Richard Hopton smells out professor of perfume, Roja Dove…
Roja Dove is the sultan of scent.
He bestrides the world of haute parfum as entrepreneur, historian and ‘nose’. His range of scents, Roja Parfums, has been among the world’s consistently bestselling scents since their launch in 2007. His flamboyant appearance – embroidered velvet slippers, brocade coats and heavily bejewelled rings – combined with a somewhat autocratic manner, cements the analogy.
Roja is an ambassador for the Great Britain campaign, an appointment which ‘was one of the proudest moments of my life’. The scent he has created for the campaign has a heart of leather, rose and jasmine reflecting ‘our nation’s great creative tradition and our respect for heritage’.
Now in his late fifties, Roja – pronounced ‘Roger’ – has been fascinated by smell and scent since he was a small child. He says that his earliest memory of scent arises from his mother giving him a goodnight kiss. The image of her in a gold lamé cocktail dress with the light behind giving her a golden corona reinforced the memory of the smell of her face powder and scent.
As a teenager living in Sussex, he spent all his pocket money building up a scent collection. Roja’s enthusiasm for collecting grew into a serious interest in perfumery and its history. ‘Scent for me,’ he says, ‘is like releasing a genie – you’ve no idea where it’s going to take you.’ Before long he was corresponding with the great perfume houses and searching out examples of old perfumes. Having dropped out of Cambridge University he trained as a ‘nose’ at Robertet, one of the great, family-run fragrance houses in Grasse. In 1981 he was offered a job by Guerlain with a brief to devise a perfumery training course. He rose steadily through the ranks, reaching the pinnacle of Professeur des Parfums, or chief ‘nose’. The French luxury goods conglomerate, LVMH, bought Guerlain in 1994, and Roja became disenchanted with the new regime: ‘I am not,’ he says, ‘a corporate animal. I gave myself a year to leave.’
In November 2001 he started his own firm making bespoke scent for private clients, a strand of his business that still flourishes today. It costs about £25,000 to order a unique bespoke scent. In 2004 Roja was invited to open a parfumerie in Harrods. He felt strongly that ‘there had to be a good reason for a new perfumery’. Considering that modern perfume had become ‘disposable merchandise’ and the industry ‘debased’, he decided to draw upon his teenage collecting habits as inspiration for the new venture. The answer lay in picking and choosing – ‘selective stocking’ – across all the ranges of perfumery. ‘I chose them,’ Roja says, ‘not because I liked them but because, in my opinion, they were a good example of their type and style.’ This rigorous approach gave the collection a personal touch.
In 2007 Roja launched his own range of scents, Roja Parfums. It reflects its creator’s endless quest for perfection in its use of the best, most expensive ingredients, including ambergris and aoud, and in the eye-catching packaging. Each bottle, decorated with enamel and Swarovski crystals, is a work of art in its own right. Even the boxes are handmade. They proclaim Roja’s philosophy for all to hear: ‘I do not,’ he says, ‘subscribe to the bland or the banal. I hope no one can ever say I quite like what you make.’
Who has influenced you most professionally? Jacques Guerlain.
If you had to buy and wear a scent other than one of your own, which would it be? Mitsouko.
Do you have a favourite ingredient for scent? Labdanum and ambergris.
What is the worst crime in perfumery? A hollow promise: trust your nose not your eyes.
Where do you most like going on holiday? The South of France.