Shaper: Roja Dove

Show aired on 17th March 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I’m Elliot Moss – thank you very much for joining. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we also get to hear from someone who is shaping the world of business hopefully they’re bright and charismatic and they wear gorgeous blue jackets and the rest of it. We call them Business Shapers and luckily my Business Shaper today is wearing a fantastic blue jacket and his name is Roja Dove and Roja is the founder at Roja Parfums and Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie and of course my French accent is terrible. Luckily Roja will be telling you not terrible things all about his business and how he ended up in it very shortly. In addition to hearing from Roja you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business. Roger it’s lovely to have you here.

Roja Dove
Thank you it’s a pleasure to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now you are I mean this is the power of the mind can you just tell me what you’re wearing. I know it sounds ridiculous but most people that I meet …

Roja Dove
A jacket, shirt, trousers and shoes.

Elliot Moss
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah but really I mean amazing jewellery, fabulous jewellery.

Roja Dove
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
All sparkly and this blue jacket which when you look on Twitter and you see the picture at some point you will actually learn to appreciate. Roja is just thinking why is this man telling everyone about my jacket. I think it’s great to have you here Roja.

Roja Dove
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
Tell me about why you fell in love with scents and perfumes from a very young age.

Roja Dove
My first memory of perfume is my mother coming to give me a kiss goodnight. She was dressed to go to a cocktail party or a dinner I was far too young to know but I think it was not common for women to wear perfume every day you know it was something that marked a special occasion. So suddenly my mum’s dressed in a gold lame cocktail dress with jewellery, hair done and the smell of scent and when she came to kiss me goodnight I made a connection between this transformation. It was like my mum had been transformed somehow and what stayed in the room was the scent along with the memory of the image and I’ve always said I believe that that was the moment that I really was first put on this path that I’ve walked down and I used to go into my mum’s bedroom which I knew I shouldn’t and open the bottom left hand drawer of her dressing table where she kept bottles of cologne that a friend of hers bought from Paris. I think she didn’t like them because they were always tucked away but I used to open the box and open the bottle and unscrew it and smell, I just became transfixed by perfume. Never understanding of course that something like a perfumery existed, it was just a product. A lot of people, we often don’t think of what goes into making something it’s just something we see or we buy or we use and so I believe that my life was sort of almost pre-ordained or pre-destined that I was supposed to be doing this.

Elliot Moss
And this lets just jump right to the day before we go back again. Tell me a bit about your perfumes, where they are and how many different ones you have.

Roja Dove
Yeah so I have, I launched commercial perfumes in 2011 on July the 2nd. We launched in Harrods and we now sell in just short of two hundred shops around the world in just over forty countries. The perfumes are, have a very, very special fingerprint or factory fingerprint if you like. I was spoilt when I was very young because I grew up around the finest raw materials that can exist so I often say it’s a little bit like if you grew up in a world of cashmere, vicuna and silk suddenly the idea of bri nylon and whatever isn’t very appealing so I was really ruined because I was exposed to the finest materials. So the hallmark of my work if you want to call it that is the luxury of the raw materials and I believe very strongly, like with cooking, if you don’t buy the very best raw materials you can never make a great dish however good a cook you might be. So they are heavily based on naturals and have very, very complex bases. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Elliot Moss
That does my answer my question and I love and of course talking to the parfumerie man here, the word old factory has popped in very early and that’s made me happy and we’re going to come back and talk much more to Roja about all things old factory in a minute. That’s Roja Dove my Business Shaper today. Lots more coming up from him and how he was influenced from a very young age and seduced by the world of scent. Time for some more music this is Crazy Butterfly from Nancy Wilson.

That was Nancy Wilson with Crazy Butterfly. Roja Dove is my Business Shaper today talking about smell and the power of smell and that story as you told me, Roja, about your mother it’s a very, it’s a bit like listening to something and smelling something is often more powerful than seeing it I think and this must be right.

Roja Dove
I think one of the things that’s interesting with smell, most people don’t realise. It’s one of the senses we pay little attention to but of course we’re smelling all the time and the sense of smell never switches off so when you’re asleep if something happened in your home which, God forbid it ever does, your sense of smell will work and kick in. Sense of smell is the oldest sense in living organisms and you don’t smell with your nose you smell with the most primitive part of your brain. It’s the only sense which works directly on the brain and one thing which might be surprising to a lot of your listeners is that psychologically it causes more damage if you lose your sense of smell, if you become anosmic than if you’re blinded and if you said to most people not that anybody would want to lose one of the senses but most people ‘oh no lose the sense of smell’ but food becomes flavourless, your partner when you kiss them, your partner has no smell so people’s libido drops it’s a very, very, it’s so potent and its only when you make people stop to think about it they realise yes I take in a lot about the world through smell. I often say to people if somebody has a child that goes away to school, a very nice thing to do is to put something in for the child you know if they have a child that boards or something or going away on a holiday abroad first time. Put something in with your perfume so that they’ve got the reminder of your smell as their parent make them feel safer.

Elliot Moss
Now if my sources are correct and you can correct me if they’re not. This young boy of six or seven who was smitten the power of smell went on to not let go and continued to be focused on this and at around the age of fifteen/sixteen you started writing letters. Letters to Guerlain, the very famous Guerlain, they’re a fashion house and obviously a perfume house excuse me I’m mixing houses there but anyway the perfume house and you said you wanted to work for them and you didn’t stop until they offered you a job.

Roja Dove
Yeah it was, it was a bit of a strange thing. I think maybe it’s a sign of a time you know with globalisation and so on I wonder whether the same story could happen today which maybe it could but yes I was just fascinated with the history of parfumerie and I remember when I was about fifteen seeing an advertisement that showed some scents and each of them it had the name of the scent and the year it was made and of course when you’re fifteen you think somebody who is seventeen or eighteen is really grown up and twenty is ancient and I suddenly saw these perfumes that were you know dates that were eighty years old and seventy years old and it was the first time that it had ever occurred to me that of course the thing was made one day and I was fascinated. I’ve always been incredibly curious I think it’s a shame that as we’ve become adult we forget very basic words like what, why, when, how all the things children ask and I love learning things so I became fascinated to suddenly try to find out as much as I could about the history of parfumerie because it just expands my knowledge. I think that’s a really rather great thing so yes I ended up learning quite a little bit about that particular company and one day they said why don’t you give him a job, he’ll be less of a nuisance in the house than he is outside of it.

Elliot Moss
Just tell me very briefly about ingredients and why you’ve been so fascinated with them.

Roja Dove
Okay so if you take, as with all things, you can buy Shetland wool it comes from a sheep or you can buy a super 140 worsted comes from a sheep but the skill of a craftsman can transform something to make it more beautiful and more precious. So if very simply if you’re taking parfumerie something like jasmine most people would be surprised to hear you need approximately five million flowers picked by hand, there’s no mechanisation, the flower needs to be picked before the sun touches it because otherwise the yield of oil will diminish and the best quality jasmine costs around £34,000 a kilo which is double the price of gold. If it smelt the same as the jasmine that cost £7,000 a kilo there’s no point buying the one for £34,000. Rose, the best rose in the world comes from the South of France it’s called Rose de Mai because it flowers in the month of May, it takes around three hundred and six thousand flowers picked by hand to make a kilo of the oil and the entire year’s production is less than one day’s production of the Bulgarian rose as an example. So they’re commodities, what people forget is these things are commodities. So if you’re lucky as I am because I own my own firm that I don’t have an accountant saying, looking at a spreadsheet and saying what are you doing? So I can use what I like and these create very, very, very particular effects so I think that the materials smell luxurious therefore when you wear one of my scents I think you really can smell expensive. The other end of the spectrum is a bit of an ugly thought.

Elliot Moss
Well look make sure that you never ever smell cheap is all I will say. Stay with me for much more from my brilliant Business Shaper, Roja Dove and he does smell incredibly expensive as well as looking it. Much more coming up from him in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom I hope on top of these incredible words of wisdom over here and they’re going to be from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your burgeoning business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I meet someone who is the shaping the world of business. My most fantastic guest today though there’s the only one and Roja Dove, he is sitting right in front of me, smelling fantastic and talking all about the art that is the creation of perfume and you’ve referred earlier also Roja to my work if one may call it that but you are, you are an artist aren’t you I mean that’s, of course you’ve got a business and of course you’ve got your millions pounds of turnover but that doesn’t drive you does it?

Roja Dove
No I mean it’s nice.

Elliot Moss
But where does it fit though because you haven’t, as you’ve said …

Roja Dove
Well it fits because in the end I can carry on and on making things but in the end I have to buy the raw materials so the money needs to come in somewhere that’s just a practical thing.

Elliot Moss
And talking about creations you worked for other people for a long time what was the tipping point for you going to work for yourself.

Roja Dove
Oh that’s an interesting one. The firm that I worked for ended up being bought up by an enormous corporation. I am about as uncorporate as a human being can be…

Elliot Moss
I would say that’s probably a good summation of Roja knowing you well.

Roja Dove
And I realised very, very quickly that there was no point thinking that I could alter the environment I was in and understood from my own wellbeing that I needed to leave. The thing was I didn’t know quite what I could do and so I made a decision on Christmas Eve in 2001, sorry no, in 2000 that I would not be in the firm by the same time in 2001 and so I left on Halloween 2001. I worked five and a half months’ notice I thought that seemed the appropriate day to leave and started my own firm on November the 1st. So it was because I was suddenly faced with people that asked my teams to write out requisition forms for pens. I didn’t quite understand it and I hope I go to my grave not quite understanding it. So I went off, I started my own firm and I opened a parfumerie in Harrods, one of the first steps back into parfumerie. The very first thing I did in fact was, I was asked if I would create a scent for a charity auction for the Terrence Higgins Trust who have an auction which is held at Christies once a year as most of the listeners I am sure will know it’s one of our main HIV and Aids charities and I thought it was a lovely thing to do but I thought rather than making the perfume what I would do is put up an empty bottle so I knew the people at Baccarat very well and asked if they would reblow a bottle from 1925 from the decorative art fair. They did, so I put the empty bottle up and decided whoever bought the perfume I would create a perfume especially for them and it fetched more money than anything else in the auction. It was up against a Mercedes sports car and a holiday for six people or something in the Maldives. So it was when I first realised there were people who really cared how they smelt and very, very nice for me the person that bought its partner decided they had to have their own and so I had my first paying customer. So I got back into parfumerie with Bespoke and at around the same time I was invited into Harrods for a cup of tea and they said we’d like to open a parfumerie with you and I said I would just like a cup of tea please because I didn’t realise that, I had never had in my mind that I would end up with a shop. So I fulfilled my destiny as an Englishman because I became a shopkeeper.

Elliot Moss
You mentioned the bottle there and it strikes me also that beyond what’s inside the bottle the bottle itself needs to be a work of art as well. Is that right for you?

Roja Dove
Yes I think that if you look at our bottles the caps take five days to make, it’s not continual work but it’s a five day process to make the cap. The boxes are lined in silk inside, all the paper is copper plate. The boxes are made by hand and I think that a luxury product can’t be, I think there’s a very big distinction between what is luxurious and what is expensive. The inspiration for a lot of them are great though because you know I was invited to, I went to Russia in 2011 for the first time. I studied Russian when I was a child for about three years for some strange reason and I was given a private tour inside the Kremlin. You know I’ve lived this very privileged life that I’ve had so many wonderful experiences so I’m merrily walking inside the Kremlin not quite believing that that’s happening and the woman who is showing us round and explained about the Imperial Eagle and why it had two heads and so I decided that I would relaunch a perfume I had moved for the Victoria and Albert museum called Diaghilev who was the man who founded the ballet russe and so I thought okay well I’ll relaunch it and on the side of the box it has the Imperial Eagle which most people won’t know why it’s there but lots of things in our company are very symbolic it’s because one day I was fortune enough to find myself inside the Kremlin. So it’s full of little antidotes like that my brand.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more about the Kremlin hopefully. We could all do with knowing a bit more about that particular building right now. Roja Dove my Business Shaper here with me on Jazz Shapers. Time for some more music this is Georgia On My Mind with Ray Charles.

The beautiful sound of Ray Charles with Georgia On My Mind. I am with Roja Dove today and we’ve been talking about the world within the world within the world within the world of perfume and like any you know, it’s the privilege I have which is you talk to someone who has really, really loves what they do and really is a student of what they do and I think that’s what strikes me Roja and in your life you talk about loving to learn – how do you fuse these different worlds? Does it just come naturally or are you a bit of a secret grafter?

Roja Dove
I have always said that I don’t feel as though I actually do any work in one way. My work is part of my life which might sound a bit stupid but it’s just a way of living so when I go on holiday I am not thinking about work but very often I will come back from work and come with an idea, a whole concept for something that I want to make. So very often I can sit with somebody and just have a chat about something or other and an idea comes. I don’t sit down and think I need to think about…

Elliot Moss
That makes sense and the team that you work with how would they describe Roja?

Roja Dove
I don’t know. I hope that people would always think that I am supportive and encouraging. I think that we all have a duty to help the next generation; to pass on knowledge and help people become the best that they can be. I was very, very proud that the Financial Times voted me as one of the top 100 people to work for for allowing people to be themselves at work and developing that so I don’t know you would have to ask them. I might be delusional but that’s what I hope.

Elliot Moss
You know the creative people and I put you in that category but you’re also a craftsman and an artisan and all those other things. They often have the flash of inspiration but the flashes of anger and the flashes of frustration. Does that come with it or are you not that kind of guy?

Roja Dove
I think that if people know that I am angry about something or not happy about something one of my famous lines is ‘that’s a shame’.

Elliot Moss
Oh dear he just gave me that look as well.

Roja Dove
I didn’t even know.

Elliot Moss
You didn’t need to. I could just tell Roja. I felt bad because you were disappointed.

Roja Dove
I think… Indeed, so I think that most people if I am not happy would know it. I very, very rarely, I don’t think anybody has ever heard me lose my temper at work. I tend to become very quiet, if I’m not happy about something I become very, very quiet which I don’t do deliberately but I am sure people find that far more difficult than reacting to somebody who is screaming at them.

Elliot Moss
But obviously you’re passionate for not just, as you said you talk about the next generation and you also talk about the making of perfume. You’re an ambassador for the great campaign.

Roja Dove
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Is it fun going out and about in the world and saying we make wonderful things.

Roja Dove
Hugely, hugely. I think what most people won’t realise is that we have this very, very long history in Britain for making perfume. In fact there’s a sort of silly anecdote but somewhere you whizz by very often if you live in the south of a train it used to be called ‘croh denu’ which is Anglo Saxon for crocus valley. Today we call it Croydon. The world’s best, the world’s very, very finest lavender used to grow in Mitcham in Surrey and it cost ten times the price of finest French and of course, not of course in the War Croydon was destroyed because of the aerodrome and the ammunition factories that were there and after the war nobody replanted the fields. So we have this really, really strong traditions and you know all the old houses Yardley, florists and so on and it’s all sort of disappeared and what I am very, very pleased about is there’s this huge resurgence or renaissance in British perfumery, very contemporary British perfumery so when I was asked if I would become an ambassador for the Great Britain campaign it was really one of the proudest moments in my entire life because you sit and do what you do and I’ve no idea that people notice what I do you know and so the phone call came in, ‘oh we’ve got Downing Street on the phone’. ‘Oh we’d like you to come along’. ‘Oh okay’ and so the thing of going and beginning, I’m very proud that I am British and I am very proud to be able to talk about the things that we do in this country because I think we are quite a self-deprecating lot very often so once in a while to be able to go and sort of wave the flag and all I am really doing is talking about what I do and why we are all good at doing what I do. What we do. Not what I do.

Elliot Moss
And what you do specifically. I feel like I’ve been, I’ve dipped into your world just for a moment and it’s fantastic because you are, you have created a very rich experience for yourself because your brain and it strikes me also I meet lots of people but you’re, whatever one does people that do well tend to be clever in their own way and the way you can articulate smell is an interesting thing to some people it might be good at making things but not very good at articulating how they’ve done it but you do. The size of the business from a UK perspective I’m talking about now with your ambassador hat on and you need a hat to go with the jacket Roja, you don’t really. But the size of the business just tell me because I’m not clear on how big it is compared to the car industry for example, just help me understand?

Roja Dove
It employs more people and brings more money to the Exchequer than the automobile industry.

Elliot Moss
And you within this industry you’re not looking to be the biggest, you’re just looking to be the best?

Roja Dove
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Simple as that.

Roja Dove
I have what looks on the surface as a very, very arrogant tag line on our products we put the finest fragrances in the world and I am absolutely not talking about my work that is a comment on the quality of the raw material inside the product. So yes I think that for me luxury is a very, very specific thing. Quality is a specific thing and it can’t be maybe, it is either the best you can do it or you shouldn’t be making it at all.

Elliot Moss
But then there’s maintaining that quality and then there’s the sense of taste and I remember, I think it was John Hegarty one of my guests years ago said you can teach people lots of things but you can’t teach them taste. Your taste obviously does it move with the times.

Roja Dove
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Is there a sense that 2018 is a different…

Roja Dove
Totally scent is, because it’s something creative it always pre-empts or follows a fashion and in a book I wrote on perfumery it puts scent in a socio-economic context which is a whole conversation for another time and you can absolutely say in this period in history this was going on and it’s reflected by this style of perfumery. I think that if you are creative the thing that people come to you for is a point of view and so my scents make a statement. I’ve always said when you smell something of mine I don’t mind if you don’t like it. I of course love it if you love it. The thing that would upset me is if you said that’s quite nice because if you think it’s quite nice I’ve made something banal and as a human being one thing I will say is I am not a banal person. So if people like my work it’s because they like the style and the statement that each piece makes even if they’re very discreet scents you know and if it’s not for you, it’s not for you and that’s the great thing that in the world of perfumery as the world of many things, there’s something for everyone.

Elliot Moss
I can’t think of anything you don’t like doing within your own work but is there anything that you like doing so much it really makes your eyes even sparklier than they are? Without embarrassing you but do you know what I mean, is there something where you go that’s when I’m in flow. That’s when I am at my happiest?

Roja Dove
I think yes when I have, I think just when I have time where there’s no pressure – which of course is one of the greatest luxuries in the world – I would say most likely when I am either teaching and I see somebody get it. Where the penny drops and you see that they suddenly sparkle because they understand it. I like giving lectures. I think the thing of suddenly being able to share what you know with people is a lovely thing.

Elliot Moss
It’s been a real treat meeting you and chatting.

Roja Dove
That’s so kind, thank you.

Elliot Moss
And some really funny stories and I’m sure there are a thousand more and your, the book that we haven’t read, that I haven’t read on socio-economic impact and charting the history of perfume I’m going to have to go and find that.

Roja Dove
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
Just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Roja Dove
It’s a song by Nina Simone or sung by Nina Simone. I think that when we meet someone, anyone, whoever the person is that’s special in our life that none of us really should have an expectation although we all do and I think that it sums it up perfectly that this song is just something about something which just grows and grows you hope and won’t ever let you down and isn’t that what we all might hope in a relationship. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been living with my partner for forty three years and I think that it captures what I’m lucky enough to have in my life.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you.

That was All I Want From You by Nina Simone, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Roja Dove. A man totally immersed and at one with the thing that he does and loves every day which is make luxurious, wonderful perfumes. Someone who wants a point of view, a reaction from anyone that smells his perfumes, nothing worse than not getting a reaction and finally a really wonderful facet of his personality, the desire to share, the desire to share his knowledge and his understanding and his expertise with the next generation and anyone else that would care to listen. Really, really good stuff here on Jazz FM.

Roja Dove

Roja Dove was born in Chichester, England in 1956. He discovered his passion for perfumes around the age of 6 when his mother kissed him goodnight before leaving for a party – with Roja adding it was “the first time I made a connection between smell and a moment.” Roja was inspired by the aroma of a sweet and spicy bread wafting from the oven of his childhood home and the mossy, woodiness of the bluebell copse in his grandparents’ garden.

As a teenager, Roja spent all of his pocket money on bottles of perfume and started writing to Guerlain at 15. He was finally offered a job when one of Guerlain’s three founding cousins became “fed up” with receiving endless faxes and phone calls. Roja promptly left his medical studies course at Cambridge University and joined Guerlain to develop a perfumery training course. Thereafter, he worked with Nancy McConaghey, the creator of the perfume Ivoire for Balmain. Roja remained at Guerlain for 20 years before leaving in 2001 to become a bespoke perfumer. Roja Parfums launched in 2011 as “an antidote to mass-produced scents.” Roja has said that he is able to identify 800 scents from a single sniff.

Follow Roja on Twitter @RojaDove.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“We often don’t think of what goes into making something we see or we buy or we use. I believe that my life was almost pre-ordained or pre-destined – that I was supposed to be doing this.”

“We launched in Harrods and we now sell in just short of 200 shops around the world in just over forty countries.”

“The hallmark of my work is the luxury of the raw materials and I believe very strongly, like with cooking, that if you don’t buy the very best raw materials you can never make a great dish.”

“Sense of smell is the oldest sense in living organisms and you don’t smell with your nose, you smell with the most primitive part of your brain.”

“As a parent, give your child an item with your perfume on as a reminder and to make them feel safer.”

“The best rose in the world comes from the South of France. It’s called Rose de Mai because it flowers in May, it takes around 306,000 flowers picked by hand to make a kilo of the oil and the entire year’s production is less than one day’s production of the Bulgarian rose, as an example.”

“I also have a lot of perfumes that don’t sell terribly well and we have them because, from my point of view, they’re very, very important artistic, creative creations.”

“It’s a five day process to make the perfume cap. The boxes are made by hand and are lined in silk inside.”

“I was asked if I would create a scent for an auction at Christies for the HIV and Aids charity Terrence Higgins Trust. Rather than making the perfume, I put up an 1925 decorative empty bottles that Baccarat could re-blow. I decided that for whoever won the auction I would create a special perfume. It fetched more money than anything else.”