How KAYALI’s Huda and Mona Kattan launched a cult fragrance brand together

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Ava Welsing-Kitcher
huda mona kattan kayali huda beauty

From some of the most amazing eyeshadow palettes ever created to new fragrance line KAYALI, Stylist talks everything beauty with Huda and Mona Kattan, founders of Huda Beauty.

With almost 33 million Instagram followers combined and their own beauty empire, Mona and Huda Kattan are a true example of what hard work and an incredible ability to influence can amass to. Since launching Huda Beauty as a cosmetics company in 2013, they’ve broken the mould of what it means to be a beauty blogger and have brought Middle Eastern beauty into the spotlight. Junior beauty writer Ava Welsing-Kitcher talks to the sisters about their history of fragrance and how it can be used as a vehicle to celebrate their Iraqi heritage, and the struggles they’ve had to overcome as businesswomen. 

Where did your love of fragrance come from?

Mona: I’ve always loved fragrance since the first time I smelled it on someone. When I was 12, I found my mother’s old bottles of jasmine perfume and they made me instantly feel so good when I tried them. When I got my first teenage job at 14, my money went towards buying perfume. After moving to Dubai, my love for it exploded. In the Middle East, it’s such a huge part of our culture – perfume’s applied at every step of your day, we’re constantly topping it up.

Huda: Also, it’s so hot out there! If you don’t make sure you smell good, odds are that you’re gonna smell bad. In the West, you don’t always want people to smell your perfume before they see you – it’s kind of the opposite in the Middle East, but it’s more like you want your scent to linger on someone after you hug them, or once you’ve left the room. I was always into perfume – I’d spray maybe two spritzes of J’Adore by Dior as a teenager in the US, and that was it. But in the Middle East, I’d feel like a hot sweaty mess, so I got into perfume even more. It’s about working with your natural scent (including sweat!) to create a unique fragrance, rather than trying to mask it.

Mona: I was really surprised about the culture of layering when I came to the Middle East. People put on five to ten perfumes like it’s no big deal, and they’re creating their own unique blend by doing so. I started experimenting with layering, and sometimes I’ll even put on up to twenty perfumes in one go. People often ask me what fragrance I’m wearing, and I’m like, “I can’t really say, it’s my own cocktail!” It makes me feel really special and happy to have my own personal blend. I tried combining all of my favourites in one bottle once, and it smelled terrible – there’s definitely something in the process of layering that creates such a beautiful final effect.

So, how do people layer scents there?

Mona: You’d start with oud and musk in the places you sweat from, so they mingle with your pheromones and the scent intensifies as the day progresses. Then bakhoor (incensed wood chips) are burned and passed along your clothes and hair so they can absorb it all. Then you might dab perfumed oil behind your ears. This entire process can take up to an hour – putting on perfume is definitely the longest step in my beauty routine!

Can you talk us through each of the new Kayali scents?

Huda: Each one of our scents are designed to complement each other or your favourite perfume. Elixir 11 (all £84) is our signature rose scent, with rose de mai absolute (which Mona picked herself in Grasse), red apple, jasmine sambac absolute, amber, vanilla and patchouli. It’s light, but very distracting and addictive. Vanilla 28 goes with everything – it’s an oriental blend of Madagascan vanilla orchid, jasmine, tonka, musk, amber, patchouli and brown sugar. Musk 12 is the most intense – it’s what you wear when you want to radiate power and confidence – with sandalwood, vanilla, lotus flower and musk. Finally, Citrus 08 – the lightest one – has Italian bergamot, pink grapefruit, rhubarb, pink pepper, tonka, blackcurrant and oakmoss. It’s very crisp and bright.

And how should we be applying them?

Mona: Definitely not right before you leave the house. I’d maybe wait a little while, maybe have some coffee first and let it settle – or even make it the first step in your routine. So, while you’re baking your face, your perfume’s baking as well!

What are some of the biggest business hurdles you’ve had to overcome?

Huda: As we’ve risen in the beauty industry, I feel like people initially didn’t understand us and tried to categorise us, which was very confusing while we were trying to figure out our brand identity. Once we understood what we want to represent and push forward as our ethos, it became much simpler.

How did you manage to carve out your own space in such an oversaturated industry?

Huda: We always try and do something different. We’ve never been a “me, too!” brand, and we won’t jump on any bandwagons. We’ve even stopped production of certain products because we’ve seen other brands doing something similar. We’re still an indie brand, we’re still super young as a company, so we have that freedom. We just want beauty to feel warm and inviting, nobody needs to feel priced out or excluded. 

Lastly, we’re dying to know how you get your eyeshadows so wonderfully and highly pigmented?

Huda: Well. We have the same manufacturer as some of the most expensive eyeshadow palettes in the world (£200+), for a start. Some of our palettes aren’t very profitable at all, but we don’t care - we’d rather have a standout product. The secret is that we customise the formulation for every single shade, they’re all different to each other. We’re extremely detail-oriented, many manufacturers have given up on us in the past because we send formulations back so often because we’re not 100% happy with them. One of them even told us that we challenge them and push them more than any other beauty brand has ever done. Basically, we give lots of sh*ts!



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Ava Welsing-Kitcher

Ava Welsing-Kitcher is Stylist’s junior beauty writer and resident curly girl. She’s addicted to lip balm (who isn’t?!), wearing eyeshadow as blush and lipstick and all things hair.

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