10 QUESTIONS WITH ROJA DOVE, FOUNDER OF LUXURY FRAGRANCE BRAND, ROJA PARFUMS
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the incredibly talented and inspiring Roja Dove of Roja Parfums this week. I have been mesmerised by the beautiful Roja Parfum bottles for a very long time and i'm privileged to be based very close to the Burlington Arcade store where I can regularly lose myself in a haze of unique fragrances.
With Christmas around the corner, it was only right that I contact Roja to find out a little more about his excellent and luxurious fragrances. We are spoilt for choice in London where gifts are concerned. I know that this year, i'll only be supporting my favourite local businesses. There is something incredibly special about buying from a unique, independent business based right on our doorstep. With Roja Parfums you're not just buying a beautiful gift, you're buying a story.
1. How long have you been working with fragrances for?
I was a student studying at Cambridge when I was given the opportunity to work with a reputable French perfume house. I had grown up so obsessed with perfume that I wrote to them so often that they eventually decided I would be less of a nuisance inside of the company. So at 21, I gave up my studies early to follow my dreams and before I knew it I was thrown into a world from which I would never leave.
2. What prompted you to create your own fragrance brand, Roja Parfums?
It was shortly after my mother had died that I went out for dinner with a very good friend of mine, who gave me the biggest metaphoric slap around the face when she said “you have spent your entire life protecting and promoting everyone else’s work. When are you going to do it with your own?” She said “your shadow is enormous. Whenever I look into perfumery your name is everywhere but if I want to get near to you, how can I as you have no product”. I thought I had been coping with the loss of both my parents but these words really made me dwell on the fact my mother had said that with me, the family name dies out. The thought of the Dove legacy not enduring made me create the Roja Parfums collection.
3. It must have been fairly daunting to conceptualise and launch your own brand. Did you expect the brand to be as wildly successful as it is now?
I had never thought of launching a commercial line as I had always figured “well, who would buy it?”. I was quite happy in my own little world of making bespoke scents for my clients but once the thought was in my head, I couldn’t not do it. I launched Roja Parfums in 2011 and have to pinch myself whenever I think of how well received the brand has been around the world. And we managed it all with no advertising or marketing, which is really quite an achievement. I think that Roja Parfums pushed a huge frontier by appealing people who were (and are) fed up with all these very mass-produced, mass-advertised, mass-everything perfumes that saturated the market. They were looking for scent with legitimacy. I’m not saying other brands don’t have that, but I suddenly came in with something unlike the industry had ever seen before.
4. How does your bespoke fragrance design service work?
The first thing I like to do is to personally meet the client for a cup of tea before we embark on the process. Either clients arrive so nervous they will “get it wrong” or they are beyond excited and need to be calmed down. I find that meeting them on a personal level helps them relax before we set to work. The first exercise takes around half a day and I will guide the client through hundreds of examples of raw materials. I will not tell them what they are smelling, I simply record their reactions in conjunction to smell. It is part of a long process that enables
me to establish their olfactory fingerprint. It is a very personal and often emotional experience as the client opens up the floodgates to their scented memories.
Nobody ever knows what to expect and I don’t either – I just know how to construct their personal odour profile by the information I extract from them. After some time together I will have a clear idea of how to create their scent. Sometimes I will present a choice of a couple of fragrances, sometimes just the one. If alterations need to be made I will go away and do that as it is like a fitting. The process tends to take between 6 and 12 months to complete and at the end of it, the client has their own, perfectly-suited scent.
5. Describe Roja Parfums in 3 words.
Refined, Luxurious, Sophistication.
6. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to venture out of their career comfort zone to start their own venture?
This may sound frightfully boring but my one recommendation to anybody looking to make their way into a new industry is to practice. I liken the skill of a Perfumer to that of any other artist. You can be born with the natural talent for smell but it is only through a consistent commitment to the form that allows you to become truly good at it.
Like how a dancer must train their body or a singer their voice, a Perfumer can’t just throw ingredients in a beaker and make a nice smelling perfume: It takes years of practice and an in-depth knowledge of your craft. So, my advice to anyone looking to start their own venture is to give it the time it needs to make it great. Don’t go in all guns blazing and with no honed skill and experience. I believe in doing the groundwork; after all, I had been in the Perfume industry for decades before finally starting my own brand in my 50s.
7. Why did you choose to position Roja Parfums within the Burlington Arcade?
As it happened, how the shop came about is that I was interviewed for the business section of The Telegraph and they’d said one of those sort of “what’s next?” or “what would you like to do?” questions, and I said that my dream would be to have a shop. When they asked if there was anywhere in particular I said I would love the Burlington Arcade and then a little while later off the back of that, someone from the Burlington Arcade got in touch and said that there was a unit available. We came to look at it and just fell in love with it because it’s a totally perfect size for what we need – I think perfume is a very intimate thing, so this is the very antithesis of a large perfume hall which is bustly and anonymous. We can spend time getting to know the clients and we use the first floor to bring people who want to spend a really long time.
A man called Patrick Mavross has a huge shop in Fulham road and is about to open in the arcade. It’s the fact that it’s always had this wonderfully eclectic mix of shops: tradition without being old and I think it’s going through a wonderful renaissance and I’m happy that we’re also a part of that. The fragrance world is huge.
8. Where does your inspiration for new/unique fragrances come from?
When it comes to the inspiration behind my scents, it often starts with a name. I sit in the garden with my partner and a pot of tea coming up with words that are evocative and interesting and then build the scent around the chosen one. Other times I will come up with names as a reaction to something: I am incredibly lucky that I get to travel a lot with my job, so I am exposed to all sorts of beauty in the world. As a creative person, I gather my inspiration from things like travel, people, literature and art.
9. When you are not immersed in the world of Roja Parfums, what do you like to
do with your spare time?
I know this sounds terribly dull but my favorite thing to do in my spare time is nothing at all. You know that when I say I have had an uneventful weekend, that I have had the best one. I travel so much and though this is really rather great because of all that it allows me to experience, when I am finally able to switch off I love nothing more than either sitting in my garden or under the Mediterranean sun with my partner of 40 years and simply just being. To be able to switch off is the greatest luxury.
10. Describe yourself in 3-5 words.
I like to think I am kind. And I hope to be remembered for being fair. It seems a little
silly for one to call oneself funny but I thrive off of making other people smile and
laugh, so my third word would perhaps be humorous.
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