Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Maison 21G – Winner of Brand Experience Award at UPSTARTS Awards

UPSTARTS hosted its first Awards Finale in Hong Kong on November 24. This live pitch event was the culmination of the UPSTARTS Awards which were launched earlier in 2022, and brought together eight Asian retail startup finalists, who pitched live to a panel of judges.

Among which, Maison 21G, bespoke perfumery House of Scent Designers, where customers can create their own scents, stood out from their competitors and particularly caught the attention of the judges. The pitch, led by Johanna Monange, founder of Maison 21G, showcased tremendous potential, and was crowned winner of the Brand Experience Award.

Having caught up with Monange earlier this year, the founder showed great determination in the development of Maison 21G on an ambitious note: “Maison 21G is not aiming to open 200 boutiques, but I do wish to have a boutique in every major world capital,” she said. 

Stepping into 2023, we had the pleasure of talking to the executive again about the brand’s updates in the past year, including its expansion in the Korean market,  as well as its latest NFT/ Web3 project and the launch of scent stories.

Source: Maison 21G

RiA: You mentioned you’re a big believer in phygital, and that it especially appeals to the Korean market. Why do you think that is the case and how do you bring the concept of phygital forward in your stores?

Monange: There are several reasons why the concept of phygital is particularly appealing in the Korean retail market.

Korea has a high level of technological adoption. Korean consumers are known for their high level of newness adoption and familiarity with technology, which may make them more open to using technology in the retail setting. Korea has also advanced infrastructure and a highly developed digital landscape, which makes it easier for retailers like Maison 21G to implement phygital technologies in their stores.  Moreover, the Korean e-commerce market is well-developed and competitive, which drives retailers to differentiate themselves by offering a unique and integrated in-store experience that combines physical and digital elements. Finally, Korean customers value convenience and seamless experiences, and the integration of physical and digital elements in the retail setting help to meet these expectations.

In line with our root of tech-enabled innovation and polysensorial experiences, Maison 21G has developed a ground-breaking retail experience in a span of just three years. We aimed to create an outstanding and immersive experience for our customers, by educating them through scents and empowering them through an innovative blend of cutting-edge technology and timeless artistry. This included:

  1. Our unique personality AI quiz (guiding people in creating their bespoke perfume with personalised recommendations according to your skin tone, age, nationality, scent preference, intensity and values in life.
  2. Revolutionary touchless scent bar (to create a unique discovery polysensorial retail experience) where people can mix-and-match scent on blotters before putting it on their skin. This innovation was developed during Covid to overcome the challenge of having no more testers.
  3. RFID scent identification to allow people to access all the information of their scent via a computer or smart device. They can also see the result of their scent combinations. Our app and the technology has been developed in collaboration with Carlipa.
  4. Self-service perfumer organ, which brings craftsmanship and creativity back to perfumery in spectacular style. Consumers enjoy direct contact with the pure oils, which they can infuse themselves in an alcohol base.
  5. UV printing technology, allowing each customer to print their own design on their bottle. They have endless possibilities of design and benefit from full personalisation both inside and outside the bottle.
  6. Educational perfume creative workshops to uncover the world of perfumery: our luxurious ateliers – expert-led perfumery workshops, hosted at our opulent concept stores – allow consumers to express themselves while discovering, learning, and exploring the secrets of perfumery in a truly luxurious setting. Guided by our skilled scent designers, each perfume workshop is a chance to get closer to our array of haute couture essences. People uncover the hidden mysteries of perfumes through the ages, discover the fragrances which match their personality, and sharpen their senses before blending the scent of their soul to take home.

RiA: Would you say Korea is your strongest market thus far? How is their luxury scene different from the rest of Asia?

Source: Maison 21G

Monange: 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 the Asian region. Because 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 Korean market.

It is challenging to make broad statements about the luxury scene in Korea compared to the rest of Asia, as each market has its own distinct characteristics. However, based on my observations, I see some specificities in the luxury scene in Korea compared to other parts of Asia.

The Korean luxury market places a higher emphasis on innovation and uniqueness, as Korean consumers are known for their interest in new and novel products and unique experiences, particularly when they incorporate cutting-edge technology. Luxury brands need to continuously innovate in order to maintain their position in the Korean market.

The popularity of K-beauty and K-pop in Korea may have a significant impact on the luxury market, as these industries often feature luxury products and collaborate with luxury brands. In order to remain relevant and trendy in the Korean market, luxury brands must work with K-pop stars.

Korean consumers have high expectations for quality and service, and they have a keen attention to detail. In order to succeed in the Korean market, luxury brands must offer top-quality products and service, not just a well-known brand name.

Korea is known for its strong sense of design, and luxury brands may need to invest in the design of their shops in order to stand out in the market. It is key to succeed as a luxury brand to invest in a top notch flagship store in a trending luxury area like Cheongdam, even if you don’t generate profit with it.

RiA: Can you give us a sneak peek on the NFT/ Web3 project Maison 21G is working on at the moment? How is this going to bring authenticity back to the perfume industry?

Monange: I am a strong believer in the use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Web 3 technologies as they have the potential to enhance authenticity and transparency in our perfume industry by providing a way to verify and track the uniqueness of all the perfume creations. For example, these technologies could be used by the celebrities we will work with and who want to limit the number of their perfume creations for sale. It can be used also by VIP customers who want to maintain the exclusivity of their formula and make sure no one can have access to it.

NFTs are unique digital assets stored on a blockchain that can represent ownership of a unique perfume. At Maison 21G we plan to use NFTs to create digital certificates of authenticity for our perfume creations, including the natural ingredients and captive molecules used in our formula. This will allow our consumers to verify the provenance and authenticity of their perfume bought at Maison 21G, whether purchased online or in a physical store. It will also help us to combat counterfeiting.

Web 3 technologies, such as decentralized databases and peer-to-peer networks, will be also used at Maison 21G to securely and transparently track the ownership and movement of our perfume creations, particularly in the case of limited-edition releases for celebrities we will work with. This can help to protect the authenticity of their unique creation and avoid flooding the market with fake perfumes that can harm their image.

Overall, the use of NFTs and Web 3 technologies has the potential to increase transparency, confirm origin and uniqueness, and fight copycat products in perfumery by providing a secure and verifiable way to track the provenance of the creations made at Maison 21G by our consumers. Maison 21G is aiming to be a pioneer in the use of these technologies to enhance transparency and exclusivity for our customers and famous partners.

RiA: You talked about how Asian consumers from different countries tend to interact differently with perfume, i.e. Middle Eastern customers prefer personalisation, and the Chinese are more eager to learn. Can you expand on that?

Monange: Consumers from different countries tend to have diverse interactions with perfumery and have varying expectations for products and service. For example, consumers in the Middle East have a long tradition with perfumery and often have a high level of knowledge about the subject. They often enjoy personalisation and layering scents, and they are well-versed in the ingredients used in perfumes. These consumers typically know what they like and dislike, and they view perfume as a way to stand out. They often have many perfumes in their collection and enjoy trying new scents. Long-lasting and strong scents are particularly important to Middle Eastern consumers.

Source: Maison 21G

On the other hand, consumers in China have a relatively short history with perfumery and may be more eager to learn about the ingredients, discover their preferences, and develop their own scent style. They may also be interested in learning about perfumery tips and tricks, what scents to wear for different occasions, and the differences between high-quality and low-quality perfumes. Chinese consumers tend to prefer niche perfumery to express their wealth and may value luxury brands due to concerns about counterfeiting. Perfume is also a way for these consumers to assert their personality.

To adapt to these different expectations, Maison 21G has tailored its marketing approach and service to each specific country. This is the strength of our personalised approach, to the individual, but to the culture and context also. We put high effort in localisation of our approach.

For instance, we provide more educational resources and guidance for consumers in China and Asia, while we push a wider range of strong and long-lasting scents for consumers in the Middle East. It is imperative today to consider the cultural and historical context of perfumery in each market and how this influences consumer preferences and behaviour to succeed worldwide. The generation of “one fits all” perfume and super centralised marketing is definitely over.

RiA: Your idea on creating scent stories for different countries is really interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about this project and what was the inspiration behind it?

Monange: A scent story is inspired by the culture, history, style of the creator or the brand, and the natural ingredients contained in the formula.  By creating scent stories for different countries, Maison 21G can offer customers a more personalised and interactive way to discover perfumery.

Source: Maison 21G

There are many ways that Maison 21G goes about creating scent stories for different countries. We work with local perfumers and ingredients to create fragrances that are authentic to the region, or we collaborate with local artists and designers to create packaging that reflects the culture of the country.

Additionally, Maison 21G may be inspired by the history and traditions of a country, to create a fragrance that captures the spirit of a place.

Maison 21G disrupts a perfume industry typified by secrecy and opaque practices by opening the doors of transparency and education, but also by creating a community of fragrance designers. We encourage cross-cultural exchanges. Our customers come together to exchange ideas and cultures, pushing the envelope of creativity. We encourage our community to share their best creation and to describe it with their own words, images and movies, related to their culture and memories.

There is not a single way to talk about perfume and ingredients.

RiA: With a strong online presence, how is Maison 21G going to utilise the data collected from customers?

Monange: Maison 21G has a strong online presence and manages to collect a lot of meaningful data thanks to its AI quiz, which allows us to recommend bespoke perfumes to customers based on their personality, age, origin, skin tone, and ingredient preference. These data can be used to improve our scent recommendation process for customers all around the world in several ways:

Better personalization with machine learning

Source: Maison 21G

One way to improve the accuracy of the recommendation algorithm is to use machine learning techniques. By training a machine learning model on the data collected from the quiz, Maison 21G can predict which perfumes a customer is more likely to enjoy based on their characteristics, origin, age and preferences.

Improved accuracy

By analysing the data collected from our quiz, Maison 21G can improve the accuracy of its scent recommendations. For example, if a particular combination of characteristics is found more often in a country with a higher likelihood, the recommendation algorithm can take that into account for future recommendations. Maison 21G  also gathers customer feedback on the perfumes they have tried through surveys, ratings, and reviews. This data can be used to fine-tune the recommendation algorithm and improve the overall accuracy of the recommendations. The more creations we have, the more accurate we become.

Product development

The data collected can also be used to inform product development efforts at Maison 21G. For example, if the company sees that certain combinations of ingredients are particularly popular among certain customer segments, Maison 21G can consider creating best-seller perfume creations that feature those combinations for the country or develop other product applications with this combination (home scent, for instance).

Expansion to new markets

The data collected can also be used to help Maison 21G expand into new markets. For example, if the company sees that a certain combination of characteristics is popular in a certain region, it could consider developing best seller creations that caters to those preferences.

Customer segmentation

The data collected can be used to segment customers into different groups, based on their preferences and characteristics. This can be helpful for targeted marketing efforts and for creating customized experiences for different groups of customers.

Customer retention

By providing personalized and accurate scent recommendations, Maison 21G can improve customer satisfaction and increase the likelihood that customers will like these scents in other applications like candles, reed diffusers. This can be especially important in the highly competitive fragrance market, where customers have many options to choose from.

Overall, there are many ways that Maison 21G can utilise the data collected from its online presence and AI quiz to benefit its scent recommendations to customers. By using this data to personalise recommendations, improve the accuracy of its recommendations, inform product development, and increase customer satisfaction, the company can differentiate itself from competitors and build a loyal customer base.

RiA: Where do you see Maison 21G in five years?

Monange: Maison 21G is on a mission to revolutionize the fragrance industry and give everyone the opportunity to express their individual style and personality through scent. With a focus on inclusivity, personalisation and sustainability, the brand aims to democratize the haute couture perfume creation process and allow people of all backgrounds and locations to participate.

In the coming years, Maison 21G plans to open a flagship store in the heart of the world’s most vibrant capital city, serving as a hub for scent creation experience and a destination for fragrance and scent designer enthusiasts. The brand also has plans to expand its digital presence, enabling people to craft their own personalized perfumes from the comfort of their own homes, anywhere on the planet.

But Maison 21G’s ambitions don’t stop there. The brand aims to become a leader in sustainability, using eco-friendly materials, refillable bottles and clean practices in all aspects of its business. In addition, Maison 21G is committed to supporting local communities and artists and giving back through meaningful partnerships and initiatives.

SEE ALSO: The Fragrance Edit: Chapter III – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Maison 21G

With its innovative approach and dedication to inclusivity, sustainability, personalisation and community, Maison 21G has the ambition to become the most desirable perfume brand in the world and a beacon for positive change in the industry.