Jodie Hill interviews Giovanna Aicardi, to discuss her journey from working with some of the biggest beauty brands to becoming a Partner at Map of the Heart.
Why don't we start with what you were doing before you worked for Map of the Heart?
My work experience has always been in the perfume and cosmetics industries. I had the chance to be a part of big groups like YSL Beauté, Gucci Group, and to work and be apart of several brands as an International Marketing Director and Brand Manager. This was great because I had the opportunity to work directly with the brand designers - Karl Lagerfeld and the Fendi family at Fendi, Mr. Oscar della Renta, Nicholas Ghesquieres at the time of Balenciaga. I also had the opportunity to work with big names in the fragrance industry, such as Chantal Roos, who was my boss when I was at YSL Beauté. During that time I managed different brands in the international fragrance business scenario. There was always a human relationship with the people in charge of the brands, and we really worked together to transfer the DNA and value of each brand into the perfume products and brands. This is what I am specialised with - inscribing into a perfume what the brand message is and convey this to their customers, it’s one of the most important thing in the success of a perfume line.
Do you think it’s easier for a larger fashion house to translate ideas into perfume?
I think the best scenario is to have a fashion house with the expertise of the fragrance business, because it is a very specific business. It’s not just another accessory in the fashion world. The most of the products that we see on the market that have been successful they have been developed in close relationship with the creator, stylist, or founder. The brand has to be involved, and the cosmetic company has to be able to capture what makes that brand unique and to be able to transfer this. In the end, if a customer wants to buy a Celine product for example, perfume is the aspirational product to allow the customer realise their dream to have a Celine product.
It’s their first point of contact.
Exactly. Fragrance and cosmetics are very important for brands because they have opportunity to enter into these large markets where their fashion high-end offer has limited reach; their awareness becomes enlarged. But if there is no sincerity in the message or coherency then it’s very difficult for that to work. Sometimes even with huge investments in marketing and communication is not enough. Customers are very sensitive and recognise the true luxury.
Did you study marketing or fragrance?
I studied marketing and management but fragrance became my passion. I was lucky to be able to get in touch with people in high level positions in this industry. I learnt and absorbed a lot from them. At the same time they granted me the freedom to express myself and take challenges. I had my own vision about what was important and I was able to catch the right opportunities and pursue them with passion.
And with fragrance being your passion, where did your perfume education come from?
It really came from work experience. Being in communication with noses and people within the business. I didn’t study as a nose but brand after brand, year after year, you mature your experience and maybe you have a natural talent for understanding and communicating about perfume. Passion and enthusiasm helped me a lot in my improvement and my professional growth. I have trained my nose as much as I could and tried being as close as possible to the creative process. I also kept updated with what was happening in the market (not only in cosmetics) and with the competitors, not just keeping your office and mind closed.
"CURIOSITY HAS MOVED MY LIFE TO THIS POINT."
When and how did Sarah and Jeff first approach you about Map of the Heart?It was the right moment at the right time. I was put in contact with Sarah thanks to a friend of mine who I used to work with in Paris (Thank you Isabelle J). Sarah and Jeff had already started to work on this project and at that time they were approaching the phase when you start developing juices. This industry is very specific so you need to have the competency and fluency to talk the language from the inside. They asked if I was interested in collaborating with them and my consulting services started from there. We began with the first three fragrances in 2013. It takes time to develop, work and refine them. The experience was quite unique because when Sarah sent me the concept board, it was like an illumination. We could say like I was the first client for Map of the Heart. In a way, when you sell a brand you need to have the “click”, you need to have an immediate connection, and when I read the concept, the idea, I was touched. I thought it was completely unique. I saw this as a very innovative vision for a perfume house. Even the name MAP OF THE HEART was very strong and international. I started to have my vision about the perfumes and the amazing thing with Sarah was that everything was so natural and spontaneous. Even if I was living in Paris and she lives in Sydney, the communication was fluid. This is, for sure, one of the reasons why after many years we are still working together. The confidence between the two of us is outstanding.
So in 2013, I proposed my idea about the 3 perfumes, modifications or changes from the bases they were already working on with Jacques Huclier (Givaudan), and from there everything slowly expanded. Little by little I covered more areas of the brand management, becoming partner of the brand. For me, the most important thing about working with Sarah and Jeff is that it has been always an emotional experience. A deep and strong connection. That is what is behind Map of the Heart. And today in our world, this is what makes the difference. To be able to create an emotion. They were able to create this strong impact with me, which we then carry forward to our customers.
The chain of passion.
What would you consider to be challenges working with a brand like Map of the Heart, in comparison to larger companies.
I think the challenges are the same, in the sense of asking, “What is the final objective?” Creating a product which reaches the heart of people. If you are Fendi, Boucheron, Map of the Heart, in the end the purpose of every brand is the same. You have similar challenges inside the business as well, maybe the scale and dimensions are different. For sure, you don’t have a big team to manage, but instead you need to try to do everything yourself or to be very effective as a small team. To achieve this you have to be organised and to be able to execute the global vision; looking at the details and at the big picture at the same time. To build the brand equity is a lot of work. Not having the heritage that is a strong asset for other consolidated brands even in the niche distribution, we really have to emphasise on the concept and values of the brand. On what makes Map of the Heart different. The challenge is to transpose our powerful storytelling in perfumes to express our super strong vision and bold personality.
In developing the products, I have the privilege to work with Map of the Heart founders, and with important players of the fragrance business as Givaudan, creative noses for the fragrance development and the king of the bottle designers: Pierre Dinand.
"THE KEY FOR ME IS PASSION"
In your daily working life, that passion stands behind the work when a communication with a supplier, an account, a distributor or with the nose. This is even truer, within a small brand. If we take the case of perfumers, they have thousands of projects but the value you add, as a niche brand is really to lead the nose with freedom and allow them to work in a different context.
That brings me to my next question. Do you find that working with noses in the niche market has less limitations because it’s not constricted by company marketing plans?
Of course. From our experience, we’ve always worked with Jacques Huclier from Givaudan. And we chose to work with him exclusively to create the Map of the Heart’s olfactory signature. Along with Jacque, we now also work together with two junior perfumes: Nisrine Grillié and Amelie Jacquin. Every time we present a new concept, they become part of our brainstorming process. It’s unique in that sense as there’s no filter between the brand and the nose/s. That is already a founding difference. There is also no limitation in creativity, in the sense that we start developing a new fragrance not through a market research or consumer testing.
"IT IS FUNDAMENTAL TO HAVE COHERENCE WITHIN THE PRODUCT IN TERMS OF WORDS, SMELLS, THE COLLECTION AND IMAGES."
Usually with Jeff and Sarah, we start a new perfume through talking about the vision. And the beautiful thing about working with cinematographers is that they have the vision, and little by little, we convert it into a smell and a product. My main work is being able to translate the image language into olfactory language.
I would like to use a word that it’s familiar to the brand: re-mapping. Re-mapping the way we live and wear a perfume is the challenge Map of the Heart is working on.
A perfect example is the Pink Heart - the heart of ecstasy. The idea of plastic toys feels like a very primordial smell in a way. And you get to discover this inside the flowery perfume. It really hooks your attention. When we launched Pink Heart at Exsence in Milan, a nose came and visited us and he had tears in his eyes after smelling the fragrance. It was very emotional because it reminded him of his childhood when he was playing with Barbie!
Another element that we cannot compromise on is the quality of the fragrances and ingredients. They are very coherent with our message. One of the key aspects here is working with Givaudan. We like to work with exclusive ingredients patented for them only. Jacques and Nisrine signed some accords to our fragrances that are very specific, like the sumac accord for Pink Heart. Very unique and precious. Created just for our perfumes - developed in consideration of the brand’s identity and the message of the fragrance.
It’s fantastic to work with Map of the Heart in this way because there is a constant search of perfection. A brand that takes the time and the risk to develop something that is not banal or already on the market is quite unusual. It would be much easier to follow the best sellers or the market trends.
Everyone that is part of the team brings something that makes it Map of the Heart. A kaleidoscopic brand with a strong personality.
Do you find that the process of development each fragrance is intuitive?
I see it more as a mix of intuition and understanding. You have the idea then more you work on it, reading, sharing, experiencing in your day-to-day life, you arrive at the point where it brings you into the final definition. We keep talking with Jeff and Sarah to slowly refine and fine tune the concept. It doesn’t come out in a mysterious way, but rather through discussion, risk and reflection.
I remember in the last iteration of the upcoming release, we kept saying that it wasn’t quite yet a Map of the Heart scent. The fragrances within the collection are quite unique and polarizing, one from one another - there isn't one lineage. And this is also the sense of developing a collection…
What do you think gives a Map of the Heart fragrance its signature?
You are right in that, we offer different tastes and moods and when the collection becomes bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to expand the product range. If you already have best sellers or perfumes that work well together then it is difficult to maintain this level. But I think that so far Map of the Heart’s collection maintains this wildness.
In terms of what is the Map of the Heart fragrance signature, I think it’s the product as a whole, not only the juice. The product creates an emotion. When you have the bottle in your hands, when you smell the fragrance on your skin, when you have the image of the product campaign in front of you or when you dive into the film. In presentations we say that everything comes from the heart, because that’s where the real and the potent come from. And that’s what our perfumes are.
"THEY ACT AS A MEANS TO ENHANCE MEMORIES, REACTIONS, FEELING. IT'S VERY INSTINCTIVE AND PRIMAL"
It’s interesting considering the juices with the same ugly beauty dichotomy of the bottle - in some ways they are the same. Not necessarily two contrasts, but the idea of these opposing elements coming together and playing.
Map of the Heart is very easy to access as you can enter through different doors. There are colours, smells, key words and storytelling for each heart, each world. I think this kind of unicity is great, but also its simplicity. In the end, the message has to be simple. Direct, clear and straight to the heart.
I guess the clearest way to define the brand is that it captures emotions from the heart.
Yes! You don't have to explain. (The emotion is already under your skin.) Putting a perfume on your skin is a very personal and intimate gesture, it’s not just an accessory. It becomes part of you. Nothing is more personal than emotion.
Do you have a favourite Map of the Heart scent?Tricky question. (Laughing) We are already working on a new release. Currently I am in the phase of tasting, wearing and working. Usually when you work in this creating phase you are not wearing other perfumes so that your skin is clean and as natural as possible. Talking about the existing collection, every perfume has been a journey and so I have very warm, personal, emotional connections for each. Depending on the time, mood, location, or whether I’m going out or if I am at work, I like to switch between each one of them. There is this beauty to wearing Map of the Heart. You must have enough of an open mind and let it reach inside you.
Interview and photography by Jodie Hill