Kazakh Perfumer Uses Fragrance to Celebrate National Heritage 

ASTANA – A fragrance or a particular smell can possess remarkable power, evoking cherished childhood memories, for example the aroma of grandmother’s pies, and even influencing our mood, explained Gulzhan Tuzelbayeva, a scientist and founder of the Gulzhan perfume brand, in an interview with The Astana Times.

Gulzhan Tuzelbayeva. Photo credit: The Astana Times.

As a young and ambitious entrepreneur, Tuzelbayeva aims to develop a local perfume brand that promotes Kazakhstan’s rich cultural heritage and will be accessible worldwide.

“I had the opportunity to study and live in several countries, but Kazakhstan is my home. It holds immense potential. I want to showcase this potential and create perfumes that our people can proudly wear from our local brand,” she said.

Tuzelbayeva has a rich background. She studied finance in Kazakhstan, pursued acting at the Actor’s Studio Drama School in New York, and eventually dedicated her life to perfumery at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France. Her passion for aromas and chemistry motivated her to explore the world of perfumery and create unique fragrances.

Tuzelbayeva during her creative process. Photo credit: Personal archive of Tuzelbayeva.

“I have been involved in successful projects like Akyn (Poet) by Darezhan Omirbayev, which received multiple awards worldwide. I also established the Josephine acting studio where I continue to teach people the fundamentals of acting and how to express themselves based on the American system of acting,” she said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Tuzelbayeva adapted by conducting online acting classes twice a week, engaging in chemistry classes, and dedicating the rest of her time to research related to the perfumery school.

“I have always been fascinated by different aromas and perfumes since my childhood. My family even nicknamed me a ‘sniffer’ because I had a habit of smelling food, checking its freshness, and even identifying potentially spoiled items. I had a genuine passion for chemistry and excelled in it,” she said. 

“Through my research, I discovered that the top perfumery schools were in Paris and Grasse, so I applied to both,” she added.

According to Tuzelbayeva, around 100 students graduate globally in the field of perfumery each year. At her university, the Grasse Institute of Perfumery, there were only 12 students, and she held the distinction of being the first Kazakh student.

Her academic thesis focused on a fragrance inspired by a distinct aroma of aport, a type of apple native to the Almaty Region, featuring prominent red apple notes with a hint of sourness.

Plucked rosebuds in the Almaty Region to produce rose essence. Photo credit: Personal archive of Tuzelbayeva.

“I aimed to capture the essence of the city of Almaty within my scents, drawing from the rich history and resources of the region. During the creative process, I meticulously mixed the ingredients, drop by drop, adhering to the precision required by the International Fragrance Association guidelines,” she said.  

Tuzelbayeva emphasized that creating a perfume is primarily about formulations and theoretical knowledge.

Her perfume collections, such as “Aida,” “Mineral Rose,” “Aport” and “Jiu-Jitsu,” are a reflection of her creative prowess. Each scent comprises around 20 carefully selected ingredients, some sourced from France, others developed by her. It takes approximately two to three weeks to create one fragrance. With dedication and a deep understanding of formulations, Tuzelbayeva crafts scents that captivate the senses.

“My first collection was dedicated to Ukraine, and the second, named the Teenage collection, featured fresh and unique perfumes. My most recent collection is centered around Almaty, incorporating a mineral rose and apple from the city. The “Aida” fragrance holds a special place as I named it after someone close to me,” she said.

She highlighted that the inspiration for the Jiu-Jitsu fragrance came from sports, particularly as Kazakhstan is renowned for its famous wrestlers. The scent also evoked memories of her teenage years when her peers used popular perfumes with fresh scents. This nostalgia prompted her to create a fragrance that would resemble that period.

Tuzelbayeva presented her third collection at the Sulu cosmetics shop in Forum Mall, Almaty. Photo credit: Personal archive of Tuzelbayeva.

As a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu herself, Tuzelbayeva envisioned a sporty perfume suitable for both men and women to use before or after physical activities, exuding an attractive scent.

Throughout her journey, she had the opportunity to work at the A.B.Bekturov Institute of Chemical Science, where she interacted with experienced chemists dedicated to research, inventions, and creations for 15-20 years. Subsequently, Tuzelbayeva continued her research at Satbayev University, utilizing their laboratory for her perfume creations and developments.

Currently, Tuzelbayeva is exploring the possibility of establishing a perfumery plant with the support of a science grant from the Fund of Science. She envisions Kazakhstan’s potential in the perfume industry, particularly with its unique resources like Almaty’s roses, which can rival those of France in their exquisite aroma and potential for producing rose essence.

Tuzelbayeva’s academic thesis focused on a fragrance inspired by the distinct aroma of aport, a type of apple native to the Almaty Region. Photo credit: Personal archive of Tuzelbayeva.

“It is an expensive ingredient, and shipping costs are significant. However, we have the opportunity to grow our own roses, produce essence locally, and export it to France, other European countries, and the United States. Though extraction is also expensive, requiring around 770,000 rosebuds and special technology to produce one kilogram of oil, I assure you it is a viable and promising investment,” she said.

Tuzelbayeva plans to collaborate with local farmers, aiding them in cultivating rare plants and sharing insights on seeding and distillation to ensure that natural ingredients can thrive.

“I also want to travel across the country to create perfumes tailored to each region’s climate, unique plants, and preferences of the people,” she added.

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