Two women in black headscarves sitting next to each other, with perfume bottles and essential oils on the table in front of them

Mona and Hiba Haddad

Emirati perfumers Mona and Hiba Haddad know that scents and perfumes are personal. After a shipping mishap forced Mona to sell the family perfume recipe at an exhibition instead of jewelry, her business flourished. With help from her entire family, including her mother, great aunt, and grandmother, she studied the art of perfume and eventually began teaching it to others. At the Folklife Festival, the sisters taught visitors how to blend their own perfumes using traditional techniques.

“I love my students. I love them because I teach them how to link memories to the perfumes. For example, your mother has a very unique smell that she’s always had since you were a child, and you want to give her a perfume you made. So you should include the smell in the perfume you're making.

“My mother always had musk in her perfumes and there was a really cheap perfume from one of the shops that she used to put on us when we were kids. I swear to God, it used to stay on me for days, it's cheap, but it's nice. Whenever I smell it now, I remember our old house, our Eid celebrations, our family gatherings. It’s like reviving memories.

“I think it is such an honor to represent my country. Visitors are coming and asking, ‘What is the difference between this one and this one?’ Because it looks different here in the US, although it's the same ingredient. So visitors have actually learned about the culture. Some of them know about the UAE, they know the perfumes and I was really shocked by their knowledge. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


Woman smelling perfume at Smithsonian Folklife Festival