Master Perfumer Frederic Malle Shares His Secrets To Sweet-Smelling Success

In the fragrance world, Frederic Malle is a true icon and vanguard. While many scents today bank on the identity of a celebrity or designer, Malle's focus is purely on crafting the most exquisite blend of notes your nose has ever had the pleasure of sniffing. The fragrances in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle are unique, unexpected, and artisanal.
To accomplish this, Malle adopted the unheard-of philosophy of pairing up with some of the finest noses in the industry and giving them full artistic freedom over the fragrances. With this revolutionary (at the time) ideology — coupled with his choice to include the perfumer's name on the bottle, almost like a byline — Malle singlehandedly lifted perfumers into the same superstar stratosphere as the celebrities and designers who currently rule the fragrance counter.
Here, Malle talks about how he got his start in the industry, what it is about fragrance that inspires him, and why he's not a fan of amateur perfumers.
How did you get your start in the industry?
"I was born in a family that was involved in the industry: My mother worked at Christian Dior Perfumes and my grandfather created the company, so I was interested in perfume from a very young age. A man called Jean Amic, who used to be the head of the best [fragrance house] at the time — called Roure, now merged into Givaudan —thought I had potential and hired me to become his assistant."
You're known for very sophisticated but still unique fragrances. How do you come up with the scent profiles that comprise them?
"We generally talk with perfumers. Either they or I come up with an idea which evolves as we are talking, then we start making trials to assess if our dream can come true. Once we have a general shape, we then spend days perfecting it."
What do you think is the mark of a good perfume?
"Originality, sex appeal, beauty, and comfort."
What are your thoughts on the power of scent over our emotions and feelings?
"I believe that this is one of these chicken and egg situation. One uses a perfume to match his mood, then the perfume comforts that mood. A perfume can generate a feeling or an atmosphere, but this is a part that I leave to my instinct."
If you could only smell like one note for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
"What a bore! I would do another job. Ingredients are all interesting, but, by my book, they exist to be combined with one another. Combining them is what really interests me."
When you are creating a scent, do you envision the type of woman who is going to wear it?
"It is generally people — fragrances are for living people — who I reference. I generally have one person or a type of person in mind and I stick to what I think is right for him or her. This is how I keep going in the same direction."
What is your advice for anyone who is interested in getting into the fragrance industry? How can they start their fragrance journey at home?
"Perfume making is a very professional business. One can't decide one day that he or she is a perfumer. One needs to learn and work hard for years before being good at it. So, my advice would be to go to perfumery school and stay humble!"
Any advice for the at-home perfumer on how to create their own scents?
"Sorry, but I don't believe in at-home perfumers. One doesn't make a perfume like he makes a salad. Out of respect for the people who I work with, who are real perfumers and who have devoted their lives to our business, I can't encourage these [amateur] perfumers."
Photo: Courtesy of Frederic Malle

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