Tonight in The Scented Salon we are talking to Nafia Guljar.
Nafia was born in Bangladesh and now lives in the London We have spoken with several Muslim men about fragrance. Let’s have a look at a woman’s perspective as we follow Nafia’s fragrant journey through the olfactive infrastructure of London. We will also take side-trips to Bangladesh and Qatar.
Welcome to The Scented Salon Nafia. Peace to you and your family.
Let’s begin with your first fragrance
Thank you for your welcome Jordan. Assalamu alaikum to you.
My first proper fragrance was Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers, given to me by my parents on my 11th birthday.
What did you waft in the 80′s and 90′s?
As I am only 22, I didn’t waft anything at all in the 80’s nor the majority of the 90’s. For my 6th or 7th birthday, my parents gifted me a children’s make up kit which contained the tiniest pink plastic vial of the sweetest smelling perfume I had ever smelt. I deliriously finished it in a matter of days but can still remember what it smelt like to this day. I then moved onto Impulse O2 when I was about 9 so all in all, seriously sophisticated stuff!
Do you buy for yourself?
Yes, I do.
Cologne or Edt or Edp?
It depends. I prefer Edp if the perfume is oriental in character, as I adore musks, incense and spices if they are very saturated and strong. If a perfume is lighter, I usually prefer Edt but I don’t really have any concrete likes or dislikes. It really depends on how a perfume translates on my skin.
Oil based or alcohol based?
I love and wear both.
Why so some but not all Muslim people prefer oil based perfume? What is your personal opinion on this matter?
As alcohol is strictly prohibited in Islam, some Muslims only wear oil based perfume. However, some Muslims feel that as the perfume is not being consumed, there is no chance of becoming intoxicated as you would if you drink a glass of wine so some do wear alcohol based perfume.
My personal opinion is the latter. However, when I am praying or if I am going to the mosque, I personally do not like to wear alcohol based perfume.
How is fragrance viewed in Muslim culture?
The wearing of perfume to gatherings and to the mosque, for both Friday prayers and Eid prayer, is encouraged in Islam and was advocated by our Prophet (pbuh) who, as written by Abu Hurairah (known for his photographic memory) said:
Anyone offered rayhan (basil perfume) should not decline it. It is light in weight and fragrant in scent.
Do Muslim woman differentiate themselves with scent? Eg: like clothing, they would not want to smell the same as another woman in the room?
I am not sure if this is true for Muslim women in particular but I believe this to be true for most women, regardless of religion.
Among Muslim women, there are many attars that are loved by most including Egyptian Musk and Sultan by Al-Haramain.
What do you think Paradise will smell like? Will there be scents we have not yet experienced or cannot in our present form?
I do not think we can comprehend what Paradise will smell like. I definitely think that it will smell like nothing we can experience in this world.
What are your perfume preferences or notes that you like?
I adore orientals and florals. Notes that I like include musk, amber, incense, cedarwood, sandalwood, rose, jasmine and ylang ylang.
What notes do you not like or can not wear?
Patchouli, I think it smells like sweaty armpits (a horribly common problem on public transport in London). I don’t really like hyper realistic ‘foodie’ smells, smelling like candyfloss or popcorn doesn’t sound at all appealing to me.
What do you wear now and in what circumstances?
I usually wear Gorilla Perfumes Breath of God or Lust to work (I work at LUSH) and I associate Jo Malone’s English Pear & Freesia with Central London so usually wear it when shopping there. Today, I am wearing Egyptian Musk.
What are you studying?
I am about to start a Masters in Molecular Pathology and Genomics at the Barts Cancer Institute in London.
The Quantum Unicorn Accord
Which of these theories makes sense to you?
The Shape Theory of Smell – the shape of a molecule causes its scent.
The Vibration Theory of Smell – the vibrational frequency of a molecule causes its scent.
As I have a really limited knowledge of chemistry, I am not sure which is more plausible. The shape theory seems more practical and simple compared to the vibrational theory. I would love it if unicorns really existed, though. They are infinitely more magical than horses.
What about a fragrant experience?
Previously we have had a mountain-top scent experience in Bhutan, a pavement in Vienna on a hot day, Carlos Huber from Arquiste smelling an entire Island, a childhood on diary farm, and the memories of a father’s scent.
Fragrant Experience – Bangladesh
The most vivid fragrant experience I have is when of when I went back to Bangladesh for the first time in 11 years in 2005. We were visiting some relatives in rural Bangladesh who had their own rice paddy fields. I remember the earthy smell of wet mud, cool water, greenery and definitely something fecal. It was both glorious and revolting at the same time, smelling of both vitality and decay. There were workers in the fields with the hot sun beating down on their backs with an eye-watering amount of body-odour radiating off them, a product of the back breaking hard work they were doing. Suddenly my clean clothes and the Hugo Woman perfume I was wearing stank of shame and guilt, I felt shocked, angry and helpless when observing these people living in such poverty through no fault of their own.
Fragrant Experience – Qatar
I have only been to the Middle East once. In Qatar I caught a bus. The scent of oud on the locals prevailed through the blistering heat, asserting itself as the scent, the ‘It’ ingredient, the Queen Bee of the Middle East.
What suits you for university?
I used to wear White Jasmine and Oriental from Zara and Gucci’s Glamorous Magnolia.
What do people smell like in London?
During my morning commute, both men and women have a clean just showered smell. A lot of men in London still smell of Lynx and my nose also picks up a lot of Acqua di Gio. London women seem to adore Miss Dior Cherie and I haven’t smelt any ladies favouring anything too classically masculine.
London itself is a cacophony of smells, both good and bad. An army of red buses have become synonymous with outsiders and natives image of London and these leave behind a fog of heavy diesel fumes and hot plastic. On hot days, rowdy groups of school children imbibe the air on buses with the ripe hum of perspiration self-consciously masked with deodorant and body sprays. They bring on board the ubiquitous red and yellow boxes of fried chicken which adds a layer of cheap grease over the already interesting mix of smells.
The London Underground smells of the overcrowded embarrassment of its commuters. Strangers shoved together, invading one another’s personal space but still frantically trying not to break the never-look-into-someone’s-eyes-on-the-tube rule. In the morning, the Tube smells of shower fresh commuters doused copiously in synthetic scents and the inky copies of The Metro newspaper, whilst in the evening, it smells wearied, tired and humid. All this is paired with the absence-of-breathable-air smell of being underground.
Certain areas of London have certain smells. Camden smells of Chinese food and sulphurous smells abound around the Lock area. Brick Lane smells of musty old clothes getting an airing in various vintage stores. Whitechapel straight up smells like Bangladesh, of fresh vegetables, fresh fish and curry. Oxford Street and Central London smells expensive, Edgware Road smells of the Middle East and shisha and Hampstead Heath smells green and slightly hay-like in the summer.
That’s what London is – interesting. Although these smells may not sound (or smell, rather) appealing, they are undeniably a part of the olfactive infrastructure of my city and I embrace and love them all.
The Gaining of Knowledge.
Where and how did you gain perfume knowledge?
I have only really started to gain knowledge in perfume this past year or so. The time I started working for LUSH and wearing Gorilla Perfumes coincided with discovering online perfume blogs and purchasing Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Interaction with those in the perfume community on Twitter enhances my knowledge and I have recently found out about Perfume Lovers London, a wonderful place for anyone interested in perfume. I am yet to go to an event but cannot wait for my first one. Stores such as Liberty, Les Senteurs, Bloom, Harrods and Selfridges make London an olfactory treasure trove and have fuelled my appreciation for niche brands.
Do you think perfumery is art, artisanal, design and manufacturing, molecular architecture or something else?
I think perfumery is all of the above and much, much more. It is art in the sense that a perfumer is tasked with creating something from scratch, sculpting notes and accords to come together in harmony, to give pleasure to their wearer. They are responsible for constructing abstract moments in the most vivid shades, the moment that sunlight warms skin, a drop of dew on a blade of glass, the smell of a fragrant flower carried on a cool breeze. Perfumery is therefore undeniably artisanal with talented perfumers being skilled artisans. As a scientist-to-be, I am fascinated by the molecular architecture of perfumery, by the process of how a smell stimulates olfactory neurons to engage our brain into perceiving a smell.
More than all of this though, I think perfumery deals in the business of bottling memories and nostalgia. Throughout our lives, we encounter millions of unique smells that are linked to specific moments in time and notes and accords in perfume seem to have an inherent ability to sweep the cobwebs off these memories and bring them to the forefront of our brain, however fleeting. We are creating memories and associations for our future with perfumery. So, when I happened to catch a whiff of Sunflowers whilst standing on a Tube platform one day, I was that squealing 11 year old girl again opening her first perfume with glee.
What is the purpose of perfume?
The purpose of perfume is to make me feel good and perfume is my ultimate indulgence. It is extremely personal and I am not the type of person who wears perfume to catch the attention of others or make anyone else feel good. I’m pretty selfish when it comes to perfume, but I am that person that will ask what perfume you are wearing if I like it. However, I do believe that perfume is an extension of my personality and character, whether I consciously or subconsciously choose to declare it.
Do you and your partner/family/friends exchange fragrant gifts?
My family have noticed how obsessive I am becoming over perfume so the gifts they have given me over the last 2 years have been fragrant and I have also been gifting my friends and family with olfactory treats in some shape or form.
Pick a person you admire in Perfumeland and tell us about this person.
This is a difficult question as I admire so many bloggers, perfumers and brands. I would probably have to say Alex at The Silver Fox, his blog was the first I discovered and it is still my favourite. There is poetry running through his veins and although it is slightly presumptuous of me, his writing feels cathartic and organic. The detail, genuine passion and knowledge he writes with is unmatched and makes me want to find out as much as I can about the perfumes he features. Plus, he interacts with his readers in the most wonderful way which also makes him all the more likeable.
Thank you for your time and perspectives Nafia. All the very best with your studies.
Confessions of a Creative – The War of the Roses (Lutens vs Malle)
Confessions of a Creative – Oud in the Summertime
Confessions of a Creative – I love you but I’m not in love with you | Dzhari by Phaedon Paris
The Silver Fox – a scent of elegance
The Vibration Theory of Smell – The Quantum Unicorn Accord
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
Lila Das Gupta’s Perfume Lovers London
The Arabian series
Smell Theory round-up by Rose Gray – see ODOU magazine . In the first issue of ODOU magazine Rose Gray articulates the various theories of smell including Vibration Theory, Odotype Theory, Lock and Key Theory and several other historical and current theories.