Fragrance Footnotes from Frédéric Malle

By  April 13, 2012

As the grandson of Dior perfumes founder Serge Heftler, Frédéric Malle was born to create fragrances. He has worked with some of the finest perfumers in the world to elevate industry to a higher luxurious state. Glam recently got the chance to chat with the skilled scent master to gain insight on his process when developing a perfume as well as his views on celebrity fragrances. Check out a few of the highlights below:


On his inspiration:
My inspiration really comes from the perfumers and conversations that I have with them. This company is really about them and about trying to get ideas from them. I have Géranium Pour Monsieur that came from a bottle of this sort of ancient mouthwash, and I shared it with Domenique’s [Ropion] and said, “What do you think of that? Look at how that’s made. Maybe we can sort of take that part and make a fragrance out of that.” We don’t think, “Ok, this year, everybody’s going to wear purple, so we should do a fragrance sort of matching purple.” When I make a fragrance, I always, I never think of that one [place in] time. I think of trying to make a classic. Musc Ravageur — I’ve been selling for 12 years when you think of it. People still discover it as a new fragrance, which I like.

On product testing methods:
So there are really two types of tests: there are quantitative tests and qualitative tests. Qualitative tests are to get people to tell you if things sort of work together, and I think that’s the most important thing – to make sure that the whole package works. The other [are] quantitative studies, which involves setting a benchmark for the fragrance they want to kill. But the thing is you can do something interesting, you can ask questions. The best way is to first show them the ad campaign, if they don’t like it then they have to bring in someone else because already it’s a no-go. Then give them the fragrance they like best and let them live with it for three weeks. They have to come back with their thoughts about the fragrance. That’s the only way to test a fragrance really well, but me I don’t test. I don’t test at all.
On celebrity fragrances:
I’m not against celebrity fragrances, under two conditions: first, you have to be dealing with a celebrity who has a brain and a world and that is a really inspiring celebrity. If it’s just to sort of borrow fame to be able to hit people, then you don’t have much to work from. It’s not very inspiring. The other thing is that once you have such a celebrity, and there are a few, I think what’s interesting is to let the celebrity do their thing on [the scent]. I’m not the biggest fan of Sarah Jessica Parker, but I can tell you the first fragrance that came out under her name, she worked on it. So in a way, it makes sense that would work because the people who like Sarah Jessica Parker like her fragrance because it’s a coherent world.
On his method for crafting a celebrity fragrance:
I would love to do a celebrity fragrance myself. I would not advertise it, but if I had someone that had a real world, like they were a couturier or something like that. You don’t make a fragrance to somebody’s skin, you make the fragrance of the aura of that person, and it gives of someone of the mind who very often are artists, and many celebrities are artists. Artists talk to artists quite easily, even if they have a different language. If I were to make a fragrance with Christian Louboutin tomorrow, I would not make a fragrance that smells like a frigid person. I would try to make it as sexy as possible. So we’d go in that direction, and then I would test and make sure that the same sort of images come to mind when you think of Christian’s shoes. That’s the most important thing.
On fragrance trends:
Today, we are sort of stuck with people playing safe, also at the molecular level for two reasons. First, perfumers have to play it safe themselves, because when they work for all these big companies, they know that the fragrances are going to be tested, so they know that they can’t take much of a risk. So they ask them for molecules and play it safe, which is stupid when you think of it because those molecules, playing safe, are so similar to one another that you don’t need a new one to make a different fragrance. But, like I said before, when we make a fragrance, we never try to make a fragrance for that year or the year to come… I mean, look at Chanel No. 5., 1921. It was not a trend.