Founded in 2020 in Singapore, Maison 21G is the brainchild of Scent Designer Johanna Monange. With a unique O2O bespoke business model, Maison 21G aims to disrupt the traditional perfumery industry, by cutting intermediaries and putting the customers in direct contact with Haute Couture natural essences, allowing them to create scents that reflect their true personality.
For the past two years, Maison 21G has created a unique sensorial experience, pushing the boundaries of creativity with sustainability and education at its core.
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Johanna Monange, the founder of Maison 21G. Together we discussed the brand’s inception and mission, its unique O2O business model, Maison 21G’s expansion and future plans.
RiA: Can you tell us more about Maison 21G, and the reasons behind the launch of your own fragrance brand after 20 years in the industry?
Johanna: My decision to leave the mainstream industry came down to one factor: I could see it losing its soul. The perfumery of today is far too preoccupied with massive conglomerates seeking out scents with the widest possible appeal, and has forgotten the importance of designers’ vision, high quality natural ingredients, and creativity. It dawned on me just how important it was to make haute perfumery more accessible, experiential and democratised. By cutting intermediaries and upending the usual model, I could bring sustainable quality back in a wholly new way.
I frequently met people – overwhelmed by the sheer number of perfumes on shelves at high street stores – who’d say they didn’t know what fragrance to choose for themselves and their skin. This is partly why I followed this very consumer-centric approach; I wanted to help people to discover what they love, what they don’t, and how to understand the impact of each perfumery ingredient and essence in their composition. Just like a restaurant, our stores have their own menus, and experts to guide you in your choices. It’s poly-sensorial, experiential, inventive, and allows everybody to create their own scent in total freedom with the right guidance.
We have succeeded in creating the first open community of scent designers, where people share their recipes, designs and creations at Maison! Our presence in the digital realm has real viral appeal too, as people love to post unique experiences and emotions.
The brand name – Maison 21G – is a reference to the weight of the human soul, and the fact we aim to start encapsulating the scent of your soul in a 21 gram bottle. We wish to help you to express your different personalities and aspirations for seduction, elegance, boldness and more through your scent creations. We are a ‘Maison’, as we wish to create a new French Perfumery House that accentuates the creative experience, alongside the curated homely feeling we provide when you step into our boutiques.
Once you have crafted your first perfume, you will feel part of an avant-garde community of scent designers, where the freedom to express yourself through scent awaits. Each and every one of us embodies several personalities in our lives, and our ‘scent wardrobe’ should reflect our moods, our styles, and the way we present ourselves to the world.
The brand mission is both simple and multifaceted. We wish to empower everybody to design their own scent with our expert guidance. We want to give freedom back to the people – freedom to create the scents that reflect who they are, and which allow them to feel unique, seductive, and confident in their lives.
RiA: Maison 21G enables consumers to create their own fragrance. Can you elaborate on this very specific USP and the brand’s creative process?
Johanna: Craftsmanship, personalisation, education and experience are at the heart of our business model. Our shops are our laboratories, where highly-skilled scent designers guide customers in their scent creation, in accordance both to their personalities and their preferences.
By leveraging AI alongside more transitional skills, we are revolutionising the perfume industry bringing tech and machine learning to better understand the needs and tastes of each nationality and generation; our app and site helps customers design their scents based on their character, their desires of expression, and whether they’re seeking a seductive, elegant, or outstanding fragrance… or anything else they wish for!
In identifying how best to match a perfume to an individual, we have defined five unique personality profiles:
- The Free Spirit, or people who love to break boundaries, to innovate, to have the latest insights and try new experiences.
- The Authentic, who gravitates towards more natural and traditional ingredients. They love seeking out the story around their favourite brands, especially those with a sustainable message. They value quality, and tend to stick to ingredients they know and love.
- The Impressive, who loves to get noticed and stand out from the crowd. Strength and projection are key criteria for them.
- The Social Enthusiast, who is someone who often puts others first and who has a love for following social trends.
- The Connoisseur, who never fails to stand out with their depth of knowledge and cultured character. They seek finesse, sophistication, and life’s finest treasures.
Once a customer’s personality has been defined, it becomes simpler to recommend ingredients which combine to formulate their unique creation. For example, an Impressive customer will need a perfume which projects beautifully, with strong sillage, and may feature strong woody, oriental, and spicy notes. A Social Enthusiast, on the other hand, will be more drawn to softer, comforting, and caring notes such as musk, vanilla, and comforting juicy fruits.
Free Spirits will love combinations which include those ingredients on the disruptive, innovative, and bold side of the spectrum – Rhubarb and Cannabis, for example – and Authentic customers will need to be nudged towards iconic traditional natural clean fresh ingredients, including sage, bergamot and vetiver.
The app will ask the customer why they want to wear their perfume before suggesting scent combinations. The more customers we get, the more powerful our AI becomes, and the more precise the recommendations reveal themselves to be.
This is pure machine learning, and it forms much of the basis of our business model. As a bottom-to-top approach, we’re able to learn instantly from our customer base regarding their age, personality type, nationality, skin tone and much more. In a few years, we will have access to the ground-level olfactive trends in Dubai, Seoul, Paris, Vietnam, and elsewhere. It’s a game changing approach for the industry, and the more we grow, the more knowledgeable and concise we are able to become in tailoring scents to individuals.
Even better, this whole experience occurs both online and offline. When customers visit our boutiques, they can experience everything in situ and first-hand, and the immersive workshops we host heighten this even more. Online, they can order a Scent Discovery Set, which allows them to craft countless perfume combinations at home or they can let our AI questionnaire guide them in their decision. We guarantee 100 percent of returns if they are not satisfied, and we have fewer than 1 percent of our customers requesting an exchange.
Transparency is also key at Maison 21G. Every scent on our website can be clicked on, wherein it will reveal the level of natural ingredients, the percentage of biodegradability, the evolution of the olfactive profile of the scent in time and further essential information on each ingredient of our collection. No other brand communicates knowledge of their scents in the same way.
Sustainability, too, is central to our vision. For the first time in this industry, Maison customers can refill their bottles in our boutiques, and we’ll soon be launching this service online, too. We don’t need to rely on preservatives as each fragrance is made to order, meaning that the perfume is not blended before the customer arrives in the shop or orders online. Furthermore, we are paraben-free, CMR-free, phthalates-free for all our formulas, and all of our packaging is made from recycled materials. We have a zero-plastic target. Our candles are made from 100 percent natural wax, our reed diffuser base is 100 percent biodegradable… It’s important to our customers, to our brand, and to the planet we all share.
RiA: Maison 21G was born in Singapore and is now expanding in Asia. Can you tell us about the different markets you operate in?
Johanna: Our online launch took place in 2019, and shortly after this we opened our first bricks-and-mortar boutique in Duxton, Singapore. We now have three stores in Singapore in the most prestigious malls side-by-side with prestigious competitors, and have entered an exciting partnership with Sephora in Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong, too. In two years, our brand has become number 5 in Singapore thanks to our powerful bespoke website and our experiential boutique. Creative workshops currently account for half of our sales offline, which represents an exciting trend: people want to learn, experiment, discover, and socialise when they go out, and Maison 21G provides the perfect setting for new experiences and sensations.
We can clearly see that there is a shift underway, from luxury in material and exclusivity to luxury as A CONNECTION, CULTURE, CO-CREATION, EXPERIENCE AND COMMUNITY.
From simply being more of a brand-led status symbol, luxury today is about so much more than just wealth. Luxury for us is FREEDOM; being able to do what one wants to do, to step out, to experience and be creative without being judged!
LOCALISATION, is also our main motto, moving away from the globalised sense of standardisation. Luxury brands need to adapt to local tastes and cultures to be locally relevant, and to tap into regional and local desires, styles, and experiential trends.
Maison 21G has since expanded into Vietnam and Korea, and is imminently launching in Dubai, Qatar, and Shanghai. Our plans for Korea and the Middle East region have seen us take our ambitions to new heights – we’ll be partnering with the Chalhoub Group in the Middle East, and we have plans for 20 shops there by 2025. Shanghai is on the near horizon, and 20 shops are planned for China within 3 years in partnership with Eternal Optical & Perfumery (Far East) Ltd, the Chinese national leader in perfume distribution.
RiA: You have expanded your product range and now offer a Home Scent collection. How is it performing?
Johanna: The COVID-19 pandemic meant we all had to spend more time at home. This inspired the launch of the sustainable, natural, and customisable Home Scents range, imbued with all the quality and bespoke nature of our perfumes, and we’re delighted with how it has been embraced. Maison 21G enables you to combine your favourite scents in stylish and luxurious decorative objects, a premiere in the Home Scent world. With home scent products increasing in popularity and with access to a broad spectrum of perfume essences, consumers can now create their own distinctive Scent Style at Home to increase their own wellbeing.
Our Home Scent launch was typified by a bold and disruptive approach; one we developed alongside a commitment to wellness by including all-natural ingredients that could help customers relax, focus, and sleep more effectively. The collection features our beautiful Dual Candles, “La Luciole” – our stylish oil burner, and reed diffusers that can be tailored with the scents of your choice. Again, our Home Scent range puts personalisation first, setting it apart from all of our competitors and putting the customer at the heart of the creation process.
RiA: What’s next for Maison 21G?
Johanna: We’re poised and ready for our international expansion. Maison 21G is not aiming to open 200 boutiques, but I do wish to have a boutique in every major world capital… and this is the essence of my five year plan, supported by our disruptive digital approach with our own website to reach more people and collect more data to be on top on our personalisation game!
Korea is hugely strategic for us as it’s the true innovator within the Asian market, always ahead of the game and with its eyes on the latest trends. China and the Middle East, likewise, are going to be key to our future growth. We have Thailand and Australia on our radar, and the next challenges will be Europe – where perfumery has arguably the most prestigious history – and the US, where we are targeting Los Angeles and San Francisco over New York. It’s going to be busy, exciting, and hard work, but Maison 21G is ready to take on the world.