Perfumery has long been a shadowy, secretive industry, defined by a particular sort of alchemy overseen by mysterious ingredients, hidden formulae, a well-guarded form of gatekeeping and the dark art of scent creation. To say that Maison 21G – the rapidly-ascending Parisian house of bespoke fragrances, headquartered in Singapore’s opulent Duxton Road – is shaking up the scene with a refreshingly novel approach would be radically underplaying their impact.
Launched during the darkest days of the global pandemic when – let’s face it – none of us were spritzing ourselves with eau de parfum and heading out on dates, or using our choice of scent to heighten our aura of sophistication, Maison 21G was intended to be disruptive from its very earliest moments. Founder Johanna Monange had forged a powerful career as a scent designer with IFF and Firmenich. In those hallowed halls, she had helped give rise to world-beating perfumes including La Vie Est Belle, One Million, Spice Bomb, Aqua di Gioia, La nuit de L’Homme and more, only to find herself increasingly disillusioned by the world she was inhabiting.
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With each new creation and each new release, Monange felt that there was a consistent leaning towards the most common denominators; a hunt for the ‘one-size-fits-all’ scents with the broadest possible appeal, a search for perfumes which pleased everyone, but failed to set the soul alight in ways great perfume should. Once this thought had taken root in her mind, she felt she had no choice but to leave and pursue the creation of a new brand – one which would take an entirely different approach.
Amid all the complications inherent with setting up a perfumery house – sourcing of the highest quality ingredients and establishing trusted relationships with producers, not to mention branding, distribution, marketing and more – the concept behind Maison 21G is almost devilishly simple. By giving discerning members of the public and committed fragrance fans access to essences from which great perfumes are crafted, they’ll be able to dictate the nature of the scents that fit them like a glove. With a brand promise of ‘The Freedom to Create’, Maison 21G sets out to do exactly that: to unlock the secrets of perfume creation, put renowned essences within reach of scent lovers everywhere, and celebrate individuality and that which makes us unique.
Therein lies the inspiration behind the brand’s name; the ‘21g’ refers to physician Duncan McDougall’s theory of the weight of the soul. It is Maison 21G’s intention to unleash the scent of the soul, capturing that essence in a 21 gram bottle, and revel in a wholly new take on bespoke fragrance creation.
Reimagining Perfumery Anew
Once the Maison manifesto was laid down by Johanna, it was a question of just how best to implement the bold choice to put perfumery in the consumers’ hands.
The solution came about via an innovative blend of blisteringly modern AI and timeless scent design expertise. Those seeking to craft their signature scent are invited to make use of an AI-driven personality quiz (cannily honed to betters suit each region Maison 21G operates in), by which their favourite scent families, their current favourite perfumes, and other factors such as when and where they will showcase their scent are taken into account.
That’s just one of the oh-so-2022 experiential shopping boxes that Maison 21G set out to tick. Johanna’s other red lines for her brand came in the form of a much-overdue overhaul of sustainability practices within the perfume industry; her brand was go out of its way to produce scents that were vegan, paraben and phthalate-free, made from fair trade ingredients, and capable of offering an array of wellness benefits. With recycled packaging and no plastic bottles (shockingly, a first for the industry), a scheme by which the bottles themselves could be recycled and a host of other green credentials, the maison aims to redress an imbalance that has often seen the larger perfume houses come under fire… not least from increasingly environmentally-conscious consumers.
Such credentials are all well and good, but tend to fall flat in the absence of a product worthy of great praise. Upon receiving a handful of beautiful Maison 21G bottles (which, I discovered with no small delight, could be further personalised with an engraved design and name of my choice), the results were starkly satisfying. Made from ingredients taken from the Exclusive Collection, which comprises some of the rarest and most sought-after perfumery ingredients in the world, the scents themselves truly do manage to stand out from even the most opulent of crowds.
This is especially true when one considers that I received a set of pour homme fragrances (while they have plenty of gorgeous feminine scents to choose from, the brand is especially good at perfumes which blur traditional gender lines), a realm which all too often slips into predictability and a paucity of elegance. Sage Supreme was decadent, brooding – just like me, naturally – and with an addictive green quality, while Cashmere Wood had an animalic depth that packed a deep warmth with that irresistible woodsy structure; a rock star of a scent with a seriously carnal appeal. My personal favourite, a Ginger Vetiver blend, was ideal for sunnier days and offered a vibrancy and sillage all too often lacking in men’s fragrances, both confident and enticing yet undeniably laid-back.
First Asia, Then The World
With such a bullet-proof set of strategies and a clearly agile business model in place, expansion was always on Monange’s to-do list. Having proven a hit among the high society of Singapore, with concept stores opening in MBS and Takashimaya malls, Maison 21G went on to open flagship locations in South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and China, tailoring their approaches and seeking out partnerships to better suit the local aspirational clientele.
This summer, the first Maison 21G flagship store outside of southeast Asia opened in Dubai Hills – a natural home for a luxury bespoke perfume brand if there ever was one – as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and plans are underway for stores in Paris, London and New York by the end of 2023.
It isn’t just new territories making up Maison 21G’s expansion plans, however. The brand launched a Home Scent range in 2022, which allowed the company concept of bespoke creativity and cleaner, greener scents to find its way into oil burners, candles, and reed diffusers. A car scent diffuser, already picked up by Ferrari, is also being launched – perfuming commutes and road trips for those seeking to make a hell of a statement with their vehicles – and fans of the brand can even try their hand at perfume creation from home, thanks to a Discovery Kit of Maison’s 34 signature essences.
Perhaps one of Maison 21G’s most fascinating new approaches, however, blends the worlds of corporate branding and scent with their signature bespoke flourish. Maison 21G’s in-house scent designers offer exclusive consultations with companies seeking to create polysensory branding; in essence, to create a signature scent to elevate a location or experience, or simply to take product activations to a whole new height of luxury. The perfume house recently collaborated with Hennessey Cognac, crafting scents which reflected the unique characteristics of various esteemed vintages.
From hotels to bars, Michelin-starred restaurants, showrooms and brick-and-mortar stores, Maison 21G is crafting perfumes (diffused via custom-made devices to ensure optimal balance and subtlety) which tap into the way our memories work with scent. It’s a signal of new horizons not just for the maison, but for the nature of experiential shopping and hospitality as a whole.
In a world in which authenticity, individuality and conscious consumerism are becoming the baseline of public expectations, brands are having to adapt and reposition rapidly, offering new angles and approaches to even the most historic and established of industries. Within the perfumery scene, a scene once valued for its sense of secrecy and oft-condescending loftiness, Maison 21G is blazing a stark new trail. What’s more, it’s doing so with remarkable grace, an ever-growing line of beautiful fragrances, and the well-deserved success they’ve given rise to.