Fleurs du Malle
Courtesy of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle
Each year 600 new fragrances are introduced into the world—each with its own accent, packaging, and story. As anyone who’s ever braved a department store can attest, some of those stories are more compelling than others, and some are little more than toilet water with a celebrity spokesperson. So it’s refreshing—from a business and olfactory perspective—to smell the work of Frédéric Malle. The grandson of Parfums Christian Dior founder Serge Heftler (he’s also the nephew of French director Louis Malle), Malle worked under legendary essence-maker Roure Bertrand Dupont and consulted for Christian Lacroix, Mark Birley, and Hermès before launching Editions de Parfums in 2000. As a self-described “publisher of noses”—like an Alfred A. Knopf of the fragrance world—his catalog boasts 17 of the richest, most exotic scents from the likes of Hermès’ Jean-Claude Ellena, Chanel alum Maurice Roucel, and the trailblazer of modern perfumery, Edmond Roudnitska. And it’s their names, not his, that appear at the top of his labels.
Now, after 18 months of “editing” with three-time contributor Dominique Ropion, Editions is poised to release an eighteenth scent, Géranium pour Monsieur. Though the perfume business is drenched in tradition, and there are plenty of flower petals where this one came from, make no mistake: this is a modern operation. Malle and Ropion used state of the art technologies to assemble an unlikely blend of raw Chinese geranium extract, mint absolute distilled at the molecular level, and cinnamon extracted with CO2. “It’s exactly like Photoshop,” says Malle of his scientific manner of “amplifying” scents. A female friend of mine described Géranium pour Monsieur as smelling like a “cozy fireplace with fresh mint and licorice thrown in.” Which is pretty close to the effect the two were going for. “It’s super fresh, but it evolves to something warmer,” says Malle, who will release Géranium in June then open his first stand-alone stateside boutique on Madison Avenue later this fall. Here he talks about the new fragrance, store, and some scents he’d rather avoid.
MICHAEL SLENSKE: What were your favorite scents growing up?
FREDERIC MALLE: Many women’s scents—old Guerlains, Fracas, Miss Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel 19. For my personal use, I used to like Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte, Grey Flannel, and Halston Z14.
MS: Do you have a favorite scent that is in nature?
FM: I always loved Patchouli essence. I also like the smell of fresh Gardenias.
MS: What’s your least favorite scent?
FM: Magic trees in New York taxis—that atrocious smell of cheap chemical vanilla and musk. Absolute torture!
MS: There’s a lot of mint in Géranium pour Monsieur. That’s seems like an odd thing to put in fragrance, no?
FM: We came up with this idea by looking at toiletries from the 1920s. They all had mint in them, geranium, anise. When you think of mint you usually think of gum. These scents are associated to other things, but they’re also truly pleasant. My son who desperately wants to be a playboy thought it was an asset, and he was wearing it the whole time we were designing it.
MS: Would you say it’s a seasonal scent?
FM: If it were seasonal I think it’d be more Spring/Summer, but I think men these days want freshness all year around. I don’t mean to sound like a secondhand car salesman, but I worked on this in the winter, and I felt comfortable with it.
MS: What makes all these ingredients work together?
FM: It’s like a Darwinian chain. They all share things in common. Geranium and mint have things in common, mint and anise work together, anethol works with mint, and floralozone works with anethol. Then there’s another facet—the cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, and incense—which creates warmth.
MS: You manipulate scents using very current technologies. Have you experienced that being a problem for perfume purists?
FM: Natural or not natural is not an issue for me. We use the products that we need to reach our aim.
MS: Why do you publish the scents with the perfumers’ names on the bottles?
FM: It was just a matter of honesty towards the public and towards perfumers. I always thought that it was unfair that the true authors were hidden. I also thought that they are a better story than the “bimbos” on most adds. I always found these semi-artists/semi-chemists fascinating.
MS: What made you want to work with Dominique Ropion again for the fourth time?
FM: Because he is probably the most skilled perfumer today. He seems to have the best knowledge of raw materials. His technique is amazing. Dominique and I also have very similar taste in fragrances (probably because we share a similar education). This was a guarantee to me that we would want to go in the same direction. Dominique is always open to new ideas and this was one for sure! Other top perfumers are not always that open-minded.
MS: Tell me about the new store planned for New York’s Upper East Side.
FM: It is still in its earliest stages. Nothing is cast in stone yet. But what I want are things that are true, that have real depth, and are different. It’s all about truth and the real thing. So it’s going to be very much adapted to New York.
MS: Is there anything you want to avoid in the fragrance world?
FM: Aromatic foureges, which are like Cool Water or Acqua di Gio. It’s a whole weird world I swore to myself I would never get into. They’re like sexy truck driver fragrances. I want our scents to be smart.
Géranium pour Monsieur will be available in June 2009 at Barneys New York stores nationwide.