Growing up in the ancient Omani city of Sur, recognised for its trade in spices, frankincense and oud, Sheikha Hind Bahwan was immersed in the rich fragrances attributed to the Middle East from the moment she was born. With a mother who created her own perfume from Oman’s rich ingredients and an entrepreneurial father, Sheikh Suhail Bahwan, who is considered one of the Oman’s and the Middle East’s most successful businessmen, it could be said that it was her destiny to create a coveted perfume brand. Here, she tells Villa 88 how she went from Computer Science graduate at Harvard Business School to haute parfumerie expert.
OJAR fragrances Red Redemption, Mahrajan and Épine du Désert
Can you tell us about your career?
I started my first company, Bahwan CyberTek, at the age of 23. Today, the company has established itself as a leader in the technology, supply chain, education, business-process-outsourcing and security system verticals. We evolved from a two-member organisation to a workforce of 3,000 employees. We have a global technology company that has been featured in case studies delivered by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as three joint ventures, a renewable energy business, a commodity trading business and, now, a lifestyle business.
Experimenting with perfumes has always been an integral part of my lifestyle. Two years ago, I made the decision to create a perfume brand that is authentic yet modern; a brand that is inspired by my heritage and yet has a contemporary appeal that combines the perfect fusion between East and West.
In 2019, you received the Legion of Honour award. How did it come about?
I was very humbled and privileged to receive the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur for initiating and developing the Omani French Friendship Association (OFA), of which I was the Chairman. The OFA is a not-for-profit organisation that is focused on deepening bilateral trade, cultural and economic relations between the Sultanate of Oman and France.
An image from the OJAR Absolute Roses campaign
How does it feel to be on Forbes’ list of the Middle East’s Power Businesswomen 2021?
I am very proud to be recognised for any success I may have achieved. I am also very grateful and fortunate to be a daughter of Sheikh Suhail Bahwan, who is recognised as one of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs. Watching and learning from him as I grew up gave me the confidence to venture into business at a very young age. I feel very fortunate to have inherited some of his entrepreneurial DNA and to have surrounded myself with a team of exceptional professionals who helped me build my group.
What do you love about perfume-making?
As a perfume lover, the process of creating fine fragrances is fascinating. The entire journey of creating OJAR has been a complex, incredible and rewarding experience. I particularly enjoyed working with the highly talented professionals who helped me translate my vision into a reality.
Can you explain the layering concept?
It is a part of our perfume ritual in the Middle East. I like to create a base with a fragrance oil, and then accessorise and boost it with an eau de parfum spray throughout the day. The layering combinations are endless: I want the OJAR wearer to experiment and create new, intimate signature fragrances that reflect their personality, mood and occasion. To encourage layering, we recently released the OJAR Eau De Parfum range of 18 fragrances that can be combined with the OJAR Absolute collection. The Eau De Parfum sillage boosters come in a 15ml format with an innovative layering ring, which allows consumers to creatively explore the multitude of fragrance combinations.
Body Oil Mist by OJAR
When were you first introduced to scents?
Perfume is entrenched in Omani culture, especially in my home city of Sur, which is famous for trading in spices, frankincense, oud and wood. I inherited my love of fragrances from my mother. She used to mix and create her own perfumes at home. My fondest memories are of blending various perfumes with her during my very early childhood. Experimenting with fragrances then became a passion for me and a very important part of my relationship with my mother. It is a family tradition that remains an integral part of my lifestyle. I have so many memories of the different fragrances and aromas of Oman. One scent in particular that is etched in my earliest memories is the burning of luban and oud in our home.
How did OJAR come about?
OJAR was born out of my love of fragrances, perfumery rituals, and travel. When I set out to create OJAR, it was very important that I develop a brand that reflected what I learned and experienced from my travels; a brand that was universal and authentic – a marriage of fragrances, rituals and styles from across the globe that bridge tradition and modernity, whilst remaining true to the heritage and culture of Oman and the Middle East. The name OJAR comes from ‘Hojari’, which is widely regarded as the finest-quality frankincense resin in the world, found in Oman’s Dhofar mountains. Frankincense is one of the main ingredients of the brand’s permanent collection.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My inspiration comes from personal experiences, memories and emotions. By nature, I am an explorer; I get inspired by family, travel, culture, people, art, music, poetry and business. Oman’s heritage and culture – the vibrant contrasts, the warmth of its people, the unique ingredients, architecture, materials and colours – have also been important influences and inspirations for OJAR.
What are the main ingredients in your perfumes?
The OJAR collection comprises 18 individual fragrances based on six core ingredients that can be layered or worn singularly. Three of them – frankincense, rose and honey – are inspired by Oman, forming the brand’s proud Omani DNA. Sandalwood, oud and musk, meanwhile, are much-loved ingredients from across the world; when combined, they act as harmonious companions that blend Eastern and Western notes together.
You’ve just launched the new Body Oil Mist – how did that come about?
OJAR is a progressive brand. We are always looking to develop new products for our portfolio. OJAR Body Oil Mist is a natural extension of our hero product, the Absolute Perfume Oil. The Mist is a bi-phase formula, combining the moisturising virtues of prickly pear oil with the revitalising properties of cactus water. Its unique, scented skincare formula gives your skin a silky touch.
I inherited my love of fragrances from my mother. She used to mix and create her own perfumes at home.
What do you envision for the future of OJAR?
Creativity, innovation and quality are at the heart of the OJAR ethos. I would like to see OJAR as the standard for fragrance layering and the reference for innovation in the fragrance industry.
Do you have any advice for women looking to start a business?
Thankfully, today, there are numerous female role models from across all walks of life to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs. We live in a modern society, where women are highly educated, ambitious and successful. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. If you have the idea, work ethic, commitment and don’t underestimate the challenges, I’d say be bold and go for it.
OJAR can be discovered at the OJAR counter in Perfumery & Co, second floor at The Dubai Mall.