inside Dubai’s Perfume House

//Words: José Berrocoso//

The former home of the late Sheikha Sheikha Bint Saeed Al Maktoum now houses a stunning collection of artefacts highlighting the tradition of perfuming in the region.

Located in the historic Al Shindagha district of Dubai, developed as part of an initiative to trasform the creek into a regional culture and traditional centre, the Perfume House explores the narratives of traditional perfume-making in the region. It gives visitors the opportunity to travel back in time to ancient Arabia to follow the fragrant route and history of how traditional oils, perfumes and incense were made. Visitors also get to experience the ingredients used, including Dihn Al Oud, saffron and Damascene roses, along with ingredients used in present times.

A first of its kind in the Middle East dedicated to highlighting the importance of UAE perfumes and its history in the Emirate of Dubai, the House of Perfumes offers a chance for visitors to literally smell and experience the age-old history of perfumery here.

Perfume is an important aspect in Emirati life style. Where ever you go in Dubai or any other emirate of UAE, you will find fascinating and breath holding fragrances near Arabic shops, stores either it is perfume shop, dress shop or any other type of store. You can say that Arabs known for their good choice of fragrances and their habit of always wearing perfumes.

The head of research and studies unit at Architectural heritage dept. of Dubai Municipality Shatha Al Mulla said that “Perfume is indeed a precious part of Khaleeji and Arabic culture. Each Arabic home has their own unique collection of perfumes and incenses”.

Several of the invaluable items displayed at the museum are from Sheikha Shaikha Bint Saeed Al Maktoum’s personal collection, including a 1.2m high piece of an oud with a weight of 28k, which is currently valued at Dh200m, is one of the main attractions in the museum. Others, including a 3,000-year-old incense burner, bear witness to a thousand-year-old local tradition.

Also featured are the social dimensions that perfumes and fragrances take on in Emirati society, traditions which are unique in the world.

A prominent perfumer herself, Sheikha Sheikha made perfumes in her personal room and then bury them later in her private courtyard for fermentation. She preserved them under her bed for months. Sheikha experimented many of the perfumes with different natural ingredients. There is one composition for perfume which was written by Late Sheikha personally.

This pavilion sheds light on these fascinating practices through objects, multimedia, and of course, through many different scents.“The biggest challenge for me was to source the right plants to use as reference materials as these had to be accuarete”, said Somang Lee, award-winning illustrator and nature lover, who was in charge of the drawing. “Each plant had to be drawn from 5 different angles which meant I couldn’t use reference images from the internet as I needed a 360 degree view. I used various sources such as the Botanical Gardens at Kew to find just the right type of rose needed for an accurate rendering of the images. It was a challenge that I hugely enjoyed”.

According to Al Mulla they have a particular memory of various fragrances which is why perfume stays personal ritual for all of us.

Photography: Dubai Tourism; Illustrations: Somang Lee

< Back