Distinct smells help Kampong Glam shop's non-alcoholic perfumes attract more fans

Mr Mohamed Jamal Mohamed Hanifa and his son, Mr Mohamed Samir Kazura, are the current owners of Jamal Kazura Aromatics, set up in 1933.
Mr Mohamed Jamal Mohamed Hanifa and his son, Mr Mohamed Samir Kazura, are the current owners of Jamal Kazura Aromatics, set up in 1933.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - A glance at the shopfront of Jamal Kazura Aromatics is bound to intrigue passers-by, with window displays stocked full of intricate hand-blown bottles from Egypt and exotic agarwood and frankincense.

The perfumery in Kampong Glam, set up in 1933, was previously patronised largely by pilgrims going on the haj and congregants at the nearby Sultan Mosque, but today has a clientele that is distinctly more diverse.

By blending essential oils such as those derived from saffron, sandalwood and frankincense, the family-run business has created non-alcoholic perfumes, or attar in Arabic, that attract tourists and young people with their longer-lasting scents and the way they diffuse differently on skin.

One of these is the citrus-smelling Moonlight, which is especially popular among Japanese tourists.

On Thursday (April 22), the National Heritage Board unveiled a "mini-museum" in front of the perfumery, one of seven newly created ones that showcase the precinct's rich heritage.

Each tells the story of the shop where it is located. Jamal Kazura Aromatics' display includes a pipette and beaker used to measure and mix various extracts and scents.

It also contains an elaborate burner used to contain incense, which gives off its fragrance when heated with lit charcoal; a piece of agarwood, found in South and South-east Asia and used as incense; and a page from a book used by the founder's son Mohamed Jamal Mohamed Hanifa to record formulations for six perfumes.

The business has come a long way since founder Mohamed Hanifa Mohamed Shariff migrated to Singapore from South India early in the 20th century. He died in 1979, aged 62.

Mr Mohamed Samir Kazura, 37, the founder's grandson, has now introduced some Western notes to cater to the shop's more multi-ethnic customers.

He recalls a time when he was called "perfume boy" by his classmates, as his father would test his perfumes on him.

"I went to school smelling like many different things. There was no animal testing but there was children testing," he quipped.

"By curating this exhibit, I actually learnt more about my grandfather. He has travelled to more places - on steamships and Soviet jets between the 1930s and 70s - than I have today. My grandfather sourced for materials in jungles in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea."