Johanna Monange, Founder of Maison 21G Shares Her Business Philosophy
“My mission: become the n°1 tailored perfumery brand globally and empower everyone to create their own perfume”By Joseph Low
What led you to create Maison 21G and tell us more about the innovative concept of bespoke perfumes?
Evocative, distinctive, and memorable, I deeply believe that the fifth sense inspires profound emotions and connections with others. Your signature perfume is so much more than a mere accessory; it is a true extension of your personality, a tool to imprint memories, and bring confidence throughout key moments of your life. As such, I believe that your scent should be as unique as you are!
In 2020, I conceptualised Maison 21G, supported by my passion and 25 years of experience in perfumery as a creative director working alongside renowned designers and perfumers. Throughout this time, I watched this beautiful industry lose its soul and settle for one-size-fits-all scents, creating the same everyday floral, fruity, and gourmand scents for everybody, while pushing huge marketing campaigns at the expense of quality, distinction, and character of what is inside the bottle. I felt that something was going wrong in this beautiful industry, so I decided to break free from the glamorous corporate world and shake the conventions of this sleeping industry.
My vision was to bring back the “power of creation” into the hands of consumers, offering a unique and engaging scent discovery experience. Committed to a cleaner perfume industry, I was driven by a desire to bring transparency, sharing, education, and sustainability to make a better perfumery world for the next generation. My ultimate mission was to recreate a real “Maison de creation” for all of us, creating a unique experience with beautiful scent encounters.
The concept of “experience” is key for opening and running a boutique. What is a successful “experience” for your customers?
Maison 21G is a luxury Maison of Creation with modern iconic flagship stores worldwide, using a poly-sensorial approach to create a unique retail experience. We aim to create a luxury experience in perfumery like no other for our customers. We inspire confidence, self-expression, and exploration in perfumery, with a poly-sensorial approach. With 10 flagship stores across the world, every corner of our boutiques is meticulously curated with a series of dedicated zones such as our famous innovative scent bar to discover and choose your ingredients, the perfumer organ where consumers blend their own scent, and our private atelier’s areas to learn the art of creation.
We also continually seek new technology to enhance our experiential retail offerings. For instance in line with our commitment to innovation, we offer a unique AI personality quiz. Our open app collect information such as your skin tone, your scent preference, your values in life, and your desired benefits to recommend well-matched scents for each individual. Our RFID Technology informs and educates shoppers on the origins, the olfactive profile and properties of our scents.
After creating their custom scent, customers can add a personal touch by using our complimentary UV Printing Machine to customise their perfume bottle design. In addition, we provide perfume workshops for couples, team building events where our scent experts guide clients in creating a personalised fragrance in one hour by appointment.
Our experiential retail space encourages cross-cultural exchanges. And customers come together to share ideas and cultures, pushing the envelope of creativity. Maison 21G is committed to disrupting the luxury industry by creating a community of fragrance designers, connoisseurs, aficionados, or novices in every major city in the world, driven by a unique offline retail experience, relayed by a strong digital presence to complete the offline experience with a dedicated loyalty program, and automatic reorder services for your personalised scent from anywhere in the world.
The personalisation of scent is at the core of Maison 21G’s concept? What are the parameters that go into determining a bespoke fragrance?
Maison 21G is a brand that prides itself on its commitment to craftsmanship, personalisation, education, and experience. At the heart of our business model is the desire to create bespoke fragrances that are tailored to the unique personality and olfactory preferences of each of our customers. Our flagship stores serve as laboratories, where highly-skilled scent designers guide customers in their scent creation, ensuring that their personalities and preferences are considered at every step of the process. We believe that a perfume is much more than just an accessory. It is personal, intimate, and becomes your voice to express your unique identity. This is why we offer our customers direct access to perfume concentrates with the highest percentage of fragrance concentration to make tailor-made haute perfumery accessible.
The process of creating a bespoke fragrance at Maison 21G is interactive, engaging and fun: we begin by asking customers to fill out our personality quiz, which focuses on their values in life, personal DNA (nationality, skin colour, age), likes and dislikes related to their olfactive preferences, and the reasons they want to wear a particular perfume (to be seductive, elegant, outstanding, relaxing, etc.). This builds a customer scent profile that is unique to their identity. We have defined five unique personality profiles, each with its own distinctive ingredient recommendations. For example, an “Impressive personality profile” will need a perfume that projects strongly, with long-lasting sillage, and features bold woody, oriental, and spicy notes. A “Social Enthusiast Profile” on the other hand, will be more drawn to softer, comforting, and caring notes such as musk, vanilla, and light juicy fruits.
With the use of cutting-edge technology, leveraging AI alongside more traditional skills, we are revolutionising the perfume industry by understanding the needs and tastes of each nationality, culture, and generation. The more customers we get, the more powerful our AI becomes, and the more precise the recommendations reveal themselves to be. As a bottom-to-top approach, we’re able to learn instantly from our customer base and answer immediately to new consumers trends in each capital like Seoul, Shanghai, Paris, and elsewhere. It’s a game-changing approach for the perfume industry, and the more we grow, the more knowledgeable and concise we are able to become in tailoring scents to individuals.
Workshops are at the very core of the Maison 21G DNA. What is your favourite memory of a Maison 21G workshop you organised in 2022?
We believe in the power of scent to bring people together, and our workshops are designed to offer an unforgettable and unique sensory experience. It’s a fun and exploratory experience, where people can reconnect, share, and learn about each other through scent.
One of my favourite memories is from a Love Atelier that we organised in 2022. During this workshop, the couple had the opportunity to take their love to the next level! A young man surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal. He had asked the scent designer to print “Marry Me” on the bottle that he had created for her. As he presented her with the bottle, he got down on one knee and revealed a ring hidden inside the box. The entire room was moved to tears by this romantic gesture. In that moment, I was reminded of the power of scent to create deep and meaningful connections, and I was grateful to be a part of such a special moment in their lives.
Tell us more about the sustainability efforts behind all the packaging and glass bottles used at Maison 21G? You seem to be amongst the very first luxury houses talking openly about recycling and the reuse of perfume bottles.
At Maison 21G, our sustainable pillar is integrated into everything we do. Our focus on eco-consciousness, ethical and clean production and distribution, is part of our commitment to excellence, quality, and luxury. In an industry where the use of buzzwords and marketing jargon to ‘greenwash’ products is rampant, we strive to be transparent, honest, and open about our sustainability practices.
To achieve our sustainable goals, we have partnered with IFF-LMR (Laboratoire Monique Rémy) to source the highest quality of perfumes. IFF’s vertical integration allows us to control every step of our ingredients supply chain, and its adherence to specific sustainable and clean criteria, including environmental responsibility, fair working conditions, and positive relations with local communities.
At Maison 21G, we pride ourselves on being transparent and open about what we include in our bottles and what we don’t. Our scents are 100 per cent vegan, cruelty-free, CMR-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free, and preservative-free. We also formulate our scents as biodegradable to reduce our environmental impact.
We believe in creating products that are recyclable and refillable. We have banned the use of plastic in any of our products. We are the first company to have refillable bottles, encouraging shoppers to reuse their bottles, with discounts and incentives for those who reuse, recycle, and reduce their waste. By committing to eco-consciousness, ethical production, clean sourcing, Maison 21G is taking steps towards a greener future for all.
You have expanded your product range and Maison 21G now offers within its boutiques perfumed candles, the very start of an elaborate home scent collection. How is it performing?
The pandemic brought unprecedented changes in our lifestyles, with people spending more time at home than ever before. At Maison 21G, we recognised that consumers were looking for ways to make their home environment more comfortable, inviting, and reflective of their personalities. This inspired us to launch our sustainable, natural, and customisable Home Scents range, and we’re delighted with how it has been embraced.
Our Home Scents range was launched with the same bold and disruptive approach that characterises our perfume range, and is underpinned by a commitment to wellness, including all-natural ingredients that can help customers relax, focus, and sleep more effectively. We believe that people deserve to unlock the scent of their soul, and our Home Scents range is designed to make that process easy, enjoyable, and eco-conscious.
The collection includes our beautiful 100 per cent natural wax Dual Candles, Bespoke biodegradable Reed Diffuser, and natural Oil burner which allow customers to choose and combine their favourite scents in stylish and luxurious decorative objects, a premiere in the Home Scent world. As with our personalised perfumes, we put the customer at the heart of the creation process and set it apart from all of our competitors.
We believe that the knowledge to create a beautiful, healthy Home Scent for the whole family, should be accessible to everyone. E-commerce is rising fast across all continents. We see your team working hard on increasing the global digital presence of Maison 21G. How are online sales performing for you?
Maison 21G’s experiential online e-commerce completes the offline experience with a dedicated loyalty programme and automatic reorder services for personalised scents from anywhere in the world. We offer bespoke creative experiences to anyone, anywhere, with our DIY creative set, which we can send to any location across the globe. Our fully customised website allows a unique and playful creative experience at home.
Our lead magnet, the AI-Powered Quiz, guides consumers in creating the perfect scent combinations online based on their personality, culture, age, and different desires for a perfume, such as freshness, elegance, and seduction. The dual-scented crayon allows people to try mini scents before purchasing a full bottle. Today our perfume fans online who cannot access to our shops have grown significantly. A lot of people are tired of off-the-shelf scents and have leapt at the chance to craft their own scents from sustainable and high-quality ingredients on our bespoke website. Our brand promise of natural, clean, and ethically sourced essences has resonated strongly. Our core customer base consists of Millennials and Gen Z consumers from Asia, US, Canada, Australia, and Europe, seeking personalised products with an experiential edge online. Through various activations with online campaigns, direct marketing, and a dedicated, inclusive, engaged, and active community of scent designers, we have built a loyal customer base that shares our passion for creativity, quality, and sustainability.
Tell us about your latest expansion in the Middle East with the opening of a boutique in Dubai and a long term partnership with the Chalhoub group. This all sounds very promising!
We’ve been thrilled with the responses from the Middle East consumers since we launched Maison 21G. Fragrance is purely ingrained into their culture, and it is amazing for me to express the DNA of my brand there. I am personally passionate about the Middle East market, and we have exciting plans for the region with the support of the prestigious and professional Chalhoub Group.
In Dubai, I’m always inspired by the diversity of cultures and the natural creative instincts of the people I meet. They are so trendy and take amazing care of their image and scent identity. Dubai has no boundaries, and I love the grandiose and multisensory experiences found at every corner of this buzzing international capital. We’re looking to expand our presence in Dubai but also Abu Dhabi, with a focus on opening more stores in key selective top locations like Bloomingdales, Tyrano, Malls of the Emirates, and beyond.
In Qatar, we’ve just opened a beautiful flagship store in the brand new luxurious mall of Vendome, next to all the most luxurious brands. We’re now expanding and have established partnerships with prestigious stores such as Printemps, Galerie Lafayette, and Harvey Nichols, with a creative scent bar concept. We’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness and passion of the people for our beautiful ingredients and experiential concepts.
My biggest challenge now is to conquer Saudi Arabia, with the opening of our flagship store in Nakheel mall. We know it’s a demanding market in terms of quality and service, with a large base of perfume connoisseurs and aficionados. However, we’re confident that we have everything at Maison 21G to make an impact there. I’m personally involved in every aspect of the store opening, and we’re committed to providing the highest quality products and services to our customers in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East.
Perfume is an inseparable part of Middle Eastern culture. What attitude towards perfume have you noticed amongst Middle Eastern consumers?
The Middle East is revered to a high degree and perfumery rooting in historical practices. For instance, the Persians were the first to use distillation in extracting oils from flowers to create beautiful essences that only Middle Eastern people have the culture to appreciate. Who would’ve known that decades, centuries later, perfume application still remains an essential ritual in their daily lives.
Renowned for the most fragrant of traditions — smouldering incense, burning bakhoor, using ritualistic essential oils, and fragrant teas — it is no wonder why the language of scent creation applies on many levels in their culture. From a spiritual way to anoint oneself before prayer to epitomising a personal fingerprint, deep memories of their life, a statement of themselves; perfume is a powerful tool in characterising one’s individuality here.
With surely the strongest olfactive preferences globally, the residents of the Middle East seek a bold, unique scent and definitely above-average longevity. Moreover, their traditional approach includes layering multiple opposing scents. Most prevalently, they use spices, earthy patchouli, deep resins and amber, sensual oud, floral rose Taif, all to create the most elaborate, exclusive, and astounding compositions unique to themselves, which they can find at Maison 21G. Our concept of creating your own perfume is perfectly adapted to Middle Eastern consumers who have been layering and mixing scents for decades. They appreciate the art of perfume making and have a deep understanding of the complexities of creating a unique scent that reflects their personality and style.
After opening boutiques in Vietnam and South Korea, what is your next important projects and developments across 2023 & 2024?
South Korea is a key market for Maison 21G in Asia and success in this country can have a significant impact on our brand’s reputation and expansion in Asia. Because South Korea is known for being a trending market for luxury brands, achieving success there can set the tone for the rest of Asia, including countries such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Consumers in these countries may be more likely to pay attention to a brand that has already proven itself in the competitive South Korean market.
Next for me is to continue expanding my brand selectively in Asia with experiential retail, sustainability, and education. I am committed to opening more flagship stores, shop in shop in luxury department stores, counters in duty free spaces, to bring our unique experience to every major capital.
My next biggest challenge for 2023-24 will be China where we have a very ambitious plan with Eternal group. We’ve already opened a beautiful store in Hainan with Lagardere and will soon be opening flagship stores in Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as partnering with trendy distributors who understand and can express our brand DNA. To reach trendy Gen Z and Millennials, we’ll also focus on digital platforms like Tmall, Weibo, Little Red Book, and WeChat, translating our AI quiz and promoting our hero products in Chinese.
In China, consumers have a relatively short history with perfumery and are eager to learn about the ingredients, discover their preferences, and develop their own scent style. They’re also interested in learning about perfumery tips and tricks, including what scents to wear for different occasions and the differences between high- and low-quality perfumes. The trend towards niche perfumery in China reflects a desire among consumers to express their identity and individuality through fragrance, as well as a growing appreciation for high-quality, artisanal products. This trend is partly driven by a desire to stand out and be different from the crowd, with unique fragrances that cannot be found in mass prestige perfumes. Chinese consumers are also increasingly interested in unconventional scents with characters that allow them to express their edgy style.
To adapt to these different expectations, Maison 21G will tailor our marketing approach and services to Chinese consumers. This is the strength of our personalised approach, which is not only tailored to the individual but also to the culture and context. We put high effort into localising our approach, considering the cultural and historical context of perfumery in each market and how this influences consumer preferences and behaviour to succeed worldwide. The era of “one-size-fits-all” perfume and super-centralised marketing is definitely over, and I am excited to be at the forefront of this new approach to the industry.
Where do you see Maison 21G in five years down the road? Any IPO planned ahead?
Become the number one tailored perfumery brand globally.
The brand aims to challenge ready-made products and establish a new segment in the fragrance industry: the Tailored Perfumery segment — after the surprise of Niche Perfumery. We intend to have iconic Houses of Creation in key fragrance capitals worldwide to install this new segment via the brand’s strong credentials in design, innovation, and sourcing new natural ingredients for our scent designer community.
We continuously improve our service and training of Maison 21G scent designers, possibly building an academy of perfumery to share knowledge and expertise. We have projects in Web3 to tokenise our unique perfume creation recipes, which will prevent copying and grant ownership to our loyal customers, preserving their creativity at Maison 21G.
We also plan to partner with other industries such as art, culinary, music, hotels, and mixology to create polysensorial events.
To support the vision and mission, Maison 21G will continue to raise smart money with bigger investors to challenge the traditional perfume industry, gain sustainable market share and become the most desirable perfume brand.
We want to keep the authenticity of what they do as long as possible, supported by active funds and financial partners who understand the importance of disruption, branding construction and innovation to meet the new consumers’ needs in perfumery.
How did you react to the purchase of Tom Ford by the Estee Lauder Group in November 2022 for a hefty US$2.8 Billion price tag (including debt)?
This acquisition of Tom Ford is a strategic move that strengthens Estee Lauder’s high-end luxury beauty portfolio. Tom Ford has established itself as a leading brand in the fragrance and cosmetics market over the course of several decades and has a significant presence in important growth markets such as the Asia-Pacific region and travel retail. Their success in disrupting the perfume industry years ago is noteworthy. This acquisition is a testament to the value of building a strong brand image with innovative products, reaching untapped consumers, and being led by a bold, strong founder.
Maison 21G aims to follow in Tom Ford’s footsteps by creating a luxury creative brand image with innovative products and services that can reach untapped consumers. We strive to be a challenger in the high-end luxury segment of the perfumery industry, focusing on personalisation, sustainability, and an experiential approach to create your own scents. Our commitment to creativity sets us apart from competitors, and we are constantly pushing the boundaries with new technology and machine learning to better understand the needs and tastes of our customers. We are bold and unafraid to disrupt the perfume industry, bringing transparency and openness into an industry sorely lacking in disruption.
What are the commanding valuation ratios in the beauty and perfume industry?
Valuation ratios in the beauty and perfume industry are determined by a number of factors, including a company’s size, growth potential, profitability, barrier of entry, technology, strong USP and brand image. When a company has a strong brand image and a disruptive approach, it tends to have higher valuation ratios. In the beauty industry, it is not uncommon for larger companies to pay up to 10-12 times a company’s revenue if they see potential for growth and expansion.
So for small beauty companies, the key to achieving high valuation ratios is to challenge the traditional business model and create a strong, disruptive value proposal with high barrier of entry and agility, that larger companies cannot easily replicate with their established structures. It is indeed difficult for larger companies to innovate as they need to balance risk and often have heavy structures to navigate.
This creates significant potential for acquisition and development with big groups, as they seek out innovative and disruptive companies to enhance their portfolios and gain market share.
In the perfume industry, by disrupting the industry with new and innovative ideas, small companies have a huge potential for acquisition and development with big groups and potentially command high valuation ratios in the process.