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From Oud to Gin: M.Micallef’s Scented Odyssey and Legacy

Apr 26, 2024 | Scent Talks, By The Nose

Explore with us the story of M.MICALLEF, a trailblazer in niche perfumery since its establishment in the 1990s, recounted by Charbel Asmar, General Director. Delve into the pioneering journey of the visionary founders MARTINE MICALLEF and GEOFFREY NEJMAN, from the brand’s inception in the heart of Grasse, the perfume capital, to the unprecedented incorporation of OUD, inspired by their travels to the Middle East. With over 180 fragrances spanning nearly three decades, M.Micallef continues to captivate us with its diverse portfolio and artistic bottle designs.

 

So, Charbel, born in Grasse, M.Micallef has played a pivotal role in shaping the niche perfume industry in the 1990s, particularly with its pioneering work in Orient-inspired scents. Could you share the story behind the company’s inception and what goals you aimed to achieve?

The brand story started in 1996, with the brand creators, husband and wife Geoffrey Nejman and Martine Micallef, the latter a born artist while Geoffrey a financial advisor, saw an opportunity for artistic hand made perfumes from Grasse. Of course, being in Grasse has helped with the inspirations and establishment of a new perfume brand. But again, all of this was in 1996, when there was no Niche segment in the market yet. By 1999, the couple had their first visit to the Middle East and specifically to a city that at the time was still shaping its path on the world stage, Dubai. During their visit to Dubai in 1999, they had an extremely inspirational visit to the spice Souk in Old Town Dubai. It was in the old Souk where they had their first experience with an oil and wood called OUD – at the time OUD was sold either in oil format or in wood sticks that the locals in the Arabian gulf region burned to create a very strong aroma.

Understanding the importance of this mysterious ingredient, which was never used in perfume before, they have decided to try to include this ingredient in a new perfume creation that was to be dedicated to the local taste in Dubai and the surrounding region. M.Micallef Oud was the first perfume product produced by an international brand (or European) that included OUD. The launch of this perfume created a new market in the region, which later on became a worldwide phenomenon. Between 2000 and 2006, M.Micallef launched 6 new perfumes that included OUD, and those creations have propelled M.Micallef brand in the Middle East to the top spot in sales and ranking, way above traditional commercial brands… Of course by 2008, this trend became the new driving force for the market, which meant it’s no longer the exclusive privilege of M.Micallef brand.

 

 

TB5A5138 111Geoffrey Nejman and Martine Micallef

 

With a portfolio boasting around 180 perfumes over nearly three decades, M.Micallef has certainly made a significant mark. Could you shed some light on your creative process? How do you work with perfumers? What factors influence decisions to discontinue fragrances?

With 28 years of history and experience, the brand creative process has changed and been adapted to the new ways. But, still, the essence of the process has not changed. The creative process starts by identifying 2 main elements: market trends and brand requirements. Once those are defined, usually around November-December of year X-2, the ideas are filtered, and a decision is taken by January of X-1 that establish the plan for next year launches and new creations. By February we have a briefing session with the perfumers we work with – multiple ones are briefed and they start their work process of creating the perfumes that fits our project. While this is ongoing, the design department is working on the new creations. By May of year X-1 the fragrances must be ready for testing, and by June it’s all confirmed and finalized including the designs. As by 1st of October of X-1 the plans for year X should be ready and presented fully during the TFWA event in our hometown in Cannes.

The decision to discontinue a fragrance depends on 2 factors, the overall performance of a certain fragrance in terms of sales and overall brand strategy which the new upcoming creations.

 

The artistic and instantly recognizable bottles of M.Micallef fragrances are a significant aspect of the brand’s identity. What came first? How do you link the design of the scent and the design of the bottle? Could you share a couple of examples from your portfolio?

Frankly speaking, the brand identify is highly linked to its creative and artistic bottles – still till today the bottles (most of them at least) are hand decorated or painted by hand in our own atelier in Grasse. That being said, the brand today has 2 main collections: the Jewel Collection, our modern contemporary collection, and Secrets of Love, where our oriental and classical lines go. Therefore, depending on the project and the new creations that the collection in which to launch is decided, once that is decided, the bottle will automatically be chosen. But that is as a shape  – the design, decoration and coloring will then depend on the theme and story behind it. For example, when we were looking for a fresh fragrance that can suit our brand in terms of quality and lasting, the GnTonic was automatically decided to be in the Jewel Collection, after that came the bottle design and name.

 

Image 4

 

M.Micallef’s collection is incredibly diverse, spanning various genres, themes, and accords, not to mention the striking diversity in bottle designs. Is there a common thread that ties these creations together? What would you say defines the DNA of the M.Micallef brand?

Today as always, the defining DNA of the brand is its artistic creations, our ability to make up different creations from a couple of bottles. The ability of a brand to cater to the various tastes and themes is an essential part of the brand growth and success, therefore this is an essential part of our brand.

 

Recent releases like DesirToxic and GnTonic have garnered significant attention in the fragrance community. What do you attribute to these successes, and how do you maintain such resonance with consumers? Do you see a shift in your consumer base over the years?

Attributing the success to a single party or person will be unjust to say the least. We believe the success is a combination of experience, the new generation that is managing the brand, the high-quality perfumers we work with and our creative marketing team that has been hard at work. Maintaining the engagement with the consumers we have to listen to them, market testing and analysis is extremely important and keeping them informed and teased about the upcoming launches.

Consumer base is shifting all the time, but the essential parts of the base do not change, and today we can actually see the markets and consumer base being more alike then ever. Which is a positive for the brands bottom line but it will have a negative impact on the future creations.

 

 

DesirtoxicDesirToxic

 

[To Sidonie Grandperret, senior perfumer at Luzi] What has your experience been like working alongside M.Micallef? Could you provide an insight into the process of creating GnTonic?

The first meeting with Geoffrey Nejman and Martine Micallef was in the lobby of a Zurich hotel. On the agenda: an olfactory session and passionate discussions. This elegant couple exudes sensitivity, creativity and a true love of fragrances. Later, Geoffrey came back to me with a project for a men’s fragrance that he wanted to have real freshness and a very woody heart. “I want a sparkling effect,” he says, “I want to smell the bubbles!”. For the woody character, I suggest vetiver and cedar, for the fresh top notes and sparkling effect, Geoffrey proposes mint, and I recommend the fresh ginger from Madagascar. With the framework in place, I set to work.

Over the course of the olfactory sessions that Geoffrey loves to attend, the fragrance evolves into a gin tonic cocktail that he’s particularly fond of, combining freshness, tonic bubbles, aromatic and spicy notes of juniper and ginger, citrus, a rich heart of cedarwood combined with woody-dry amber elements, and a vetiver and musk base. This creation called GnTonic, launched in spring 2023, was born out of that complicity, the passionate exchange of ideas between us and the stories and anecdotes Geoffrey loves to tell.

It’s always a great pleasure for me to work for such a beautiful perfume house that knows how to bring in ideas while respecting the creative work of the perfumer. A perfect balance!

 

As a pioneer in the niche perfume industry, how do you perceive its current landscape? Reflecting on the past, what do you think has improved and what has deteriorated? What are your thoughts on the future of niche perfumery, and where does M.Micallef fit into this evolving narrative?

The Niche perfume Industry has gone through major changes in the past 10 years, mainly due to the rising of disposable income, the demand for luxury perfumes is increasing at a much faster rate than the other segments of the perfume industry. This has caught the eyes of the major groups, which explains the major takeover of many niche brands by the commercial industry. Therefore this will bring changes to the Niche segment, and big changes. Whether these changes will have a positive impact or a negative one, time will tell. From our side, we remain focused on our internal objectives and will continue our drive into sustainable creations.

 

 

Micallef Class Img
Charbel Asmar’s masterclass at ScentXplore (2023)

 

 

What mark would M.Micallef like to leave in history?

In the last couple of years, there has been a handover of the brand management to the new generations. This new generation will continue the high-quality hand made creations with a more modern look, but the main work that we’re currently working on is the overall brand sustainability and its impact on the environment. As we wish to lead the way in sustainable development and creations of Niche brand without the compromise on quality.

In 2 or 3 words, how would you define perfume?

Provoking memories and dreams.

Charbel, thank you for your time and for sharing valuable insights with us. Would you like to add something before we wrap up?

Just one thing: stay tuned for some wonderful new creations!

 

 

GnTonicGnTonic

 

A gift for the ScentXpress readers: M.Micallef has generously provided a bottle of GnTonic for a special giveaway exclusive to our readers. To be eligible, you just need to sign up for our newsletter and leave an insightful comment below. The winner will be drawn from the comments within 2 weeks from the date of this article’s publication and contacted via email directly.

Follow M.Micallef on Instagram: @parfumsmicallef

Check out M.Micallef website: https://www.parfumsmicallef.com/en/

(images cortesy of M.Micallef)

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