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Dutch Perfume my story

At the age of fourteen, Mohamed Semhani (36) took the first steps towards a career in the perfume world. When he was seventeen, he opened his own perfume shop in Syria. However, in 2011, the war put an end to everything he had so carefully built up. At the risk of his own life, Mohamed had to flee. Now, years later, he has another perfume shop: Dutch Perfume in The Hague.

When Mohamed was just a little boy, his grandfather told him that he had an excellent nose. Mohamed’s family has been mixing special recipes from nature in Syria for 300 years. So it was spoon-fed to him. “Perfume is my culture, my family. I never thought of playing, but of working. Hard work. So I wanted to continue what my family started a long time ago.”

Own store
Always and everywhere Mohamed was busy with smells. At the age of fourteen he set out with his own oil and let the inhabitants of his mountain village Latakia smell the self-created scents. Although his parents had perfume factories in and near the village, Mohamed preferred to run his own shop. He managed to do that: when he was seventeen he bought his first business. “My shop ran very well. I sometimes had ten thousand customers a month. Everything was perfect and I had a beautiful life. Until the war started in 2011.”

In no time, the situation became untenable. Because most of the people in the village were against President Assad’s incumbent regime, their lives were insecure. Mohamed was also on a list of opponents of the government. “I still remember getting a call that I had seventy-two hours to get out or I wouldn’t survive. My company was worth a lot to me, but I couldn’t save anything. Everything was broken in no time. I had no choice but to flee to Turkey with my wife and children.”

To the Netherlands
Mohamed stayed in Turkey for about a year and a half. That was not easy, because he was treated differently because of his nationality. In 2014, the perfumer decided to leave for the Netherlands with little money. His family stayed behind. “I had to get to the Netherlands by boat. I absolutely did not want to take my wife and children with me. In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t, because I spent fifteen days at sea with only a little bit of food and water. I had no idea what my future would look like.”

don’t look back
Fortunately, Mohamed reached the Netherlands, where he stayed in the asylum seekers’ center in Gilze. He soon had a new goal: learning the Dutch language, looking for work and further developing himself. “It was a difficult time, but I wanted to stay strong. For myself and my family. Eleven months later they were allowed to come here by plane. In the Netherlands we were able to breathe calmly for the first time since the war.” The memory of what Mohamed lost is painful. “I don’t like to think back to that time. I have seen children, women and men killed by the police before my very eyes. That’s terrible, but I’d rather not think about that. That is why I focus on the future.”

The best quality
Mohamed went back to work as quickly as he could. First as a cleaner and later in the hospitality industry. After five years in the Netherlands, he was given the opportunity to make his dream come true again: on January 18, 2020, he opened his own perfume shop Dutch Perfume in The Hague. He is happy to be able to practice his craft again, in the country that also has the best alcohol in the world for blending fragrances. “Almost no one knows that we used Dutch alcohol in Syria to make perfume. That’s the best quality. Although raw materials are expensive, only the most beautiful products make for good perfume. Because few people master the craft to make it themselves, I want to share that knowledge in the most beautiful scents.”

doctor perfume
Mohamed has a nickname in the Netherlands: Doctor perfume. That’s because he uses a syringe when mixing. “Clients often think they smell a certain scent at first and then find out that that changes over time. Sometimes my perfume smells sweet at first and then suddenly flowery. That’s the secret.” He himself is more of a fan of wood and citrus scents. “I can wear wood and bergamot all year round, but scent is very personal and highly dependent on the climate. In Syria, for example, you can use a strong scent because of the heat. In the Netherlands the weather is changeable, so it is a challenge to decide which perfume to wear. Yet seventy percent of my customers walk away with the spicy and woody line that I have developed.”

second store
While the doors of his first Dutch store opened just a year ago, Mohamed hopes to open a second one in Amsterdam in a few months. “I can’t quite get there yet

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