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Moe Khalaf | Kajal: When Art & Luxury Meet Appreciation & Gratitude

May 20, 2024 | Scent Talks

MOE KHALAF, co-founder of KAJAL, offers a glimpse into his journey from the realm of designer fragrances to the establishment of his own perfume house. With an innate artistic sense nurtured by his parents from an early age, he discusses the genesis of Kajal and its guiding principles. Expressing admiration for perfumers, Moe shares his perspective on the current state of niche perfumery, which he envisions as artistic perfumery. Additionally, he candidly discusses the challenges he faced in establishing Kajal and provides valuable advice to aspiring indie brands.

 

So, Moe, you’re the founder of Kajal but there isn’t much about you on the brand’s website. How did perfume enter your life?

Thank you for this opportunity to share more information about the brand.

I founded Kajal in 2013 along with a business partner, Ibrahim Faris. We both had been working in the fragrance industry for different brands and, collectively, we created the Kajal Perfumes brand and launched our first scent, Kajal, in 2014.

My professional relation to perfume started in the year 2000 – and very much by chance. I was supposed to start work at a large company that had many different divisions. Instead of delving into their “food” business, I got offered to handle a more important job as a brand manager for the YSL Beauté fragrance brands – on my first day on the job! I enjoyed the work in this lavish industry and was soon after appointed by YSL directly to manage the brand in Saudi Arabia. From YSL, I moved to Estée Lauder Companies, overlooking 12 different territories from the subsidiary in Dubai. My responsibilities also included creating a regionally relevant fragrance line, which I did under the Aramis line. This sparked the love of fragrance creation, which in turn fueled the desire to create Kajal when I left to immigrate to Canada.

 

Can you share a personal story that has influenced your approach to fragrance creation, ultimately leading you to establishment of your own niche fragrance house? How did you envision the brand? What does ‘Kajal’ mean?

I have always had an affinity to the arts and architecture of the region I grew up in. I was brought up in a family and environment that bolstered artistic creativity. From an early age, my parents enrolled me in art classes, and I was encouraged to express myself in different mediums that stimulated my artistic sense. This was also coupled with the love that I developed for designs of buildings and tapestry of the Middle Eastern region that I grew up in.

In the establishment of Kajal, I wanted to bring together all these elements to shed more light on the beauty that I was seeing and for others to realize this too. This vision also sparked the naming of the brand, derived from 2 main inspirations. In the Indian culture, “kajal” is the word used for the natural kohl that is used to protect and beautify the eye. And the word “khajal” in Arabic: expressing modesty and humbleness with those that you deal with.

 

Kajal Art

 

What have been the main creative, technical, and logistical hurdles in developing Kajal? Reflecting on your journey, is there anything you would have done differently? What advice would you give to new indie brands?

Kajal had to be created from scratch, as a brand, as a presence, as an identity. I had worked in the creative process in my previous work with a multinational, as I mentioned above, but there were many elements that were done that I had no exposure or knowledge of. This was one of the biggest hurdles that I faced, there was no real “manual” on what to do and which steps to take in the creation of a brand. Reflecting on the journey and whether I would do things differently, I think I would give more time for the brand to mature and grow up…as counter productive as this may sound, I think it helps a person set a proper foundation for the brand with out missing anything…and this would be my advice to new indie brands…

  1. Know that it is not a “quick” industry that you are getting into…things will take time;
  2. Things should take time – don’t cut corners and have the patience to wait for things; they will come;
  3. Set a foundation for proper growth. Think ahead and think how you would need to scale things;
  4. Ask, ask and ask again. It is OK to do so. You may find people that will willingly help, and you may find others that do not offer any advice. But at the end of the day any information is better than none, and if you manage to find that 1 piece of advice, then you are already ahead and progressing;
  5. Attend packaging trade shows, perfume exhibitions and scent related seminars/lessons when possible;
  6. Immerse yourself in the online world of fragrances…there are many social media outlets that provide a whole lot of content that you benefit from.

Kajal’s repertoire is renowned for its artistic diversity, both visually and scent-wise. Is there a common thread that unites the different creations? A DNA? Some of your best-sellers are known for their fruity yumminess…

We have worked and constantly work on our brand identity, whether this be through the visual appearance or also via a common thread of scent. Of course, we do offer a variety of different scent profiles, but I guess a specific DNA does exist that people recognize, and this is generated from the creative direction that we are heading in. If you look at the fashion world, this is more recognizable. Brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dior, to name a few, have with their signature styles and these are driven by creative directors that head them during a time or tenure. It is very much the same with Kajal, but of course, on a much smaller scale.

 

Kajal CollectionsFrom top to bottom, the Classic, Fiddah, and Wardé collections

 

Kajal recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. In just the last few years, scents like Lamar, Almaz, and Masa have become hits in the fragrance community. What do you attribute the success of these specific creations to?

3 words: gratefulness, respect, and appreciation. We look at our products as a proud father would look at this prodigy, but we believe that there is a lot more to work and improve on – we have to remain grateful. We also see what other brands are doing and other beautiful creations are in the market, and we are always amazed by the level of sophistication and the quality of the work that is put into the products. Respect. And we always appreciate the people we work with, the friends that we create during this journey whether they be clients, suppliers, retailers…everyone we connect with. These I think are the 3 main attributes to the success of any creation regardless if it is liked by many or few.

 

You collaborate with legends like Mark Buxton and the beloved late Rosendo Mateu, rising talents like Kevin Mathys and Gökhan Şimşek, and indie stars like Rania Jouaneh and Christian Carbonnel. How do you choose the perfumers to work with?

Follow your instinct – that is how we “choose the perfumers” we work with. I have always been a proponent of letting fate take its course on who we work with. I don’t make it a point to “choose” but rather, I prefer to let the scent capture my attention. Skill and talent exist in the perfumer industry, as with any artistic and skilled profession, but I have never let experience hinder the possibility of working with up and coming perfumers. If it is something that fits our story and concept and is what we are looking for, then we will gladly work with this creation and the creator behind it. I think this is why we have an array of different personas and skilled artists within our arsenal of perfumers.

 

Kajal NosesThe creators, top to bottom, left to right: Marc Daniel, Alix Miral, Rania Jouaneh, Rosendo Mateu, Mark Buxton, Urs Castelleti & David Chieze, Christian Carbonnel, and Valérie Garnuch-Mentzel

 

How would you describe the current landscape of niche perfumery? How does Kajal distinguish itself from other independent perfume brands? Are there any new projects or directions Kajal is exploring for the future?

I believe that niche perfumery is blooming into a more appropriate term: artistic perfumery. There are some niche brands that are distributed more widely than “designer brands” but are still considered niche… Hence, I think that using the term “artistic perfumery” would make more sense.

For Kajal, our distinction comes in the signature design and identity that we have and still are creating for ourselves. We are always evolving, always learning, and constantly trying new things. We introduced a new concept of fragrance in the form of microencapsulated oils that are used as scents. We reinforced a relatively un-used form of cross sampling by having vials of our scents in the boxes of our new creations, so that people can experience our fragrances… Tokens of appreciation is something that we dearly believe in and offer at Kajal.

The projects that remain to be discovered or embarked on are plenty, we just need to remain true to our identity and the direction that we have set ourselves on.

 

Kajal ScentXploreKajal at ScentXplore (2023)

 

What mark would Kajal like to leave in history?

We would love to be recognized as the brand that truly created perfumes for the love of people and for the love of the world of scent.

 

In 2 or 3 words, how would you define perfume?

Perfume is scented art.

 

Moe, thank you for your time and for sharing valuable insights with us. Would you like to add something before we wrap up?

Be kind to one another and do more “good”; the world needs this now more than ever.

 

 

Follow Kajal on Instagram: @kajalperfumes

Check out Kajal website: https://kajalperfumes.com

(images cortesy of Kajal)

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