Frédéric Malle and his unconventional take on fragrance
November 10, 2015
Frédéric Malle is not a perfumer, but that doesn’t make his contribution to the fragrance world any less impressive. Growing up in the industry (his grandfather was the founder of Parfums Christian Dior), Malle began his career at Roure Bertrand Dupont, a world-famous French perfume laboratory. There, he gained an understanding of the art and science of fragrance composition and developed a nose for olfactory balance.
Rather than becoming a perfumer himself, Malle chose a more unexplored path. In 2000, he launched Editions de Parfums, a publishing house (so to speak) for fragrances. Instead of books, the company produces singularly stunning fragrances. Instead of authors, it works with highly celebrated noses. And instead of an editor, Malle serves as an “evaluator,” the industry’s term for a skilled specialist who critiques a perfume’s composition.
In an era when noses are often impacted by a brand’s style, marketing pressures, and time constraints, Malle offers an environment of total freedom for creating without limits. Here, he talks with us about the collaborative process.
Why did you choose to be an evaluator instead of creating your own fragrance?
I thought it was more interesting to connect the public to the very best perfumers in the industry, rather than pretending I had made these perfumes. These noses are behind the greatest perfumes of our time; they are true artists. I was convinced their work would touch the most demanding public.
How do you decide whom to work with?
The world of perfumers is quite small. I’ve been part of it since the mid ’80s and have worked with many of them on a daily basis. They look up to one another, so the same names pop up in our conversations about the true greats. All of them are friends, so I just have to call. It’s a very natural thing.
How closely do you worth with them?
My contribution varies according to the perfumer’s desire; I adapt. I’ve worked with Dominique Ropion for more than 25 years, and we hardly need to speak to understand each other. Carnal Flower is a perfect example of that very close collaboration. We decided to use modern technologies and precious natural ingredients we had access to exclusively to create our version of the classical tuberose theme. We wanted to create something much closer to natural tuberose flowers. The goal was clear—we had all the ingredients, and Dominique is probably one of the best perfumers who have ever lived. But it took us 690 trials and two years of hard work (during which I shipped countless bouquets of flowers from Italy to Dominique in Paris) before we reached our goal.
What was the first Editions de Parfums?
We launched with nine perfumes designed by nine different perfumers. Iris Poudre was the first. Pierre Bourdon is not only one of the best perfumers, he’s almost family to me. His father worked with my grandfather and then with my mother at Christian Dior, and we both learned our trade in the same lab. Our common history and esteem for one another dictated we’d begin this adventure together.
Tell us about your motto: “Eliminate all that is superfluous or merely decorative.”
Perfumes, like all works of art, are more powerful when they’re simple. There’s an indescribable energy and sense of purity that sets apart great works of art from the more common ones. It’s hard to make these very streamlined fragrances, but they’re worth the effort. That’s one of the differences between a classic and flavor of the moment.
Do you have a personal favorite?
I absolutely adore when my wife wears Portrait of a Lady. Not only do I feel proud to have participated in the making of such a masterpiece, but I’ve never seen a perfume that generates so many compliments.
What’s the best way for customers to learn more about fragrance?
There are a few books, such as Jean-Claude Ellena’s or mine (On Perfume Making), where we explain things, but one has to smell as many classics (and future classics) as possible. One has to live perfume to understand it.