Launched by a doctor who became enraptured with the world of perfumery, whose creations have been likened to ‘a diplomat dressed up as a punk rocker’, Rook‘s perfumes are the perfect meeting place between art and science – with more than a little rock ‘n roll in their DNA…
‘I’ve always been obsessed with scent,’ explains Nadeem Crowe, perfumer/founder of Rook Perfumes. ‘Scent moves me emotionally more than any other sense. People go on holiday and fall in love with a place. They buy a fridge magnet to remember the trip. I buy a fragrance…’
But his ‘day job’? Nadeem is a part-time doctor, who during the Covid-19 crisis found himself on the frontline, fighting the battle against the virus. (Read his insider’s blog about this time on the Rook website.) For this is a man – born in Jordan, raised in Lincolnshire – with competing passions in his heart. Nadeem first studied medicine at University College London (UCL), but swerved towards the arts during his medical training. Changing course, he applied to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), training there as an actor before returning to UCL to complete his medical degree in 2010.
Traditionalists might have expected Nadeem to have ‘settled down’ at this point, perhaps, but he signed up to a theatrical agency, hoping to pursue both main avenues of his interests. When they asked him where he saw himself in 10 years, he answered: ‘A practicing doctor with a few West End credits under my belt…’ Skip forward a decade and Nadeem has lived that dream to the letter, performing with Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and in ‘School of Rock’ in the West End, all the while continuing his career in acute and emergency medicine.
To those who seem flummoxed by his seemingly diverging life choices, Nadeem says: ‘I consider both worlds to overlap more than you would first think. Both require huge amounts of dedication. Oh, and an element of performance.’ But with a life both on the stage and in medicine – two callings most couldn’t dream of juggling – Nadeem wasn’t done there, adding a third (this time, wonderfully fragrant) ingredient into the mix, developing his own range of perfumes and launching the dynamic niche house of Rook.
Fascinatingly, you might say this third path offers the fragrant fulcrum that helps balance the other two, because as Nadeem explains, for him, ‘perfume sits comfortably in the middle. I spent years studying science and feel totally comfortable with pipettes, beakers and weighing scales. The outcome, though, is a piece of art. Scent is very theatrical.’
Having been fascinated by fragrance in his youth, working on his own creations now provides a kind of balance to Nadeem’s life. Following the ‘failed pursuit of holiday romance’ in Lausanne, as he puts it, Nadeem found solace in long walks, one rainy day seeking shelter in a perfumery there which specialised in the creation of home fragrances and candles with the finest Somalian incense. Nadeem went on to spend hours with the owner, he recalled to the becauselondon.com website, ‘discussing and discovering raw ingredients, which I then invested in on my return.’
Nadeem took the plunge and went part-time in emergency medicine. ‘It meant I could work shifts before evening performances or after rehearsals.’ Gradually, he worked perfume into that unusual mix, too, gradually building it from something that transitioned ‘from a passion to a small business and then to a bigger business without me really meaning for it to happen.’
Coming home from A&E or from performing at the theatre, he would be mixing, bottling and packing perfumes – at first humbly using a converted piece of IKEA furniture as a kind of at-home work station. Creating three initial scents, after much trial and error, a Kickstarter campaign allowed him to properly launch Rook Perfumes – first unveiled at a Rankin pop-up exhibition, Hold Your Breath – and to share his creations with the world.
‘At the heart of the brand is the Rook triangle,’ he explains. ‘At its most basic level it represents the top, middle and base notes which make up a scent,’ he continues. ‘The unity of notes in a scent is very fragile and changing one element can tip the balance,’ says Nadeem. The Rook triangle logo represents unity and balance in all aspects of life – but it also represents the three passionate pursuits in Nadeem’s own life. ‘Everyone has their triangle,’ Nadeem asserts – his own being medicine, performing and perfumery, ‘three things that define a large part of my life and bring me artistic and intellectual harmony.’
Of the three original creations – Undergrowth, Forest and Rook – the latter was created by Nadeem for himself,’ he explains. ‘In many ways, it is my scent DNA and demonstrates what I look for in a scent when I am the customer. This scent takes inspiration from my Middle Eastern roots with its heart of agarwood. It is a scent that I once heard described as a “diplomat dressed up as a punk rocker.” I think this description is perfect. The scent is a dirty/clean oxymoron. A scent has a Proustian effect on me, with each of my scents transporting me to a time and place, and I can’t wait to hear the stories of how they transport others.’
Through Rook Perfumes, Nadeem creates fragrances inspired by distinct memories, urging people to reconnect to the emotional journey they have with a scent. He’ll send unmarked vials of perfume to a small group of followers on Instagram, for example, and simply ask them to write about what they are reminded of while smelling them. No question: Rook is a perfume house with infinite layers, rule-breaking and innovative as well as beautiful.
And where, we wonder, will its creations transport you…?