Winning scents: Allegiance shifts to Arabic perfumes

Different Arabian fragrances on display on May 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Kenyans, especially, women are obsessing over Arabic perfumes. In recent years, insatiable demand has only been for delicate florals or musky scents made in France or Italy, but now an increasing number of sellers are stocking Arabic scents from different house makers, from Lattafa to Alhambra.

The perfumes are no longer the preserve of those who visit Arabic shops. From the chaotic alleys of Nairobi’s Eastleigh, they have now found a permanent spot in upscale boutiques in Westlands and the Central Business District. On TikTok, there are tens of videos with reviews and Kenyans in discussions of how to apply Arabic perfumes.

Different Arabian fragrances on display on May 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Salma Swaleh, the owner of Middle Eastern Scents Kenya, a shop in Nairobi says it is a growing global fascination.

“The surge of interest in Arabic perfumes is worldwide. Previously, Western perfumes from France and Italy were considered good or original, but now people are realising that a perfume doesn’t need to have a hefty price tag to be of high quality,” she says.

She adds that the availability of different types of Arabic perfume that do not have the signature oud fragrance has made Kenyans more willing to experiment.

Economic push

She also attributes the heightened interest to economic factors, such as the global economic downturn, which has rendered luxury fragrances less accessible to majority of consumers. The availability of affordable alternatives to popular Western perfumes has fuelled curiosity about Arabic scents.

“Even oud scents are becoming a favourite for non-traditional users. There are many buyers from various backgrounds and communities in Nairobi,” she says.

To address the challenges of meeting the high demand while ensuring the stock is authentic, hurdles that many designer perfume shops face, Ms Swaleh, says sourcing from main suppliers is one thing a seller must master.

“We engage with companies directly to ensure we have a sustainable flow of quality products,” she says.

Different Arabian fragrances on display on May 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

As allegiance shifts to Arabic perfumes, part of the pain is getting the right scent that lasts longer. New users say certain houses tend to have better perfumes than others. But sometimes it is just the buyer’s preference.

Joy Njoroge, who fell in love with Arabian perfumes last December, says she knew about them from the many reviews on TikTok.

Longer lasting

“Now, I am obsessed with Arabic perfumes because they last longer and someone smells elegant. I used to find Western perfumes less gender-specific, featuring oud and spicy, musky notes commonly found in both men’s and women’s fragrances. Additionally, many Arabian perfumes use oils as a base and not alcohol,” she says.

For Edith Wekesa, 32, her love for Arabic perfumes started at the beginning of 2023 when she was looking for a new scent.

“I have a decent collection of middle fragrances. I enjoy them! Sometimes you can over-spray and not worry about the cost because they are cheaper. A scent should smell nice, last long and project. If I can get that for a cheap price, then that’s a steal,” she says.

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