Arcadia by Amna

Arcadia by Amna creates perfumes that tell evocative stories by drawing from classic Arabic and European elements

In 2018, neurobiologists at the University of Toronto made a breakthrough in our understanding of how memories are created and stored. They discovered a previously unknown neural pathway connecting the anterior olfactory nucleus – the region of the brain responsible for the sense of smell – to the hippocampus, where memories and emotions are held. It explains why certain scents can conjure up long-forgotten memories. It’s the science behind Proust’s famous novel “In Search of Lost Time” (À La Recherche du Temps Perdu), where his character experiences vivid flashbacks after dipping madeleines in tea.

The idea that a fragrance can connect us with the past also inspired Arcadia, the fragrance collection of the Dubai-based perfumer Amna Al Habtoor. She began experimenting with perfume after the death of her mother. “With scent being such a powerful trigger for emotions, I was able to reminisce about meaningful moments with her and revisit them time and time again,” she says. “This fuelled my passion and compelled me to start experimenting with my own mixtures. I love the idea of bookmarking a significant experience in your life and being able to return to it, simply with an aroma.”

Arcadia comprises two distinct collections, with each perfume telling a story. Edition 1 features Candy Dust – a blend of lemon, jasmine and patchouli, inspired by the memory of a campfire under the stars – and Vanilla Pod – a rich, woody fragrance that revives the smell of the oud, musk oil and rose oil that Amna’s mother would pour on charcoal. “The smoke would fill the house,” she says. “I captured that aroma so I can go back to it whenever I want.”

Edition 2 is inspired by the darker side of life: love, loss and pain. “It’s not supposed to be negative, though,” Amna explains. “It’s a collection that says,
‘It’s okay if you’re going through something because life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.’ It’s about being true to yourself. I want my perfumes to tell stories for others, too. I hope our scents act as a sensory guide, transporting you to a particular moment.”

Amna’s fascination with fragrance began in childhood. “In Arabic culture, we develop a keen sense of smell because we have so many strong scents around us,” she says. “My mother also travelled a lot and would always bring us back perfumes. It was an interest we all shared – my sisters, brother and my father.”

Her first job was working for the family’s luxury-car business, Al Habtoor Motors, before she studied the art of fragrance-making at The Cotswold Perfumery in Cheltenham. “I learned about different notes and the chemistry of putting them together,” she says. “English perfume-making is not so different from Arabic.”

Her first fragrance, Infinity, was created to celebrate her wedding. “I gave it to guests and there was an amazing reaction. That’s how the brand started.” She also created perfumes to celebrate the births of her three children. “Those perfumes have become so special to me. They take me back to these incredible milestones in my life.”

The scents come in beautiful, minimal glass bottles, with reusable fabric pouches reflecting the brand’s focus on sustainability. They are sulphate-free, paraben-free and, refreshingly, gender-free too. “I don’t want there to be any boundaries in what I do,” says Amna. “My perfumes are for everyone.”