The Warsaw Voice » Culture » Monthly - December 13, 2015
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The Secrets of Exclusive Scent
   
French couple Geoffrey Nejman and Martine Micallef, who together created M. Micallef, one of the world’s best known niche perfume houses, came to Warsaw’s Quality Missala Perfumery recently to launch their latest fragrance, which features a secret ingredient. Nejman spoke to the Voice’s Marzena Robinson.

Your wife Martine is an artist and designer and you were a banker in your previous career. How did you find your way to the world of perfumery?
It all started in 1996 in Grasse [in southeast France, on the French Riviera,] which is known as the worldwide capital of perfumery. There was a perfume laboratory there which was looking for a banker to advise them about finances. As I was very curious about the whole perfumery world, I took the job and went there as a consultant. My curiosity was such that I would often sneak into the production department and talk to the perfumers. That was a totally new discovery, as if I was suddenly struck by lightning. Every night I would come home with a briefcase full of samples of perfumes to show them to my wife Martine, and we were both discovering all these scents. We spent long hours talking about perfumes, to the extent that one day Martine said, “Let’s do perfume.” So we decided to partner up professionally and create the Parfum M. Micallef brand.

It sounds like an easy decision but the competition in the French perfumery industry is tough. What was your plan for surviving in this competitive world?
We decided to do something special, something unique. Martine came up with an idea to create a concept which combines art and perfume. She, as a talented artist, could design and decorate exclusive flacons, and I, as someone with a nose for perfume, could take care for what’s inside the bottle.

At that time we were lucky to meet a famous expert perfumer, Jean-Claude Astier, who agreed to work with us. That allowed us to start production of exclusive, bejeweled and hand-decorated bottles, which would mix art and perfume.

Our first collection was a high-end line of crystal bottles that were produced for us exclusively by a family business in the Czech Republic. Martine designed and developed the original molds for the bottles.

I believe Martine was the first one to start complementing perfume bottles with Swarovski crystals. Actually, we held a discussion with Swarovski at the time about cutting the shape of the crystal stones in such a way that they could be glued to a crystal bottle. The bottles were also engraved and hand-painted with 22-carat gold.

Since we wanted to shock and surprise consumers, in addition to 75-milliliter bottles we produced 3-liter and 5-liter bottles. We hoped that one day we would be able to market our concept in the Middle East, which is known to have a big appetite for perfume.

And indeed, after winning over perfume connoisseurs in Germany, soon after we seduced the Middle East and received a lot of orders from members of a Middle Eastern royal family for special designs.

In terms of our crystal collection, we had bespoke orders, each one a work of art, like the gold-plated black crystal 1-liter flacon with a cap in the shape of a falcon head decorated with quartz, developed by Martine and produced in our ateliers.

Another example of a special project was carried out in cooperation with Jean-Claude Navoro, one of the greatest glassblowers of our time. This was a bottle with a glass stopper containing fluorescent chemicals—when you leave it in the sun for half an hour it becomes illuminated at night. Made by hand, each bottle is slightly different and they are much appreciated by collectors.

Is it true that these first bottles of perfume were produced in a wine cellar?
That’s true. We were living in a house in Cannes [southern France], where we had a small cellar, and thought we could arrange enough space for three people to work there. When we had a few bottles ready I invested first in a bicycle, and then in a small Peugeot, and went from door to door trying to sell our beautiful but very expensive perfumes. Next, as I could speak German fluently, I decided to go with our collection to Germany, which turned out to be our first very successful market. To cut a long story short, in the last 20 years, step by step, from traveling by bike to flying by plane, we developed M. Micallef into a brand which is today present in 55 countries and about 900 points of sale.

Meanwhile, the cellar became too small, so we found a beautiful spot in Grasse where we today have a 2,000-square-meter workshop and warehouse, where we make everything by hand, assisted by 20 colleagues. We are fully integrated, from the laboratory stage through design and production, until we finish the perfume, decorate the bottle and export it. Quality control is very strict in our company and every bottle is inspected before final packaging.

Over the years we have also developed our own boutiques, where we show our complete collection and have developed a creative desk in the middle of the store where you can have your bottle of perfume immediately personalized. One of the sales people is trained as an artist and can either engrave or paint a name or a message on the bottle.

Some of the most extravagant bottles can also be found in your Exclusifs Collection, which is known for brave, sometimes controversial, scents. Was it part of your plan to shock consumers?
This is a collection of scents that are very special, very exclusive. You either love them or hate them. In this collection you can find our first Oud [agarwood] scent, which we developed when we found agarwood oil in the souk market in Dubai. It impressed us so much that we took it back to perfumer Jean-Claude Astier. He combined it with a French sensibility and it’s been on the market now for 16 years. Oud, 16 years ago when we had the courage to introduce it to the European market, was a shocking concept. There was a lot of resistance from people who could not understand how you can wear this. Slowly we helped introduce this kind of scent to the market and today every prestigious brand has an Oud collection.

Your latest fragrance, Akowa, is based on a secret ingredient which you said you are not going to reveal to the world. Is there anything you can tell our readers about it?
This ingredient was first used in the Mon Parfum Gold scent created last year especially for Martine. The new fragrance is 80 percent based on it.

We draw a lot of inspiration from our travels and this one was a discovery of ours in Africa. When two years ago we went on holiday to South Africa, a guide took us to a tribe called the Akowa living in the middle of the jungle. There we saw that some women were crushing and mixing beans with a certain oil to produce a paste that looked like a cream and had an unbelievably strong and lovely aroma. They put it on the skin to enhance sexual attraction in a ritual when they are getting ready to get married. We were allowed by the tribe to take back a sample with us. The rest is a secret.