Edi­tions de Par­fums

Neue Luxury - - News - By Ali­son Kubler

Mem­o­ries are so of­ten ol­fac­tory. Although ev­ery scent is made of a sim­ple com­bi­na­tion of car­bon, ni­tro­gen, hy­dro­gen, oxy­gen and sul­fur, the ex­pe­ri­ence of scent is both sub­jec­tive and per­sonal. Se­lect­ing a fra­grance for an­other is of­ten one of life’s most in­ti­mate and dif­fi­cult acts. The sud­den ex­pe­ri­ence of a scent can con­jure up mem­o­ries of child­hood, love, fam­ily or a mo­ment seem­ingly lost in time. One of my most redo­lent mem­o­ries is of my mother spray­ing a mist on her wrists— and al­ways in her hair—just be­fore leav­ing the house. Lin­ger­ing long af­ter her pres­ence, the sig­na­ture would al­ways linger in her wardrobe or on her evening dress. I men­tion the scent and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to per­fumer Frédéric Malle, dur­ing our tele­phone in­ter­view and he im­me­di­ately un­der­stands what I mean. “It is a very lovely fra­grance,” he says el­e­gantly and suc­cinctly. As both fra­grance roy­alty and the per­fumer’s per­fumer, you know he means it.

While much of the cur­rent stock of mass pro­duced per­fumes fail to stim­u­late the imag­i­na­tion and de­liver a com­men­su­rate feel­ing of in­ti­macy and con­nec­tion to those re­spon­si­ble for their in­cep­tion, Malle has al­ways sought to reimag­ine this paradigm and re- es­tab­lish our con­nec­tion to maker. Edi­tions de Par­fums is the moniker of his much cel­e­brated col­lec­tion of un­com­pro­mis­ing and lux­u­ri­ous fra­grances that act as a ves­sel for this en­deavor. Born dur­ing an era where many per­fume lovers have felt in­creas­ingly dis­con­nected from the ar­ti­sans who were cap­tur­ing their imag­i­na­tions and bring­ing to life their au­to­bi­o­graphic dreams, Edi­tions de Par­fums re­de­fined this ubiq­ui­tous re­la­tion­ship by putting the di­rec­tion and vi­sion back into the hands of highly skilled ar­ti­sans. Un­phased with cater­ing for an elite group of fra­grance con­nois­seurs, Malle has com­bined his­tor­i­cal el­e­ments of per­fumery into a modern mar­ket while es­tab­lish­ing a plat­form for true cre­ative free­dom and ex­pres­sion of iden­tity.

In­spired by the pres­ti­gious French pub­lish­ing house Gal­li­mard, the term ‘edi­tion’ not only speaks to the se­rial na­ture of the col­lec­tion but cap­tures the na­ture of Malle’s role as both editor, pub­lisher and cu­ra­tor of sensory nar­ra­tives. Malle is well cel­e­brated for his will­ing­ness to sus­pend his own ego in favour of the pro­fes­sion­als with whom he works, go­ing so far as to po­si­tion their names atop of each out­come. Malle’s col­lab­o­ra­tions read like a roll call of doyens and demigods—jean- Claude El­lena, Do­minique Ro­pion, Mau­rice Rou­cel, Car­los Be­naim, Olivia Gi­a­co­betti, Pierre Bour­don, Ed­mond Roud­nit­ska, Ralf Sch­wieger, Edouard Flechier, Bruno Jo­vanovic, Michel Roud­nit­ska and Sophia Gro­js­man. They may not be house­hold names to the unini­ti­ated but in the world of fra­grance they are highly re­spected icon­o­clasts and ol­fac­tory lu­mi­nar­ies. The Edi­tions de Par­fums cre­ators are as im­por­tant as the fin­ished re­sult. In pro­fes­sional par­lance Malle is what is known as an ‘eval­u­a­tor’. He has an in­ti­mate un­der­stand­ing of the struc­ture of fra­grances, and an abil­ity to cri­tique scent, “fra­grance is part of life, it is a ‘live’ thing. It is not in­tel­lec­tual, it is not prac­ti­cal, it is a purely sen­sual ex­pe­ri­ence, part of one’s life. As much as food”. But of course.

Es­tab­lished in 2000, Edi­tions de Par­fums was a re­ac­tion of sorts to the plethora of fra­grances on the mar­ket, the cookie cut­ter smells that evince a cul­ture ob­sessed with celebrity. Malle’s de­sire to col­lab­o­rate with the worlds most tal­ented creatives came per­haps not only from a ge­netic pre­dis­posi­ton to per­fume, but a de­sire to re­in­force the in­di­vid­u­al­ism and speci­ficity of fra­grance. His grand­fa­ther, Serge Heftler-louiche, was no­tably the founder of Par­fums Chris­tian Dior— a foun­da­tion stone of sorts that would stim­u­late Malles’ cu­rios­ity and el­e­vate his knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the raw ma­te­ri­als used in the com­po­si­tion of per­fumes. Im­mersed in the world of per­fumery, Malle started his jour­ney in 1988 at the pres­ti­gious per­fume lab­o­ra­tory Roure Ber­trand Dupont hon­ing his in­nate skill, soon mov­ing on to work with de­sign­ers such as Chris­tian Lacroix, with whom he worked for four years be­fore launch­ing Edi­tions de Par­fums. Hav­ing since worked with di­verse clients rang­ing from Mark Bir­ley (of Annabel’s night­club fame) on his self ti­tled men’s fra­grance, to shoe de­signer Pierre Hardy on a range of lim­ited edi­tion trav­el­ling con­tain­ers for per­fume, in­spired by the work of artist Anish Kapoor. This all in ad­di­tion to the re­lease of can­dles, home scents, in­cense and body lo­tions.

Malle’s care­fully de­signed stores in Paris, New York and Lon­don em­brace the ex­pe­ri­en­tial di­men­sions of en­gag­ing with per­fume. Frus­trated by the in­dus­try’s propen­sity for us­ing paper blot­ters, Malle set out to find new ways for cus­tomers to first ex­pe­ri­ence a scent. For those of you who have ever run the gaunt­let of depart­ment store per­fume coun­ters, you will no doubt be fa­mil­iar with those who Malle refers to as ‘sup­posed ex­perts’. “I found it para­dox­i­cal that we work with per­fumers for a min­i­mum of six months to make a fra­grance and it has to se­duce some­one in only 10 sec­onds. But, if the right per­son wears the right fra­grance, it can be ex­tremely se­duc­tive, so then it is a well spent six months or more. So, for my own stores, I de­signed glass smelling ‘col­umns’, that you walk into, the pur­pose of which is akin to stand­ing in front of a mir­ror in a gar­ment store. These are ma­chines that al­low you to ex­pe­ri­ence the fra­grance in ac­tion, and see if this is the ‘aura’ you want to have. It’s a mir­ror.”

When Malle uses the term aura it makes com­plete sense; it is not a new age no­tion but a de­scrip­tion of how a fra­grance should com­pli­ment one’s own chem­istry. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween wearer and fra­grance is a com­pli­cated one; “it is not one size fits all’ ac­cord­ing to Malle. As we dis­cuss the no­tion, I’m re­minded of Pa­trick Suskind’s beau­ti­ful 1985 novel, Per­fume: The Story of a Mur­derer, whose cen­tral pro­tag­o­nist Gre­nouille, a se­rial killer, in­vents fra­grances that al­low him to in­cite lust in a mass mob, while at once cre­at­ing a scent for him­self that at­tracted peo­ple to­ward him. Gre­ouille says of his strat­egy, “Odours have a power of per­sua­sion stronger than that of words, ap­pear­ances, emo­tions, or will. The per­sua­sive power of an odour can­not be fended off, it en­ters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, im­bues us to­tally. There is no rem­edy for it.” As Suskind ex­plores the al­chem­i­cal pro­cesses within Per­fume, Malle

writes his own unique ol­fac­tory nar­ra­tive.

On the sub­ject of col­lab­o­ra­tion Malle elab­o­rates, “At one point in my life I wanted to be a pho­tog­ra­pher or an ar­chi­tect, but then I re­alised I was very good at judg­ing other peo­ple’s work and ex­chang­ing ideas. When I worked alone it was very lonely. I feel ex­tremely com­fort­able us­ing other peo­ple to work on my ideas and I have no pride in mak­ing things my­self en­tirely. Un­less you are a com­plete ge­nius, which is quite rare, and I am cer­tainly not one of those, you never work alone and you are never the sole owner of what you make. If we are good at what we do, we bring a lit­tle some­thing of own per­sona into what we make to cre­ate some­thing new and in­ter­est­ing.”

There is some­thing to be said of Malle priv­i­leg­ing ar­ti­sans and in­still­ing within them a sense of self as­sur­ance and con­fi­dence to evoke mem­o­ries by way of their fra­grances. It is with this con­fi­dence that those he con­tin­ues to com­mis­sion and ‘pub­lish’ stand at the fore­front of their fields. While these mas­ter per­fumers have been in­stru­men­tal in de­vel­op­ing some of the world’s most iconic fra­grances, it is with Edi­tions de Par­fums that they ex­pe­ri­ence true cre­ative free­dom de­cou­pled— to a large ex­tent—from the com­mer­cial pres­sures of­ten found within larger houses. Anal­o­gous to the finest lit­er­ary pub­lish­ing houses, Edi­tions de Par­fums is con­stantly ex­pand­ing. Out of re­spect for both clients and per­fumers, Malle is not in­ter­ested in ephemeral cre­ations but rather the per­son­alised sig­na­ture of each per­fumer and only af­ter: “Elim­i­nate all that is su­per­flu­ous or merely dec­o­ra­tive” as Frédéric Malle’s credo af­firms.

Malle, too, finds a cre­ative free­dom in this process and his 2013 col­lab­o­ra­tion with de­signer Dries Van Noten—van Notens’ first fra­grance—is evi- dence of this. “Dries started car­ry­ing my per­fumes in his stores in 2001, be­cause he didn’t have one of his own. When he de­cided to make a fra­grance it made sense to col­lab­o­rate, and we have the same taste for work­ing with things that are op­po­sites as it were, ex­pen­sive and in­ex­pen­sive, ex­otic and modern, like mixed pure rose from Turkey, which is ex­tremely pre­cious, mixed with some molecules that are a lab­o­ra­tory cre­ation.” Malle de­scribes Van Noten as a “bet­ter ver­sion of me in terms of style,” and pro­posed that Van Noten’s first fra­grance should be like a por­trait of him. “Dries is some­one who is quiet and re­served so it was a sober and in­tense col­lab­o­ra­tion, where I showed him things I thought would be right for him, and I lis­tened to him and we sort of evolved step by step to cre­ate some­thing that was right. The end fra­grance is him; a mix of ex­oti­cism and north­ern warmth.” The idea that a fra­grance might form a por­trait of a per­son is fas­ci­nat­ing, per­haps be­cause it is one thing that can­not be re­pro­duced. We can record a voice, take a pho­to­graph or pro­duce a film but we have not yet mas­tered the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a scent in its ab­sence. Per­haps some­thing that Suskind’s mur­der­ous al­chemist Gre­nouille was at­tempt­ing to do.

For many, per­fume is one of life’s lit­tle lux­u­ries. Our con­ver­sa­tion begs the ques­tion, what con­sti­tutes lux­ury? “To me it is a lack of com­pro­mise. I think too for lux­ury, you don’t have to feel some­one’s ‘hand’. It doesn’t have to be rare.” This may seem con­tra­dic­tory com­ing from such an ar­ti­sanal per­fumer, but Malle goes on to ex­plain that for him, “lux­ury can be a very well made crois­sant. It can also be an amaz­ing ring, or piece of jew­ellery, lux­ury can be ex­tremely sim­ple as long as it is the best of its kind. Where some­one has put their com­plete heart into it and the prod­uct is the work of some­one who is the best at their trade. I mean hav­ing my trousers ironed prop­erly is a com­plete lux­ury. When things are per­fect, that’s lux­ury.”

While per­fume has long been con­sid­ered one of the great art forms, its most fa­mous artists were long lost amongst the rub­ble and noise of mass pro­duc­tion and mass con­sump­tion. Malle’s fo­cus on the per­fumer and their long held de­sire to ren­der vis­i­ble emo­tion, in­tent and per­sonal nar­ra­tive has not only reeval­u­ated the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sa­vant and the ar­ti­san but rein­vented the way in which we ex­pe­ri­ence and re­late to fra­grance— a jour­ney el­e­vated fur­ther by a fo­cus on in­ti­macy, plea­sure and the ex­plo­ration of per­sonal iden­tity. In a beau­ti­ful echo of my child­hood, I now see my son long­ingly search­ing for my scent when we travel, fol­low­ing my per­fumed tracks as I move through­out our house. I sus­pect that this too is one of life’s lit­tle lux­u­ries to which I can now as­sign thanks to Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums.

Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums.

Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums. Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums. Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums.

Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums.

Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums.

Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums. Images courtesy of Frédéric Malle and Edi­tions de Par­fums.


Iden­tity would seem to be the gar­ment with which one cov­ers the naked­ness of the self, in which case its best that gar­ment be loose.

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