One of the greatest perfumers in the world, Frédéric Malle, talks to The Luxury Channel about what scent means to him and how he interprets this in his Editions Parfums.
When did you first become interested in scent?
It depends what you mean by interested! As a child of just a few years old, I remember loving the fragrances that my mother (who worked in the business) was spraying on me. As a teenager, I fell in love with good-smelling girls. I toyed with the idea of becoming a perfumer, but I only really got truly interested in the art of making fragrances when I began working for Roure – which was then the best lab in the industry – in 1987.
How did you start in the industry?
My mother worked in the industry, so I was brought up in it. I was always interested, then the man who was running Roure, a star in his own right, asked me to become his assistant. It is a sort of fairy tale, isn’t it? I was very lucky.
How did your career develop to the place it is today?
After a few years in the industry, I was frustrated to have to work on those very banal, very marketed fragrances targeted to duty frees and self service stores. So, I decided to go back to treating fragrance as an art and opened my own company, as there was no other way to do it then.
What characterises your perfumes?
Best perfumers. Best raw materials. Based on original ideas. Sexy and comfortable. We don’t compromise.
What is the idea behind the Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle?
Coming back to the level of quality and the modernity that perfumers were offering when they used to make “classics.” We hope that some of our fragrances will become the classics of tomorrow.
How did you choose the perfumers that would be involved?
It was an obvious choice, a sort of club of top perfumers that were known to be the best and who saw each other as the best in the industry. Most of them had already made great classics, or game-changers, in the business.
How do you create a new scent?
I adapt to each perfumer. Sometimes they come to me with an idea; sometimes I think an idea of mine will suit one of them. Then I am either doing very little or, I work with them as a sparring partner. I am there to help, not to impose – they decide what they do.
Where do you find the inspiration for your scents?
Everywhere. The minute I start working on something, I see life through its prism. Every encounter is a source of inspiration: nature, a scent in the streets, the smell of a person or of a thing – anything!
How have the scents you have created changed as you have developed within the profession?
I think that the perfumers who I work with are more and more often using the freedom that I give them to create more and more different and precious fragrances. In fact, the market has nothing to do with that, they just realise that they are truly free when working with me.
How should somebody go about choosing a scent?
Express his or her needs to a competent sales person. Try what they believe is right for them on their skin and make sure that they like it after a few hours. Buy it only if they feel truly comfortable.
What does the scent someone wears say about them?
What do different scents and ingredients covey about the person wearing them? Is there a psychology of scent?
Yes, there is a psychology of scent, but it would be dishonest and over simplistic to link it to ingredients. One should talk about accords and complete fragrance. This is the subject of a book, though. I teach this to everybody who works with me but it takes weeks to get right.
What is your favourite scent?
Our scent Portrait of a Lady.
What would you have done as a plan B career?
I would probably have been an architect.
What do you do to escape the world of work?
I spend time with my family, I visit galleries and museums, I play sports, I travel a lot….I do lots of things!
What is luxury to you?
The product of imagination and time. Things made with an uncompromising approach.