Sunday, October 3, 2010

Frederic Malle Interview

"The result is a good fragrance, a sexy thing, that makes you look better. It’s the salt and pepper of sex, I suppose. It makes people more attractive. It’s a very beautiful but abstract thing. But then when you make the perfume, it’s like a Rubik’s Cube. It’s a chemistry, very tangible, concrete and matter of fact. "

Thus explains the difference between the product and the creation process Frédéric Malle, founder of Les Editions de Parfums, the famous niche line which put the perfumers on the forefront 10 years ago. Malle is not mincing words when he disparages marketing people starting with the brief rather than the smell, because -obviously- they don't know anything about the creation process or what perfumery entails (Is it any wonder there's so much dreck and sameness in the market today?)
He also reveals the best-sellers of his line per country/continent: Bigarade for most Asia, En Passant and Lys Méditéranée for China, Carnal Flower (reportedly ahead of Chanel No.5 please note!) in the US and Une Rose in the Middle East, where he plans to open a boutique. Interesting!

Read more, including who is the perfumer he considers most knowledgable, where he was inspired from for the look of the line and what he thinks about online and eponymous star-spangled criticism, in Nathalie Atkinson's article on the National Post.


  1. Frederic Malles fragrances are made of high quality raw materials but that's just about it. Compared to Serge Lutens or Mathilde Laurent (Cartier Les Heures de Parfum), his fragrances feel somewhat conventional and overrated, high end quality versions of what is considered mainstream out there.

    PS: what's going on with the Serge Lutens Boxeuses draw?

  2. fascinating- the French know what they are doing marketing wise I think- though FM wouldn't be so successful without the internet in my opinion.

  3. E,

    hmm, that's one point of view and in part you have a point! I can't compare the Lutens line with the Malle one for innovation/vision (mainly because the premise is so different and the parties involved in the FM so diverse), yet I think dear Mathilde became It girl with some because of...well...hmmm...anyway. That said, two of her compositions for Cartier are stunning and extremely well-done although on the whole I don't really believe they're altering the "syntax" of perfumery. She's definitely very capable, very talented and I dearly love her, but is Cartier the vehicle through which she can realise everything she dreams of? I should think Cartier has their own bourgeois constraints, which must be taken into consideration when launching a line of perfumes. ;-)

    A couple of the Malles are unconventional: Dans tes Bras (very interesting) or Angeliques sous la Pluie (ditto) and of course Une Fleur de Cassie is masterful in every possible sense of the term. Would they sell lots? I doubt it. Would they have a cult following? I'd think. Would they be respected by other perfumers? I should think so.

    But then you open an interesting discussion: What constitutes a trully great fragrance? Innovation? Vision? Chemical accuity? Top-to-down design coherence? Master technical aspects coupled with sheer beauty? Weirdness? Zeitgeist-coherence? Wearability? What??? I'd be interested in your view on this.

    PS. It takes a bit of work to sort the participants into a random draw and I was having too much fun away sunning myself and promenading in interesting places this weekend to get down and work ;-) They will be posted in a short while; sorry about the delay.
    Your own little package is getting on its route as we speak, anyway. :-)

  4. K,

    the French are much more marketing-wise than they're willing to let on. In fact take every British pop phenomenon and see how the French have capitalised on it!

    I should think that dear Frederic tends to overlook the influence, but it's all right. We won't hold it against him, our existence does not depend on it, nor does our income. :-)

  5. Haute perfumery must be highly innovative and well-executed. Mathilde Laurent's equestrian-themed Cartier L'Heure Fougueuse embodies that idea as much as Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan. Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras is just another all too familiar boring romantic story and poorly executed at that (weird fruity metallic notes).

  6. Zazie16:21

    Ok, Uella, let's start a fight! ;)

    I'm kidding of course, but I cherish the Frederic Malle very very much. IMO, he is doing real perfumery, and not only because he uses quality ingredients - that would be the By Kilian line for me: familiar accords, with superior (only in some cases) materials.

    With respect to other niche lines, many of FM's perfumes have the layers and complexity that make them sit proudly with my favorite Guarlains and Chanel. My loves: carnal Flower and Une fleur de Cassie. The former has been widely and wildly imitated, in my opinion, which means something...

    Frederic malle (together with Serge Lutens, DelRae, les heures and Andy Tauer) is one of the few niche lines not indulging in easy, naif, watercolor juices. The houses I mention all speak different registers, some favor weird, some favor Grand, some favor the exotic and some the "texture", and I would pick only a couple of perfumes from each house, but I think that it is just a matter of personal taste...

    Well, whatever, de gustibus...

  7. Zazie, I have respect for Une Fleur de Cassie as the most stand out fragrance of the Frederic Malle line (although the new reformulation has stripped it of its original animalic musks). That being said, UFdC is another modern take on classic grand florals such as No.5; does it explore uncharted territories the way Lutens and Laurent do it? I don't think so.
    I've been wearing perfume for more than twenty years, at this point I have high expectations when it comes to haute perfumery, I need to be challenged and stimulated both intellectually and sensually. I'm looking forward to the new L'Heure Fougueuse more than anything else right now.
    I have very little interest in the other niche perfumers you mentioned. Kilian's Back to Black was such a joke, an uninspired and predictable Lutensian gourmand-oriental.

  8. Rappleyea23:52

    M. Malle's philosophy of perfume resonates with me. Thank you E. for the link. I wanted to give him a hug though and reassure him that indeed the blogs and perfumistas on them love him!



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