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M. Micallef - Perfume with a Message of Love
   
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 new fragrance collection. They spoke to Voice’s Marzena Robinson.

M. Micallef is one of the most desired and valued niche perfume brands. Last year you celebrated 20th anniversary of booming career. How is it possible to be so successful for so long in this increasingly competitive business?
Geoffrey Nejman – You are right, we live in a competitive world, even in niche. When we wake up in the morning every day is a challenge. But when you have talent, I mean Martine, passion, love and two hands to work for many hours you have a good chance to stay in the leading peloton.

Today, the perfume industry in retail value is 15 billion dollars worldwide, but very interestingly, the niche industry which was basically non-existent 15-20 years ago is already worth 1 billion, which is 7 percent of the total market. You can find niche perfume in about 4,000 stores which is still minimalistic compared to generic perfume which can be bought in just under 100,000 stores. What is also very interesting, is that the growth expected in the next few years on generic perfume its only 2 percent while in niche, it’s 15 percent. This means that in five years its value will double from 1 to 2 billion. So it’s a very aggressive market which seduces more and more people. This also explains why big names, like Estee Lauder, L’Oreal or LVMH are buying out niche perfumes today. They take them into their network to have the growth which is not any more guaranteed with generic perfume. For niche, being in Estee Lauder or L’Oreal network means going from some 600 stores to even 20,000 stores, but do they still remain niche?

Your brand has been very popular with Polish customers. As you are here to launch your new collection I guess we do not have to worry that M. Micallef will be absorbed by some big company. Are you happy with the Polish market?
Martine Micallef – Yes, the brand is very well established in Poland.

G.N. – Once we hooked the consumer on Micallef perfume, they remain very loyal to the brand. They might go from one to another perfume in Micallef but they stay with us and that has been our actual guarantee of the development.

M.M. – We are very lucky with our distributors here, the Missala family, who did a great job last year when we decided to bring the brand on another level of development. The idea is to focus now more on the merchandising.

G.N. – We are putting a lot of effort in communicating better about the brand, because when you want to develop your business you have to, at some stage, put some investment behind communication. We are absolutely convinced that if you want to be successful today you have to give service, all along from our corporation where we produce to the distributor, to the retailer, to the consumer. Today the notion of service is practically akin to luxury. Product is luxury, but service is addition to luxury. If you control theses angles, you have a good chance to be successful. The other part is communication because with all the modern technologies, Facebook or Instagram, this is a snowballing effect, you need to be permanently in the action.

M. M. – The brand is mature enough to establish a new communications strategy, a new visibility of the brand. Before, we were not so much concerned because there was less competition. But now with more competition, the big brands buying out the niche, we need to invest more in merchandising, visuals, samples and so on.

G.N. – Let’s take Warsaw’s Quality Missala Perfumery as an example. Twenty years ago when they launched a niche brand the only marketing was ‘try something unique’. Today you can’t say the same, because there are 50 brands in the store which are ‘unique’, so you have to come up with some other convincing elements of marketing. That’s the free world of competition.

You take a lot of care to be in touch with your distributors and customers. You must be on the road most of the time.

G.N. – Oh yes, we travel about eight months a year and always take great pleasure in meeting our partners and customers. It’s important because we need this opportunity to discuss, to get the feedback from the customers, who in the end make the success of the brand.

M. M. – And also it helps to get inspiration for our work because when you travel you are not distracted by all these less important things in everyday life. When you are an artist it is much better for the spirit, for the soul, for the positive energy when you are outside because some detail can open your mind to new ideas.

Launching your new collection in Poland, you have also visited partner stores of Quality Missala Perfumery outside the big cities, in Siedlce and Ostro∏´ka. It’s not every day that brand owners go to small towns to do a presentation.

G.N. – It was a great experience for us, for the team working in the stores and for the customers. Actually, one of the shop we visited was celebrating their 25th anniversary and in these 25 years they never had a brand visit them. I honestly can’t understand how this could happen. In our philosophy and strategy it is absolutely obvious that you have to connect with the consumers. Perfume is something very particular, it’s sensitivity, attraction, sexuality, a dream, so many things that link people together, especially in the difficult times of political stress everywhere.

Three weeks ago we had a seminar in a field where I showed how to pick the famous rose of Grasse. And then we had a picnic where there were Jewish people, Muslims, Russians, Polish, Germans and Italians. And what got all of us together and made the big party was the perfume. It’s somewhere a message of peace, beauty, love and wellbeing in perfume.

The new collection ‘The Secrets of Love’ you have now brought to Poland has been a great success wherever you launched it. What is so special about it?
M. M. – It is a ‘new generation’ concept of Micallef, With this collection we wanted to explore the different facets of love. There are five fragrances, each exploring a different aspect of the concept, the attitude. Is it to be glamourous, or seductive, or sensual? In Poland, we are launching only three fragrances now: Glamour, Sensual and Delice, but we’ll bring the two other later. We are also offering a completely new design. First of all it’s the new, metallic bottle. As we wanted to open the subject of love and at the same time keep it very intimate that’s why you can’t see through the bottle.

Yes, the bottle. You are famous for your beautiful, unique artistic bottles designed by Martine. This one is really spectacular but quite heavy, too.

M. M. – Yes, it’s quality, the case it’s not aluminium but zamak metal. We work with a special metal production factory to make the case but the design of the bottle and the mold is mine. And the assembly and finishing is always done in our atelier in Grasse in France. The case’s design was inspired by the architecture of an old, defunct perfume distillery in Grasse. It’s a really beautiful and mysterious place with a soul.

The scents of love have been put in a “cage” to make them more discreet, more intimate. As Glamour is most feminine, sexy, passionate, full of joy, with fire, but also fruity, I put into a pinky case. Delice and Sensual are more unisex, to be shared by a couple.

Martine has designed the bottle and who has created the secret content?
G.N. – So far, in everything that has been developed the basic idea comes from myself, or in discussion with Martine, and the fine tuning is done by a master perfumer Jean-Claude Astier and some perfumers of his team.

Jean-Claude has been our mentor from the very early days, but we have now realized that we are from the “mature” generation and we need to put a bit of “fresh blood” into our business. There are a lot of new talents, young people who have studied fragrance development and they have a lot of passion and a modern touch for perfume.

M. M. – Yes, but you are always able to recognize it’s
M. Micallef, because on the brief we keep our signature. It’s important not to be fully anarchic, to have a large choice, but also to have your own, certain style.

G.N. – We have to stay with the DNA of the company and our signature has been established, so we don’t want to turn it upside down, we have to follow up. But in following up you can allow yourself to become a little bit more modern. The last collection is still with our old, established team, but the launches in 2018 will be with the “new blood”.

We are now working on one perfume which will be in the Mon Parfum range and the second one will add to the Jewel collection.

So these will be new additions to your “old” collections?
M. M. – Yes, it’s a kind of evolution. The concept was born with the 20 years anniversary of our brand. We wanted to show to our customers, that although we have existed for so long we can shed our skin like a reptile. It’s important because when you have a company you have to think about the transition, you have to think of the future.

But as you said, skin-deep M.Micallef will always remain
M. Micallef.
M. M. – Our main concept has always been perfume combined with art, which was revealed in the design of the bottles, in the fact that everything is handmade, it’s artisan work. But the new development will establish us as a truly artistic brand.

G.N. – You can even say that content is also artistic. Because a perfumer is an artist, definitely! Mixing a formulation starting from zero, is an artistic work.

I always admire Jean-Claude. You tell him how you visualize a scent and he takes a piece of paper and starts writing down the formulation, because his nose is directly connected to his brain and he can immediately translate what you are saying into a scent. He looks like a composer writing a partition of music and after about 15 minutes you have a song written with 50 or 60 basic ingredients. Then he makes the first test and next comes the fine tuning, And that’s when he have board meetings round the table and decide with three – five people about what is missing and what should be added. We make blind tests of five or six different mixes of the same family.

M. M. – So, it is the success of the whole team’s work.
G.N. – Yes, it’s cooperation of many people, and the deal is done when the consumer has the perfume in their handbag
M. M. – And when they come back and say “I want another one”.
G.N. – Then the deal is done for sure because you gain the loyalty of the customer.