Created by British Perfumer Roja Dove, Roja Parfums have become recognised as one of the most luxurious fragrance houses in the world. From a young age Roja has always had a passion for perfumery, therefore a career in this field was always on the cards. Roja Dove’s career initially began in 1981 when he joined the well-known French brand Guerlain. Here he worked his way up, gaining substantial knowledge along the way and becoming the respected perfumer that he is today. I caught up with Roja to find out about his illustrious career and the sublime fragrances that he creates.
You are renowned as being one of the finest and creative perfumers in the world. What initially attracted you to this industry and when did your realise that the world of Perfumery was your destined vocation?
Thank you, that is very kind to say. I first fell in love with perfume as a small boy, at the age of about six. It all began one evening when my mother was dressed and ready to go out to a cocktail party for the evening, and came to give me a goodnight kiss. As she approached my bedroom, I was struck by how my ordinary, everyday mother was transformed, as the light from the hallway created a corona about her and made her appear almost ethereal. She was wearing a gold lame dress and jewellery, and it was the smell of her face powder and her fragrance as she bent down to kiss my cheek, and the lingering smell of it in my room long after she left, that triggered something within me. I came to realise the power that perfume had both in transforming the wearer and on the lasting impression it leaves on those who smell it. From that moment I was obsessed with scent. Whilst children were spending their pocket money on sweets and what have you, I was saving up for perfumes – a hobby that hasn’t dulled to this day. This then, unsurprisingly, lead me into my career, which I started at Guerlain and worked my way up. I have been in the industry for many decades now and every day feel privileged that I get to call my passion my career.
Luxury is woven through each and every one of your fragrances from the attractive packaging to the inclusion of the finest ingredients in the world. What creative process goes into designing each of your fragrant works of art?
It all begins with a simple notion – that “it will do” will never do, and that I believe if there is anything worth doing then it is worth doing properly. This very much sets the ethos for anything I produce, which I always do to with the utmost amount of creativity and quality I can possibly put into it. When it comes to the creative process, this is something that can take some time. I am extremely lucky to be able to own my own company, which essentially means I have nobody breathing down my neck. I am able to work with whatever materials and timeframes I see fit, and that is something that I truly believe allows my creativity to flourish. When I come up with an idea, it is something that I will quite literally work on for months, if not years. It all starts with the scent and the inspiration for this really can come from anywhere, as again, I am able to create what I want to create. I will work on a fragrance for 6-24 months – not all the time consistently but coming back to it to ensure I am one hundred percent happy with it. Then it goes through the process of deciding what I am to do with this new creation and how to package and design it. In short, my answer really is that the thing that goes into designing each product is a passion for the world of perfumery and a dedication to delivering something I believe to be a shining example of luxury scent.
Your outstanding range of Roja Parfums are sophisticated and refined and each one has its own alluring qualities. Can you give any advice on choosing the perfect fragrance and guidance on the most appropriate way to apply it?
Definitely. There is a very easy way of working out what scents might suit you and that is by refining it down to a fragrance family. There are 4 families in Perfumery, which are the Fougère (bright, fresh, masculine scents), the Florals (self-explanatory), the Chypré (refined, tailored compositions based around woods and mosses) and the Oriental family (rich, soft, and exotic creations typically based around an Amber accord). More often than not, people will fall into preference toward one of these categories, and looking at scents just within that palette then allow them to see how their options differ. For example, is a bright, sweet and care-free Floral preferred over a seductive, enveloping and creamy Floral? It allows the nuances to become more obvious. Getting an idea of the categorisations of fragrances before you head into the store is a really useful way of narrowing down your search and ensuring you aren’t smelling anything and everything. Then, the important work starts: the smelling! With a small number of options in hand, the best way to really work out if you love a scent is by comparing it to others. You aren’t going to understand what makes a particular wine nice if you haven’t ever tried wine before and haven’t got anything to compare it to, so why should it be the same for fragrance? When you smell one against the other, all the nuances that make it different will really pop through and allow you to better understand what you are smelling and whether you like it. And doing so with, say, five different florals, you will be amazed at all the things you discover within one fragrance family. Once you have narrowed it down to two that you really like, try them both on your skin and sit with it for a few hours to see if you still like it as it develops. If a scent makes you close your eyes and inhale when you smell it on the card, then it is a good one to try on your skin. If you cannot stop smelling your wrists, even hours later, then that is your perfect perfume!
You have been blessed with such an artistic, imaginative and visionary career, what has been your proudest achievement since your perfumer career began?
I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant when I say that there have been so many moments in my lifetime that have been “pinch me moments”. I call them that because I have oftentimes found myself quite taken aback by the trajectory of my life, and I am eternally grateful for the experiences and opportunities I have been granted, because none of it has ever felt like work, just a hobby I somehow make a living from. A moment I still cannot quite believe to this day was one morning back in 2013 where my colleague transferred a telephone call to my desk and told me that Downing Street was on the phone. At first, I thought “oh goodness, what trouble have I gotten myself into”, and was surprised when they told me that they wanted to appoint me an Ambassador for the GREAT Britain Campaign. The campaign was a government initiative launched to promote our nation as a thriving place to visit, study and do business, and all of a sudden I was thrust into Number. 10 with a selection of amazingly creative figures, beginning my journey as a person who represented my country. To be recognised by my country like that is something that humbles me to my core.
Your adoration for perfumery not only exudes through your products but from the passionate way you speak about the fragrances and the industry. What advice do you give to people who may wish to start a career in this creative profession?
It may sound dreadfully boring due to its simplicity, but practice practice practice! It doesn’t matter if you are a prodigy or not, you still never get anywhere without working at it. Think of a Perfumer like an athlete or a dancer who must train their body, or a musician who must tinker at their instrument on the daily. If it is something that you love, then practice it. Liking to smell nice and being a consumer of perfumes doesn’t buy you a one-way ticket into a career in the industry…. Read all the books and watch all the reviews and engage in discussion. Learn the incredibly complex history of perfumery, and the unique sciences behind it. And of course – most importantly – smell everything and finetune your nose. The more fragrances you smell then the more reference points you have; the more materials you interact with, the more you come to notice different nuances and qualities, and where they appear in a composition. That is how you achieve your goals, by honing your skills.
And lastly, I just want to add (because I am always told “I want to be a Perfumer”) that there are many many interesting roles in the industry. I know how being a Perfumer looks, but remember that there are actually fewer Perfumers on earth than there are Astronauts. Think of how many people it involves to get just one person into space and consider that it is similar in my industry. Many hands make light work, and there are all sorts of ways one can contribute to the industry, whether it be as a Designer, or a Marketeer, or a Sales Person, or in the harvesting, processing, compounding and manufacturing fields. A Perfumer is but a drop in the pool of what makes perfumery a magical experience.
Head to my previous blog post where I try the outstanding Roja Parfum Fragrance, Musk Aoud.