Syrian perfumer needs ‘a touch’ to emulate luxury brands

Syrian perfumer needs ‘a touch’ to emulate luxury brands


A touch of a fragrance is all Syrian perfumer Mohammad al-Masri needs to recreate the scent of a luxury brand – without the label and for a fraction of the cost.

Dozens of customers flock to his tiny shop every day, nestled in the historic market of Old Damascus, many flashing photos on their phones of high-end perfumes they wish to replicate.

“All I have is my business and I’ve been training this nose since I was 15,” the 55-year-old told AFP, pointing to his face.

“I don’t have a big workshop or high-end equipment.”

After 11 years of brutal war and economic disruption, most Syrians are struggling to afford basic necessities, let alone perfume.

Before the war, Masri mainly created expensive oriental fragrances with heavy notes of oud, a sweet and woody scent, as his family has been doing for a century.

But after Syria plunged into conflict, demand for cheap imitations of premium brands skyrocketed, and Masri’s store walls are filled with images of world-famous perfumes.

“Perfume is essential for young women, it’s like food or water,” said 24-year-old customer Cham al-Falah.

“I used to buy Western perfumes, but I can’t afford them anymore because imported products are becoming harder to find in Syria,” she said while ordering a scent that mimicked her favorite Italian perfume.

Though Damascus has escaped the worst of the devastation of the war, which began after its government crushed peaceful protests, the local currency has lost nearly 99 percent of its value on the parallel market.

Syrian employees and civil servants reportedly earn an average of about $25 a month – a quarter of the price of a bottle of imported perfume.

Masri sells his fragrances for around $6 and attracts a stream of customers from all walks of life.

Ahmad Dorra, 60, traveled from the mountain town of Zabadani, 50 kilometers away, to buy five bottles of perfume for his family.

He watched as Masri arranged dozens of vials on a table—essences of jasmine, Damask rose, musk, and other scents used in his concoctions.

“I don’t know much about Western brands,” said the farmer, “but I trust (his) nose”.

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