Mona Kattan has been obsessed with fragrance her whole life. So after building Huda Beauty with her sister, Huda, following its launch in 2013, she decided to build her own brand, Kayali, starting in 2018. Now, Huda Beauty, Kayali and Wishful (which makes skin care) form the Kattan sisters’ beauty empire.
Kattan’s passion for scent is evident when she speaks about perfume. In January, she shared a video on YouTube displaying her “fragrance library,” which stores over 3,500 bottles. Kayali, she shares on this episode of the Glossy Beauty podcast, had a big year. It launched its Yum Pistachio Gelato 33 perfume, a limited edition wedding collection timed to Kattan’s own nuptials and, most recently, its biggest drop yet, “Oudgasm.” The Oudgasm collection focuses on four interpretations of oud, a traditionally Middle Eastern wood note.
Kattan spoke with Glossy about her lifelong obsession with fragrance, her approach to building a brand at the right speed and her process of testing up to 500 new scents at a time. Excerpts below have been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
On her lifelong obsession with fragrance
“I’ve been obsessed with fragrances ever since I was a kid. My most sensitive sense was the sense of smell. Every time I would smell something, I just felt such a deep connection. So for me, whether it was like the smell of birthday cake, the smell of fresh baked bread or the smell of candles, I just always felt very touched by it. … So as I grew older and became a teenager, I got even more obsessed. I got my first job when I was 14. With my first paycheck, I bought two fragrances and I just got even more obsessed. … When I moved to Dubai when I was 17, that was like taking it from love to next-level obsession — just a crazy fascination with fragrances. Because, in Dubai, people use perfume in such an interesting way. They use it as a ritual, as a part of their daily lifestyle, as a part of their celebrations — it’s just something that’s really celebrated in life. And it really inspired me to create a brand. I don’t think I would have been this obsessed and this inspired if I didn’t move to Dubai. It’s a perfume-lover’s playground. In every corner you go to in Dubai, there’s something about perfume, whether it’s a little kiosk selling really interesting, weird types of perfumes or the biggest perfume shop in the world. They have something everywhere you go that will make you feel even more in love with fragrances.”
On the surprising benefits of delaying a launch
“I think every delay has a blessing, because I feel like my idea [for the brand] became more materialized over time. … The idea I had back in 2011 or 2012 was kind of just recreating what I already loved versus creating something that I felt needed to be there. But by the time we launched Kayali, it was really [combining] my love for Middle Eastern scents [with] my Western influence — because I lived in the states for 17 years, and I have a very close global mindset. … For me, creating a brand is celebrating the love I have and the inspiration I have from Middle Eastern perfumes but [creating] something that will speak to everyone. I don’t want it to be too Middle Eastern, where people won’t really feel like they connect with it, but I also want to share that Middle Eastern culture with the world — there’s so much depth and richness, when it comes to fragrance that’s truly authentic to the Middle East. … So everything kind of came together very slowly, over 10 years. But I feel like now I’ve realized why I wanted to create this so badly, and we’re trying to create very new types of fragrances and storytell in a way where the inspiration is showing through — which always drives back to the Middle Eastern inspiration.”
On the growth of the niche fragrance category
“It’s interesting, because I feel like being a ‘frag head’ is very contagious. The more you get into it, you almost become — I don’t want to say a ‘frag snob,’ because that’s not nice … But you get so into the indie, niche brands that you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to wear something too popular.’ You want that undiscovered gem, or something that’s a little bit more interesting, or something that has a lot more storytelling and depth into it. … I think people really care about what they’re wearing and the story behind the fragrance itself. … People had a wake-up call about the emotional side behind fragrance — fragrance is very emotional. I feel like fragrances are the most emotional beauty product you can buy. It’s related to your memories. It’s just it’s so beautiful. It’s so nostalgic. If you smell something once and you smell it again, you almost get taken away into your memory. It’s so emotional.”