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In half a century, the British brand that began life in a London hairdressing salon has become an indispensable partner for luxury hotels around the world.


In half a century, the British brand that began life in a London hairdressing salon has become an indispensable partner for luxury hotels around the world.

Category: Europe - Interviews and portraits - Suppliers - Providers - Interviews
Interview made by Guillaume Chollier on 2023-11-23

Founded in 1971 in London's Mayfair district, Molton Brown quickly established itself as the benchmark British artisan perfumer. A responsible creator from the outset, it manufactures its entire range - which includes bath and body care, hand care, perfumes, scented candles, perfume diffusers and aromatherapy - in England.
Concerned about their impact on the planet, Caroline Burstein and Michael Collis, the brand's founders, refuse to test their products on animals. As a result, the hair care line of the time was created using plants grown in their garden, then dried in their barn. Today, all Molton Brown formulas are 100% vegetarian.

In the 1980s, the brand's first iconic fragrance was born: Orange Grove, now known as Orange & Bergamot. As well as offering one of the country's first premium liquid hand soaps, the collection was used in a five-star partner hotel in London, making Molton Brown one of the first British houses to supply hotels.

Over the next decade, Molton Brown reaffirmed its commitment to ecology by sharing its Manifesto for the Environment, before, a decade later, master perfumer Jacques Chabert designed the British brand's iconic, award-winning fragrance: Re-charge Black Pepper. Ten years later, his daughter Carla followed in his footsteps with Fiery Pink Pepper, then Coastal Cypress & Sea.

The crowning achievement came in 2012, when Molton Brown became the royal supplier of toiletries to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, before entering into a partnership with Ascot and the English National Opera, two quintessential British institutions to which the brand supplies toiletries.

Steve Clark, Senior Director retail & hotels, has agreed to retrace the rich history of Molton Brown for the Journal des Palaces and to outline the next stages in the development of this institution which, thanks to its uncompromising commitment, has earned its credentials in the luxury hotel sector, as well as with the subjects of Her Gracious Majesty.

Journal des Palaces : When was Molton Brown founded? Where is its head office located?
Steve Clark : The story of Molton Brown started in 1971 when our two founders opened a hair salon on South Molton Street, Mayfair, in London. They made the first Molton Brown products by hand in the basement of this salon, and that’s how it all began. Today, production is still located in England and the head office is in London, near Covent Garden. Our English roots are still very much present.

How many employees does the company have?
Molton Brown has more than 600 employees, not including employees working in cross-company business divisions such as HR or IT, who work across several companies that are part of the Kao group.

What is your vision of luxury?
It is what we call at Molton Brown “positive luxury”. Since the very beginnings of the brand, we’ve championed a beauty that’s kinder to the environment, and we’re pushing ourselves to become more sustainable every day. We’ve always been cruelty-free, our entire portfolio is 100% vegetarian, and we’re working hard to make it vegan, we’re responsible manufacturers – our manufacturing facility in England is carbon-neutral – and our goal for 2030 is to ensure 50% of what we sell is reusable or refillable. It’s paramount to us to be responsible for the path our products take to come in our customers’ hands.

This vision of luxury also encompasses excellence: we source the best ingredients, only select exceptional fragrance concentrations for our products, and work with recognised perfumers.

It’s this vision that has made Molton Brown a symbol of British craftsmanship, which has awarded us with a Royal Warrant from Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

What inspires you to create?
Our home of London, with its diverse, progressive and open-minded attitude, inspires us to create. It’s brought to life in the way we work side-by-side with our eclectic set of perfumers; from Master Perfumer Jacques Chabert, who we’ve been friends with for over twenty years, and his daughter, Senior Perfumer Carla Chabert, to New Generation rising stars like Jérôme Di Marino. We join forces with their intriguing styles to create distinctive fragrances suited for all personalities.

What's the craziest creation you've ever done?
I think that would have to be our Mesmerising Oudh Accord & Gold body and hand washes, that are infused with 23.5-carat gold flakes – pretty decadent!

Which prestigious properties in France and abroad do you work with?
We really see France as an opportunity market for us from both a hotel and a consumer perspective, so watch this space. In other markets, we are very fortunate to have some incredible hotel partners, from the contemporary luxury of the Atheneum on London’s Piccadilly to the stunning country house elegance of Whatley Manor in the Cotswolds in our home market of the UK, through to some of the most exclusive properties across all five continents including icons such as The Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo, The King David Jerusalem and The Kempinski St Moritz.

What are the requirements of the luxury hotels you work with?
First and foremost, they demand the highest quality formulation and ingredients. Unlike many other brand’s hotel amenities programmes that are made under licence, our products are produced using the same formulation and the same ingredients as the products that we retail, and they are made in the same factory just outside London. Secondly, they are looking for a level of exclusivity, they don’t wish to carry the same brand as the property next door. A third area which is becoming increasingly important is innovation around sustainable solutions, which is an area that I am proud to say we have invested and continue to invest in heavily.

What do you bring to the hotels you work with?
One of the key opportunities we can bring to a hotel is the chance to develop joint marketing plans, we were one of the first beauty brands to establish a strong digital presence, and we have a large database of existing retail customers who share our passion for travel and experience. We have had a lot of success in giving our customer base access to our hotel partners to enhance their reach and occupancy rates.

What is the company's CSR policy?
The company believes in supporting not only employees and consumers but also communities. As employees at Molton Brown, we are deeply encouraged and supported to give back to our communities through volunteering. In the UK, for instance, where I am based, our charity committee partners with Prince’s Trust, which is a charity founded by the His Majesty King Charles III to support young people from disadvantage communities by helping them build the confidence and skills to go through life. We can take part in CV review sessions, charity races, and we regularly organise clearance sales as well as baking/cooking competitions at the office, which profits go to the Prince’s Trust.

How do you stand out from your competitors?
I’ve already mentioned three areas that I see that we stand out: Firstly, the fact that we don’t manufacture under licence, we don’t compromise on our formulation and our hotel amenities are made in England in the same factory as our retail lines. Secondly, that we lead on innovation when it comes to sustainability, it has always been a key pillar of our brand and that has only increased in the last few years. Thirdly, that we can offer much more from a digital marketing perspective than most of our competitors, making the relationship we have with our hotels a true partnership. Finally, I would add our heritage, we have been around for over fifty years and have remained true to the principles of our founders. We’ve been working with hotels for over 35 years, and we are more collaborative with our hotel partners than we have ever been, using their experience and their needs to help us develop our range and find the right solution for them.

You have just created your first line of aromatherapy products for luxury hotels. What does it consist of?
We’ve indeed just introduced our Reviving Rosemary collection, which really takes our positive luxury offer to the next level for our hotel partners. It includes a Shampoo, Conditioner, Bath & Shower Gel, Body Lotion, and a new transformative texture: Molton Brown’s first Shower Oil-in-Gel. This formula cleanses and nourishes skin with a milky lather which is thicker and more luxurious than the Bath & Shower Gel, allowing guests an enhanced experience. More additions will be made to the range in the second phase, which is due for release later this year.

The collection is crafted in line with Molton Brown’s core values of using the best ingredients in exceptional concentrations to reset mind and body with mood-boosting rosemary, nourishing tamanu oil and an enlivening note of eucalyptus. It invites guests to slip away from the everyday and into a rejuvenating bathing ritual with its dual benefits aromatherapy offer.

Which luxury properties are offering this new line, in France and abroad?
We have only just launched, but our first Reviving Rosemary Hotel is The Atheneum in London, and we are in the process of going live with six more across Europe.

What are the next steps in developing the brand?
We relaunched our personal fragrance offer a couple of years ago, and we see this as our key growth area over the next few years. The range has got off to a great start and is driving as much as 20% of our sales in some markets. The second area that I have already mentioned is around innovation in sustainable solutions, we have a new aluminium tube range launching early next year for those luxury hotels that wish to retain miniatures in their bathrooms, and we are working with a very cool design agency on an industry leading new hotel dispenser to add to our existing dispenser options.

About the author

A journalist for 20 years, Guillaume is a fan of exclusive places where comfort, quality of service and gastronomy are combined. All this, tinged with a simplicity and a smile that are the prerogative of the ultimate luxury.

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