Aien Mokhtar’s fondness for fragrance was cultivated at a young age but it was not until her favourite, 360° by Perry Ellis, was discontinued that she decided to make her own. She began experimenting with essential oils to formulate scents for herself and the home, which slowly began to fill her house with bottled creations.
She was keen to learn more and searched for classes. “I couldn’t find any courses or workshops locally. I was sourcing a lot of my oils from manufacturers and distillers in Australia and they were conducting a series of workshops on the benefits of essential oils and their application in bath and body products as well as cosmetics. So I went.”
Meanwhile, she quit her job as a senior manager for a property developer and went into something that she loved — writing — taking on editorial and copywriting assignments, as well as an autobiography for a 90-year-old matriarch from a prominent tin mining family.
It was not until her partner came over to sample her new perfume creations that she decided to turn her hobby profitable. “He came over one day and there were bottles everywhere and he said, ‘I think maybe it’s a good idea if you share this, otherwise I won’t be able to find you in your own house’,” she laughs.
So Aien started doing research and development and travelled to Turkey, Greece, France and Spain for over two years. “My objective in travelling to these four countries was to see what they were doing, what’s been done and what would work here. I didn’t want to do something that’s already been done. I wanted to do something different, something no one has done in Malaysia,” she explains.
For the first collection of her cleverly named perfume house, Olfac3, Aien chose roses, considered the most prized flowers in the world of perfume and aromatherapy. “I wanted to do a tribute to prominent women in history, so I started with the four women — Maryam, Khadijah, Fatimah and Asiyah,” she says of the four “pure ladies” of the Quran.
Beginning with solid perfumes, which are like balms that you apply to your skin, Olfac3 quickly transitioned to eau de parfum. A few months after Rose, Aien launched her Skin series — a unisex line based on interpretations of unspoken desire, with heartwarming citrus, spices and wood notes. Olfac3 also offers Signature Sessions — classes with chief fragrance designer, Aien herself, to create a personalised scent.
Aien was a one-woman show for the first year, learning how to run a business on the fly. “I’m a creator, I love creating, but when it comes to finance and administration, you need a team. You need the right support system to grow and see things through,” she says.
Aien met her first employee in a most unusual way. “She was actually the winner of a Signature Session at an event,” she explains. She enjoyed the session so much that she became part of Olfac3. She still works with Aien today in an active team of seven.
“For me, the learning process never stops. When you’re running your own business, it’s in your hands. If you don’t make money, you can’t pay your rent, you can’t survive. There’s this urgency because you feel more responsible in terms of the outcome,” Aien explains.
Olfac3 is very active on the bazaar scene and has increased its participation from several days to weeks in places such as Publika and Bangsar Shopping Centre. Aien hopes to find the right location for a store by gauging feedback from customers at its pop-up stores. “We do have an online presence but we’re talking about perfume, which is something you need to smell and experience, so it obviously works best when you deal directly with people,” she adds.
The perfume house’s scents are often created based on places where Aien has visited. “I’m very attuned to my sense of smell and I remember places by how they smell. What I’ve created, especially for certain series like Memories, are actually memories of places I’ve been to,” she explains. When asked what makes Olfac3 different, Aien explains, “Each creation is unique and every composition has an Asian influence because we are Asian. That alone sets us apart from every perfumery house out there.”
Review: Olfac3's Perfume Creation Workshop: Oriental Series
Olfac3 offers Signature Sessions and workshops for perfume lovers to create their own bottled creations. Aien began the classes after getting requests from customers. “It was hard for me to find anywhere where I could learn. I had to go to Australia and France, so I thought it would be nice to share the knowledge that I have with those who are interested in the basics,” she says.
This writer had the opportunity to try out Olfac3’s Perfume Creation Workshop: Oriental Series. In Aien’s cosy workshop, our group of five sat around a coffee table on a couch and fluffy cushions. Handing out a helpful booklet, Aien talked us through the types of perfume, levels of fragrance notes, types of fragrances and how perfumes are made.
Contrary to my assumption, mixing scents is a complicated process. Starting with heart notes — which are florals, rustics and greens — we sampled grouped bottles and picked aromas that tickled our fancy. We then picked base notes — such as woods, plants and musks — and finally, top notes, which include citrus. Between each bottle, we sniffed at coffee beans to refresh our olfactory senses so as not to confuse the smells.
I was surprised to find certain scents that I enjoyed in hand creams and bath products weren’t as enjoyable out of a bottle.
Then the fun really began — we held some bottles of our favourite scents together and smelled them all in a row to see if they could blend well. Through trial and error, and with Aien’s guidance, we began mixing our blends, nosing and tweaking as we went along, feeling like mad scientists with our little beakers.
When we finally had the perfect blends, complete with our teacher’s stamp of approval, they were prepared and poured into beautiful spray bottles for us to take home. Olfac3’s group sessions are fun, allowing you to share scents and ideas, but Aien also offers solo sessions for those who prefer a more personal touch.
“I think I’m addicted to the creation process, which is why we have the signature scent development because that allows us to create different scents for people all the time,” says Aien.
This article first appeared on Oct 22, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.