To read parts 1 and 2, click here and here.
There was another gentleman in ankle-length attire right across the aisle from Pregoni. Dhaher bin Dhaher wasn’t wearing a costume, but the immaculate kandura and guthra of an Emirati. The first buzz about his brand, Tola – named after an Arabic unit of measurement – reached me via a young Saudi woman who is passionate about fragrance. At last, she enthused, here was a line presenting the traditions of her culture in a refined, contemporary manner: the very opposite of the bling-slash-wall’o’oud we tend to associate with the region’s brands (or brands produced for the region). There was even a new scent, not yet launched, that was somehow capable of summoning memories of family and home for every person of Arabic descent, she said…
With Tola, Dhaher bin Dhaher gently, graciously reminds us that the art of perfumery has been practiced for centuries in his part of the world. In fact, it is still very much a hands-on craft in private homes. Dhaher says he composed his line himself with input from his mother and sister (but his blends are not necessarily traditional, and he does use synthetics). The range is presented in alcohol-based eau de parfum (I saw extraits too at Pitti), and Dhaher is currently working on bakhours – agarwood chips soaked in a blend of aromatic ingredients, which are burned to scent rooms and clothing.
Unlike many French-Oriental brands produced specifically for the Middle-East that claim to be rooted in French history – Parfums de Marly comes to mind –, Tola presents itself as a fully Emirati house. You could even say it turns the table on Western companies’ mad scramble to court the Middle-Eastern market with its deft hybridization of niche codes with Arabic culture. The approach is also very different from Amouage’s, which has a more cosmopolitan vibe with its Hong-Kong-born artistic director, French perfumers and variations on Western fragrance families. Tola offers a streamlined packaging and 1001 Nights-style tales for each fragrance. These are illustrated by Dhaher’s nieces in a style that echoes Georges Barbier’s pictures of Paul Poiret designs – the pre-WWI Orientalist craze returned to sender, as it were.
Dhaher’s boutique Villa 515 in Dubai is further proof of this translation. It was designed by Lilian Driessen who did the three Avery Fine Fragrance shops in London, Modena and New Orleans. (I’ll be getting back to the beautiful and forceful Driessen, an Amsterdam-based designer with her own fashion and perfume brand, MariaLux, the latter co-created with her life partner Alessandro Gualtieri of Nasomatto fame). As far as I could tell from the pictures Dhaher showed me on his iPhone, the entrance of the shop features an installation of chairs affixed to the walls – a statement on the paradoxes of Emirati culture that sprang from Driessen’s surprise at seeing the number of chairs lined up against the walls of houses in Dubai, which nobody ever sat on…
Tola, already sold at Selfridge’s in London and by Nose in Paris, was one of the nicest discoveries of Pitti for me, though I can’t say I tried very hard to smell everything.
Because, you know: Florence.
Vidéo : The Making of Tola