Meet the Syrian perfume expert who can recreate any luxury fragrance with just one whiff

One whiff is all it takes
One whiff is all it takes   -   Copyright  AFP
By Theo Farrant  & AFP

Step aside Jeremy Fragrance... There's a new perfume expert in town. 

Meet Mohammad al-Masri, a fragrance maker and seller from Damascus, Syria, who claims he can recreate the scent of a luxury brand with just a single whiff of the fragrance. 

Customers flock to his tiny store, nestled in the historic market of Damascus' old city, many flashing photos from their phones of high-end perfumes they want Masri to replicate. 

So what's the key to being a perfume-making wizard? 

According to Masri, he credits his skills to his brainpower and adept nose, which he has been training to smell perfumes since he was 15-years-old. 

"I do not own high-end equipment, all I have is my nose, my brainpower and expertise, that's all," he explains.

Perfume amidst war

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Syrian perfumer Mohammad al-Masri samples one of his productsAFP

After 11 years of brutal war and economic dislocation, most Syrians struggle to afford life's bare necessities, let alone perfume.

Before the war, Masri would mostly concoct expensive oriental fragrances, with heavy notes of oud, a sweet and woody scent, like his family has done for a century.

But after Syria plunged into conflict, demand for cheap imitations of premium brands skyrocketed and Masri's shop walls are filled with pictures of world-famous perfumes.

According to the 55-year-old perfumer, he has a collection of around 2,900 to 3,000 different fragrances, including products from brands such as Christian Dior and Givenchy. 

Masri sells his fragrances for about $6 (approx. €5.50), drawing in a flow of clients from all walks of life.

"For young women, perfume is essential, it's like food or water," said 24-year-old customer Cham al-Falah.

"I used to buy Western perfumes but I can no longer afford them because imported products are becoming increasingly hard to come by in Syria," she said while ordering a fragrance imitating her favourite Italian perfume.

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Syrian perfumer Mohammad al-Masri serves a customer at his shop in Damascus's old cityAFP

Another customer, 60-year-old Ahmad Dorra, travelled from the mountain town of Zabadani, a 50km drive away, to buy five bottles of perfume for his family.

He watched as Masri lined up dozens of vials on a table - essences of jasmine, Damascus rose, musk and other fragrances used for his concoctions.

"I don't know much about Western brands," the farmer said, "but I trust (his) nose".

Video editor • Theo Farrant