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Iran rose water smells like big business

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A rose garden in Lay Zangan in Iran's Fars province. Perfumery has a long history in Iran and communities linked to fragrance business are significant.

Foreign companies sniffing business in Iran mostly have their nose on the ground for its oil and gas industry but French firms are also targeting fragrant notes: the $1.5 billion beauty and perfume market.

Iranians are reportedly the world’s seventh and Middle East’s second largest consumer of cosmetics. A typical Iranian woman uses up 22 bottles of perfume on average a year against three bottles by the French, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Mainstream labels such as Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Armani and Dior are in vogue, taking up shelf space in upmarket stores in Tehran and other big cities.

However, years of sanctions have generated an underground market and bootleg perfumes are peddled in large quantities so that at least one-third of cosmetics and fragrance brands are fake, according to Tasnim.

L’Oreal is the most known French cosmetics and beauty group in Iran, with a portfolio spanning nearly 10 years.

France, which is reputed for perfume, is trying to take advantage of the crave for savoir-faire which has both traditional and religious roots in Iran.

Muslims are enjoined by tradition to follow Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in using perfumes and fragrance, especially while attending congregational prayers.

Meanwhile, perfumery has a long history in Iran and communities linked to fragrance business are still found across the vast country. Local artisans steaming petals over fires in hulking copper pots to distill rose water in Kashan and Qamsar in central Iran are a familiar sight.

A farmer is picking rose petals in Kashan. ©ISNA 

The practice dates back to the Sassanid Persia, with the rose water from Qamsar having found iconic fame for being used every year to wash the Ka'aba in Mecca to which Muslims turn each day to say their prayers.

Iran is the world's biggest producer of rose water, distilling about 26,000 tonnes per year.

Essence extracts from rose water in Kashan, with a French standard certification to its credit, are exported, ending up in production of high-end perfume brands with floral notes which are retailed back to Iran and other countries.

A rose water distillery in Qamsar

Those exports have wilted under sanctions and a recent opening after the July conclusion of nuclear talks has raised hopes to revive the business.

Currently, representatives of more than 150 French companies led by the country’s trade and agriculture ministers are visiting Iran in search of new business opportunities.

With olfactory senses also set on the fragrance and beauty market, rose water is seen as best placed to help leading French perfume brands diversify their editions and build a local brand in Iran.

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