"Alber Elbaz asked me to make a perfume much like one of his dresses" – Frédéric Malle
I n 1947 Serge Heftler-Louiche founded Parfums Christian Dior. Fifty-three years later in 2000, his grandson Frédéric Malle launched Editions de Parfums, a French fragrance concept that sees the best noses in the world collaborate to create highly sought-after scents. It's a concept Malle likens to an experience "similar to going to a museum where Van Eyck, Manet or Pollock hang", which he says all have "very different propositions, but are all fabulous in their own way." Now, Malle talks exclusively to Buro 24/7 Middle East about his latest fragrance, which was designed with Alber Elbaz...
Tell us about your new collaboration with Alber Elbaz, the idea and the creative process?
Alber Elbaz asked me to make a perfume much like one of his dresses. I was quite familiar with Alber's dresses, as I have admired his designs for years, first at Yves Saint Laurent and then at Lanvin.
If we were to create a fragrance together, we said it would possess this mysterious element. Like a book open to interpretation, it would let the imagination run free. And like Alber's own fashion designs, it would empower whoever wore it, leaving an indelible trace long after it passed. Almost immediately we knew if we were to create such a scent, it would bear the name Superstitious. One of the things Alber and I had discussed, and that really stayed with me obviously, was this idea of superstition as a powerful force, the sixth sense, that there is more than what meets the eye.
One way that I define a true perfume "classic" is that its quality must be unmistakable but it's ingredients indefinable. I'd been working with the great Dominique Ropion for over a year on such a scent: a "grand aldehyde floral" with a classic architecture completely reinterpreted and comprising the most precious of raw materials. When I revealed it to Alber, he immediately fell in love. Then Dominique and Alber met and Dominique finished the scent with Alber in mind. It's a perfume crafted from the most luxurious of raw materials: Turkish rose, Egyptian jasmine, velvety peach and apricot skin, labdanum resinoid, sandalwood, Haitian vetiver, patchouli and musk.
My love in life is to work with artists, whether they are perfumers, architects or fashion designers.
Tell us about your foray into fragrance...
My history with perfume runs deep. My grandfather was a prominent figure within the perfume business; he founded Parfums Christian Dior amongst other brands, and my mother inherited her profession from him. She always tried different perfumes on us growing up, so I sensed the power that fragrance had on me from an early age. As a teenager, I realised that wearing the right scent could make me feel bigger than I was. That experience took me to another level, which is, I suppose, why this business felt so natural to me. I then started working at a fragrance lab in my mid-twenties, at a time when perfumers had a deep culture between them and their work.
What's your first fragrance memory?
I remember the smell of flowers very well. I also used to wear perfume as a child, which was very unusual, especially because I was doing a lot of sport. But I could go on forever about the smell of the subway to the smell of fresh bread to the smell of my father's dressing room...
What makes Frédéric Malle fragrances so unique today?
I've designed a bottle that, by virtue of its simplicity, can host any kind of perfume. It's a design that draws attention to the bottle's content rather than to its image. Most other brands do things the other way around.
What's your favourite ingredient?
It's hard for me to choose just one ingredient, but I am constantly drawn to tuberose. Tuberose is perhaps nature's best example of an olfactive clash. These pretty flowers exude an almost carnal smell, superimposing, in a quasi-miraculous way, a flower-shop freshness, a camphorous violence (spicy and animalic) and a milky sweetness.
Which perfume do you wear?
To me it is a matter of mood, of seasons and of where I am. I always have five fragrances in my suitcase, just like I always travel with about 10 ties — I need 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.
Why is perfume a good vehicle for storytelling?
A perfume should smell differently on each person, so that everybody can project their own dream. It's a bit like reading a novel and seeing it in your head.
When you're working on a new fragrance, do you ever refer back to certain classics?
Even though I'm constantly influenced by my experiences, I always go back to classic fragrances. They're a timeless source of inspiration. The great classics were never about ingredients; they were about emotions.
How should you choose a signature fragrance?
A perfume reflects who you are, even if some people are reluctant to admit it! When choosing one you must ask yourself which scents draw you in; these qualities will undoubtedly reflect some of your own.
What do you think of oud?
I think there is a difference between perfumes called oud and perfumes that smell of oud. Perfumes called oud are often trying tell a story of the Orient, and they are saying it is rich and opulent to people who don't have much of a perfumer's vocabulary. It's a trend and people are rediscovering perfumes that are loud and lavish, a little bit like people discovering classical music. Now as for oud itself, it's sometimes a little bit too specific, a little bit too enigmatic and a little bit too peculiar, but I personally adore it. We actually made a perfume that probably has the biggest amount of natural oud from India, called The Night, which we worked on with Dominique Ropion, as a tribute to Middle Eastern perfumery.
Superstitious by Frédéric Malle x Alber Elbaz retails for Dhs1200 and is available at fredericmalle.com now. Also in other fragrance news, don't miss the first sneak peek at Chanel's Gabrielle fragrance launching September '17.