Kierin NYC Interview with Founder Mona Maine de Biran

As I walk towards the location to interview Mona Maine de Biran – founder of new niche fragrance house Kierin NYC – brightly coloured electronic adverts radiate from various London bus stops en-route, showing their perfume bottles with labels individually designed by fragrance fans.

‘Something about Kierin NYC is really resonating with people it seems,’ says Mona, absolutely beaming at the pop-up launch where people could design their own bottle labels, print them out and create their own bespoke flacon to keep forever. This innovative and inclusive approach defines the ethos that Mona made sure Kierin remains true to, along with their decision to be completely cruelty free, vegan friendly and to support social groups who mean a lot to them.

‘Diversity and inclusion are core to the brand and not just presented as an afterthought. Kierin NYC is a brand for young people of all ages, colors and nationalities,’ they state proudly on the website. Inclusive of everyone then, but aimed particularly at a younger market who are searching for something extra, other than just a nice smell in a bottle that means nothing about who they are. For Mona, this means inviting people ‘…to be inspired, not defined or confined, by fragrance.’

Following a successful international modelling career – which allowed Mona to traverse the globe and visit remote, exotic locations – returning to New York, Mona turned her experience into an insightful lifestyle blog, ‘Manhattan Minds’, also becoming the champion of the successful TV talent show ‘Star Search’. Her husband and co-founder, Didier, worked for over twenty years with with the prestige houses of Chanel, Prada, Bvlgari and Carolina Herrera among the many names on his extensive CV. With Mona’s passion for fragrance and story-telling, ‘he helped me see that this was an opportunity to create our own fragrances to tell those real stories of the city, rather than those stylised celebrity-driven tales you might see in Sex and the City.

We wanted to delve deeper in to what makes Mona tick – why it was so imporant to her to keep Kierin NYC real, and close to her heart…

What makes Kierin NYC different, do you think?

Mona: ‘There are so many brands that are ostensibly for young people, and yet the images they project are so stereotypical, still – they haven’t moved on with the audience who are, they hope, wearing them. You have the perfect woman on a beach, someone up a mountain or in the fields in France. And while I love the fields of France, this doesn’t really tell my story of living in New York. I wanted to actualise my “now” as an urbanite – and I think so many people want to do that, to be more present, to have their own reality reflected in the brands they choose.’

What is it about fragrance that’s so important to you, and what power do you think it gives the wearer?

‘Perfumes are something that universally, viscerally connect with people, You know, they can move your mood. I’ve always wanted to have a voice and wanted to empower people, and with Kierin NYC we can share a voice, to power people olfactorily. And fragrance tells other people your story anyway, unconsciously, we’re radiating these messages all the time!’

You’ve worked with brilliant young perfumer Mathieu Nardin for the initial four fragrances – why did you choose him?

‘We wanted to work with someone who was an up-and-coming talent – we had the opportunity to work with any of the Robertet perfumers, and we loved the way they worked, with such quality and sustainable ingredients – but because Mathieu is so understanding of what we do, and the way we do it, it just works.

We didn’t want to present him with a list of notes to include, we wanted to give him a space to use his creativity to the full. So we started with pictures, mood boards, and he immediately knew what he wanted to use to shape that in to reality. He begins with about twenty different versions, and we then work with him to edit those, so we see ourselves as co-creators in that sense.’

Will Mathieu be the perfumer for future fragrances?

‘Well we didn’t want to be a brand that just had one identity, and one signature – it’s all about diversity, right? So with these four I think his signature is a woody accord you can notice throughout. For the next two we’ll be working with a different perfumer, to give another voice, another view, and that’s the way we want to grow…’

 

The bottles and imagery are very distinctive, can you tell us how they reflect Kierin NYC’s personality?

‘These four are very Pop-Art inspired, but we’re also working with another artist for the next three fragrances – two new fragrances and a limited edition – and they’ll be more graffiti in style. We’ll be sticking with the rainbow palette though, because again that rainbow’s all about “we are one” and that’s imporant to us. The graffiti artist is an imigrant and so for the limited edition we’ll be working with him to include notes from his own culture, working as a team with the perfumer to include his voice within the fragrance.

What does “niche” mean to you, now?

‘I just don’t think you can call yourself “niche” if you have twenty fragrances coming out every year which are no sooner on the shelves than they’re discounted, discontnued and in a bargain bin somewhere, or completely unavailable. How can people connect with them? They don’t have time!

I don’t want to be one of those brands that comes out with a new fragrance every fortnight, I think that’s exhausting for consumers too. So we want to make sure the stories we’re telling focus on authenticity and integrity for everyone involved. We also wanted to make sure we’re accessibly priced, so everyone can get an opportunity to try fine, niche fragrance. I understand the imporantance of those ultra luxury brands, but that’s not who we are.’

Finally, we always like asking – because it’s so revealing! – what are your five favourite smells in the whole world…?

Cambodian incense – I’ve travelled a lot, so the things I love are often smells I strongly associate with places. The smell of this, which the monks burn in the temples, just opens my mind and takes me straight back there.’

A Californian cliff edge – I lived in California as a little girl, and there’s nothing better than sitting on the edge of a cliff and looking out to sea. In Santa Cruz there’s a very specific sea salt scent, the waves crashing on the shore and the spray mixing with the breeze.’

Frédéric Malle fragrances – In Barney’s there’s refrigerated rooms you can go in to smell the scents, and that was my awakening, in the year 2000, of what niche fragrance could be, and I felt more fragrantically “woke” I suppose! I hadn’t yet met my husband, but going there and smelling these incredible fragrances really showed me what niche can do. And they were like nothing else, so unique.’

My children as babies – I know a lot of people say that, but oh that smell, it’s definitely one of the most important for me. It’s about our connections with people we love, isnt it?’

New York – When I think of where I live now, I genuinely connect it with my own fragrances, I feel like I’m there when I wear them, it’s a connection with home, so that has to be a success, right?!’

So which KIERIN NYC story will you choose to wear and tell? Feeling sluggish and in need of uplifting? 10 a.m. Flirt is a juicy, green take on fig that feels clean, a go-anywhere scent filled with waxy gardenia and cashmere-soft wood to perk up the soul on grey days and revel in happiness year-round. Another cheering pick-me-up is found in Sunday Brunch – luminous bergamot and sparkling lemon atop a soothing brew of Earl Grey tea and soft, sunshine-y jasmine.

Santal Sky, meanwhile, swathes you in a comfort blanket of cardamom-flecked, creamy sandalwood, a wearable serenity for stressed commuters and desk-bound office workers with decadent saffron-speckled vetiver to delight you ‘til dawn, and far beyond. (All of these fragrances are impressively long-lasting.) Perhaps the most impactful, though, is Nitro Noir – a powerhouse contemporary Chypre/floral that positively swings its hips, with ripe pink berries swirled through rich patchouli and dusted with powdery orris for a hypnotic, individualistic hurrah.

Whichever story through scent you choose, we’re sure you’ll want to explore the whole Kierin NYC range for different moods, and to suit whoever you are that day…

Kierin NYC fragrances £65 for 50ml eau de parfum

Try them at The Perfume Shop

By Suzy Nightingale

Etienne de Swardt – État Libre d’Orange's maverick founder reveals his five (somewhat saucy…) favourite smells

Renowned for their controversial names and inspirations, Etat Libre d’Orange actually encompass all manner of fragrant tastes – yes there’s the off-the-wall uber niche scents, but we find the majority are utterly wearable, perfectly beautiful fragrances that definitely deserve to be sniffed, worn and adored…
The latest to join the scented throng came about due to a collaboration with scent expert and critic, Chandler Burr – no stranger to controversy himself, it seems a happy match – but, we wondered, how did the relationship between Etat Libre d’Orange and Chandler Burr begin? Meeting with self-proclaimed ‘trouble-maker’ and founder of ELDO, Etienne de Swardt, is a rare opportunity, so we were thrilled to get up close and personal with him as he revealed You or Someone Like You to the British press; and began by asking him just this question…
‘Chandler has been a friend of ELDO for something like eight/nine years – he was very involved in the perfume we did with Tilda Swinton, Like This. We were impressed with his involvement in the perfume industry – his technical and journalistic experience, and I was a true fan of the name, You or Someone Like You. So I said, Chandler, one day we have to do a perfume when you stop being a perfume critic and move on to the other side of the mirror of the perfume industry! I said he could be the creative director and appoint any perfumer he wanted to create it. So he did this perfume as his vision of Los Angeles – for a woman who does not exist.’
Part of the mischievousness so beloved by fans of ELDO involves never playing by the rules or doing the expected. As such, the exact notes of the latest fragrance are kept under wraps. But why was this? Etienne takes a deep breath – presumably having been expecting this question: ‘We decided, mostly because of Chandler and his beliefs, not to disclose the ingredients. We say – perhaps somewhat arrogantly – that if you want to know what’s inside You or Someone Like You, it’s probably not for you… This is something like a piece of art that’s far beyond subjectivity.’
(Pssst! You can try You or Someone Like You in our next Discovery Box, keep an eye on the website for details of when it launches!)
So what does it smell of? Well, one spritz and we’re in the mood for Mojitos, the zest of fresh lime, mint and ice cubes clinking. The scent of freshly cut grass, wild roses rambling in shady nooks, patches of sunlight glinting from dewdrops of a just-watered herbaceous border… we catch wafts of clean washing hanging in the balmy breeze, ice-cream sodas and fluffy cashmere throws. Soaringly fresh, it somehow fills your head with light…
So now, what else but to ask this fragrance maverick his five favourite smells? We’re always fascinated to discover how psychologically revealing this can be, and certainly weren’t disappointed with Etienne’s answers. Having been asked the question and taking a few moments to gather his thoughts, Etienne took a sip of his drink, leaned back in his velvet chair and held court, his first choice – It had to be! – completely unexpected. And other choices… well, of course controversy came a-knocking…
1. Food in planes: ‘I have to start with a smell I don’t like, because when I was a kid I was living in New Caledonia, and the flight to visit Europe was twenty five hours long – just awful – so it’s like a Proustian moment but with negative thoughts. Whatever you eat it all smells the same, as soon as you open the aluminium, so to me it’s the strongest smell memory because it reminds me when I was lost in the air for so many hours… It’s such a strong memory, though, and I am always taken right back there.’
2. Dogs: ‘I especially love the smell behind their ears, as well as the coat. I was born the Year of the Dog in 1970, so I’m a true dog lover. It cools me down, calms me, when I can smell a dog and it just grounds me. And we all need that, you know? We rush around so full of anguish, and we need something to just smell and feel grounded again.’
3. Oakmoss: ‘I love this smell – I reboot myself in the forest with my wife and family, I like to jog there and when it rains I love to stand near an oak tree and pick up the oak moss and smell it and feel that connection to nature.’
4. Guerlain Jicky: ‘I truly believe in past lives and this smell connects me to my grandmother. I believe we are nurtured by the dead people and by the force of other spirits. Fir this reason, it is my samsara – not Samsara the fragrance, but MY samsara…’ [the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound, according to Sanskrit belief].
5. Sea notes/Semen: ‘This is a little bit naughty and pornographic…’ Etienne grins, his eyes flashing with mischief, ‘but I love the border in between attraction and repulsion. That notion of Secretions Magnifique [ELDO’s infamous fragrance evoking semen, sweat and blood] is very much me. Deep-rooted. You know the French poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud were talking about sexuality and La Mer which could be La Mère – the sea or the mother, the place we all are born, where we all come from. So for me sea notes, from an oyster to human secretions, it’s that bridge between attraction and repulsion…’
Étienne interviewed by Suzy Nightingale