“The scent allows us to revisit at an important moment in our lives,” said Amna Sultan Al Habtoor, founder of the Dubai-based unisex perfume brand “Arcadia”. The scent of soap in your parents’ house invites you to a nostalgic childhood, and the perfume of your old lover reminds you of faint memories. There is a strong connection between scent and memory, which unknowingly stays deep in the brain for a long time.
Fascinated by the “power of fragrance,” Amna began making perfumes to keep memories of her mother, who died at a young age. Eventually, her passion for perfume extended to business, graduating from perfumer schools in London and New York before launching the brand in 2016. The business has grown in the United Arab Emirates, such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia, and handling at the Isetan Shinjuku department store start in 2020. Currently, it has expanded to London and Stockholm. She chose Japan for her first distribution in Asia because she strongly connected with Japanese culture throughout her life. I asked about her passion for perfume, the philosophy of “Arcadia,” and her love for Japan.
――What does perfume mean for you?
Amna Sultan Al-Habtoor : Scents in its many forms, whether perfumes or incenses, are a huge part of the Emirati culture and household. Naturally, perfumes hold such high importance to me. One of the oldest memories of perfumes is the scent of my grandmother’s house, which is a beautiful combination of traditional incense, known as bakhoor, fragrant oils and perfumes, mixed with the warm smell of Arabic coffee. That scent is extremely nostalgic for me and something I wish I could bottle and keep with me indefinitely.
―― What made you create “Arcadia” ?
Amna : My love for fragrances is inspired by the memories of my late mother, peace be upon her. This passion grew more with time and fueled me to start experimenting with my own mixtures that made me reminisce meaningful moments in my life. I loved the idea of bookmarking a significant, yet relatable time in my life and being able to return to it with a familiar aroma.
I first leaped faith when I created a fragrance to capture my wedding time and distributed it to all my guests as a memento. When I knew how they cherish the fragrances, it gave me the full confidence to create the brand. The fragrance I created for my wedding is now part of “Arcadia” as a special edition fragrance called Infinity.
―― What have you been doing before you created “Arcadia” ?
Amna : I’m a graduate of graphic design and joined the family business in the marketing and communications department at Al Habtoor Motors, with high involvement in some of its most luxury profile deals, including those with Mitsubishi, Bugatti, Bentley, and McLaren.
After over 7 years in the family business, I decided to redirect my ambitions by exploring one of my earliest passions, perfumery. I seized an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of creating a niche perfumery, completed several international perfumery courses in London and New York, and soon enough, Arcadia was brought to life!
――Why do you name “Arcadia”?
Amna : “Arcadia” is defined as any real or imaginary place that offers an image or idea of life that is believed to be perfect.
I believe all of our senses have been conquered, except for the smell. Taste through the wide variety of food that’s available to us, vision through art, hearing through music, and touch through our every movement. However, our sense of smell is taken for granted. There are many instances where there’s a scent that triggers a special moment in your life. Although at that moment, you stop to take it in, you can never completely capture it. “Arcadia” aims to let you capture these moments and revisit them whenever you wish to.
――When a scent recalls memories, it may not be just good memories but depression or distress. Do you expect “Arcadia” fragrance to be linked to people’s personal experiences, regardless of the emotional type?
Amna: Precisely. Each fragrance has a poetic narrative to trigger certain memories and emotions. Edition 1 was created to trigger happier, youthful and more blissful moments in life. However, Edition 2 is also known as the Dark Series as it aims to recall harder moments in life. An example of an Edition 2 narrative is from No. 16 Faded, it reads:
“A fragment of your torment still survives. I needed strength. On command, my glass refilled. I clutched it for support. Your remnant would soon be extinguished.”
――Please tell us more about your signature products
Amna : Although each fragrance has its own uniqueness, I believe one of our signature fragrances is No. 1 Royal Orchard. It has immense international appeal. Even though it contains some regional notes like musk and amber, it combined with fresh and familiar notes such as jasmine, vanilla, and pineapple, making it a fragrance of choice for men or women anywhere world. It also works beautifully for layering, a common tradition regionally whereby the fragrance is further elevated with traditional incenses and oils.
――How do you describe your home country Dubai? What is the connection between Arcadia and Dubai?
Amna : Dubai is a city that is true to its roots yet progressive. I believe that’s perfectly reflected in “Arcadia” as it’s a brand the lets the fragrance itself stand out on its own, without any elaborate packaging, yet progressive with its brand beliefs and narratives.
――Why is “Arcadia” a unisex fragrance? Is it because the UAE endorses gender equality and guaranteeing equal rights for both sexes?
Amna : “Arcadia” was created to trigger human emotions; this is not limited by gender, age, social class, culture, etc. My father, husband, community, and country leaders have never made me feel less than or unequal, which is why I believe many women like me in my society have become leading entrepreneurs, wives, and mothers. Of course, there are a lot of misconceptions of patriarchy in Arab cultures. Still, I strongly believe that there are many untruths in such stereotypes, especially in the Emirati culture, that I hope to break.
―― Why did you choose Japan for your first distribution in Asia?
Amna : Japan and Japanese culture have always played a big part in my life and upbringing. My relationship with Japan is twofold. Growing up, I was surrounded by Japanese culture through their cartoon, anime, video games, and fashion which was dubbed in Arabic at the time. From a more business perspective, my family acquired the official UAE distribution for leading Japanese car manufacturers, Mistubishi, in 1983, so the Japanese business acumen was always part of my surroundings.
Naturally, with such a background, I was determined to get “Arcadia” into Japan. With a scheduled campaign shoot in Tokyo, I set a very long list of meetings with the right people I knew would believe and support my vision. A year later, we are now available in Isetan Shinjuku with plans of further expansion shortly.
――What kind of impression do you have of Japan?
Amna : I remember my first trip to Japan in 2007. I was in absolute awe of the country, people, culture, nature, and art. Every time I visit, I’m even more impressed with its natural beauty, rich culture, history, the legacy of distinctive gardens, sculpture, and poetry. Japan’s beauty is also reflected in its people, their generosity, respectfulness, and kindness.
Though there are too many memories of Japan, I could say one of my favorite memories is going to Tokyo Karting around the city. Growing up Mario Kart was and still is my favorite game, so Tokyo Karting was absolutely amazing as I felt I was reliving my childhood! I love how Takashi Murakami creates such youthful and unique masterpieces. I own a few of his pieces that I’ve displayed around my home.
My love for Japan is reflected in the Edition 1 collection, as I wanted to capture the feeling I felt on my first trip to Japan. That is what inspired the creation of No. 4 Hassaku High which has notes familiar to Japan such as fresh, citrusy notes of mandarin, lilac, jasmine, lily of the valley, orange blossom, and violet. These notes are further elevated with more oriental notes such as sandalwood and musk.
――Japan may be less familiar with perfume if I compare with Dubai, the EU, or western countries. Do you expect to influence perfume culture in Japan through “Arcadia”?
Amna : As with most things in the current world, cultures, likes, tastes, traditions, and others no longer have borders. It’s the same with perfumery. More than ever, oriental-inspired fragrances can be found internationally by the biggest names in the industry.