Habibi! There are plenty of things that make Dubai unique, from its luxurious hotels (Atlantis The Royal) and skyscrapers to its unique juxtaposition between tradition and modernity… But something not many in the West realise is that it’s the best place in the world to go shopping for some new cologne.
The Middle East, and the UAE in particular, has a well-established perfume culture. In Arab culture, fragrances are not just about smelling good, they’re also deeply intertwined with both religious and social rituals. Fragrances are a way of life.
Perhaps that’s why Dubai has carved out a reputation for itself in recent years as a real destination for those who are into their fragrances. The city’s status as a tourist hub and the wealth that flows through it – as well as its robust perfume culture – means there’s probably no better place on Earth to shop for fragrances than Dubai.
Shopping malls dedicate entire floors to fragrance brands. Hotels have their own fragrance boutiques. Dubai’s old town even boasts its very own dedicated perfume souk (or market), where artisanal perfumiers have been mixing and creating their own blends for decades. For a fragrance wanker like me, there’s nothing like it.
Dubai’s cosmopolitan, money-rich character as well as its robust perfume culture has made it the number one destination for fragrances in the world.
While it’s easy to find all sorts of high-end cologne brands on sale in Dubai – Acqua di Parma, Creed, Le Labo, Tom Ford and so on – Dubai’s perfume souk is also a great place to purchase affordable ‘analog fragrances’ that emulate designer fragrances at a fraction of the price.
In terms of the kinds of fragrances that are popular in Dubai (as well as the rest of the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula), oud fragrances reign supreme. An essential oil distilled from agarwood, a dark resinous wood, oud has a distinctly woody, rich aroma with a spicy smokiness to it – perfect for masculine fragrances.
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Another popular fragrance product you’ll find everywhere in Dubai is bakhoor: wood chips that are soaked in perfume oil and mixed with other ingredients such as resins, sandlewood and essential oils, and ignited. Emiratis will often hang their clothes by lit bakhoor to fragrance their outfits.
So if you’re looking for something to see and do (and smell) next time you find yourself in Dubai, consider going for a bit of cologne shopping. It’s a treat for the senses.