Name: Mohammed Jamal
Company: House of Jamal
Jamal is the founder of House of Jamal, a British perfume house established in 2010. Jamal was inspired from a young age by his father's job trading essential oils and making his own oil based perfumes. He studied cosmetic science and then gained experience at various levels of the cosmetics industry, including retail and product development. He established House of Jamal two years later, reviving his fathers old fragrances, and offering clients bespoke fragrances of their own.
When did you first become interested in perfume?
I got into perfume at a very young age, from about the age of 6. My father was trading in essential oils, and he started to make his own which were alcohol free, specifically for the Asian market in the UK, as they weren’t really available here at that time.
By the age of 12 I was determined that I wanted my own brand, and I wanted to be like William Schultz, the Old Spice founder. He was a very inspirational figure for me.
I was very involved and passionate, but looked into courses and there was nothing.
So what did you study instead?
I went to university to study applied chemistry, but I just wasn’t enjoying it and ended up leaving the course. I was awarded a scholarship from the CTPA (Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association) to go on the Cosmetic Science Diploma course run by the Society of Cosmetic Scientists. But after this I still wanted a degree, so I went back to study for a BSc (Hons) in Cosmetic Science at the University of Arts London, London College of Fashion.
And when did you first get some experience of the industry?
Over this time I managed to get internships at two large companies. I did a summer internship at CPL Aromas in their application labs, and then a one year internship with Symrise, a German fragrance house. I spent a year there in the fragrance evaluation and marketing department, which was a very ‘high end’ experience.
When did this turn into a job?
Following my graduation, I got a tech sales role in cosmetic ingredients. From there I became a freelance independent chemist for contract manufacturers working on new products. But I really wanted my own retail boutique.
So what did you do about it?
I got retail experience working in major department stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges for many well renowned fragrance and skincare brands. My last retail post was as London Manager for L’Artisan Parfumeur overseeing four boutiques, training and educating the staff, that sort of thing.
So when did you make the leap to running your own perfume house?
Two years ago I went independent, reviving my father’s old formulas and creating two of my own new fragrances.
The old formulas were already there, but I went back to consult the old company he created them for. I have a long established relationship with them over 30 years, and have kept up this relationship, so they knew me, and were very helpful. They helped me to revive the formulas, referring back to the old data, and bringing it up to date to meet the current perfumery legislation and quality standards. They also assisted me with my two new fragrances.
Oil based perfumes have a very distant heritage back to 5th century ancient Arabia where the first oils were extracted. It’s the same method now but developed and produced in a more scientific way. So I use thousands of years of ancient perfume knowledge, bringing the best of each era to the brand.
I think we are a true global brand.
Many fragrance houses in Britain have sadly died out in recent years.
My ambition is to combine the art and science of perfume with creativity. The first year of House of Jamal was spent purely on research, gathering data, putting things in place. Then last year, I was doing the final preparation.
When did the business officially launch?
We lauched as a company in June 2011. Since then my role has grown. I don’t have as much time now to create new perfumes, there’s lots of market research and product evaluation being carried out in order to understand our client’s product needs and tastes. Recently I won the Enterprise Award at the Artsmart event, at which I was introduced to Doug Richards who then introduced the School For Creative Startups, so it sort of snowballed really.
From there I have started offering fragrance workshops for corporate clients. They book me for a few hours in the evening, for champagne and canapes, and an introduction to essential oils. They then have the opportunity to blend their own perfume by the end of the evening. I did one of those recently for a private city corporate firm.
You’re a perfumier, but how have you found the business side of things?
It’s been a challenge rather than a struggle. It’s a position I’ve not been in before, and I’ve learned I’m not experienced at everything. You’ve got to allow people to help you with things. A few years back I would have had difficulty doing that, I would have felt it was my baby and I didn’t want anyone else to be involved.
Experience has taught me that there’s things I can’t do, and you must ask for help.
It’s been great, since I asked I’ve received a lot of help. It’s sometimes frustrating when things aren’t progressing at the rate you want them to, but there’s always a reason for that, perhaps you’re not at the right stage, or you haven’t found the right person to help, lots of reasons. Other people can teach you a lot.
So what sort of challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge I face is being recognised in the industry. I’m building a better and stronger awareness of the brand. Also, securing interest from possible investors to go to the next stage of growth is a challenge. It can pull your motivation down when you’re trying so hard and it’s not always working. You have to just keep going, get support and be determined. It’s early days but I’m at the stage of communicating now with a large department store. I can’t say any more at this stage but it’s very exciting!
Do you have to work a lot?
I discipline myself to five working days a week! I work from nine until any time. And while I have no set weekends, I always make sure I take time out each week and enjoy life.
When you’ve got passion and excitement, you need to work hard every possible hour.
There is a working day but it’s not 9-5.
What do you spend most of your time doing?
The majority of my time is spent exploring the many perfume raw materials, helping me to keep my olfactive palate fresh and inspiring. I also spend a lot of time at the British Library carrying out industry wide research.
I also keep in touch with the Society of Cosmetic Scientists. They have lectures and seminars, last month I was in Birmingham at their event Making Cosmetics. They keep me up to date with new technology and formulas. You have to stay ahead of that in this industry.
What’s the perfume industry like to work in?
The perfume industry’s not something a lot of people will think of going into as a career. Either you have a family connection like me, or you fall in by chance.
It’s an industry which is huge, and has huge potential.
Lots of people don’t think of studying chemistry and going into perfume or cosmetic chemistry. Most often they will go into pharmaceutical, food or other such sciences. It’s only when they start applying that they may fall into the cosmetics industry.
Unilever and Proctor & Gamble (P&G) are the biggest employers, with huge graduate schemes. You can go in with an honours degree somewhere like that and start as a bench chemist progressing up the ladder. P&G are behind Oil of Olay, and in fact the guy who created Oil of Olay was my professor at the London College of Fashion. I was fortunate enough to shadow the team behind the Agent Provocateur fragrance in 2001, and I was taught by one of the technical managers behind Radox. Academia is very closely linked to the industry in that way.
How do you get creative?
My creative inspiration is influenced by places, culture, art, history, people, architecture, and the vast varied environment that surrounds us all.
It’s beautiful to revive an ancient art. People want products at the wave of a wand, but quality needs some time. It’s why so many people are bored very quickly of the perfumes they buy. It is now changing. I’m really happy to create a winning fragrance, it’s a real journey, inspired by the world around us.
You can create individual perumes for your clients, how do you do that?
Creating your own perfume with House of Jamal requires an investment of one’s time and passion, a minimum of 1 year plus. First I would create a fragrance profile of the individual, following one to one consultation, to understand their likes and dislikes, their aroma taste, lifestyle, why they want to wear the fragrance, what image they want to portray when wearing it. Then I experiment with raw materials. We create six different varieties of perfume which are sent to the individual to try and give feedback on, too strong, too weak, what notes they might like or dislike. We eliminate scents until we get down to the last two, then fine tune to create one perfect fragrance for them. That formula is then exclusive to them, to be passed down as a family heirloom.
To make a perfume I use a perfumer’s organ, that’s a term that’s only really just come into use actually. I gather raw materials from around the world and sit down to choose a base oil. There are 6 basic different fragrance families with many sub families (floral, woody, citrus etc) so I choose a family, then according to the family I will choose aromas which fall into that. The art is in how you combine them. I like to do something unusual though and introduce an aroma which has never been used in the family and see what happens, like introducing a fruity note into a woody fragrance. This is a process of trial and error, to see how it blends. It’s a lot to do with your emotion and your gut instinct as to whether you’re happy with the depth and character.
What's your favourite perfume?
My favourite scent (other than my own) is probably Clive Christian ‘Crown Perfumer’s Perfume, 1872’. This scent originally belonged to the crown perfumers, who were appointed to create perfumes for the Royal Courts by Queen Victoria. I also like 4711, it’s very simple with a wonderful history, going back to the 1700s.
What do you like most about your job?
Mixing new perfumes. I mix them at home, I have a little room dedicated to it. All the manufacturing is done at a factory because of health and safety, but the creation is done at home. I wouldn’t want to manufacture the perfumes at home even if I could. Other people can advise me at the factory, there’s the quality control team, sensory evaluation team and others. Health and safety legislation means there’s very high QCQA standards, and I would prefer to make my perfumes in that environment. You need modern technology. Storing raw materials is also difficult, they need a very specific environment.
Managing the numbers and business side of it. I love creating, pitching, selling, interacting with people, workshops. Anything engaging me and the product with the customer, I love.
But when people start talking to me about profit and loss and forecasts, I just think get a life, don’t bother me!
I hate tax returns, VAT, accounting. I will hide under the duvet and avoid these until I’m driven out. I have learnt how to make it less boring though. I’ve been taught to see what’s good, and now I can use the data to understand who my customers are, what’s selling, when, what age customers are, and general customer behaviour. I can take that and improve what I’m doing.
Who could be good at what you do?
Anyone with a true passion and will to make this a lifelong career really. Learning the art and continuing to grow with it requires both patience and love, it’s not something that one can master in a couple of years, besides after many years in the industry I can say that I am still learning and have much to learn.
In short it would suit someone that has the passion and will to carry on the legacy of many fine perfumers of the past and continuing on developing this for future generations to carry on their own legacy and contribution to this fine art.
I would love to take someone on to train them, so eventually when the time comes they can take the business on.
Hit me with your best advice:
If someone is at GCSE, A level or even degree level and studying one of the major sciences, you need to understand the theory you’re learning. Take an interest in products already on the market. There are lots of societies which offer affiliate membership, so you don’t necessarily need the qualifications to join. Through these societies you can meet people in the industry, build your confidence, learn about the industry and as you grow, opportunities will grow too. People will see you’re dedicated and offers of experience (even just a day or two here and there is useful) will slowly come to you.
There are many roles now which are not just restricted to the lab. You can do marketing, public relations, packaging design, technology, there’s lots of options.
The opportunities are endless once you’re in the industry.
Companies need everything for every part of the business. Formulating and development is just one part of the process, it also needs to be produced, bottled, promoted. There’s also lots of different opportunities on the retail side. That can be very rewarding.
Don’t give up and don’t expect to learn the art and science of the industry through qualifications.
You won’t get to know the industry at that stage. Build your qualifications but also take on as many opportunities as you can.
I would also say that in this industry don’t see a retail job as demeaning.
If you can understand the consumer, you can take that to the lab. It’s a great base to learn the terminology, how to express the product, and how it fits in within the industry.
While in the industry, you can take an annual exam from the Fragrance Foundation which tests the ability of people in the perfume retail industry, you get a Certified Fragrance Sales Specialist qualification. If you’ve got no experience and no contacts this can be a good place to start. The Society of Cosmetic Science also offer their distance learning diploma, and there’s now a postgraduate course at Plymouth University in Perfumery. France is so much better than the UK at promoting this industry. The University of Versailles offers a European Fragrance and Cosmetics Masters (EFCM).
At the London College of Fashion (where I did my degree course) there’s now a masters, an MSc in Cosmetic Science. The content is great, and really in depth. It will take you into the industry at a very high level. I would highly recommend that. You can leave after four years with a BSc I think. Three students I studied with have also gone onto PhDs in Cosmetic Science. One went on to be the head research chemist at L’Oreal in the US, and one went to Canada. The opportunities are slowly growing.