How Marco Mari wound up selling perfumes for childhood pal Mirko Buffini

The international business director of niche Italian perfume brand Mirko Buffini tells of his early love for the English language and why he always wanted to work in the global business field

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 July, 2015, 12:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2015, 10:09pm

"Since I was young, my plan has been to study and work in international business. After I graduated from high school, I went to study business and economics in Florence and did my master's in international business management.

My fascination with this area came about because of my family background - my father and uncle's trading company, Maricart, was one of the first Italian companies to work in the China market back in the 1980s, and involved different categories such as luxury stationery and home decorations. This inspired me to look outside Italy for work.

In elementary school I was interested in learning English. I remember one of my teachers saying how passionate I was about the language. I was always watching and reading English movies and books. One of the first English I read was Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth.

When I was older, I joined the family business and supervised all the international markets to help with their expansion. I had the opportunity to visit many countries along the way.

I learned a lot from my father, He told me everything he knew about business. He was a salesman, so he knew how to behave with customers and how to relate to people. That's very important because you need to respect the people in front of you. He also taught me to be humble and to have dreams.

My father instilled in me the love of family. For example, the very important Sunday lunch would mean everyone sitting together for a good meal. This is something that is still close in my heart.

After my father passed away, I left the company to pursue my own career. I worked with several companies, mainly in the luxury sphere such as furniture, jewellery, food and perfume before ending up where I am today.

I've known Mirko Buffini the perfumer since I was a child. We met during a soccer competition as rivals. We also went to the same school. It's funny because he was born a few days before me in October 1975. So we really have a lot in common.

Fast forward many years to when we are both adults, and he invites me for an interview because he is familiar with my professional background. During the meeting he offers me the opportunity to be international director for a holdings company, which includes Mirko Buffini. In other words, I would have total control of international activities for his perfume brand, as well as other brands in fashion and cosmetics.

When I think of our perfume brand compared to other labels in the market, we are tiny. We are relatively young, and unfortunately, the perfume market generally favours heritage and tradition. So I always say to my colleagues that we can't sell anything to do with heritage or tradition, even though we have our own factory and have worked for other older brands.

So what we have to emphasise is our modernity. And we have to show our approach to quality, from choosing the raw materials for the perfume all the way until formulations are sealed in bottles.

Several countries have resonated with our contemporary approach. Japan is our number one market at the moment. It's funny because the Japanese are not very eager to wear perfume, as it's generally too aggressive for their culture. From what I recall, Japan is 17th in the world for perfume consumption. So having commercial success over there means a lot to us.

Regarding other countries, we are still in the early stages. We find that the customers who are interested in our brand are very particular about what they buy. We are focusing on China, countries in Europe and other parts of Asia such as Taiwan.

My first trip to Hong Kong was when I was 15 years old. How would I describe my impression of the city? The best way is to say that I was crying the day I left, that's how much I loved it. This city is full of passion and you can smell it on the streets

Mirko Buffini's collection spans 12 unisex perfumes. All scents possess different personalities. My favourite has to be Haiku, named after the Japanese poetic form. It's a specific and peculiar fragrance and is also our bestseller. I like it because it has bergamot and black pepper. The fragrance feels fresh and almost soapy, like washing your face in the morning and waking up.

My first trip to Hong Kong was when I was 15 years old. How would I describe my impression of the city? The best way is to say that I was crying the day I left, that's how much I loved it. This city is full of passion and you can smell it on the streets.

One memory I have of my time in Hong Kong was in 1997. I remember seeing Hong Kong's new flag being raised during the official handover.

Places that I love in Hong Kong include Kowloon, and Stanley for its beach and lack of skyscrapers. Another favourite is Sai Kung. I remember visiting with my uncle when I was smaller, and being fascinated by the seafood restaurants. It was an experience to see the fish, stored in tanks, selected by diners and cooked on the spot.

I travel so much that I don't feel I am just Italian. I belong to the world. And I think travelling, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures means I never stop learning. My family is also international. I have a Filipina wife, and my kids can speak three languages. My wife speaks Japanese fluently, Tagalog and Italian. I speak Spanish, English, German, some Tagalog and a little Putonghua.

One of our recent trips was for our honeymoon. My wife and I went to Thailand - Chiang Mai and Phuket. We were away from all the crowds and really immersed ourselves in nature. My favourite moment was riding an elephant in the jungle, that was a great experience."