“Frédéric Malle is currency — it’s the top restaurants in Paris; it’s Park Avenue,” says Frédéric Malle’s Global Brand Expert Margaret Magnuson as we browse the fragrance collection in front of us. So coveted is Frédéric Malle that society’s upper echelons — along with luxury insiders — travel across the globe to buy it. Parisian fragrance perfumer, and grandson of the founder of Parfums Christian Dior, Frédéric Malle turned the world of perfumes on its head 19 years ago with his eponymous brand of luxury scents that revolutionised a market once dominated by commercial and celebrity-endorsed scents. His ideology — where the perfumer and not the brand is at the forefront of the scent — behind his brand proved progressive. Frédéric Malle the brand calls itself a perfume publishing house. Malle sits at the helm as an editor, working with some of the most illustrious noses world over, and gifting them creative freedom to create scents with no limitations on time, costs, or ingredients used. The result? Fragrances with extraordinary depth and complexity, boasting luxuriant and rare ingredients.
Magnuson, who was in town to launch the brand at the new escentials ION Orchard, sat down with us and gave us an insight to the world of Frédéric Malle
Why the decision to launch in Singapore?
We think about it as being a hub for many people throughout the world, like a key city that works as an intersection for different customers. It’s our way of greeting customers globally, much like our stores in New York and London.
The niche fragrance market is booming with many new brands entering the market. What are your thoughts on this trend?
We are now in the midst of seeing maverick pioneer brands like Frédéric Malle creating new followers. I think there’s a perfume for everyone. It’s really what about suits you. Customers who are discriminating come back to the original brand leaders. If the products speak for themselves and are good, the brand will have repeat customers. As for Frédéric Malle, we have never lost our customers; we’ve only been gaining.
What makes Frédéric Malle unique, as compared to other legacy brands?
There are a couple of factors. First, Frédéric Malle himself works in a very different way. It is not a marketing company, but a true perfume establishment. He has 30 years of experience working with top perfumers in the lab, and this completely sets the company apart. Second, perfumers have a totally blank slate. They can spend what they want — time, money. If you were to talk to a fashion designer or even a perfumer, those are two things they almost never get. Frédéric Malle has taken away that pressure, and allow them to create like artists. What you’ll get are perfumes that are truly extraordinary.
How do the perfumers bring their different scent approaches to the brand?
The idea of the company is that Frédéric Malle wanted to work with his friends. They are not only top perfumers but also his friends. This ranges from Dries Van Notes to Alber Elbaz, to Dominique Ropion to Carlos Benaïm. Each of them has his or her own strength. Frédéric Malle understands that strength and he uses it. Think of it like the movies. Like creating a legacy piece with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. They know Frédéric is able to bring out their best talent, whether they’re architects or fashion designers.
How does fragrance profiling work at Frédéric Malle?
The client would expect to have personalised service which involves observation. We get a good look at who you are. And then we ask you questions in order to understand your circumstances, such as where you live; where you’re going with the perfume; what you want to achieve etc. We then assign a perfume that helps you be seen, in a way you wish to be seen.
What’s the Frédéric Malle clientele like? Do they differ across countries and regions?
No matter where we are, we have top luxury clients. It would be the same people who are looking for luxury watches. Dries Van Noten or Hermès are the brands that our people shop for. They tend to be real connoisseurs, Even if they know absolutely nothing about perfume, they expect a kind of service that’s quiet, personal, respectful, and not pushy. The client base is truly a luxury sophisticated customer.
What is the most popular Frédéric Malle scent?
It depends on the city. We have nine that go beyond regions. Carnal Flower is one of them. It’s regarded as a power perfume in Hollywood and the entertainment industry, as well as in tech and Silicon Valley. It’s a perfume that’s about redefining tuberose. When you smell it, it has a flower shop vegetal freshness, a translucency. Right underneath it lies a dark milky sensuality. This combination rests within the skin and exudes in your own skin. It becomes a magnetic perfume. It’s sexy, fresh, sophisticated, and adopted by women in LA, New York and London. It is a true job of a great perfumer.
Portrait of a Lady is a famous perfume by Dominique Ropion. It’s a magnetic, operatic, practically baroque rose oriental. This one leaves one of the most mysterious and enigmatic trails in perfumery and is distinguished by an unprecedented dosage of Turkish rose. This makes it very expensive, and is not for everyone. None of them are. It’s created for people who want distinction and is the opposite of mass.
What’s a common theme between the scents?
Frédéric Malle has an interesting editorial signage. No matter which perfumer he works with, he needs to make sure the fragrance fuses with your skin. When you wear a perfume, it becomes you. There is nothing in between. When someone is around you, they’ll believe that magnificent smell has become you. It literally comes from your skin. A great perfume can achieve that. Most don’t. To be honest, a lot try. It’s not an easy thing. When you think of it, there are only a few masterpieces in the world for a reason. For one, you need tremendously good technique. And a really good idea. You have to have both and then a great perfume can result.
Portrait of a Lady carries a kind of enigmatic signature of a lifetime. Truly one of the most beautiful baroque perfumes you’ll smell. It’s based on oriental notes. sandalwood, patchouli, incense, musk. And has one of the best rose proportions in the industry. Approximately 400 roses are used for every 100 ml. It’s unbelievable. Yet if you wear it, the scent is not overly rosy. But you have that nobility.
That’s an incredible dosage of rose. Are these high concentrations typical of a Frédéric Malle scent?
When perfumers work with Frédéric Malle, they know they can spend whatever they want. And they do. There is no other way for brands to copy this. Like creating a great car such as a Jaguar, a Maserati. You have to have the goods in order to make that. Our clients know the real thing when they smell it.
What’s next for Frédéric Malle?
There is a new scent called Rose and Cuir created by Jean Claude Ellena. This is his very first perfume project outside of Hermès after he retired. Frédéric Malle and Jean Claude Ellena reunited and they did a perfume that’s very bright and luminous against something that’s dark and stormy, which is leather. It’s a leather accord, juxtaposed with a bright, luminous rose. Yet there’s no rose in it. The scent comes from rose geranium and pepper. It’s an elegant, light, fresh smell yet something dark and sober. When you smell a woman in it, she’s composed, elegant, restrained.
After this, new scents will be revealed. We’re also launching the brand in Beijing, and Shanghai.