PER­FECT PAIR­ING Al­ber El­baz col­lab­o­rates with Frédéric Malle.

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents -

THE HIS­TORY OF SCENT

is a tale of en­coun­ters be­tween cou­turi­ers and per­fumers: Coco Chanel and Ernest Beaux;chris­tian Dior and Ed­mond Roud­nit­ska. How­ever, few have been as en­thu­si­as­tic as Frédéric Malle upon join­ing forces with Al­ber El­baz, the cre­ative ge­nius for­merly of Lan­vin and Yves Saint Lau­rent. Their meet­ing was ev­i­dently an artis­tic coup de foudre, the fra­grance it has led to — Su­per­sti­tious — an ex­pres­sion of fra­ter­nal love.

“You don’t meet an Al­ber ev­ery five min­utes!” Malle de­clares as we dis­cuss the col­lab­o­ra­tion at his store in Pic­cadilly’s Burling­ton Ar­cade in London.“there is some­thing about Al­ber where you re­ally want to give your best — mostly out of gen­eros­ity, but also out of pride, be­cause you can’t put your name to one like his with­out want­ing to live up to it.”

Malle is a self-ef­fac­ing chap:“all your child­hood, you are told not to talk about your­self, and now all any­one wants me to do is go into talk­ing-about-my­self mode.” He has only him­self to blame, since Mon­sieur Malle is held in global re­gard for his pi­o­neer­ing bril­liance within the per­fume world, not only beget­ting a cor­nu­copia of what are al­ready con­sid­ered 21st-cen­tury clas­sics, but also chang­ing the face of the in­dus­try as a whole.

I first met him back in the au­tumn of 2004, fol­low­ing my nose in search of Paris’s most talked-about new fra­grance tal­ent.the grand­son of Serge Heftler-louiche, the founder of Par­fums Chris­tian Dior, and the nephew of the film di­rec­tor Louis, Malle was al­ready be­ing her­alded as “the Guer­lain of to­mor­row” and “king of Parisian per­fume”.

Over the years, peo­ple have only grown more pas­sion­ate about the man and his oeu­vre.when I tell friends I will be in­ter­view­ing him, sev­eral turn stalk­er­ish. For what he achieved with his Edi­tions de Par­fums Fred­eric Malle was noth­ing less than a re­nais­sance of ar­ti­san­ship within the in­dus­try: a re­vival of se­ri­ous­ness and au­then­tic­ity that res­cued the sci­ence of scent from the marketing ba­nal­i­ties that had over­taken it.

As edi­tor to his au­thor-per­fumers, he in­vited names such as Jean-claude El­lena, Mau­rice Rou­cel and Olivia Gi­a­co­betti to cre­ate mas­ter­pieces free from the con­straints of fash­ion and fi­nance.then, in the sum­mer of 2014, it was an­nounced that his brand was be­ing pur­chased by Estée Lauder: cue hor­ror that Paris’s prince of ‘niche’ was sell­ing his soul for Amer­i­can big bucks.

His acolytes had mis­read their cham­pion: ‘niche’ be­ing a word for which Malle re­serves a pal­pa­ble dis­taste.“we grew slowly with very, very good things, but my aim was to have an im­pact upon this busi­ness,” he says.“i wanted to be large like Her­mès is large.”

Malle mea­sures out his life in fla­cons, like Prufrock with his cof­fee spoons. Read­ing be­tween the lines, was he feel­ing jaded prior to the El­baz al­liance? “My life has be­come very busy. Hav­ing some­one as pow­er­ful, chal­leng­ing and in­spir­ing as Al­ber was like a breath of fresh air. It took me back to what I was do­ing when I started this com­pany,” he replies. El­baz, for his part, has spo­ken about the joy of the ex­pe­ri­ence, ob­serv­ing, “It’s not about a col­lab­o­ra­tion, it’s about friend­ship and re­spect.” The brief was a com­pelling one:“al­ber wanted the smell of a dress, the scent of this very smart Parisian wo­man. I al­ways saw Al­ber as some­one ca­pa­ble of lov­ing women like Saint Lau­rent did, but mak­ing them them­selves, not dress­ing them like Bar­bie dolls,” Malle says.

“A dress can be any­thing, but Al­ber has this style. I thought of fem­i­nin­ity be­cause that’s what he did at Lan­vin. I thought of some­thing that doesn’t feel like ar­chi­tec­ture, while be­ing very ar­chi­tec­tural. And I thought that, de­spite him grow­ing up abroad, Al­ber’s style has the cul­ti­va­tion of all the great Parisian cou­turi­ers.”

I tell Malle that, on the oc­ca­sion I met him back in 2004, I also vis­ited rue du Faubourg Saint-hon­oré to press my nose to Lan­vin’s win­dow, swoon­ing over its jewel-coloured cock­tail dresses.“ex­actly!” he cries.“i was ex­actly think­ing of those.what would this type of wo­man wear? That time­less fem­i­nine style. I re­alised that what I had been work­ing on with the per­fumer Do­minique Ro­pion echoed what Al­ber had in mind. We had been try­ing to re­de­fine the flo­ral-alde­hy­dic type, seen in Chanel No. 5 and [Lan­vin] Ar­pège, which was huge but has com­pletely dis­ap­peared. “The alde­hyde is a very cold, al­most cut­ting smell,” he con­tin­ues. “It has a sort of dag­ger feel to it in the mid­dle of this lav­ish, flo­ral volup­tuous­ness. then there’ s an am­bery as­pect to the base, there’s a lot of ve­tiver in it, some musk, and a sexy, an­i­mal­is­tic el­e­ment. And Al­ber loved it, and chose it like Dior chose Miss Dior and Chanel chose No. 5.” What is clear is that Malle’s col­lab­o­ra­tors — be they de­sign­ers such as Dries Van Noten be­fore El­baz, or per­fumers such as Ro­pion — have to have ideas, in­tel­lect, a hin­ter­land.with El­baz, there was an­other affin­ity, as the de­signer him­self elab­o­rates: “We are both su­per­sti­tious. In our pre-pro­grammed work there re­mains chance, ac­ci­den­tal meet­ings, sur­prises, su­per­sti­tion.”

The re­sult is pure serendip­ity — the kind of magic that en­sues when great minds meet.

“Hav­ing some­one as pow­er­ful, chal­leng­ing and in­spir­ing as Al­ber was like a breath of fresh air. It took me back to what I was do­ing when I started this com­pany.” FRÉDÉRIC MALLE

What hap­pened when the king of Parisian per­fume, FRÉDÉRIC MALLE, joined forces with master cou­turier AL­BER EL­BAZ. By HAN­NAH BETTS

Fred­eric Malle Su­per­sti­tious eau de par­fum, $598 (100ml). Top: Malle with Al­ber El­baz.

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