Perfumer Dana El Masri is on a mission to enrich the fragrance industry beyond simply the sense of smell. Since launching Jazmin Saraï in 2014, she has intertwined her unisex perfume and scented-products brand with music and authentic Arab culture. “The role of scent is cultural and emotional,” she says. “It’s a subliminal way to communicate with each other. We take it for granted, but scent is so integrated in our daily lives.”
El Masri grew up in Dubai to a Lebanese father and Egyptian mother, and although she now works from Montreal, Canada, her Arab heritage is what her brand is built on. The stories shared on her digital channels bring attention to regional music, customs, rituals and the origin of the raw materials she uses as ingredients in her small-batch products.
Tired of the cultural appropriation and misleading stories in perfume marketing, El Masri prides herself on Jazmin Saraï’s genuine storytelling, relayed in poetic prose and metaphoric phrases. By releasing perfumes inspired by songs and iconic moments or people in both her parents’ home countries, with alchemic blends that sometimes include ingredients synonymous with the MENA region, such as lemon, cardamom, palm frond or cedar wood, she shares parts of her culture in a way that feels uplifting. “Jazmin Saraï tells stories that are authentic, positive and rich, and not so steeped in negative propaganda, darkness and war,” she explains.
Her latest release, Fayoum, is an ode to Egypt’s Fayoum Oasis, with notes of African violet, mimosa, Egyptian clay accord, date and fig. “It was made after a very pure experience I had that I felt was important for me to share,” she says. El Masri describes the moment: driving through rows of palm trees, surrounded by the desert, with the sun beaming in hues of yellow, blue and green, and then entering the artisanal hamlet of Tunis and experiencing a kinship with the land, where she smelled the muddy scent of clay baking in the sun.
“It is pretty different,” she says of Fayoum, a scent she created by hand in her small studio. “It’s not Orientalized – it is not rose or amber or anything typically Middle Eastern – but it is still emblematic of a very specific microcosm of Egyptian culture.”