The perfume entrepreneur talks fragrance therapy, scent layering and Kayali
Mona Kattan is a busy woman. Co-founder and global president of Huda Beauty, she also stars in reality show Huda Boss with sister Huda, runs a YouTube channel and keeps up with her two million plus Instagram followers.
But it is scent that has always been her first love. A bona-fide fragrance fanatic who owns over 2,000 perfumes, it was a no-brainer for Kattan to expand into the world of scent, launching luxury fragrance brand Kayali with co-founder Huda in 2018. Earlier this year, the brand released its latest scent Déjà Vu White Flower 57, a white floral fragrance centred around jasmine and tuberose – two of Kattan’s all time favourite scents. “Jasmine specifically reminds me so much of my parents,” she says. “My mum always wore jasmine perfumes and my dad always picked me jasmine flowers growing up. So it was a very emotional fragrance that really made me think of love and safety.”
It is exactly this intertwining of scent, emotions and memories that makes fragrance so powerful for Kattan and which also informs the strategy behind Kayali. For Déjà Vu White Flower 57, Kattan drew on themes of love and romance to create a fantasy around the perfume. “It's about setting the tone for people to create their memory with the new fragrance,” she says. “Because they've seen this picture that we've created, maybe they're going to wear it on their first date you know. I've really loved getting into the storytelling because I am a super emotional person. It's actually been really exciting.”
Kattan has also taken this love of fragrance and emotion into her new tutorial for Dazed Beauty. Sharing her tips and favourite scents, she guides us through how different smells can help elevate our mood and improve productivity while working from home.
Below, we speak to Kattan to find out more about the perfume, scent layering, and the difficulties of being a social-first fragrance brand.
You’ve said from the beginning of the brand that you want people to be layering the fragrances. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Mona Kattan: The layering concept really is something that I personally have been doing my entire life. Being somebody who was originally Middle Eastern, I wanted to kind of take that tradition that we already had in our culture and make it more global and also make it more modern. In Middle Eastern culture, when you would visit someone’s home they would bring you up a tray of perfumes. It would be their family-made, home-signature fragrances that they created through different mixing of oils. They would give it to you at the end of a meal and you layer yourself with different fragrances. And I thought why is this not a global thing? Why isn’t it a modern thing? Because it’s something that’s kind of dying out.
That tradition is so cool and I want people to do that with all their perfumes. Layer it, layer different formats, whether it's a perfume or a cream or oil or a hair mist. It's so individual, I love that it's a way to make something your own. The more I would layer, the more compliments I would get because it just adds so many layers of complexity to the fragrance. The way they diffuse together with all the different top notes and base notes, if you mixed it in one bottle it wouldn’t be the same as if you layer it separately. I know because I’ve tried it before! One time I thought ‘this is taking way too much time for me to layer everything separately,’ so I mixed everything in one bottle and it did not smell the same. I think just chemistry just didn't work out. But when you take the time, the layers create something so magical.
Kayali was launched purely on social platforms despite fragrance being notoriously difficult to convey online. How have you found that experience?
Mona Kattan: It's so hard! It is really, really difficult. It’s been a huge learning experience for myself and the company because with Huda Beauty we’ve always done such a wonderful job just marketing on our social. If you swatch an eyeshadow palette people can understand how it will look on them.
With fragrance, there's a lot more story time that has to go into it and the sampling is also a huge component of launching a fragrance successfully. I'm still learning and with the team we’re really trying to focus on innovative ways to do sampling and create something special but it's a challenge.
That’s one reason why we try to do a lot of education through the fragrances. On the backside of the packaging it has the main keynotes that really kind of create the identity of the fragrance. You put them on the packaging so people actually know what they're smelling because most brands don't do that yet which I think is something that needs to change in the industry. Put it out there because if people don't start understanding what they're smelling, how are they going to make educated decisions online or on social? I think that's something that the industry needs to do for people.
Is that how you think fragrance brands should adapt in order to sell online?
Mona Kattan: That's one important component that definitely has to happen. They just need to start putting it on their packaging and in their storytelling and even in-store – if there is a way they could put the individual ingredients up for people to smell. So they understand, what does tonka bean smell like? What does bergamot smell like so people could really understand what that is.
It's something I would love to do with Kayali at some point. I just don't think we're there yet. But I want to do a mini masterclass with consumers so they understand what pure ingredients smell. Because before I got into Kayali I actually didn't even know what 75 percent of ingredients actually smell like. And I had a good understanding because I've been a fragrance junkie for like 20 years almost. So I think we need to educate people. And that's something you kind of have to do in person because you can only do that much through social media unfortunately.
How do you convey the scent of a fragrance online?
Mona Kattan: For Déjà Vu White Flower, we did a lot more storytelling around it. That's why we also gave it the name Déjà Vu because it's all about romance and love, that’s the feeling it gives me when I smell it. It's very sweet and romantic. I know that the translation of words, sweet and romantic, smells different to everyone. But that's my personal take on it.
It is complicated because again, you might think that it smells like my laundry. Fragrance is so personal! The actual translation of every fragrance will be different to everyone, which I also think it's such a beautiful thing. I think that's one thing that makes fragrance so special, so personal. But from my side, I've really understood Déjà Vu to be super romantic, very loving and very warm.
Kayali is over a year old now, over the past year have you learned anything that's made you launch this new perfume differently to how you launched the ones at the beginning?
Mona Kattan: Absolutely. I think number one would be having an actual name, we added ‘Déjà Vu’ ahead of White Flower 57. The first collection that we launched was four fragrances which just had a key ingredient and that number of modifications. But I think I was expecting people to just understand what things smell like. I really learnt that you have to paint a picture and tell a story to really make people understand what you feel the fragrances are.
We've gotten a lot more creative with storytelling. We've made it a lot more emotional. I just learned to become a better storyteller because if you don’t paint the picture, it's like you lose that connection. Fragrance is super emotional. It taps into your memories in the craziest ways more than anything else does.