The business of fragrance, where Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah is concerned, is undergoing a massive reformation. Gone are the days of long-awaited and expected launches for the ‘it’ fragrance of the year. Instead, his latest masterful endeavor in the world of luxury culminates with the emerging empire of elusive scents that is The Fragrance Kitchen (TFK), premiering fragrances around the world on a monthly basis. Sheikh Majed is out to revolutionize how we perceive fragrances, and moreover, how we immerse ourselves in them.
After a period of quiet following his Villa Moda days, “a serene turning point,” he deems gently, Sheikh Majed is now constantly on the go, as TFK is moving ahead quite rapidly with its international expansion plans. Starting with the sleek flagship store in Kuwait, and broadening its horizons to Dubai, Milan, Florence, Moscow, London and Manchester, TFK is setting an international standard for a young company from Kuwait by choosing locations marked as the prime fashion capitals of the world.
He recalls TFK’s exclusive launch at London’s ritzy Selfridges, an event that witnessed a grand turnout of fellow GCC nationals in a touching, patriotic show of support. With a warm fondness, he adds, “For us, a one and a half year old company from Kuwait, it is a huge feat to have the most important location in Selfridges, right next to the Chanels and Estée Lauders of the world, the finest fragrances known to the sophisticated consumer. To get that recognition and that location, during the start of Fashion Week in London, for me, is an achievement for Kuwait and the region.”
Entering the world of fragrances in what is largely considered to be an extremely saturated, and more importantly, Western-dominated market, draws many questions. However, it is truly characteristic of Sheikh Majed to take challenges head on, as he did more than twenty years ago. Once upon a time, a young twenty-two year old set out to start a fashion business and break a stigma that shrouded the region. He traveled west to convince high-end designers to come to the Middle East, managing a stereotype that seemed impossible, and exceptionally succeeded with Villa Moda and the luxury retail company he now co-owns with Tamdeen Group in Kuwait. Today, the Middle Eastern market is a priority for Western designer names, and has become the center of attention for fragrance producers and fashion houses alike. With TFK, he’s challenged himself to take a Kuwaiti company to unprecedented heights, showcasing a fine fragrance line exuberant with high-end quality ingredients to an international spectrum of consumers. After all, the scintillating scents are produced in a leading lab in the South of France, and adhere to the standards of any other international fragrance company, unlike other regional brands that choose to produce within their locales. He comments, “I might be known to always introduce a brand or concept that is totally different from the norm, yet I chose fragrances for deeply personal reasons.”
Breaking away from the bustle and constantly changing hype attached with the trend driven world of fashion, TFK presents a completely different allure: passion, timelessness, and accessibility. These are values that deeply resounded with Sheikh Majed, as he wished to take on a project he personally related to. He might not be a chemist, but he is most certainly a ‘nose’. Personally blending his own fragrances for more than ten years, he was deeply inspired by this esoteric tradition of blending that members of his family observed, specifically his grandmother, for generations. His eyes glimmer with nostalgia as he tells tales of experiments past, “Ever since I was only eight years old, I’ve observed my grandmother blend and was enticed by how she mixed different precious oils and fragrances. When I started my business as a twenty-two year old, I’d blend my own fragrances and people would always stop me to ask what I wore.” During the Villa Moda days, Sheikh Majed ventured forward with an experiment by placing a few bottles of his blends in the store, only to see them sell out in a few weeks. After astounding success with a project with Tom Ford in the production of the famed scent, Arabian Wood, a turning point was born. “Upon leaving Gucci in 2006, Tom Ford wanted to venture into the Kuwait market with men’s tailoring. I advised him with the notion of fragrances, and gave him some of my samples which led us to Arabian Wood.”
The shelf life of fashion, after all, is a short one. Whereas fragrances, accessible to every gender, race and generation, are only bound by the change of scent. That is what he aims to create, he adds, “People might be quick to assume that the world doesn’t need another fragrance, but I think fragrance aficionados are looking for options besides mass produced fragrances, and applying the fashion cycle to a fine fragrance business has never been done before.” At TFK, customers are lured in on a monthly basis, as new fragrances are continuously launched, the look and feel of every TFK store is completely transformed from the décor to the staff’s uniforms. Applying his wealth of expertise from a career in luxe retail, these fashion-driven touches are considered a first to the retail environment at TFK, and an organic progression for Sheikh Majed’s vision.
With a current range of 80+ fragrances that are all unisex, divided into an everyday signature line in lighter-colored bottles, as well as a richer, exclusive line clad in dark, sexy, matte-finished black bottles, and a continuous flow of launches for special edition lines, TFK is bound to surprise and appease the desires of fragrance lovers worldwide. Sheikh Majed remarks that both product lines were tested via his retail experiment, and sales have shown a much greater response to the more intense creations presented in the exclusive ranges. TFK is also bringing back heritage ingredients like amber, saffron and cedarwood with lines such as ‘Modern Heritage,’ by collaborating with established artists to design these bottles, as well as a special signature line that he personally likes to use, entitled ‘My Collection’.
TFK aims to dispel the myth that Oud, a highly coveted fragrance that is commonly used in the Arab region, and also popular amongst a trend of Arabized Western perfumes, could be easily employed in any given fragrance. With years of expertise, Sheikh Majed explains to us the difference in ingredients employed, from high dosages of amber and sandalwood, to the elusiveness that is the original scent and difficult production of Oud. “Using the term ‘Oud’ when selling a perfume doesn’t mean that it does include natural Oud. Sadly, customers fall for these marketing ploys. With TFK, we’re moving away from what is naturally expected, where we instead employ Arabic inspired notes in certain fragrances.” The international best seller ‘War of the Roses’, sensually twisted and different, exemplifies this, or the ingenious blend that is ‘Arab Spring’. For this special scent, available in the exclusive ‘My Collection’ range, TFK presents a beautiful controversial representation of a literal Arab spring, as it combines the rich oils of flowers that bloom in spring throughout the Middle East, such as roses, jasmine, and white lilies. Furthermore, TFK has made plans for the year ahead. With every boutique or pop up store opening, an exclusive fragrance to that location is born, charming customers to follow the growth of this remarkable brand across different cities around the world.
Besides his cunning knowledge of retail and fragrances, being a visually inclined individual by nature only enhances the final customer experience at TFK, or any other project that includes Sheikh Majed’s signature touch. When it came to the design of the TFK store, he decided to employ an experience of scent, rather than a showy display of extravagance as employed by other generic fragrance brands. At TFK, the fragrances are mystical and seductive, and this experience is conveyed to the customer in the subtlest of ways. Marketed discreetly, one enters a setting reminiscent of a film-noir; the store is dark, the demure bottles are dimly lit, enticing the customer to come inside and explore. The expertly trained staff, an impeccably dressed legion of attractive men, or rather, professional male models turned brand ambassadors, showcase their knowledge in assisting you to find the perfect scent: or even a scent for every mood.
Such is the enigmatic crossover between fashion, art, and fragrance—it is one that is illustrative of Sheikh Majed’s admiration for the visual that is constantly apparent in his work. From the stunning displays we always observed at Villa Moda, to TFK, and even his personal Instagram account. Artistically disposed, he considers this social media tool as an evolved theatre of sorts that went from a physical manifestation to a digital one. “Ever since my time at Villa Moda, I’ve always been involved in merchandising and simply putting things together. My story with Instagram came by absolute chance and was never planned.” He smiles as he explains a process that delivers him with joy, an outlet for his regular musings. What began for the sole purpose of personal enjoyment, grew a mass following online that earned him a spot as one of Instagram’s officially suggested users, and the first from the Middle East. From a whimsical ‘Story In White’ series of almost 200 renderings that combine a handpicked selection of items (which he also aims to turn into a collector’s edition coffee table book) to videos always supported by musical themes, Sheikh Majed only translates how he views his surroundings. He adds, “I translate what I see, and put together a display that I believe is interesting. The encouragement I have received is solely based on people’s reactions and from the amazing people at Instagram.” This signifies yet another acknowledgement he is deeply grateful for. He’s even considering having his birthday this month at the Instagram headquarters, as a friendship resulted from his relationship with the social media channel that appealed to him the most.
As opposed to what could be reflected as an intimidating demeanor presented by a series of continuous grand achievements, Sheikh Majed is actually quite quick to strike a friendship. He conveys this to the world through his frankness, which is sometimes mistaken for difficulty. Throughout our meeting, we couldn’t help but see a simple person, passionate at his core, eager to communicate a business that is personally challenging, rather than a personal agenda that is business inclined. He doesn’t enjoy grandiose celebrations such as the Sheikh of Chic, or the King of Fragrances, and we ask him why. “I’m a simple human being. People sometimes perceive me as an aggressive person, even business partners sometimes think I’m a very difficult person to deal with.” He ponders, “I personally feel like people gave me these names, or titles, if you may, because during the fashion period I was the first one to stand up and speak and expose the Middle East. Back then, people in the region were very much media shy. Whereas now, with the fragrance period, it is an aftershock of sorts to the West.” TFK, at its core, is resplendent with its country of origin’s discerning taste, one that Sheikh Majed considers as “the most demanding. The Kuwaiti customer is certainly sophisticated and multi-layered, perhaps even the most avant-garde. They are constantly driven by the latest in media and technology. That’s how it’s always been since I started my fashion business, and is confirmed today by our GCC counterparts as well as the rest of the world.” After all, it is his patriotic ambition that challenges these stigmas, fortified with passion, and an intelligent business sense.
Reflecting on today’s Kuwait, Sheikh Majed looks towards positive directions, wishing to elevate the country’s status on an international level. He remarks, “In taking TFK internationally, a goal that we planned on pursuing from the start, I wish to show the world that we in Kuwait and the Middle East, are here to change the world’s perception of what we are capable of achieving.” He’s been asked by many officials to represent Kuwait politically as an ambassador in fashion-centric nations such as Italy and France, yet he simply cannot live outside of Kuwait, and would rather drive the country towards a better future that extends far beyond his passion towards TFK. “With the blessings of Allah, and my family, I will always have a passion and a love for what I do, and I never want to mislead people into thinking otherwise. However, I do have a wishlist for Kuwait, along with many initiatives planned for this amazing country.”
By choosing to stay in Kuwait, he is posed to serve his country in the best light possible. Talking to us more about his ‘wish list’, he wants to take his vision and aesthetic intelligence to completely revamp the country’s image specifically in three sectors that include Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait International Fair Company, and the Touristic Enterprises Company. He further explains that these three sectors, if handled in a proper manner, would create an influx of tourism in Kuwait that is intangible now. “The moment that those three, key sensitive areas are treated with the same type of vision and ingredients that I’ve implemented with TFK, for instance, the resulting blockbuster effect will be incredible for Kuwait, for our government, and for everyone. I know invested individuals abroad with riveting ideas, willing to undertake this broad assignment.” When asked if we should expect this change anytime soon, he modestly adds that he’s ‘put the word out’, and is looking to create a dynamic young team to join him in his mission, one that he doesn’t look to be fiscally rewarded for undertaking. Unveiled is a beautifully purist, political agenda.
Perhaps it is Sheikh Majed’s personal experience, challenged by many circumstances that pushed to stifle him as a young man looking to start a fashion concept in Kuwait, that drive him towards supporting Kuwait’s modern youth. Resenting the common sense of social following that is omnipresent in Kuwait, contrary to the achievements of an older generation of successful Kuwaiti entrepreneurs and artists, he wants the youth to want more than the social clout that they seek in business. “This phenomenon needs to stop. Whether it be a restaurant or an art gallery, success is only limited to a socially driven launch, and is always followed by a lull once the ‘trend’ has passed.” He explains heatedly, and then quietly tones down his voice in what was a passionate presentation of his wishlist, to add, “If we give the opportunity to the young, we will see miracles Inshallah.” He is constantly visited by young entrepreneurs seeking his advice, and, as per his nature, delivers a blunt, honest and always heartfelt evaluation to seek a business that they feel passion towards. Sheikh Majed has never been shy about his dreams, so others should never feel that way either. In considering the plight of the youth, he is most burdened by the notion that Kuwait’s generation needs a proper platform, one that projects the motivation that the youth requires to rise above the local arena to represent Kuwait in an international light. He concludes this discussion with a pensive pause, sipping on a delicate cup of cardamom-spiced coffee, which flowed generously during our meeting at the stylish TFK offices at Tamdeen Group’s head offices location at Mall 360.
Our chat then turns to points of inspiration, as we believe that Sheikh Majed is constantly on the search to find a muse. To this, he laughingly pares down our humorous counsel to an inner feeling, “you might even call it a sixth sense,” he shrugs nonchalantly, “I don’t even use a calendar, or an agenda. We all have brains, simply use them! We always have to invest in ourselves towards gaining more knowledge without relying on tools to become inspired.” Sheikh Majed might have enjoyed blending fragrances as a beloved hobby, he even calls it his yoga, finding a meditative state of refuge in this mythical tradition, yet his sixth sense towards wanting to start a fragrance business pushed him to better his knowledge when it came to the industry. He adds, “That’s the beauty between magic and logic. We’re magically intrigued by our passions, yet we need logic to successfully realize our dreams.” Even during his most spiritual mental states of mind, when he observes his prayers five times a day, he is inspired by this eccentric notion. “Astaghfor Allah, but I really do get ideas for my business while I’m engaged in prayer. I would enter a state of mind of deep reflection, as I am absorbed in my prayer, and bam! A solution, or idea somehow materializes.” As a deeply spiritual and religious man, he might value ambition, yet holds faith and family above all. Throughout his dazzling journey, he carries on a legacy of respect.
Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah leaves us with timeless pieces of wisdom—keeping the faith, perseverance, and following one’s passion despite all of the odds that might hinder one’s true calling.
The Fragrance Kitchen flagship store is located in Al Hamra Luxury Center in Kuwait, with international locations in Dubai, Milan, Florence, Moscow, London and Manchester and upcoming openings in Jeddah, Paris and New York. Please visit www.tfk.com/kw for more information or follow TFK on Instagram, @Instatfk. You can also follow Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah’s posts on Instagram, @Majedalsabahkuwait.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Having the blessings of Allah and my parents, followed by being with the person I love.
What is your greatest fear?
Fear of Allah.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Over eating sweets and desserts.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
When people use you for their own interest and leave you once they get what they want.
Which living person do you most admire?
There are many who I admire, not one.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Food and fragrances.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
When were you happiest?
The liberation of Kuwait.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would most like to have Steve Jobs’ talents.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Where would you most like to live?