Perfume Connoisseur Frédéric Malle Discusses Greatest Achievements and Thoughts on Eternity
Doused in baby Dior since birth and Eau Sauvage in his early adolescence, it should come as no surprise that Frédéric Malle is now known as one of the best perfume makers in the world. Grandson of the legendary Serge Heftler-Louiche (founder of Parfums Christian Dior) and son of Marie- Christine Sayn-Wittgenstein (fragrance developer at Dior for 47 years), Malle is the direct descendant of fragrance royalty. While following in the family footsteps seemed like the obvious choice for Malle growing up, he first tried his hand at art dealing and film before finally surrendering to his odoriferous predestined calling.
Malle introduced Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle in the year 2000. The concept behind his company was simple yet completely innovative: Malle wanted to stop hiding talented perfume creators behind a façade of marketing and branding, instead bringing them to the forefront of operations. He gathered a group of the globes’ greatest noses, and together they each composed exclusive, original fragrances to be sold under their own names.
Cultivating each signature scent can take as long as 6 to 18 months. Malle’s contribution to the perfume making process varies depending on the “nose’s” need. His involvement ranges from being completely emerged in the creative partnership to offering minimal or no input at all.
Recently, Malle partnered with artist Konstantin Kakanias to open his first West Coast boutique on Melrose Place. “It’s always an instinctive process,” Malle says about all his collaborations. “We trust each other, in Konstantin’s case I told him that we should do the boutique, I didn’t even know what sort of illustration he was going to do. He came up with a few ideas, I made a selection, he came back, he refined the idea that I liked, we went back and forth, and in the end you have a boutique. It’s as simple as that.”
In the past, Malle has said he considers himself to be not so much a perfumer but rather a “perfume publisher,” or editor, making the perfumers with which he collaborates the authors. For nearly 20 years now the house of Frédéric Malle has worked with the world’s best fragrance “authors” to create the great classics of tomorrow.
Malle tells me that out of everything he’s created throughout his life, what he is most proud of is not a product he’s produced, it is his four children, and of course, the legacy he’ll leave behind. “I was the person who decided that perfumists should be known and have their name on perfume bottles, rather than a brand. If anybody remembers me one day, this is what I might be remembered for, and I’m quite proud of that,” he says.
When discussing the power of scents and their ability to transform people, Malle tells me that while he thinks smell can add dimension to a person, it is not a magic source that can turn you into someone else. However, while fragrance cannot turn someone into a fantasy version of themselves, he admits it will tell you a lot about an individual’s personality.
“Fragrance is actually a language that people choose and speak instinctively within, but they don’t really understand the meaning of it,” Malle tells me. “But when you know a lot about perfumes you understand that certain types of people wear certain types of perfumes, and it’s almost like an exact science.”
Malle has stated that he is not interested in ephemeral creations, so we asked Monsieur Malle for his thoughts on eternity, the concept for our Fall issue “Beauty is eternal. I think fashion comes and goes, but beauty is eternal,” he ponders out loud. “Look at music from Bach; look at Renaissance paintings—these are all eternal. It’s a history of life; it’s a magical proportion. The love and energy behind them: that is what makes them eternal.”
Written by Eva Barragan
Photographed by Zach Gross
Groomer: Johnny Coruso using Oribe Hair Care at Bryan Bantry