Interview Series: Roja Dove, Master Perfumer and Founder of Roja Parfums
Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview with Roja Dove, perfumer and founder of the eponymous luxury fragrance brand Roja Parfums. World-renowned for his impressive “nose”, a string of high-profile roles and achievements within the fragrance industry led Roja to launch something to call his own, Roja Parfums. Roja believes the success of his brand lies not only in the fact that it is hand-tailored by a master perfumer but simply that it is real and that it is human. As a trailblazer in the bespoke scent arena, Roja tells us more about what gives his brand the edge in an increasingly fragmented marketplace and how he foresees the future of the industry.
What are the elements that differentiate product development of a niche fragrance brand, from that of a mainstream one? How does Roja Parfums fit into this definition and what do you see as the most unique differentiator among the competition?
My brand, Roja Parfums, is one of few perfume brands in the world that has a real perfumer sitting at its helm. Because of that, I am able to run my brand completely without cost-constraints and marketing briefs. It really is quite wonderful as I am not a corporate person in the slightest. I think that what differs us from the competition is that we are a very human brand. It is felt throughout my lines as there are many personal stories amongst the fragrances, as well as the fact I quite literally make each one by hand from the comfort of my own home, coming back to them over the course of months, if not years.
Roja, you were ahead of the game when it came to bespoke fragrance – how have you seen the trend for personalised fragrances evolve and how scalable is it?
As the industry has evolved over the last decade, seeing consumers want something that is more personal, it has naturally seen an incline in personalisation processes. These are available in various places and forms but usually they can verge on gimmicky. It’s a little bit of a synthesis of personalisation as you tend to be able to just add a little more rose or mandarin to an existing base. But it makes sense. It’s completely marketable as it gives an element of control, creativity and fun, to a customer.
What do you believe is fuelling the consumer quest for exclusivity?
Over the past decade, the perfume renaissance has seen the power in the industry move toward smaller brands by the day, as shoppers want scents of quality, creativity and individuality. We are done with the blockbuster and celebrity scents that you see in every store and smell on every other person in the street. In a world of hyper-consumerism, we all want to repudiate the mainstream and smell unique. But I think there is a funny paradox here in that at the same time, people want everything to be convenient and accessible. We have apps for everything as time is increasingly of the essence. So, what does this say about perfume? That the exclusive is the happy remedy.
Demand for natural and sustainably-sourced ingredients is expected to soar in line with the ethical agendas of consumers, is this an area you are involved in or are concerned about? How and where do you source your ingredients?
Natural beauty is undergoing a zeitgeist at the moment. It has transformed into an all-encompassing “clean-living” aesthetic and of course, the beauty industry has been one to fall completely under its spell. I do believe that there is a bit of an oxymoron in the concept of a natural fragrance as the majority of raw materials come from the natural earth. I think it’s a clever bending of marketing, focusing on natural to signify something that is focused away from including synthetic odour molecules, and for presenting scents that are more evocative of the natural world, like woods, mosses, flowers and fruits.
What many people don’t realise is that the perfume industry is one of the most highly-regulated industries. We have to comply to IFRA as well as European cosmetics standards. The regulations are incredibly strict but rightly so. And naturally, all my ingredients are sourced from the finest suppliers the world can offer, so there really isn’t much more I can do. There is a small thing, though: Selfridges are devoting themselves to sustainability, ensuring the store operates more ecologically, and I will be releasing an exclusive perfume for them this summer that has recyclable packaging made of recycled materials.
What do you think the future of niche luxury fragrance brands looks like? Do you think they will become more accessible and affordable or go in the opposite direction?
It’s hard to say. On the one hand, some luxurious brands have always had a habit for releasing more “accessible” versions of their product, to enable them to reach a demographic that wouldn’t have been a customer before. On the other hand, the reaction to this endeavour, to tap into wider consumerism and commercialisation, can cause the luxury sector to pursue exclusivity and premium as a response.
For me? As the brand is growing so much, I find it productive to reach both markets. Roja Parfums is an expensive brand, yes – because I use only the finest quality raw materials on Earth and my mark-ups are one of, if not the, lowest in the industry. But the Roja client isn’t just the ultra-rich: Many of our clients are people that genuinely love (and know) fragrance, and that is what I have always loved about perfume, is that it doesn’t discriminate. So, to answer, I have offerings such as my bespoke service (£45,000), then I have The Legacy Collection (£15,000) and on the other side of the brand I have my Eau De Parfum range (£245 each) which is around the price of other niche and luxury brands’ scents on the market.
How do you anticipate technology to shape the fragrance industry looking ahead?
I think technology has greatly developed the fragrance industry over the last five years or so. The internet has made us all experts and has opened up a whole realm of communities and sources ofinformation. It has made it so much easier to discover and understand brands and their fragrances, being able to get to know the offering from the comfort of your own home. We generally know what we like the sound of, so discovering ingredients/compositions/styles/stories from a screen allows the physical shopping process to be much easier, as we know what to head toward to smell. It helps us not be so overwhelmed.
What about the retail advent of the likes of augmented reality and artificial intelligence?
There is only so much one can do with this sort of technology as perfume relies so much on the sense of smell. There is a slight element of perfumery missing out on the digital age because it is so reliant on actually smelling that perfume, whereas the rest of the beauty industry – especially hair and makeup – is perfectly fitted for the Instagram era, where visuals are everything. Digital advice/matching tools are a plus, but there is only so much they can achieve. I don’t think technology is ready to go so far as to let a puff of Roja Parfums Enigma project from your computer or phone screen to let you try it.
What areas are you looking to explore in terms of innovation and new market segments?
First and foremost, Roja Parfums is a perfume brand – there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. But clients often want more from a brand: I make a small collection of candles and reed diffusers for the home, but what people want is a lifestyle. I can’t keep avoiding what the clients are demanding from us, so this June I will be launching two body crèmes, in our global best-selling scents. If these do well then there would be the potential to expand into other fragrances. I am also beginning to develop a couple of hair mists for the next year. As our lives are so scented these days, the public want plenty of options.
What challenges do you see for the company and opportunities for building further scale moving forward?
The unique thing about Roja Parfums is that the brand is privately-owned and self-funded by myself, so anything I make I put back into the company. Roja Parfums is stocked in 180 locations around the world, with many more to come. I am extremely fortunate to be in a position where – after only launching the brand in 2011 – I can now open my own free-standing boutiques. I have one in Oman and London’s Burlington Arcade, and am opening more in Moscow, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and two in Qatar.
Because what we do is so…of its own, I suppose I could say… we sit quite apart from a lot of the other small, niche and luxury brands. In the market, we remain relatively untouched by the ebbs and flows of the industry. Even with the conglomerates buying up many of the “cool” and niche brands, it doesn’t really affect Roja Parfums because our customer is so different to any other. Touch wood that it stays that way. The thing I always say about my brand – and I often have to pinch myself when I say this – is that David really can beat Goliath.