just a scent made by an Australian or do you wish it to represent more than this?

The scent is Australian due to a few factors:

1. It is the place of origin, a first for Australian fine fragrance!

2. I believe that it reflects the typical Aussie male in both the scent and design.  Australian males tend to be 'simple' in the fashion stakes and yet exude a crisp style.  This was part of the brief when both the packaging and scent were created.

3. Many of the ingredients were sourced from Australian manufacturers of fragrant and essential oils. 

What made me stop and think, 'Yes that's it!' was basically its combination of both a classic men's fragrance with what was to become the trend in new men's fragrances.  Djirkali for men has a very distinct scent that does not smell identical to other fragrances.  I believe the unique scent has been the underlying success of the fragrance.  In terms of a distinct Aussie style, well that's a bit too difficult to assess with just the one men's and women's scent.


Do you use synthetics or natural ingredients?

We primarily use synthetics as they are of equal high quality to natural and more readily available.  There are however, some natural oils used.  Our body products have also been designed with a 'natural' way of thinking.  For example we removed both alcohol and aluminium from the deodorant and replaced it with triclosan, which is a natural anti-bacterial agent also found in toothpaste.


Why did you change the name from Vertigo to Djirkali. Isn't it confusing for customers?

Good question as it initially worried me too.  The name was changed due to legal requirements for the U.S. market.  When I started the fragrance here in Australia, I never knew where it would end up taking me.  Being a little bit young and inexperienced I never thought of exporting at the time.  Luckily there has not been any confusion due to the identical design of packaging, and also due to customers already being familiar with the [Djirkali] brand itself.


Your website states: djirkali for men has been specifically designed for the modern male. Most scents' advertising from the last thirty years lay claim to "the modern male" image. So, what sets djirkali apart from all the other modern male claiming scents?

I feel that I have managed to maintain the classic male scents of our past and combined it with a more directional edge.  Even though there are hints of vanilla, mandarin, etc, there still lies the masculine notes of vetiver and sandalwood.  I have also designed the packaging to appear masculine and 'cool'.


Any famous people wear your fragrance?

We have some Aussie actors here that wear the fragrance, but internationally I'm not too sure.  The only well known person who I'm aware that wears the scent is Gary Coleman, from the sitcom Different Strokes.  We met a few years back when he was on a trip down under.


Do you have any more scents in the pipeline? for men? for women?

I am currently concentrating on exposing our signature scent to the rest of the world. With our launch of men's neckties recently, it's keeping us very busy.  We do have some ideas however, on our next fragrance.  It will be a men's scent first.


What Inspires you?

Wow, great question!

At the risk of sounding 'hippyish', I guess I'm most inspired with anything or anyone which challenges the norm.  For example, by this I refer to those people who exceed their own expectations as well as those of others.  This of course can relate to any field or as I like to think - passion.  This also applies to our natural world.

What do you think is the role of scents in our contemporary life? 

I think it depends on what part of the world you come from.  Here in Australia we move in waves of popularity between brands, products and dare I say 'fads'.  Currently the fragrance industry is still going strong here and plays an important part in who we are.  I have noticed however, that most people no longer apply their scents to the point of overkill.  I'm all for this as I prefer a scent to linger just long enough behind the wearer.  Keep people guessing!

What do you think of the niche houses?

I welcome all individuals and companies into the fragrance and cosmetic industry.  It is particularly pleasing to see smaller companies such as our own going out there and giving it a go!  We can arguably foresee and react faster to market trends than a large corporation.  It saddens me when a small company amalgamates with larger ones as most often their edge is lost.


Which scent (male or female) would you like to have created? and why?

If I could choose another fragrance to lay claim to, it would be Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior.  I personally believe it to be one of the most classic men's scents that still remain relevant in the modern fragrance industry.


From your website: With immense bravado and little funds, djirkali released his signature scent ... throughout Australia's leading department store group Myer / Grace Bros. Launching a fragrance is no easy business, especially when starting from scratch. So what's the secret of you success? Was Australia's leading department store welcoming you with open arms, or was it a hard battle to get your products on the shelves?

It was a combination of all of the above where some things were difficult and some just fell into place.  I have always believed that everyone is able to fulfil their dreams if they just give it a go.  The minute you start to doubt yourself, it is reflected in everything that you do and say.  Being so young and perhaps naïve was a benefit to me because I didn 't think of the negatives.  I'm told the buyers were responsive due to the passion as much as the scent itself.  I have now learnt that challenging yourself can be rewarding in many ways.

Additionally, it's great to have all the passion and bravado you can muster, but I have discovered that it is as equally important to have the educational background to support all you do in business.  I am constantly asking questions of things I do not know and surprise myself with the answers.  Most importantly - don't give up!


Finally, which scent are you wearing at the moment (if any?)

Of course I'm wearing djirkali!


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About the author: Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes. Grant has two children, and a dependence on tea, haribo and bacon.


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