Haisam Mohammed, founder of Swedish fragrance brand Unifrom, got his start as Stockholm's resident perfume dealer.
"I was going out a lot in my younger days," the 26-year-old said (admittedly, he's "still quite young"). "I always wanted to be the best-smelling guy in the club, so I used to wear my samples of Unifrom. Every single time that I pulled out the perfume, there were 10 hands in a ring by my side... I took my first order for Unifrom in the club.
"Instead of dealing other things, I was dealing perfumes."
Now two-years-old, Unifrom is expanding outside of Scandinavia, introducing the world to its ethos: "distilling culture through scent," as its website proclaims.
Acquainted with fragrance by his father, who collected perfumes from his travels to Africa and South Asia, Mohammed — the child of Eritrean immigrants — became "obsessed" with scent at a young age. "I used to play with perfumes as toys," he reminisced.
Scent also played a central role in Mohammed's experience growing up in Stockholm's public housing projects, "where the smell of food being cooked and incense being lit and spices being blended" fascinated him, eventually inspiring Unifrom.
"When I look at the traditional perfume industry, the inspiration is always coming from botanicals, French gardens, and stuff like that," Mohammed said. "I've never stepped foot in a botanic garden. I [grew up] roaming around on the concrete."
Resolved to disrupt the Eurocentrism of luxury perfume, Mohammed traveled to Paris to try and convince the city's fragrance houses to give Unifrom a shot. "On their faces it was like, 'This is not going to work. How can something that is [thought of] as not-so-beautiful be a perfume or inspiration for scents?'"
But with persistence, Mohammed managed to meet independent noses who helped him create what would become Unifrom's first scents, the very ones that he began selling at nightclubs.
Now five scents strong, Unifrom is working to push the limits of fragrance, expanding consumer perception of what smell can be: an art form, a means of communication.
"In Paris in two weeks, we're doing a fashion show... we're scenting the whole show for Heliot Emil," Mohammed shared. Also in the works is a project translating scent into sound.
"One of the problems that we have had is, how do you communicate scent through a screen? We are blacking out our Instagram and having people play a sound. If they like the sound, they will probably like the fragrance that is connected to."
As Mohammed prepares to bring Unifrom to the next level, the entrepreneur shared his favorite beauty finds from Sweden and beyond.
First-ever beauty purchase
Haisam Mohammed: I was in Egypt with my mom. I was seven years old, I think. We went to this bazaar and my mother was trying on perfumes... I became obsessed with one scent that she tried on, but she didn't like it. It was a perfume oil [with] no label. I think they mixed it in the back of the store or something like that. I made her buy [it] for me, and I used it for a very long time when I was young.
HM: I don't usually spurge, but this actually happened last week. I was at this boutique hotel that had a lot of very expensive beauty products. I thought, "I paid for this hotel room, quite a lot of money, so you get to take the products when you leave." A few days later, I opened up my email... [the hotel] was like, "Hey, there's a lot of products missing from the room. Do you want to purchase them or do you want to send them back?" Out of pure embarrassment I decided to pay for everything. I think it came to $400, $500.
HM: Every time I go to France, I always come back with a suitcase full of Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré.
HM: It has to be Unifrom perfume. I always carry them with me. Either you wear them individually, depending on the day or your mood, or you layer them together to create a unique scent. Today I'm wearing Bliss and Maghrib.
Best under-the-radar beauty brand
HM: Melyon. It's a Scandinavian skincare brand developed with people of color in mind. So it focuses on conditions commonly found on darker skin tones.
Beauty hot tip
HM: I have never drank alcohol. I have never smoked, even a cigarette. So it's a bit of a boring answer, but don't smoke, don't drink, and pray to God. Those are my three key takeaways.