It was a balmy 81 degrees beneath starlit African skies and a promising crescent moon when Ghandour Cosmetics launched their premiere luxury fragrance, The Scent of Africa. We stood with promise amidst a four-story waterfall and leaping stilt dancers in the decadent open-air courtyard of the newly built Kempinski Hotel in Ghana.
Situated in downtown Accra (and barley open two weeks at the time), the Kempinski Gold Coast was the largest, most luxurious accommodation the city had to offer: 269 rooms, 22 luxury suites, and two presidential suites sprawling across over 7,000 square meters of newly developed land. It was palatial.
The distinctive venue played host to a fabulous fête catering to the discerning palates of some of the Continent’s biggest names in media, business and entertainment: Vimbai Mutinhiri, Claudia Lumor, Sika Osei, Liz Awoliyi, Becca, Roseline Okoro, Omaliicha, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Joselyn Dumas and Onah Nwachukwu to name but a few on hand to celebrate the one-of-a-kind launch. Evidently, it was the first event of its caliber to be held at the five-star venue and, let it be told, possibly one of the finest soirées on Ghana’s social calendar.
Over the din of Afrobeats, clicking champagne glasses and the tshh-tshh of freshly spritzed cologne, I randomly overheard comments like This doesn’t happen in Accra from a passing socialite. I caught the lilting whispers of a chocolate trophy wife: “Honestly darling, at Accra events, you’d expect a mistake or some sort of glitch. But this is fantastic! Tanal must have spent a fortune.” And I was privy to the boastful utterings of a recently repatriated Ghanaian: “I attend events like this all the time in New York and U.K., but Accra is finally coming into her own!”
Yes she is, and it’s about time.
Former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah prophetically spoke of a Pan-African way of life that promised opulence for the children of the soil and preached that his Accra would one day be the Gateway to Africa. “We have awakened,” the late Nkrumah once announced. “We will not sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world!” Indeed, the moment is upon us.
Africa is on the rise. It may come as a shock for many African Americans conditioned by the media to shun all things African, but the misnomered “Dark Continent” is actually embroiled in a white-hot renaissance as an emerging economic market, with booming growth potential for Middle Eastern, Chinese, Russian and American investors, and Africans in the diaspora eager to return home for a payday. Rising at 5.6% per year, Africa’s luxury retail sales are expected to exceed $5.2 billion by 2019.
One look around the courtyard and it’s evident: the future of the continent will be carved out by the followers of Dr. Nkrumah’s vision and his true believers, like Tanal Ghandour, founder and managing director of Ghandour Cosmetics. In the late 20th century, Ghandour began secretly developing a luxury scent representing the continent of Africa. In hushed tones, the shy yet affable businessman shared (against the advice of his business partners) that it was his ultimate dream to give his company a foothold in the world’s premium perfume market through the release of an unprecedented African-borne fragrance.
“My business partners, who are my brothers and cousins from Lebanon, fought me on the idea for 20 years,” says Tanal Ghandour. “ ‘It’s too soon. It won’t work. The time is not right. Let’s focus on the core business of mass market. The world is not ready for a luxury perfume product from Africa.’ They were right, but that was 20 years ago.”
Fast forward four shelf companies, several arguments, 25 product designs, 10,000 man hours of research and development, and millions of dollars later: voila, The Scent of Africa is born.
With a sigh, Ghandour adds, “My heart can stop racing, because we made it through the launch. But now the real work begins. This new product is very different from anything we have produced before at Ghandour. Now we must turn our focus to distribution in Africa and hope the Continent supports us.”
The Scent of Africa’s almond and coconut top notes will first be released to high-end West African retail and duty free shops before distribution opens to the rest of the world.
“It is important to me that this happens in Africa first,” says Ghandour. “We say, ‘Who I am is where I am from’ when referring to Scent of Africa. It is important to me that Africa reclaims its beauty and embraces the efforts of what we are doing first. The rest of the world can wait. This is for Africa, then the world.”
Ghandour speaks with passion and reverence regarding his new product line. As a young boy, he left Lebanon for Senegal and has lived in Ghana for most of his adult life, building a company worth over $200 million and slowly climbing to the pinnacle of the cosmetics trade with his family-run business. Ghandour is an against-the-odds champion in any nation.
“This is my home and I want to give back,” he says. “This is why we have [supermodel] Oluchi Orlandi and [former footballer] Marcel Desailly as our spokespeople. They give back. They are true African success stories who have ascended to international icon status, and they always put Africa first. This is a dream for me coming true.”
We clink glasses and consider the possibility of an Africa at the top of the pyramid in the new world pecking order, and agree that it is definitely past time for the Black star to shine. Tanal Ghandour is living proof that the opportunities available on the Continent are not limited to those born within her borders, but will favor the adventurous and those sympathetic to an African aesthetic. It doesn’t matter where you are from but where you at. Our destinies do not face east or west; we face the future.
Suede has spent a decade between the Americas, South Africa and Tanzania creating content for print, TV, radio and digital media. His interests include photography, pop culture, social media and travel. Follow him on Twitter @iamsuede.