Map Of The Heart Builds Its Fragrance Business With Heart
Map Of The Heart is literally and figuratively a brand full of heart. After working in the film industry, co-founders Sarah Blair and Jeffrey Darling followed their passion to bring the concept centered upon bottles shaped like human hearts to life. While it’s not as straightforward as another line of celebrity scents, the pair has trusted experts like bottle designer Pierre Dinand and perfumer Jacques Huclier for guidance, premier retailers such as Harrods to raise the brand’s profile and their conviction to keep it progressing. “We have used our methodology from film, which is very much about seeking out the best possible collaborators and working with them as closely as possible,” says Blair. “From film, we are used to preparing and conceiving before production, then, on the journey, you have a model where you can trust your instincts and take this further. All challenges are overcome by the absolute belief in our product.” Beauty Independent explored Blair’s path to fragrance, distribution opportunities for Map Of The Heart, production processes and the future of the pulsating perfume business.
Tell us about yourself. How did you get interested in beauty?
I grew up in Sydney, and I was a bit of a tomboy who liked to climb trees and go swimming in the oceans. I studied English literature and French in university. I worked in design at a niche stationery company and, later, in film as an executive producer. I’m a person who makes things. I’ve always loved the world of product design. I became fascinated by fragrance and the whole role of it. It fits very well in film. Perfume, particularly, is very much about storytelling, and the worlds really inform each other.
When did you start Map Of The Heart?
I said to my partner [film director Jeffrey Darling], “Let’s do it.” He said, “Yes.” We are both creative people, so everything comes from that standpoint. To us, perfume was the last creative frontier. Once we had the idea, I read everything I could about the fragrance industry for two years. That’s when we realized that there are only five or six houses in the world that make most of the fine fragrances. I went to two of those companies that had offices in Australia and said, “I have no idea how, but I want to launch a fragrance.” There was no point in pretending. They told me to pitch my idea, which I knew how to do because a lot of the work I’d been doing in film was pitching ideas. From there, we traveled from Singapore to France, where the best perfumers were, and that’s where our relationship with Givaudan started. They gave us a blind test of three fragrances, and we chose one from perfumer Jacques Huclier. Since then, we’ve worked with him exclusively. We have been completely self-funded, and development took about two years. We officially launched at the end of 2014, and it’s been an amazing journey.
When will Map Of The Heart reach profitability?
By the end of 2018.
Who is your target customer?
It’s a very interesting question because our consumer is really broad. For start, all of our fragrances are unisex. Our audience is quite evenly split between men and women, largely between 25 and 35. What we know is that our customers are discoverers. They are the people who are passionate about finding new things. They are very confident in their own tastes.
Where is Map Of The Heart sold now?
We are sold throughout Europe, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and we are just about to open the Middle East. We have our flagship store in Sydney and are entering the U.K. exclusively in Harrods over the next couple of weeks. Our distribution strategy has been focused on finding the best possible partners. We don’t go into markets unless we are really sure we’re going with the best person or company. I think you can be very eager and make a lot of mistakes. If you go in and don’t do well in a marketplace, it’s very hard to get back.
“What we know is that our customers are discoverers. They are the people who are passionate about finding new things. They are very confident in their own tastes.”
How are the products made?
It’s a really simple process since Givaudan does the juices for us. The bottles are made through a French company. The caps and the pumps are also made in France. The boxes are made in Italy. It all goes through our factory just outside Paris. Creatively, everything is managed out of the Sydney office. We have this very small great team, all working at 150%.
What are the hero products?
The Gold Heart and the Red Heart are the bestsellers. The Pink is the lowest, but it’s been on the market the least amount of time. We launched the first three scents in 2014, and we added a fragrance each year since then. Honestly, there hasn’t been as huge a difference in each of the sales as I would expected. They are all pretty close.
What is the e-commerce strategy?
We only just started last year, and it’s been going really well. We have two pillars for e-comm. One is to create content that is engaging. We publish an article about once a week on our site. There are a lot of interviews there, sometimes about fragrance, but everything is informed by our thinking surrounding, “What it is to live?” Our goal is to create a world of Map Of The Heart which is film- and creatively-based. The other goal is, of course, selling. Because fragrance is difficult to sell online, we recently launched out Love It Keep It program. You buy it, you try the sample and, if you love it, you keep it. If not, you return it. It’s been really successful for us.
What percentage of your business is direct versus wholesale?
The great majority of our business is wholesale, though with the opening of our store in Sydney last year, and the steady growth of our online store, it is shifting.
Is Map Of The Heart on Amazon?
It’s not something I’ve explored. I don’t know enough about it, but I’m always open to anything. I make a decision when I know enough.
Do you have a mentor? If so, what’s the best advice the mentor has given you?
Our mentor starting off was Pierre Dinand, who is the bottle designer. You have to remember we knew nothing about the fragrance world at all. When it came to the bottle, we knew we wanted to do a heart. I was looking for a designer who had broken boundaries in his career. He created the YSL Opium, Calvin Klein Eternity and Dior Au Savage bottles throughout his career, which spans at least 50 years. He has broken boundaries time and time over. I emailed him and asked him what he thought, and he said, “I’m on board.” He’s been a huge mentor in the whole production process. Excuse the pun, but the standout advice is, “Follow your heart.” With a project like this, you have to believe in it and follow your instincts.
For other entrepreneurs in your boat, what suggestion do you give them on how to pull through the tough times?
When the day didn’t go the way you wanted it to, I will always think, “Tomorrow will be a better day.” When everything looks bad, it’s amazing how, a week or a month later, that seems to have been the right thing to have happened because something turned out better in the end.
Pretend we’re a retailer. Give us a one-sentence pitch on why we should take Map Of The Heart.
There is nothing like our brand in the world.
Has there been a rejection that particularly stung?
Not really. I often believe that rejection is never forever. If it’s a partner we are trying to work with and they don’t want to work with us, I think, “We will keep going and, then, come back.” Being persistent is what got us Harrods. Although they were impressed with the line in 2014, it has taken until now to get the deal. Remember, there are 2,000 perfumes created every year. Retailers want to be sure that you’re here for the long game.
What’s the price range of Map Of The Heart, and how did you land on it?
We decided early on all would be the same price: 150 euros and $175 in the U.S., but we are not officially in the U.S. yet. We really picked that on what it costs to produce the goods, and where we fit in the market.
“When everything looks bad, it’s amazing how, a week or a month later, that seems to have been the right thing to have happened because something turned out better in the end.”
How far out do you plan merchandise?
We plan a year to 18 months in advance and, now, we are starting to look at a five-year plan. It takes about a year to develop each fragrance, and we plan to do one more a year, which is what we’ve been doing. But, as we go into more markets and retailers like Harrods, we will have to make exclusives.
What key functions do you outsource?
We do everything in-house as much as possible. In various markets, our sales is outsourced between direct sales and distributors. For example, in the Middle East, we have an agent. This year in Australia, we outsourced our PR, which has been great. We use the Australian market to try and understand things. It’s a great process.
If you could get Map Of The Heart into anyone’s hands, who would it be?
Last year, Madonna had her Rebel Heart tour, and I would have loved to give her the Red Heart.
Have you embarked on marketing initiatives recently?
We do engraving on bottles in Sydney, and we are finding that men are buying them as a gift as a way to “give their heart” to someone. A friend bought the clear bottle and had it engraved to say, “Clearly I love you.” It is a very intimate product so people connect to it, which is what we hoped.
Have you done any fundraising?
We are self-financing. Fundraising is something that we may look at in the future, but we like the independence that we have.
What would you do with a big cash infusion?
We are happy with our strategy, and constraints inspire creativity and make you use your resources to the fullest. More cash would help support our brand globally by going into more markets, and having the PR and marketing resources to support this.
What packaging splurges are worth the money?
As a luxury good, our product is all about the relationship between the contents and the packaging. The handmade box with its fabric label acknowledges the preciousness of the contents. The bottle, with beautiful lines, invites you to pick it up and hold it in your hand, where it fits perfectly no matter the size of the hand. Every detail of the bottle makes the promise of the perfume inside. The box inner comes out so that it can be repurposed as a box for treasures/secrets. So, for us, the packaging is about story, quality, and intimacy of connection to the brand and the consumer.
Was there a big expense you made in the last year?
I took my Sydney team to the U.S. and Europe. We met our distributors, went to the factory in France, exhibited in New York and Florence, went to La Grand Musée du Parfum in Paris ahead of the Pierre Dinand exhibition, where they met Pierre himself.
What have you found works for Map Of The Heart on social media?
People engage more fully with stories about the product and the world of the brand. With our online magazine, we have found that there is more time spent on the site. Our other platforms like Facebook and Instagram support this as they are all integrated. We primarily just use social media to draw people to our website. We don’t create Instagram-only content.
What business challenges do you face?
Coming from the film industry into an industry that is totally new, everything is pretty much a challenge. We have used our methodology from film, which is very much about seeking out the best possible collaborators and working with them as closely as possible. From film, we are used to preparing and conceiving before production, then, on the journey, you have a model where you can trust your instincts and take this further. All challenges are overcome by the absolute belief in our product.
“From film, we are used to preparing and conceiving before production, then, on the journey, you have a model where you can trust your instincts and take this further. All challenges are overcome by the absolute belief in our product.”
How much has the brand grown?
We are still relatively small on a global scale. Each year, we outstrip our expectations.
What lesson have you learned about what it takes to be a beauty entrepreneur?
It is all about belief, persistence and timing.
What’s in your office or desk that’s precious to you?
I have a riverstone that Jeff brought back from Nepal. I always wanted the bottle to have that same feeling that it has when you hold it. I didn’t ever discuss this with Pierre Dinand, but, when the first mockup came back, it was almost the same size and has the same sense.
How do you embody your brand when you’re out in public?
Wear the perfume. Be confident, be engaged, be passionate.
What goals do you have for your brand going forward?
Open new markets. Be true to our hearts. Create products that connect to people’s hearts.