My UAE: Capturing the essence of perfumer Amna Al Habtoor
The interiors of Inked at Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz are reworked and sectioned off into 10 tiny roofless rooms. Behind each door is a different narrative, complete with vivid scenery and at least one actor or dancer. In one, a girl writes down her dreams and hangs each note on an apple tree; in another, a baker describes the secret ingredients in his pastel-coloured, ornately iced cakes. These scenes are all reflective of the memories of Amna Al Habtoor, who has just launched her homegrown perfume label, Arcadia.
This intricate setup, with various actors and storylines, is a perfume launch – a far more memorable one than your typical mall-store launch party. The experience far surpasses any expectations, even from a brand headed by a visual communications major and former director of marketing and communications. But Al Habtoor’s journey with Arcadia has been a very personal one, so the young entrepreneur took care to get every detail just right.
“Arcadia was inspired by the memories of my late mother, peace be upon her. With scent being such a powerful trigger for emotions, I was able to reminisce [about] meaningful moments with her and revisit them time and time again,” she says. “This fuelled my passion for perfume and compelled me to start experimenting with my own mixtures. I loved the idea of bookmarking a significant time in your life and being able to return to it, simply, with a familiar aroma. I created a fragrance to capture the time of my wedding and distributed them to all my guests as a memento. I did the same at the birth of my daughter, and then went on to create a scented candle for the birth of my son. Those fragrances have become so special to me as they take me back to these incredible milestones in my life.”
After joining her family business, Al Habtoor Motors, where she worked with luxury car brands such as Bentley and Bugatti, Al Habtoor studied the art of fragrance-making at The Cotswold Perfumery in Cheltenham, England. She then started creating her own brand. “I redirected my ambitions, applied this work experience and founded Arcadia in 2015,” she says. Her launch collection, titled Edition 1, comprises 10 different fragrances. “Each scent has a narrative that captures euphoric moments. Some of the narratives are romantic, some depict fantasy and others are about being submerged in nature,” she explains.
Because each scent correlates to a special event or memory in her life, Al Habtoor is hard-pressed to single out a favourite. But she does mention that of the 10 fragrances, one named Periwinkle is actually unisex, created in honour of her father, Sultan Al Habtoor, president of Al Habtoor Motors. “Everything that I learnt about business is from my father. He is a tough businessman with a generous heart,” she says. “The scent has middle notes of lavender and jasmine and bottom notes like musk and amber, making it a versatile fragrance that still has the ability to evoke nostalgia.”
Arcadia perfumes are created in the UAE, as Al Habtoor felt that it was important to produce everything locally. Perfume prices start at Dh350 and are available at www.arcadiame.com and Zoo Concept boutique in Dubai.
The young perfumer plans to release second and third editions of the line over the next year and a half, along with some limited-edition scents. She also plans to dabble in creating bukhoor sets. “Like most Emirati households, I grew up watching my mother burn wood chips that had been soaked in her home-made perfume for days. The scent of that bukhoor would settle into our furniture and live in our clothes for weeks,” she says. The next two perfumes will be Al Habtoor’s modern take on traditional bukhoor sets. “It will have everything in it, from an incense burner to a beautifully designed instruction manual on how to use and burn the wood chips,” she says. “I like that we can incorporate the uniqueness of our culture and make it accessible to everyone.”
What is your favourite book?
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
What beauty brand do you swear by?
I think NARS has been producing really great products lately, and I value quality. Their concealers, in particular, are quite creamy, pigmented and long-lasting.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like minimalistic and solid colours.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
I hate to be a cliché, but who doesn’t love New York City? It’s my favourite place to go for creative inspiration and to feel re-energised.
What is your favourite television show?
I love watching Black Mirror. I like the way in which they use the evolvement of technology to convey the stories, as well as the whole style and production of the show.
What’s your favourite way to relax?
Like any working mum will tell you, I love to unwind at the spa.
What’s your most treasured piece of jewellery?
When my siblings and I were born, my mother designed a necklace with a pendant of an evil eye. It is my most treasured piece of jewellery and I wear mine every day.
What is the top-played song on your iPod?
I usually like old-school hip-hop, but currently my top played is Aftergold by Big Wild.
What’s your favourite tourist spot in the UAE?
I think the creek and old Dubai have a unique and nostalgic charm, so I always encourage visitors to explore that side of Dubai, too.
What’s your favourite restaurant to eat at in the UAE?
I am a creature of habit in some ways, and so you will usually find me at La Petite Maison.
Do you have a favourite florist shop in the UAE?
Wud Flowers in Jumeirah.
If you could drive any car, which would it be?
On an open road, I’d say that the Bugatti Chiron would be a unique experience.