Anchor: Maison 21G founder Johana Monage
Maison 21G is where Johanna Monange, who likens scent to “a magical spell”, invokes “the power of the senses”.
With 33 scent essences, she creates over 800 possible bespoke perfumes for customers, who are guided by an AI-powered personality quiz to eventually choose a fragrance according to personality, lifestyle and taste. Maison 21G has been lauded for its revolutionary concept since opening in Singapore in September.
French-born Monange, whose 20-year experience in perfumery included Firmenich and International Flavors and Fragrances, trained for three years as a nose in Grasse. With Maison 21G, she wants to restore the soul of perfumery by encouraging others to express themselves through a fragrance they developed.
After the combination of scent essences is chosen, the bespoke perfume is produced. For this purpose, there is La Source, a machine Monange has patented and describes as “the biggest challenge of my life” and which took her three years to create.
Monange refuses to reveal in detail how La Source works but compares it to a Nespresso coffee machine. A perfume concentrate capsule is inserted, after which alcohol is pushed through the machine and, together with perfume essence into a perfume bottle. Ingredients are shown clearly on the label, which can be customised if required.
Monange will have you know this is no marketing gimmick. As with its name, every bespoke perfume contains 21% perfume concentrate — the highest in the industry. And what’s with the “G”, we ask.
“According to studies by American physician Duncan MacDougall, our soul weighs exactly 21g,” she lets on. “And that 21g of soul is what our bespoke perfumes seek to encapsulate.”
Your earliest memory of perfume?
As a child, I remember my mother smelled so elegant, fresh, crisp, feminine and soft. Her scent lingered on me each time she kissed me before I went to school or to bed. I found out later that she wore Diorissimo, a fragrance based on the lily of the valley or muguet. Hence in memory of my mother, I included muguet as one of 33 scents available at Maison 21G. The scent brings such comfort, the same feeling mothers bring to their kids. That’s why I am very happy whenever clients choose to wear our Muguet fragrance.
Maison 21G offers 33 solo scents, with which we can mix and match to create up to 800 different bespoke fragrances. What are favourites among women in Singapore?
Mimosa, Muguet, Cannabis, Sage, Ocean, and Rhubarb. The last was most unexpected because rhubarb is a very European food. I’m planning to expand our collection, with at least one for this year.
We can learn to like a very large palette of scents but we end up returning to the same ones because many brands don’t innovate anymore. Instead, they rely on consumer tests to find those that can please everybody. That’s a shame.
The brain gets used to the same smell very easily, which can lower our ability to accept diversity.
It’s just like food. If you give fast food to your kids every day, they won’t learn to appreciate asparagus, salmon or caviar! So we must develop our nose: the more we smell, the more sensitive we become.
Why do we appreciate smells differently?
It depends on your skin. Even if you like a perfume on someone else, you might not like it on yourself if it reacts differently with your skin.
Skin tone (which is determined by melanin) is extremely important. Perfume evaporates more quickly on fair complexions hence we recommend fragrances with woody notes as they last longer. Tanned complexions, on the other hand, absorb more scent so we recommend fragrances with green notes as these diffuse better.
Then, there is skin type; is yours dry, oily or normal? Dry skin tends to be more acidic, which can accelerate chemical reactions and change the smell of a fragrance. Perfume stays better on oily and normal skins, meanwhile, because they absorb fragrance better.
That’s why it is so important to try a perfume on your skin before buying. Maison 21G has an exclusive methodology where we deposit the fragrance on your skin with a pipette — instead of spraying it — and you can try up to four combinations without feeling overwhelmed.
Maison 21G scents come in reusable packaging and offer refills. Why is sustainability important to your business?
I wanted to put our money on the quality of our product so we decided we could save on packaging. From my experience, I knew customers threw away the boxes for fragrances. I’m considering other reusable packaging like fabric or leatherette pouches. And by blending our perfumes by hand, instead of getting them made at large factories, we not only reduce production cost but also emissions. It also helps us reach out to the younger generation of customers, for whom eco-responsibility is the new luxury.
Maison 21G scents are also 100% preservative-free and 90% biodegradable.
It’s a first for the perfume industry. Our scents are freshly made on our premises, so they aren’t stocked on shelves for months, which requires a long supply chain with many intermediaries. It’s also an effort to create more transparency, hence customers are more aware of the ingredients that go into their perfume.