Memo International on the move, opening in Paris, Moscow and Riyadh
today Nov 20, 2019
At a time when every major luxury group wants to buy a niche perfume brand, few indie scent houses have been performing as enticingly as Memo International.
A Geneva-based business boasting three separate brands – Memo Paris, Floraikü and Hermetica – all of which are experiencing rapid, though carefully controlled growth. In effect, Memo International, founded by John and Clara Molloy, an Irish/Spanish couple, is an impressive sui generis on how to build a dynamic, award winning fragrance company.
In October, they opened their debut Paris parfumerie for Floraikü, located at 28 rue Bayard, in the heart of the city’s Golden Triangle, and steps away from Avenue Montaigne, the capital’s toniest shopping thoroughfare.
While in Saudi Arabia, Floraikü is opening in Harvey Nichols in Riyadh. Memo is also mighty busy with the London shopping emporium, working together to produce a collection called The Flying Collection, “with wings on the bottles, that is flying in and out of stores,’ jokes John, of the project that they co-developed with Harvey Nichols, which also retails in London, Kuwait and next in Riyadh.
“Building a niche fragrance brand requires a lot of personal appearances for Clara and I. In America, they demand them, so I feel like an Irish politician working a crowd, except I don’t quite have to kiss babies,” said Molloy in a phone call from Frankfurt airport, en route to a key market, Russia, where he will open Floraikü in giant department store Tsum this weekend - with another needed personal appearance. Last week he was in the USA, next week he is in the Gulf.
The pair founded Memo a decade ago, Clara as the creative director, and John – who had held executive positions at both Kenzo and L’Oreal – in charge of management.
In Paris, Clara opened Floraikü with a typically elegant perfume ceremony, an olfactive version of a tea ceremony from Japan, an immense influence on the house’s DNA.
In effect, Floraikü is their six-star brand and is super exclusive, retailing in 16 countries; with four free-standing and 25 shop-in-shops. Back home in Ireland, Memo and Hermetica retail in his native land’s top luxury store, Brown Thomas and in Dublin airport.
Memo is more their flagship brand; noted for its leather fragrances, one of which, Moroccan Leather, this June in Paris won a Fifi award, perfume’s top prize. Memo retails in 200 doors worldwide and in 45 countries, with freestanding stores in Paris, opposite Chanel headquarters on rue Cambon and in Jakarta, Gstaad and New York. Elsewhere, its network of 10- to 20 square-meter shop in shops extends from Mexico to Houston; Munich to Berlin.
The Molloy's third label is the molecular fragrance marque Hermetica.
“It’s vegan, green and clean, a truly innovative brand, the only one without alcohol. It’s about the moment when our kids look back 20 years from now, and they can at least say that we pioneered the green movement in fragrance,” says John.
Hermetica did have a pop-up shop at 21 rue Marbeuf in Paris, but when the adjacent Dolce & Gabbana store decided to expand, the landlord forced the scent shop out. The marque does, however, retail in Printemps, and now has 20 corners globally, notably in Isetan, Japan and in Australia. The latter powered by the fact that Hermetica can easily be used with sun cream, a major concern in Oz, where bush fires have heightened attention on the depleting ozone layer. Hermetica also nabbed a skincare award from Byrdie.com, America’s most-watched US beauty website.
Privately held, Memo International does not release financials, however industry sources say revenue is close to 100 million euros at retail. The Swiss-based firm has 30 staff in Geneva; and with foreign employees a payroll of about 80 employees. A further 600 sales staff are employed to handle their brands at points of sale worldwide.
The Molloys live outside Geneva with their two children: Bartholomew, 11, and Belen, 8. When not driving their business, they have literary leanings. Clara is a recognized poet, whose latest book of poems – published by Cheyne – is named Tempe a Païa, named after Eileen Gray’s second home in the South of France near Menton.
“It’s just out. Poetry is Clara’s love and passion and it’s great,” says John Molloy, by chance sharing the name of Samuel Beckett’s first novel in French, a dark existentialist tale if ever there was one.
Beside geographic expansion, future growth could likely come through new categories, like beauty product deals. Memo already has bodyline; bath and shower gel; home candles and diffusers.
“Right now, we are concentrating on building the three brands. Skincare can be approached in many different ways. We could join with a big group. All our brands are ripe to do beauty – especially Hermetica, it’s a bridge from perfume to skincare,” insists Molloy.
Floraikü’s Paris boutique is around the corner from the headquarters of LVMH, one of several groups that have been snapping up emerging luxury scent brands, notably Francis Kurkdjian two years ago. Estée Lauder acquired Kilian, after nabbing Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and Le Labo. While Spanish beauty giant Puig bought Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur.
So, is that an extra strategy for the Molloys?
“As long as we can keep going as a family company we will,” cautions John. “Of course, if someone offered us a ridiculous amount we might snap it up. But we have not spoken to any bank about selling. I think we have another good 10 years growth ahead of us, and who knows - maybe one of our kids would take over one day?”
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