Martine Micallef Interview

M Micallef perfumes are about love. Martine Micallef and husband Geoffrey Nejman work together to combine art and perfume-making by creating beautiful compositions that are the true definition of niche. The fragrances are luxurious and complex, yet sensual and easy to wear. As Marine hand designs the bottles, Geoffrey does the chemistry for the combination of notes. The two explore ingredients and compositions with a unique artisanal voice that cannot be duplicated by a mass-market brand. I had the extreme pleasure of speaking with Martine on the phone and could completely feel her artistic passion with every word she said. It is this emotion that she brings to all of her creative work.
Ron Slomowicz: I read that you started off being a beauty person and doing massage. I was wondering how being a masseuse has affected your fragrance-making.
Martine Micallef: About sixteen years ago, I had a beauty salon and it was my dream to one day make and create perfume. I was also an artist. During my massages, I came up with some ideas and my husband and I decided to start the business. We started at our house, it was very small, and I decided to paint and create the bottles. The concept is really art and perfume- and all handmade. I started to paint in the cellar of my house, and we eventually made an exhibition. My husband is a lot more talented than me, speaking so many different languages, so he was in charge of developing the company and step-by-step we have made the business. Now we have a nice factory in Grasse, which is the capitol of perfume business.

RS: Yes, one day I would love to go there.
Martine Micallef: You are always welcome to come see us whenever you have the time to visit.

RS: That would be an honor. What inspires you to make a fragrance and to discover the notes?
Martine Micallef: My husband Geoffrey is really the one that is in charge of the fragrances. I am really more in charge of the design and the artistic side of the company. Sometimes we work together because I have ideas on ingredients to mix also, but Geoffrey is in charge of the lab and does all the mixing himself.

RS: So when Geoffrey makes a perfume, do you test the different mods along the way?
Martine Micallef: Yes, of course, we work together and step-by-step, we make different perfumes. Sometimes it starts one way and ends up completely different. For us, it is not important to know what is in style, we just make what we like. Our creativity comes out during the holidays and when we travel. When we go to the Middle East, we often visit the Spice Souk, and years ago we found a special ingredient that was not well-known by customers. In 2002, we imported a famous oil from the Middle East called oud. Do you know of this oil?

RS: Yes, I know about oud.
Martine Micallef: It is really popular now, and maybe too popular because the market is full of this Arabic smell. So many brands use it and I feel that it is being overused. Sometimes you have famous brands that use oud, and a lot of customers ask for this ingredient- but I think they will ruin it. They make fragrances with oud and it doesn’t reflect the house spirit or personality. For example, Guerlain has three ouds, he is a very famous house perfumer and makes very sophisticated perfumes in the classic style and I feel that there is no sense for them to make an oud scent.

RS: I had the same conversation with a friend of mine last week when we saw his line come out. Guerlain is very classic with the chocolates, the Shalimar, and the sweets, the oud didn’t make very much sense. I understand what you are saying.
Martine Micallef: Sometimes some brands copy that because they want to be successful, but we are famous with using oud because it was one of the keys in our success. Because sixteen years ago, when we started it, was absolutely something that no one wanted to mix – the Arabic and French styles in a new marriage. We started doing this so long ago… and to be honest, we don’t want to make a different kind of fragrance. We have our own style now and you can recognize our scent when you use Micallef perfume. At the moment we are still using oud, but also looking to develop new ones because the market is too full of this oriental smell. I think that it is going to be completely dead and overused in one year. That is why we are developing a new scent and bringing a new wave of perfume to the market. We want to make a more romantic, elegant, and sophisticated perfume with a different texture. Ylang in Gold is a perfume made with Ylang, fruits, and vanilla, and inside it we put a special powder that is very soft. We will introduce and launch this new fragrance in the US in October. There is a nice new shop that opened in Soho, New York called Osswald, it is a very interesting shop if you ever get the chance to visit it. The owner is married to an American man, and she had the same concept in Switzerland. They opened this shop where you can find very special niche and artisan perfumes; they carry a nice section of Micallef perfumes as well. The shop owner will give you all the details if you ever get to go there.

RS: Yes, we are all very excited about Osswald bringing in a lot of stuff to the US that has not been here before. We are also very excited that you are there because you have a lot of fans. I wanted to go back to what you were just saying, regarding the new fragrance that you are bringing out, after oud, what element and fragrance is your next signature? Would you say that it is the Ylang Ylang?
Martine Micallef: I say that you can recognize the familiar signature of Micallef; we always have a touch of vanilla in our perfume. We have a lot of customers that really like it and feel very sensual when they use it.

RS: I have tested all four of the Vanillas and I absolutely love them. Many times vanilla can be very common, but you elevated it by adding different flavors to it. I wanted to know what inspired the four different kinds of vanilla.
Martine Micallef: You understand our concept very well. Vanilla normally is very ordinary, cheap, and isn’t very elegant. We really tried to mix some different elements to it; my favorite is Vanille Marine because it has a cold and warm feeling at the same time. It is a chemical reaction of two opposites when you wear the perfume; it’s very warm with the vanilla and very fresh with the plant that is from the sea. We want to explain to the customer that vanilla can be a very elegant and sophisticated scent. People normally use vanilla to go to the beach, but we wanted to mix the vanilla with other scents and make it different. We mixed one of them with leather, which was interesting, because we put some lemon for the head note and musk and wood on the base note. The wood made it a complete perfume with the leather. With Vanille Marine, we made it very fresh and sensual; in my head I wanted to make a design that was very natural. I used a natural fabric so that it would look like the sand on the beach, and also sophisticated it with my hand-painted designs; I used acrylic painting and put some leaves on the bottle. The customers really appreciate my handmade work. Every year I prepare one collection that is the name of an art collection and when we sell all of the collection – we don’t produce anymore, it’s very limited.

RS: Going back to the Marine; of the four, I have to say that was the one that I was the most scared of, because here in the U.S. when we see the word Marine, we think of “Calone” and the very typical aquatic scents. The way that you did it, it didn’t smell like water and so it ended up being one of my favorites.
Martine Micallef: Perhaps when we say “cologne” it is very different in France, in France it is more of a romantic scent – lavender and aromatic, and in the US market it means something more beachy. There is a difference in the translation.

(Editor’s note – there was a misunderstanding of the words calone and cologne.)

RS: If you were to look over your whole collection, what would you say would be your signature men’s fragrance and signature women’s fragrance?
Martine Micallef: I would recommend Mon Parfum for women because this really elaborates my personality. This is a perfume that revealed my temperament, my zodiac sign is a Pisces, and on the bottle I wanted to represent that with the beach and waves. I am artistic, and this perfume is my favorite and shows my character. It is very sophisticated and elegant. For men, I would really recommend Jewel for Him, it is really my favorite for men. It is fresh but very elegant; it has musk, cedar, patchouli, vetiver, bergamot, and cardamon. It is my favorite, because it can be used by a young and a more mature audience.

RS: After the Vanilla collection, what is coming next? What is the next fragrance?
Martine Micallef: It is difficult to tell you, because it will be a big surprise when we reveal it at the exhibition in Cannes; it will be coming out in 2013 and I can’t talk about it yet.

RS: Let me ask you, as a woman making perfume, I see the Paris world of perfuming very man-driven and controlled; do you ever have any problems being a woman in a man’s industry?
Martine Micallef: Our perfume is more of a love story. I think that success is based more upon the perfume, and we put a lot of creativity into out perfume. Micallef is really about Geoffrey and me making perfume with a lot of love and patience.

RS: That is a great answer. What would you like to say to everyone who loves your fragrances?
Martine Micallef: I hope that they really enjoy and receive a lot of pleasure and happiness. It brings me a lot of happiness and love; I love to share my passion. I would like to thank all of the ladies and gentleman.