By creating a line of roll-on oil-based perfumes in 2020, UnifromTM sought to redefine the perception of perfume by going against traditional botanical scents. While the scents are conceptualized in Stockholm, refined in Paris, and meticulously crafted in Grasse, they have garnered an undeniable global presence. Haisam Mohammed, the mind behind Unifrom™, holds a deep-seated memory of lingering spices and other aromas from his childhood that inspired his novel approach to perfumery.
The scents themselves become an olfactory uniform, embodying the brand’s name. For KHAMSA’s latest creative talk, Haisam shares his perspective on Unifrom™’s creations, journey, and vision.
١. What is your first memory of perfumes?
I cherish the memories of my father, who was a passionate perfume collector. I vividly recollect him returning from his journeys to East Africa and the Middle East, always bearing perfumes as gifts for me. These precious moments began when I was just five years old, and they hold a special place in my heart. His thoughtful gestures not only sparked my fascination with perfumes but also ignited my desire to explore the world of scents and create something truly meaningful.
٢. Unifrom™ fragrances are named after specific moments in time and places. Can you walk us through your thought process and inspiration for some of the fragrances?
Our first creation, Maghrib, takes its name from the Arabic word for “sunset.” It was born from the enchanting experiences of watching the sun go down from the rooftops of high-rise buildings during warm summer nights. This fragrance holds the essence of cedarwood and tobacco, evoking memories of my childhood home and the homes of countless ethnic families, where the aromas of cooking, incense, and spices mingled in the air.
Bliss is a tribute to the delightful sweets we received as children when visiting family and friends. We would compare the amount of candy received, often associating it with how loved we were. This fragrance captures those joyous moments with notes of hazelnut, vanilla, and saffron.
Being an avid tea drinker, I was captivated by the ceremonial rituals of pouring tea from great heights. This inspired me to create a fragrance that encapsulates the aroma of tea. Thus, Dawn was born, with its notes of green tea, maté, Sichuan pepper, and cinnamon, expertly blended.
٣. I read about Unifrom™ wanting to create a user-generated fragrance to answer questions such as, ‘What does winter smell like?’ I’d like to know more about this.
As a brand, our mission has always been to involve and be inspired by the people who support us—the customers who make Unifrom what it is. That’s why when the idea of creating a winter fragrance came to mind, I immediately thought about the concept of co-creation, allowing our community to be part of one of the first user-generated perfumes. We wanted to tap into the abstract notion of the smell of winter and gather input from our diverse community, considering that winter scents can vary greatly depending on where you are in the world. It’s incredibly fascinating to hear perspectives and answers from individuals in Japan, Sweden, Canada, Morocco, and beyond.
This initiative is deeply personal to me, as breaking into the fragrance industry was a significant challenge. With this project, we aim to reach out to underrepresented individuals who have a passion for perfumery but have yet to be given the opportunity. We invite them to be an integral part of the process, defining what winter smells like and receiving due credit as co-creators alongside our team. Unifrom™ will always embody a collaborative, inclusive, and positive experience that engages people from all walks of life all around the world.
٤. You once mentioned that the traditional perfume industry is inspired by botanical gardens, and that’s not something you personally relate to. Can you tell us more about your vision of changing the Euro-centric perspective on “premium” perfumes?
Away from the fancy French botanic gardens that inspire commercial perfumes, there’s a different kind of scent reference: the stairwells of high-rise buildings where families from all over the world settle down. The air is filled with the delicious blend of spices, the lingering aroma of incense, and the mouthwatering smell of food being cooked. It’s these everyday scents that form the heart and soul of Unifrom™.
Scent has always been a big part of my culture, so I found it odd that our unique experiences were largely absent from the fragrance industry. I soon realized that the industry was pretty exclusive and didn’t exactly welcome new voices or perspectives. But now, Unifrom™ has the power to shake things up. We not only create and share new stories within the Western fragrance world, but we also take on the responsibility of welcoming fresh voices who are curious about the industry. We want to break down barriers and make the fragrance world more inclusive, representing the diverse tapestry of scents and cultures from around the globe.
٥. How did the Western market respond to strong scents, and did they connect with the story you were trying to tell?
While not everyone can directly relate to my personal story, I do believe that people understand and appreciate its refreshing nature. We have received immense support from individuals who resonate with the unique perspective we bring to our products. In recent years, fragrances have garnered increased popularity among younger consumers, who are becoming more knowledgeable about long-lasting scents. This trend has worked in favour of perfume oils, where the concept of “strong scents” has been warmly received.
٦. What was Unifrom™ breakthrough in gaining international recognition and success?
I believe our success can be attributed to a combination of factors rather than one specific instance. It’s the culmination of good timing, carefully crafted products, and a strategic shift in our brand positioning towards the fashion community, as opposed to solely targeting the perfume and beauty audience. However, I must emphasize that we are not yet fully successful in achieving our goals.
Our community has played a crucial role in our progress, constantly supporting and propelling us forward in every opportunity they have. Our fragrances are intentionally designed to be portable, making them ideal for travel. This aspect has helped us gain an international audience quickly, as people have embraced the idea of having a signature Unifrom perfume in their bags during their journeys.
٧. How did the collaboration between Unifrom™ and Heliot Emil during PFW last year materialise?
We believe the next frontier for the runway is about connecting more deeply with the audience through scent scapes. Just like architecture, the spatial distribution of fragrance at the fashion show can be designed – using diffusers, incense, and scented objects. In a time when people are overwhelmed by screen time and strong visuals, scent can speak about the collection in multi-sensory ways. Heliot Emil contacted us after meeting them in Copenhagen about whether we could collaborate. As we had already contemplated the idea of adding another dimension to fashion and runways, it became the perfect time to execute that vision with one of the world’s first scented fashion shows.
٨. What exciting developments or innovations can we expect from Unifrom™ in the coming years?
I’m truly passionate about exploring cross-disciplinary opportunities that push the boundaries of where and how fragrance can be used. It’s incredibly exciting to delve into uncharted territories and discover innovative applications for scents. We, however, don’t feel pressure to release an overwhelming number of new products or projects simply for the sake of it. Quality and purpose are at the forefront of our approach. We prioritize crafting exceptional fragrances and designs that resonate with our audience and leave a lasting impression; therefore, we are taking slow with product development.
You also tend to forget that there are still many individuals who haven’t discovered our brand yet, and for them, all of our products are news.
Rapid Fire Questions
Your signature scent?
- Maghrib by Unifrom™
Favourite Unifrom™ scent?
- I’m currently obsessed with Bliss. It’s a sweet gourmand that sits on a base of leather.
Spray-on or roll-on perfumes?
One product that you want to gatekeep?
- I’m not a gatekeeping kind of guy. But would it be gatekeeping if I share it here?
An outfit is not complete without…?
- A scent.
The interview was conducted and written by Maryam Radman.