WHEN we meet, Roja Dove is wearing a billowing turquoise silk shirt tucked into trousers held up by a diamante belt with a skull clasp, and has skin so dewy it could be that of a 20 year-old boy. Such remarkable self-presentation, not to mention his mellifluous voice, is immediately suggestive of the fact that there’s nobody else quite like him in the world. For a start, the English parfumier (Roja is an old spelling of Roger) is the world’s only Professeur de Parfums, though this is more of a general term that refers to his huge status in the industry rather anything too terribly specific. Yes, he tours the world lecturing and consulting on fragrance. But he’s also a sort of a magisterial figure, with his silky manner and superhuman powers of smell.
After working in the perfume department of Guerlain for decades, Dove set up the Haute Parfumerie at Harrods. It’s an opulent lair, with limited and special editions, crystal vials, multi-shaped bottles, chandeliers and even a perfume that costs £140,000 – The Party In?Manhattan, which sports a bejewelled lid with 26 parve diamonds hand-applied in the stoppers.
The Haute Parfumerie is where all Dove’s expertise – and his supreme connections – come together. It contains only the best scents in the world (in Dove’s view), and is free of the branding mania that takes place in the ground floors of department stores, with Dior, Chanel and Benefit girls all trying to spray you with the latest scent. This means you can find discontinued gems like Jean-Charles Brosseau’s Ombre Rose, an iconic scent in the 1980s, alongside Dove’s own rather more expensive bespoke fragrances and hundreds more, mostly French-made.
A very fragrant consultation
The centrepiece of the Parfumerie is Dove himself, who holds immensely sought-after consultations there. It was for this, in my struggle to find a summer scent, that I went along to see him at the Haute Parfumerie.
We sit facing each other in a velvet curtained booth, amber liquid glinting all around us like whisky, and begin. For a man that looks as though he could read your very soul, Dove surprises me by sticking to the strictly olefactory. The consultation is basically a long process of elimination, whereby I am repeatedly presented with two scents and choose the one I like most.
He talks me through each one and suddenly they make sense: I can smell their structure, detect their notes and how they rise and fall as you sniff. He juxtaposes freshly squirted scents with those that have faded as you hang on to them (time is an important facet of fragrance). Some begin sharp and go powdery; others are all musk and exoticism and end up smelling of holly. We run the gamut, from Dove’s bespoke line, to 1970s classics, to brand new Parisian boutique scents.
He doesn’t tell you what anything is until you reject it. And after hundreds of smells, your nose becomes tired. But eventually, it leads you where it wants to go, despite your preconceptions about the type of perfume you go for. I usually reject floral and anything that could possibly remind me of old ladies, and go for musky notes. Yet I wound up with two that I’d certainly never have found on my own: the powdery Ombre Rose and a wonderful, light floral scent called Paradis Paradis from L’Atelier Floue, a Paris parfumier. Thanks to Dove, I’m sorted with two summer choices that will serve me well not just this year, but probably for many to come. Roja Dove’s Haute Perfumerie is at the Urban Retreat at Harrods. One hour’s consulation with Dove is £250. An hour with an expert is £50. www.harrods.urbanretreat.co.uk