I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pose some questions (via email) to Frédéric Malle around the time of the launch of Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle. I hope you enjoy hearing from him as much as I did.
Natalie: Before I get to questions about the scent specifically, I wanted to put the discussion in the context of how you have crafted the Editions de Parfums and how you work with your perfumers. You have stated that you wanted to create a line of fragrances that would “liberate” perfumers from the typical restraints of commercial perfumery, and that your role in the process is that of an editor working with an author. I’m curious about how this works practically. Do you select perfumers to create particular fragrances because their strengths match the vision you have for a particular project? Do you select perfumers you want to work with and then see what they bring to you and help them shape it? Another approach?
Frédéric Malle: When I started ‘Editions de Parfums’ ten years ago I was determined to liberate perfumers from the kinds of restraints often imposed by marketers and focus groups. I work as an editor works with writers. I give these ‘fragrance authors’ complete freedom to explore and express their ideas. Each perfumer is free to use the most innovative technologies and the rarest raw materials the industry offers. This freedom drives the artist to construct a scent without conventional boundaries and to refine his or her idea and formula to the most precise detail. When it is achieved, I publish it at Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.
N: Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle is the first designer collaboration in your Editions de Parfums. What was the impetus for this collaboration, and how do you see if fitting into your line as your collection of scents continues to grow?
FM: Ten years after founding Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, I decided to start a new perfume collection, which purpose was to translate the world of people and brands that I admire into scents: Perfume Portraits by Frédéric Malle.
Asking perfumers to work on the olfactory illustration of someone’s world meant losing the closeness that Editions de Parfums had allowed us. The ease of communication between two perfume experts, and the fact that until now we did not have to be accountable to anyone, was to be replaced by a ménage à trois! From now on we were going to be fed with the world and the requirements of a creator foreign to our trade, but capable of enriching our creative process with his aesthetics, thoughts and ideas. It certainly made up for this breach in our intimacy.
N: Dries van Noten designs are known for employing a rich color and textural palette, and for tailoring that is both effortless and elegant. The descriptors applied to the fragrance include words like exotic, evocative, and a “parallel” of the Dries van Noten world. You have said (I think it was in Allure magazine) that you were drawing upon not only the fashion, but also your friendship with Dries van Noten himself and the serenity of his home near Antwerp. Without asking you to offer a literal interpretation of the scent, can you tell us more about some parallels you see between the fragrance and the fashion house?
FM: The designs of Dries van Noten have always made me think of those Nordic interiors, where baroque furniture and modern paintings, or other unexpected combinations, naturally come together. In this part of the world the clean style of each decor and the cool local light allow every element to fully express themselves. Dries van Noten’s world also shares with these very particular atmospheres a sense of comfort, never sacrificing to the idea of “style at any price”, and never giving way to ostentation. This aesthetic – composed of very diverse elements put side by side – and this sense of well-being are very close to the way I see my profession. As soon as we decided to work together, my mission was to translate Dries van Noten’s world into a scent, all the while avoiding to simply translate a few individual elements of that rich alchemy into a scent, as Dries Van Noten’s planet is too complex to be pinned down that way.
N: Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle was created by Bruno Jovanovic. How did you come to select him for the work, and what surprised or delighted you about his approach or the perfume he ultimately created?
FM: As soon as Dries and I decided to work together, my mission was to translate Dries Van Noten’s world into a scent, all the while avoiding to simply translate a few individual elements of that rich alchemy into a scent, as Dries Van Noten’s planet is too complex to be pinned down that way. My first move was to ask Bruno Jovanovic to work on this project, as he is a great listener, his perfume technique allows him to master any subject, and he has a taste for warm scents that seemed adapted to my perception of Dries’ desire. Bruno came up with the idea of creating a perfume built around natural sandalwood, which he chose for its softness and its character, and the fact that it is simultaneously exotic and evocative of the tradition of great classic perfumes.
N: Thank you for taking the time to share more about Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle and the creative process. It’s been a pleasure.
I’m very intrigued by the idea of a new “branch” of Editions de Parfums, as it sounds like there may be more to come in the category of “perfume portraits” (I’ve heard that term before). I’m always interested in the interplay of fashion and fragrance, and I’ve been trying to think of ideal designer-perfumer collaborations. Any thoughts? Share in the comments! Also indicate in the comments if you want to be entered in a draw for a 1 ml sample of Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle. I’ve got just that little bit to give away.
Photo of Frédéric Malle courtesy Parisien Salon.