Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Reviving the artisan perfumery

HIS business and passion is on a mission reviving the artisan perfumery, a frozen industry in the Philippines.

This heavy mission is pursued by the first and only natural perfumer in the country, Oscar Mejia III, having scents as his weapon.

Knowing that the Philippines, back in the 1930, was considered as Reina de las Perfumes (Queen of Perfumes) in South East Asia, Mejia’s urge to put back the country into the global perfume scene has become nothing but immeasurable.

“It became a personal mission for me then to put back the country into the global perfume scene. My mission, through the business, is to develop exquisite scents that celebrate the Filipino heritage,” the 29-year-old perfumer shared in an interview with this writer.

He mentioned that before, perfumes were manufactured here and exported to Paris. He also said the Philippines was also the top producer of YlangYlang essential oil citing that the early versions of the famous perfume Chanel No. 5 contained ylangylang from the Philippines.

Mejia said that since no one continued the industry after the war, he took the challenge of raising again the Philippines glory in artisan perfumery through his own business: the Oscar Mejia Artisan Fragrances.

His entry to the business aspect of his passion, as what he described, was just an accident.

“I started with P2,000 to buy basic materials and oils and began making scents for friends as Christmas gifts,” he said adding that most of his friends liked his scents and convinced him to start selling.

Mejia entered in the perfume industry as a business at 26.

In his very young age, he already created his first collection of scents called Kanlungan, a tribute to his home, Davao City.

“My passion and the business has allowed me to work with individuals for their personal fragrances, hotels and resorts- developing a distinct scent that captures their brand to promote client loyalty and boost in sales,” he said.

The young businessman also partnered with the Ateneo de Manila and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) - National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in a bid to share his passion on Filipino perfume making.

His interest in perfume started when he was still five years old as he was exposed and has spent most of his childhood in the gardens. His parents’ inclination into the orchid and cut flower business contributed a lot to it.

Mejia completed his Bachelor of Science Chemistry and BS Materials Science and Engineering at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“My mom had a keen interest in perfume while my dad also ventured in orchid culture so we kept a mini laboratory at home. That was where I would start to boil flowers and mix the liquids to make my own perfume,” Mejia said.

After college, he took his formal lessons in perfume making by studying Perfume Creation and Design at Fragonard in Grasse, France in 2014, the perfume capital of the world.

But before that, Mejia was practically a self-taught perfumer having a mentor Nicholas de Barry, a renowned French Perfumer and program director for perfumery at the University of Montpellier who helped him out by recommending books to read and fora to join into.

The whole process takes a minimum of four to six weeks, this is Oscar Mejia Artisan Fragrances way.

“I treat perfumery as an art as I try to immerse myself into the inspiration of the client to get a bull’s eye of what they want. My design process is all about experience and so far it has helped me make my clients very happy with our output,” he said.

With emphasis he shared that he is challenged every time he’s asked to design something new.

Mejia added that the thing he enjoys most is transforming something abstract into something very tangible, “There is satisfaction of being able to bottle concepts of comfort, home, curiosity, inspiration and express them in the most mysterious sense which is the sense of smell,” the perfume artisan said.

He strongly believes that scents are your memory banks for a smell “can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance.”

Mejia, as a businessman focused his operations to quality customer experience and genuine relationships.

His business mantra considers business a no "kabilaan" thing or a mere process giving something (product or service) in exchange of money. He said good business is all about customer experience and building genuine relationships with them.

He shared that starting young is no joke as it takes courage for chances of not being heard by older men is inevitable. Self-confidence and relevance are keys.

In leading a business, Mejia said that good leadership is all about knowing what is clear and anchoring on it every time you make decisions and working with people's strengths.

Having a limited funds in running a business was a huge challenges, it is.

With this, Mejia said that strategic thinking and being resourceful can make ends meet.

For instance, instead of bottling the perfume in small bottles, he stores them first in large vats and transfers them to its final bottles upon orders.

Moreover, he underscored that confronted by the reality that artisan perfumery is practically nonexistent in the Philippine market amid enormous popularity of branded perfumes, educating the market on perfume as a craft is his constant battle.

“I make it to a point to make them understand that I am not just selling a bottle of liquid that smells good, I sell an experience,” he said.

Envisioning his business and craft decades from now, Mejia said his ultimate dream, is to create a perfume farm here, a farm that cultivates, harvests flowers, extract oils and make them into perfumes end to end.

With his mission and his present actions in the perfume industry here, revival of the artisan perfumery in the country is not far from farfetched.
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