The fragrant world of Frédéric Malle

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NEW YORK: The world of Frédéric Malle consists of immensely diverse content. I feel like entering a salon full of books and stories when I go to his perfume shops around the world, in Paris, Rome or London, and the most beautiful I recently visited on New York’s Upper East Side on Madison Avenue. It feels like entering someone’s personal salon, where I will find an inspiring conversation about culture, art, aesthetics, the world and of course perfume.

Frédéric Malle is a chief editor and he only works with the best noses around the world. Each scent which is created for him tells a story and is packaged like a book which goes well into his edition. You can find scented candles and scented body butters like for example the latest one by Dries van Noten, which comes in a small edition. Every product is well thought of and to get your hands on one is a real pleasure, so take enough time to enter the perfume store or counter and read through all his scents.

IRMA: What is the scent or aroma that you could never live without?
FRÉDÉRIC MALLE: Although I love zests I can live without them. Raw materials are like colours, they only work in a context. The final perfume is what is important to me.
The older generation at Guerlain often used bergamot as a diluent. It was perfect in those days. Our compositions are much more diverse, owing to the fact that I work with perfumers that have different styles and modern perfumery being way more precise, so we don’t do that anymore.

IRMA: When did your passion for perfume start?
F.M.: Playing sports as a child, being covered with Eau Sauvage (that my mother had worked on), I understood what being addicted to a perfume meant. I was 12.

IRMA: Are you also responsible for the interiors of your shops?
F.M.: Yes, this is my side job. I always loved architecture and decorative arts. I either commission people like Steven Holl that I let free, collaborate with friends like Andrée Putman, Patrick Naggar, or Jacques Grange, or I do things myself with my own team, as I just did in Rome and London.

IRMA: Does an interior or a landscape inspire you to create a scent?
F.M.: Never a scent to wear. Interiors or fragrant landscapes sometimes give me an idea for room scents. Café Society and Rosa Rugosa are good examples of that. You don’t want a person to smell like a place!

IRMA: Does food inspire you?
F.M.: Ingredients in food give me ideas. Perfume should not be treated like food, though. I hate these cheap gourmand things. The only good ones are real oriental and should not even be called Gourmand (Angel is a good example of that).

IRMA: You are well known for being a smart and elegant dresser. Does the first appearance of a person inspire you to create a scent?
F.M.: People often inspire me. Their allure is just the tip of the iceberg, the first step in discovering their personality. A fragrance is another piece of the puzzle and has to work with that look. I see people as coherent ensembles. I also think that there is always a relationship between what we see and what we smell. In that sense looks inspire me in an oblique way.
Our future scent “Monsieur” by Bruno Jovanovic was very much influenced by these men wearing double breasted suits effortlessly. Mark Birley, Luchino Visonti, Gianni Agnelli are good examples of that.

IRMA: Do you believe that perfume has to be different by day and by night? If so, which one of yours would you recommend for which occasion?
F.M.: It depends on the perfume of the individual, of that person’s moods and of where you are. I have been wearing the same Vetiver Extraordinaire day and night lately. But I also like the idea of Bigarade Concentrée in the morning and French Lover in the evening. To me it is a matter of mood, of seasons and of where I am. I always have 5 fragrances in my suitcase, like I always travel with about 10 ties to be able to choose the right one according to the light and atmosphere of a given day. It is all about freedom and precision!

IRMA: Which scent calms and relaxes your mind? Is there is any one that you could recommend before going to bed? What do you think about pillow scents?
F.M.: I just made a pillow scent for my wife. It is called “Dans mon Lit” for lack of travelling further! I did it after smelling LMR’s rose water essential. It gave me the idea for creating a bed of roses. It is actually the first time that I ever used such a product. This is a total improvisation, but I love the result!

IRMA: There now exist scented pillows.
F.M.: Really? Now that’s frightening. I wouldn’t like to have some pillow marketing guy choosing the smell that I sniff 8 hours a night! It is all about freedom and precision, I told you!

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Frederic Malle

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IRMA travels the world, writes and illustrates the life she lives.

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