I have to confess: I don’t know much about fragrances and can barely describe scents beyond how they make me feel. It recently dawned upon me that I have never selected a fragrance of my choice; every single bottle that I owned was either a gift or a hand-me-down from family members and friends. I saw perfumes as a solution to smelling bad instead of an avenue to express my mood, personality or individuality.
Still, I did appreciate owning multiple fragrances. From time to time, I would luxuriate in the deeply personal memories that they evoked, having associated various perfumes with significant periods of my life. My very first was a bottle of Chloé’s signature scent, discarded by my mother as I was about to enter college, back when I thought that wearing perfume displayed maturity. A spritz of Lanvin’s Eclat d’Arpège is all it takes for me to recall the sweet high of being on a quasi-date in sophomore year; Jo Malone’s English Pear & Freesia brings me back to how unmoored I felt while working on my thesis in senior year; Salvatore Ferragamo’s Signorina Ribelle reminds me of the pleasure and pressure of attending Milan Fashion Week.
After participating in Maison 21G’s Perfume Creation Atelier, I learned that these associations arise because olfaction is tied to our memories and emotions, more so than the rest of our senses. Another nugget of information I obtained that day was that a physician, Duncan MacDougall, once postulated that the soul weighs 21 grams— the weight loss of his patients at their moment of death. While his study was indubitably morbid and not grounded in scientific fact, the idea that our souls have weight is intriguing and in a way, romantic, for it is based on the assumption that souls exist. Maison 21G is a Parisian haute perfumery house that pays tribute to this factoid, aiming to “encapsulate the scent of [one’s] soul” with high-quality natural ingredients made by the renowned noses at the IFF Laboratoire Monique Rémy in Grasse, France. What better way to achieve this goal than through personalization?
The process of creating a bespoke fragrance at Maison 21G has been streamlined so that even complete beginners like myself can do so without a hitch. The brand’s influencer manager, Amanda, kicked things off by sharing a brief history of fragrances. She quizzed us on the different grades— parfum, eau de parfum, eau de toilette and eau de cologne. My friend, Sylvia, correctly answered that the grades indicate the fragrances’ concentration. For Maison 21G’s eaux de parfum, the percentage of perfume concentrate is – well, you’ve guessed it – 21.
Before identifying our scent personality, we first learned about the structure of a fragrance. The top note is what we smell for the first two hours. After three hours, we get to the middle note, the heart of the fragrance. Then, the bottom note reveals itself after five to eight hours of wear. Since the base note makes the most lasting impression, it is perhaps fitting to call it the soul of the fragrance. A fragrance undergoes a transformation over the course of a day, for the heavier the molecular weight of the ingredients, the longer they cling to our skin. Strategic application is also important to maximize the effect of a fragrance and the best areas for application depend on its grade. For eaux de parfum, Amanda recommends the neck and the wrist, which are pulse points that offer optimal exposure.
Armed with our new-found knowledge about fragrances, Sylvia and I were ready to let the artificial intelligence-powered personality quiz guide us in our creation of a unique scent. We selected the gender that we identified with – a unisex option is also available – and declared our age. Next, we chose the skin tone that best fits us out of the nine options available, since the level of melanin affects the reaction of the scents on our skin. After a slew of questions about our personality, we were given the opportunity to indicate the ingredients that we particularly like or dislike, if any. I declared my aversion towards incense; Sylvia stated her preference for tuberose.
Our quiz results revealed our personality type as well as two perfume combinations, one for day and another for night. We experimented with the scents by dousing sampling papers with the essences and holding them together. As we were smelling the various essences, Amanda told us that the secret to avoid being overwhelmed by scent was to sniff ourselves. I took a whiff of my day scent (Poetic Pear and Mimosa Mantra) and night scent (Tuberose Tribute and Honey Heaven), and promptly decided to create the former because I have a soft spot for fruity and floral scents. Sylvia went with her night scent because the mixture of Tuberose Tribute and Amber Affair was a bold and alluring concoction, making it perfect for dates nights.
We were instructed to add 2.1 grams of each essence into our bottles (the significance of the digits is truly multifold). Sylvia did so manually, with the help of an electronic scale. For my fragrance, we gave the La Source technology a go. Designed by founder and CEO Johanna Monange, the capsule machine is able to mix an eau de parfum in thirty seconds and supports refills. Since the fragrances are not made at large factories, emissions are reduced. Maison 21G’s bottles are also built with screw caps, making the entire packaging reusable. Each fragrance comes with a leatherette pouch for storage, instead of a typical disposable box.
Cognizant of how brands may greenwash and co-opt the clean beauty movement, Maison 21G honors their commitment to sustainability and clean beauty through their actions as well as transparency— extensive information about their fragrances can be accessed on their website. With all their scents being 90% biodegradable and 100% cruelty-free, Maison 21G is likely to satisfy the most eco-conscious of consumers.
Storing our bespoke fragrances in sustainable and customizable bottles was truly the icing on the cake. Since perfumes are typically priced in the low three digits, it is certainly a purchase that I will make after careful consideration. Even so, I plan to return to Maison 21G for a refill once my supply of perfume has depleted.
Beyond the interactive bespoke experience, I feel inclined to support a brand that actively educates and encourages customers to be more thoughtful about our consumption. After all, I left the Perfume Creation Atelier enriched by my deeper understanding of the world of perfumery, along with a quality fragrance destined for longevity on my vanity.
All photographs by Sherryl Cheong
Editor’s note: For transparency sake, this review is not an advertisement; the workshop was a media preview i.e. the experience and fragrances were gifted.