Nose for success

Frédéric Malle gives top perfumers the freedom to compose fresher fragrances, writes Catharine Nicol

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 10:51pm



In a fragrance market saturated by designer brands and big-name celebrities, one man stands apart as the very antithesis of all things commercial.

Frédéric Malle, whose grandfather founded Christian Dior Parfums, and whose mother was the company’s art director, studied art history before starting his career with renowned perfumers Roure Bertrand Dupont in 1986. After years as a consultant to companies, such as Mark Birley and Hermès, he grew increasingly unhappy with the industry’s direction. He banded together with a group of like-minded “noses”, and in 2000 Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle was born.

“I got all those complainers together,” he says, of fragrance greats including Pierre Bourdon, Sophia Grojsman, Carlos Benaïm and Jean-Claude Ellena. “I have the perfumers I respect the most in the industry working with me.”

The result? As Malle describes it: “When I came up with the term ‘editeur de parfums’, 12 years ago, I was determined to liberate perfumers from the kinds of restraints often imposed by marketers and focus groups. I work as an editor works with writers. Each perfumer is free to use the most innovative technologies and the rarest raw materials the industry offers.”

Malle began by “publishing” nine original fragrances and has 18 distinct scents, now available in a Complete Coffret Collection at Joyce Beauty.

Investing in this series feels akin to investing in a series of fine art, each painting telling its own story, and yet the complete set providing a depth of visual – or in this case olfactory – insight into a generation of artisans in danger of becoming extinct.

Indeed, having cut his teeth in the old world, Malle’s standards and values hail from a time when quality trumped speed and money.

“I have a vision of this business which is very traditional. I do things the old-fashioned way – I don’t cut corners and I’m obsessed by quality,” he says.

“I push people to be as creative as possible. I still believe that if you have a different product and a good one, then someone will buy it.”

In Hong Kong, Malle predicts buyers will flock to Ellena’s delightfully gentle bergamotand honey-scented L’Eau d’Hiver, Olivia Giacobette’s white lilac-focused En Passant and Edouard Flechier’s Lys Mediterranée of lilies and musk.

“Asia is very new to us,” he says. “People are not used to the quality and, at the beginning, it is disconcerting. But if the fragrances are sold properly to the right individual, they will wear it for a year and it will become their signature fragrance.”

Joyce Beauty also stocks Malle’s diffusers, home “perfume guns” and range of candles, including star perfumer Dominique Ropion’s Tubereuse – sure to be a favourite among those who love his Carnal Flower fragrance, a sensuous combination of tuberose, coconut and musk.

Malle’s latest project, separate from Editions de Parfums, suggests a return to the commercial arena, designed as it is to recreate people and brands into scents. The first in the series is dedicated to Belgian fashion designer Dries van Noten. But considering Malle’s contrarian past and relentless attention to quality before deadlines, devotees could be kept waiting and guessing as to what’s next from the editeur de parfums.