I fell in love with Roja's NüWa before I knew its price. At an editor's event with Bergdorf Goodman, I sprayed a sample on the collar of my shirt and couldn't stop sniffing myself, even long after the session ended. The scent stayed with me like a Scandal cliff-hanger: I needed more, much more. But more wasn't easy to come by — the fragrance retails for $1,150. I reached out to Roja Dove, the man behind the ultraluxurious fragrance line, and asked him about why his perfumes are so expensive and what he considers to be the best-smelling place on Earth.
What was the inspiration behind NüWa?
NüWa is inspired by the legend of the Chinese goddess who is said to have created woman and man and filled all flowers with fragrance. Each of the perfumery materials I chose has been handled in a way to create an Oriental [scent] that is both rich and soft at once, to deliver a memorable yet respectful perfume of balanced simplification.
I imagine the type of person to wear it to be a person who appreciates indulgence in small, subtle doses.
What makes your fragrance so expensive?
When I pay three, four, or up to ten times the price of gold for a raw material, there is a reason why: A scent is the sum of the contents in the bottle. In my creations, I use the very finest quality materials such as jasmine from Grasse in the south of France — it takes 5 million flowers picked by hand, to produce just one kilo of Absolute.
Also, the leitmotif of the Roja Parfums brand is the Swarovski crystal cap — 14 of these special crystals adorn the cap of each of my creations. Embedded into an 18-karat gold cap, these unique gems are specifically commissioned for their color.
You make custom perfumes for $40,000. How do you decide what perfume and notes fit a person?
I developed a unique methodology in fragrance selection called “Odour Profiling©." Using around 200 raw materials, I judge a client’s response to each odor through a series of comparisons that allows me to develop an understanding of their emotional ties and experiences with various scents — unpicking their olfactory locks like a cat burglar. I spend between 6 and 12 months developing their bespoke scent.
The interesting thing about this work is that you have no idea how people are going to react. They often say that it is like going to see a shrink: I am not meaning to, but I am making them think about things — memories of people and places — that they would have sworn they had forgotten.
What is the best-smelling city that you have traveled to?
That would be Grasse, a little town in the South of France that is considered the world’s capital of fragrance and is therefore a perfumer’s dream location to visit. It has a perfect microclimate for flower farming, with the world’s best and most costly jasmine and rose being produced there.
Do perfumes expire? If so, after how long?
Heat, light, and oxygen are scent's greatest enemies, so always keep them away from direct light, preferably in their boxes and in a cool place. Like wine, a natural perfume will continue ageing in the bottle beautifully as long as it is airtight.
This interview has been edited and condensed.