Frederic Malle was always going to be a perfumer. His grandfather was the founder of Parfums Christian Dior for goodness sake and I don’t need to explain just how influential that particular name is. His mother even took over in the same capacity so it’s no surprise that the current generation of Malle has made a name for himself in the alchemy of essence and oil that is fine fragrance.
These fragrances are not everyday. You might wear them near-constantly, but their quality is so far above the average perfume so as to be a different thing entirely. If you’re familiar with the work of Roja Dove – and to be honest a vast swathe of the Harrods perfume counter – you know the kind of territory Frederic Malle inhabits.
At the same time he’s at the opposite end philosophically. Whether you enjoy the richness of Scandal or Danger, the well-trained nose can sniff out Roja Dove’s fingerprints on the formulae. He has an identity, which is no bad thing. Frederic Malle on the other hand is anything but narcissistic.
The concept of Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is considerably different to the likes of Christian Dior or Roja Dove. It’s different from most fragrance houses in fact. Most fragrances rely on brand first, collection second and the actual perfumers a distant third. Think of your usual eau de toilette; do you have any idea who actually created it?
It’s not always the case, but all too often the perfumers get relegated to the shadows. They undoubtedly get paid well – the good ones at least – but when you’ve poured heart and soul into something is a little recognition too much to ask? It seems to be Frederic Malle’s self-appointed duty to get them their dues.
Malle himself is a perfumer, but that’s not all he is. On some occasions, he’s a publisher – collecting and making available fragrances from the most exceptional of artisans – on other he acts as editor, helping to perfect the formulae. Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is less a brand, more a showcase of the olfactory astounding.
Words are all well and good, but the question is what does this all actually mean? From the creators’ point of view it means freedom. They’re not restricted by house style or whether it fits into a wider brand. They don’t need to think about the direction the house is going. They can just make their own vision – or whatever it is their noses are wont to do.
From everyone else’s perspective, it means that there’s a unique array of fragrances on offer, the kind of perfumes that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It’s to Malle the late, great Edmond Roudnitska of Dior Eau Sauvage fame brought his stunning Parfum de Therese, as did the legendary Maurice Roucel and his Musc Ravageur.
On the collaborative side, both Portrait of a Lady and Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion are exemplary of Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle. The first uses the strongest ever dosage of rose essence, the latter the exotic, sweet, spicy and almost animatic tuberose, which brings me to the next point: ingredients.
You expect good ingredients from fragrances this high up the price bracket and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle provides. It’s one of the reasons (besides having their names mentioned) that perfumers actually want to work with the company. There’s no compromise wanted and none given.
If Malle has one issue it’s one of identity crisis. It’s impossible to know what a signature Malle fragrance should be. The quality of ingredients can narrow it down, but there are other boutique houses working at the same level. It’s something that’s not going to change any time soon though and to be honest nor should it. In a floral miasma of over-branding, it’s good to see a house that has the confidence to let their perfumes – and perfumers – do the talking.
Words by: Sam Kessler