Retail in Asia


Memo Paris founder John Molloy talks about Seoul pop-up and Asia’s growing appetite for niche fragrances

Luxury fragrance aficionados in Seoul, South Korea, are in for a sensory treat as the Parisian fragrance house Memo Paris recently unveiled an elaborate pop-up, the Memo Grand Hotel, running until May 5 in the trendy Seongsu-dong district.

The pop-up not only showcases the brand’s signature scents but also serves as a testament to its ambitious plans to bolster its presence across Asia, according to co-founder John Molloy, who established Memo Paris together with wife Clara Molloy in 2007. With its roots entrenched in the art of storytelling and olfactory craftsmanship, Memo Paris has gained a reputation for creating unique fragrances that transport wearers to far-flung destinations inspired by the couple’s extensive travels and personal memories.

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The Memo Paris pop-up in Seoul offers a curated selection of the brand’s most coveted fragrances, allowing visitors to embark on an olfactory journey. Visitors can explore the distinct notes and accords, immersing themselves in the artistry and craftsmanship behind each fragrance.

The pop-up event also serves as a strategic move for Memo Paris to strengthen its presence in Asia. Recognising the region’s growing appetite for luxury fragrances, the brand aims to captivate the discerning Asian market with its unique olfactory offerings.

Retail in Asia speaks with Memo International founder John Molloy on bringing their niche fragrances to Asia.

Memo Paris’ Memo Grand Hotel pop-up in Seongsu-dong, Seoul, running until May 5. Source: Memo Paris
Retail in Asia: Your fragrance company, Memo International, today has three brands – Memo Paris, Floraiku and Hermetica. Can you share with us a bit about how this started?

John Molloy: I founded the company with my wife, Clara. We got married in 2005 and I had been working in fashion for 20 years, [while] she had worked in magazines. We wanted to do something that both of us can do, something new – and we thought about setting up our own business. My wife, who is our creative director, at the time was writing a book about the 22 best perfumers in the world.

If you go back to 2005, no one ever talked about the noses and Clara was rather disturbed by this fact that you had this wonderful, creative population of perfumers. That was around the time when all the niche [fragrance] brands roughly started, we had this wave of niche because in the industry we got so tired of having everything mass-produced. We were lucky at the time to start in a wave that we weren’t conscious of – there was this feeling that there’s something here, we wanted to do something special and put a bit of heart and soul into it. 

Clara had met Alienor Massenet, who was the nose that worked with us exclusively for the first 10 years. We launched our first perfumes for Memo Paris in London and Paris. We learned as we went along and, lo and behold, we had our 15th birthday back in 2022, and now we’re in most of the best capitals in the world.

Memo Paris founders Clara and John Molloy. Source: Memo Paris
Retail in Asia: Did you establish Memo Paris, Hermetica and Floraiku at the same time? 

Molloy: After 10 years of Memo we were thinking about doing a special collection about Asia and because I’d worked previously for five years at Kenzo and had the experience of meeting Kenzo and going to Japan. [My wife and co-founder] Clara was writing haikus and we thought of creating a mini collection for Memo, all about Asia. We ended up with 12 perfumes and decided to do a brand around flowers and haikus.

We wanted a brand that had the exceptional service of Asia but had the fragrances of France, and we tried to marry that together to bring out ‘slow perfume’ inspired by teas, spices, flowers and incense. We took different ceremonies from the Japanese culture of kodo for incense, ikebana for flowers and ocha for tea and spices. We worked around a customer sitting down around a bar and going through three ceremonies, bringing out the inspiration of taking time to discover a fragrance. 

The most recent brand we built was Hermetica. We had this question of what our kids will think of what we’ve done. So we put down words like clean, green, refillable, recyclable… We wanted to try to make a perfume without any alcohol, and with only the best of man-made and natural ingredients.

Source: Memo Paris
Retail in Asia: Coming back to Memo Paris, you currently have a pop-up in Seoul called the Memo Grand Hotel. Can you share with us why you’ve selected this format?

Molloy: The Memo client is so curious, and we thought the Memo Grand Hotel could take people on a journey and imagine that the key to each room is a bottle of the perfume. It is a way of helping our customers explore Memo. Each room is themed after each place, and the ‘hotel’ is in this area [in Seoul], Seongsu-dong, where there’s a lot of  garage-type buildings and a lot of pop-up stores are happening because today, retail has really evolved and you’ve got to bring something a little more exciting

Source: Memo Paris

We’ve created this hotel lobby with the products and the creative force behind them, so we have a wall showing all of the artists and perfumers who work with all the perfumes. We’ve also created a lobby area where customers can sit down and the concierge can come to them with a selection of keys which are the fragrance bottles. Clients can choose which room they’d like to see.

Source: Memo Paris

There’s a small casino room where customers can go and play because also in retail you like to play [with] things. People can dive into these real or imaginary places where we’re only showing beauty because at the end of the day, we’re in the beauty industry and we want people to smile. We are all working hard getting things done and sometimes life goes by very quickly, but if [customers] can have a moment of joy and can walk into a place where it makes them smile, see beauty, they’re told stories and they can escape and get lost in these destinations, that’s a great joy.

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Retail in Asia: In Korea, you are working with Shinsegae International. Is this the start of more initiatives to build your presence in South Korea? And are there plans to bring the Memo Grand Hotel to other locations in Asia?

Molloy: We’ve got the Memo Grand Hotel and we’re going to take it on a road show in Korea, starting now in Seoul. Shinsegae international is one of our long-standing partners from the very beginning, and they have been amazing for brand building in South Korea, which is a very competitive market. 

The Grand Hotel podium will also be coming to Hong Kong as well as in Shanghai and Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Asia has always been exceptional when it comes to retail and service, and customers are curious – they want to know how things are made, what materials are being used. A few years ago, people said Asian customers aren’t big perfume fans because all the big groups in the industry were just focused on skincare and makeup, which represented 80 percent of the market. But then people travel, they get an opportunity to see something that’s beautiful and wear it.