The Scents of a Woman
A new and disruptive concept for the perfume business is changing the industry at a time when Covid-19 is creating big challenges for the entire world
BY FLOYD COWAN
(Singapore June 12, 2020) Johanna Monange (pictured right) says there were times in her life when her entire world changed. Twice it was her father who pulled her
out of her comfortable life and changed the direction of what she was doing. With a greater perspective she now understands why it was important for her to move on. When Covid-19 wrenched us out of our old normal world, and lockdowns and restrictions moved us into a new normal, Johanna not only took it in her stride she built a fledging business into one with strength that will continue to expand in the new normal.
Maison 21G is a perfume business with many differences that would have faced challenges even without a global pandemic roiling the world. But with Maison 21G’s innovative ideas and strengths it has powered through the most challenging times of our lives. When the pandemic disrupted the world, Johanna was already working at disrupting the world of perfumes and scents.
Johanna’s early life was dominated by the very competitive world of gymnastics as she competed with France’s national team. “Gymnastics are so demanding that it teaches you that you can do pretty much everything you want with your body. Also, it is a combination of the physical and the mental world. It is very artistic. Perfume is the same in that it is physical as your body interacts with the scent creating an aroma that is personally yours.”
Her father yanked her out gymnastics at the age of 14, a world she didn’t want to leave. However, she adjusted and lived a comfortable life in France until once again her father decided to upset her apple cart and give her new challenges to deal with. He enrolled Johanna in university in China, which wasn’t as Westernized then as it is now.
“I arrived in Beijing in the autumn of 1996,” Johanna relates. “Just 22 years old, I found myself in a rather unfriendly country where, due to my not having a word of Chinese, I couldn’t understand anything, and nobody could understand me either. In the 1990s nobody spoke English in China. The university food was, to my tastes, disgusting. The cold climate chilled me to the bone during winter. My living conditions were extremely difficult. I lived in a very poor common dormitory with Korean, Russian and Japanese female students. There were no decent private cleaning facilities, just one common bathroom. My first month was the most horrible month of my life and I cried almost every day. It was terrible!” Not only did Johanna survive she thrived. She learned the language, made friends and delved deep into the culture as she completed her studies.
When Johanna finished her master’s degree in International Business at the University of International Business and Economy of Beijing (UIBE), she was hired by MANE, a prestigious French perfume house. She was trained at their Grasse perfumery school for two long and intensive years. She took a deep dive into this new world with passion and no preconceived ideas.
Having learned Mandarin, it was a logic step for her to go to China to open and run the new creative centre for MANE. There, she explored how scents are deeply rooted in culture and how perfume should be tailor-made for different heritages.
After five years in China, she returned to Paris and became the Global Account Manager of Fine Fragrance for Firmenich, a Swiss-based global leader of elite fine fragrances. She worked alongside the most famous noses in the world such as Olivier Cresp, Alberto Morilla, and Jacques Cavallier, that honed her skills in the art of refinement and excellence in the perfume industry.
In 2007, Johanna joined IFF as the Global Director for L'Oreal. She oversaw the creation of over 18 brands in the L'Oréal Luxury Division, many of which have changed the fine fragrance olfactive dynamics over the last 10 years like Lancôme La Vie est Belle, Armani Aqua di Gioia, and YSL L'Homme and L'Homme La Nuit.
While being a part of such a large prestigious business as IFF she wanted to move in directions that the company was unwilling to go. “I proposed that we go on-line in marketing and selling our perfumes. On-line sales of perfumes is a concept that many people have a difficult time getting their mind around. People need to smell the product and they can’t do that digitally.”
Johanna left IFF to launch her own company in Singapore in September 2019. Her lessons in resilience have been put to good use. Johanna opened her boutique, Maison 21G, at 77 Duxton Road, and at the same time her website went live inviting customers to purchase products remotely. Launching her business and then facing the challenges of the pandemic world, she approached it with the dedication, passion, creativity, determination and team spirit that she had learned in the various stages of her life.
Even before countries entered lockdown the reception to the concept proved itself viable. In December, with Christmas buying driving sales, the company did very well with on-line sales. But then the new year would bring new challenges. When it was mandated that all Singapore businesses had to close in March the on-line sales became of prime importance. Hand sanitizer became very popular and sold very well, but how was it that Johanna was able to give consumers the confidence that they could order perfumes on-line and get a product they would like?
“It is similar to making a good meal. You start with quality ingredients. If the ingredients are good whatever you make from them will be of good quality,” Johanna explains. Whether buying on-line or at her Duxton boutique, the process is the same. It begins with answering a questionnaire which focusses on your likes and dislikes related to aromas. This builds your profile.
It is explained that the questions you have answered are connected to a set of universal values in life, and your answers are unique to your identity. “We are here to help you match the right scent to your unique personality and your desires in life.
“We curate for you the finest range of natural ingredients, but you are the one who creates and makes the final decision for your personal scent. At Maison 21G, you are in total control. We're here to guide you in becoming a scent designer. You can finally express your ‘scent self’ the way you want!” Johanna is not a fan of the old approach of the perfume business that is essentially, “we will decide which scents you will wear.”
With 33 natural essences you can blend the fragrances you want for endless bespoke perfume creations. Offering a possible 800 perfumes makes it very likely that you will create the perfume that will be pleasing to you. From the perfume concentrations you could mix as many as you like but Johanna recommends no more than four and generally creates the new scent with two. Once retail is reopened you can personally experience Maison 21G’s Creative Workshop where you can mix the scents you chose yourself.
Despite the challenges of selling any product on-line, much less something as personal as perfume, there have been almost no returns to speak of. The 25oz bottles are attractive, and they carry a scent that is uniquely for you.” The compact size makes them portable and affordable.
Johanna says Covid19 will cause people to ask for more transparency in their perfume formula. “With the website we can provide consumers with more information than they would get at a retail outlet. Most people who go to our website stay for five minutes, which is a very long time.
“People don’t want toxic ingredients like phthalates, formaldehyde, CMR, or animal notes. We provide a clear indication of the level of natural ingredients contained in the formula together with the percentage of concentration. This same revolution has already been made in skin care and body care but not in perfumery, which is still a very opaque and non-transparent world.” Having worked in that world for 11 years she is very familiar with the way it works.
“I think the consumption of perfume will increase as people realise it can also protect them from viruses and bacteria,” is Johanna’s opinion.” A perfume consists of 80% alcohol, so it is naturally one of the best sanitizer products! Just spray yourself with your perfume and you can kill instantly all the germs around you!”
The new big news in Maison 21G’s short life is that it will have a new outlet in Ion. “I get the keys on July 4, 2020 and we will have the Grand Opening as soon as possible after that. You will hear about it.”
While the global pandemic has upset plans, Johanna wants to expand her boutiques to Sydney, Paris and Hong Kong in the new near future. Korea and China are also on her radar.
“My personal outlook outside of business?” Johanna responds to a question. “Money is important of course but as you age you realise that freedom is much more important, especially if you have enough money to cover your basic needs. The ability to do what you want to do, when you want, this is the new luxury for me. The ability to build a better world for our children and grandchildren also means a lot to me too. We cannot continue the way we have been doing things for the next 50 years – there is an emergency and only individuals can begin the process by changing themselves. The corporate world will follow provided the individual can start to change by himself!”
77 Duxton Road
10:56 AM, 12 Jun, 2020
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