Coco Interview with Roja Dove; Perfumery, Passion And A Legacy

It’s a sunny Thursday morning back in July, the sunlight streams through the window of Café In, Mayfair. A  nice change from the office. The reason I’m here sits opposite me, Roja Dove. Fingers adorned with the finest jewels, a blue and white patterned shirt that perfectly compliments bright blue eyes and his glowing bronzed complexion highlights the genuine smile that greats me. Meeting with Roja is very much like meeting with a friend, you feel comfortable and there are no secrets.

When it comes to his brand, Roja is extremely transparent, his fragrances are ‘the finest in the world’ and no this isn’t a man trying to convince you, this is a man stating fact. After starting a career in perfumery in 1981 and launching Roja Parfums in 2011, he is now world renowned for his luxury fragrances and his empire is a constant success.  With olfactive senses like no other, bottles beautiful enough to grace the finest dressing tables, ingredients as rare as you can imagine and fragrances that ignite the senses, it’s no wonder Roja has acquired the title; Master of Perfumery.

‘Master of perfumery? Oh god, I’m flattered. I think that’s the only response I have for the title! I have had clients who I have created bespoke fragrances for, yet when we opened the Roja Dove Perfumery in Harrods, nothing else like it existed anywhere in the world. I think that’s where the title must have developed from.’

When it comes to discussing his success Roja believes it is down to simply having a niche and focusing solely on himself and his vision. Insisting that within the industry there should be a deep understanding of what you are trying to achieve, along with a strong sense of who you are, what your message is and then essentially you should, skip to it.

‘One thing you should never do is worry about what other people are doing. I think so many people spend so much of their time focusing on other people. When starting a brand or shop or design. The first questions asked are usually along the lines of what are our competitors doing. This is dishwater. It’s not in the least creative. If you look at what other people are doing and create something around it, that to me is the absolute antithesis of creativity.  If you try to be like everyone else, are you going to be as good as them?’

Being a creative gives Roja a mind which never struggles for inspiration, rather the opposite. Instead he admits there are times when he has ‘to put the brakes on’. As creating new perfumes and churning them out removes the ability for existing fragrances to flourish. When it comes to physically creating his fragrances Roja admits that in every day life, ideas mull in his mind. The process begins with the shape of the scent and the story it has to tell. Roja is undoubtedly a story teller but tells them using scent rather than words. Once the idea is there, he beings to select materials in order to make it a reality. He then sketches the scent out and begins dropping and mixing things together, until eventually, the formula is done.
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‘I have a particular style, my style is driven through the quality of material. not many people are used to working with the types of material I work with. I have my raw materials to make perfumes which the cost, it would blow people away. The most expensive being ambergris, which I pay £100,000 for a kilo. That’s precious. They are so rare. Everything around the world that has my name on I have been involved in it, every step of the way.’

When it comes to fragrance, it is not only for stories or smelling nice, scent is a subliminal messenger, it constantly gives messages. Our sense of smell is our most evocative sense, yet we don’t smell with our noses; it is all down to the primitive part of our brain and scent is learnt from a young age.

‘There are a few scents within the industry that I find abhorrent and sometimes if I’m near someone who is wearing that scent, I just want to be away from them. It’s a natural instinct to pull away.  When you smell great perfume, they have a level of quality about them. I love the Oscar Wilde saying ‘I’m a man of simple taste, I simply like the best.’ One breath of a scent can wrap you up in a magical moment or comfort you. That’s the beauty of scent. It gives us a gift and that gift is memory.’

Despite his love of creating unique fragrances, Roja is not one for fragrance collections. Fundamentally we may all have an abundance of fragrances at home but when it comes to that date or that interview or that special occasion there is only one in that collection that we tend to reach for. After wearing the same scent for 30 years and one day discovering the formula had changed, Roja had to decide how he wanted to smell. Which for him, he admits is an odd thing, as he dedicates his life to how others would like to smell. He decided of course, to create his own signature scent and now can’t imagine smelling any other way. With what fragrance he wears being a key question in any conversation, then followed by either ‘how much is it?’ or ‘where can I buy it?’, Roja eventually gave in but on his own terms.

‘I didn’t want to sell it at all. Imagine being me, wherever I go, people either comment on my scent or ask me who I wear. So I would say its only something I make for me. People just went on about it. So I decided I would sell it. My birthday is 25th September. So on my birthday I make 25 bottles for Britain and 25 bottles for the rest of the world and I don’t make it again until the next year. I have a number of quirky things within my firm. For example I have a scent called ‘A goodnights kiss’. If it wasn’t for my mother giving me a kiss goodnight kiss, I wouldn’t be a perfumer. If anyone ever looks back at my work I hope they realise some of the things I have done.’
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For Roja there is no such thing as routine, every day is different. Hard work for him is sort of an odd concept, admitting he works extremely hard but at the same time feels like he hardly works at all. ‘I am very privileged to have found something I adore. I can’t abide negativity. I can’t abide people who tell me they can’t do something, there is always a way to do everything. Everything in life for me is like that.’
With a diary filled for the next two years and a detailed schedule informing him of what he should be doing every 15 minutes of the day, a break is of course needed. When the odd weekend is free with nice weather Roja loves nothing more than having lunch in the garden with a pot of tea.
‘Anyone who knows me knows that I always want a cup of tea near me. I love reading, I like letter writing and I love going to the opera. My favourite past time is spending time with friends; a good cocktail party followed by dinner.’

Yet when the opportunity arises for a holiday, Roja doesn’t indulge in his hobbies, in fact he opts to do nothing. ‘I don’t read, I don’t talk particularly, I just lay. Lots of people cant believe I do but it’s so different to how my life normally is. I don’t feel the need to occupy my time.’

When asked ‘what’s next?’ Roja tilts his head with a knowing look and explains that for him this is a difficult question to answer. He does not state he will be releasing another fragrance nor that he will be expanding his company, as these are normal attributes of a company. Instead he explains that the intention of launching Roja Parfums was not only for his passion but for the very specific reason of leaving a legacy for his parents.

‘In the end, I would like to sell my company. Which is an odd thing to do but it’s the practical thing to do. The reality is I own a multi-million pound company, that a lot of people work in and a lot of people love. I want to make sure that its future continues to be bright and it continues to shine for a very long time.’

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