Brands creating luxury perfumes for a niche, sophisticated market have been multiplying over the past years, which means that creating a difference – even in that niche market – becomes more complex than previously assumed. However, this is a goal that has been successfully achieved by real-life couple Geoffrey Nejman and Martine Micallef, through their M. Micallef Parfums brand.
Founded in 1996, the brand has become a leader in its niche category, with over 900 retail outlets across 54 countries. The brand’s exquisite scents and iconic hand-decorated, bejewelled bottles have become signatures, attracting perfume connoisseurs, royalty and an elite clientele worldwide.
How long does it usually take to create one perfume?
Geoffrey: The whole journey takes about six months, from finding inspiration, establishing a theme, mixing with our senior perfumer Jean Claude Astier and handcrafting the crystal bottles.
Which fragrance took the longest time to create and why?
Martine: The Aoud Eau De Parfum is very special for Geoffrey and myself. I remember when we discovered oud while visiting the spice souks in the Middle East. We were captivated by its leathery, animalistic sent. We were the first niche luxury perfumer to blend it with traditional French notes.
Can you walk us through the creation process?
Martine: Travelling is my top source of inspiration, but the process is dynamic. A new fragrance can be inspired by the design I have in mind or my handcrafted bottles can be based upon Geoffrey’s concept for an upcoming scent.
Geoffrey: When we have a theme, I start creating the fragrance with Jean Claude; we’d spend months of precision work, incorporating as many as 200 ingredients. Once a blend is achieved, Martine then applies her artistic flair to decorate the handcrafted bottles.
Tell us a little about your bespoke perfumes. How long do these usually take to make and how involved is the client usually? Please walk us through the process briefly.
Geoffrey: Our bespoke perfumes come with their own specially made crystal bottles engraved with your name or initials. We want the whole process to be as personalised as possible. I would sit down and interview you and then, I will present some options that I think suit you. In line with this, Martine will talk to you and discuss the design of the bottle. The whole process may require four to five months.
What happens if you disagree on a fragrance?
Martine: There might be some disagreements at times but you just can’t put a good team down. Working with Jean Claude is great too. We think of him as the ‘godfather’ of M. Micallef.
What are the top three ingredients you like to work with personally?
Geoffrey: Oud has always been a star of the M. Micallef brand and we also try to incorporate the sensual note of vanilla that a lot of our clients love, in addition to unexpected components such as leather to create elegant and rare blends.
Martine: One of the most memorable ingredients Geoffrey used for a few of our M. Micallef perfumes is the essential oil of Bulgarian Rose. It’s one of those floral scents that embodies how soft, delicate and feminine women can be.
How do you differentiate yourself from the top international and regional brands? Who are you targeting?
Geoffrey: What sets M. Micallef above the rest is its commitment to make unique scents and couple them with the beautifully handcrafted bottles – clients then treat them as treasure pieces to be cherished long after the fragrance has been used up. Our boutiques allow clients to include engraving, the adornment of Swarovski crystals and painting.
Martine: Our clients are discerning perfume connoisseurs who appreciate luxury scents. Some of them love the fact that we are still a family business who personally handcraft our bottles in Grasse, France using old age techniques. I think that’s something we don’t want to lose.
Can you give us a breakdown of your clients in the UAE and the wider Middle East region?
Geoffrey: I find the Middle East perfume market, particularly Dubai, a perfect environment.
I am a witness to how consumers here truly appreciate luxury indulgence. I think tourism is a significant factor considering the ever-growing number of different nationalities settling in the region.
How many boutiques do you currently have across the Middle East region?
Geoffrey: The first two boutiques are housed in Dubai. It’s been a great year! We have major expansion plans and hope to open ten more boutiques across the Middle East in the next three to four years.
You are positioned in the high-end, niche market. What are some of the challenges you face and some opportunities you have?
Geoffrey: The trend is that small brands are being bought by bigger brands and a lot have been drawn to it – the only downside is that the signature and philosophy can be compromised. We may or may not be open to such business concepts as there might be some big developments in the future.
What is the oddest request you had from a client previously, when it comes to the ingredients used in the fragrance, or to the design of the bottle? Please share with us which country, or region, that client came from…
Martine: Our private labels are available by appointment only to VIP clients and among the brand’s famous, first-class clients are the royal families of Brunei, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They usually order their perfumes in three-litre bottles – they use it not only on their body but also in their Jacuzzi, sauna and pools.