During Frederic Malle’s recent world-wind tour to launch his new home fragrance collection, I was one of the lucky few to snag an interview with him on his stop at Barneys New York Scottsdale. The grandson of Dior Perfumes founder Serge Heftler, Frederic made his own mark by collaborating with the world’s leading perfumers to launch Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle in 2000. He also created the phone booth styled smelling columns found in Barneys – scent chambers that allow perfume aficionados to experience the full bloom a fragrance before they buy. He is truly among perfume aristocracy and honestly, I was sweating the interview. Here’s this man so deeply entrenched in the couture perfume industry and here’s me with a nose keen enough to steer clear of fragrances “created” by celebrities (more about why I don’t want to smell like Britany Spears) but not confident enough to pick a scent worthy of cracking open my piggy bank. Plus, my French stinks.
But from the moment he bustled into Barneys’ beauty lounge, Frederic was genuinely warm and ingratiating. He had spent the evening before toasting to his new collection at a dinner party held in his honor sprinkled with Hollywood A-listers like Angelica Houston and was fresh off off the plane from L.A. After inspecting his meticulously placed candles and commenting on the custom-built glass display, he pulled two chairs together and off we went.
The obvious first question: Why a fragrance collection for someone of his personal scent stature? “Convincing the perfumers to do it, that was the hard part,” he said as he laughed. As Frederic explained it, candles were made to cover bad smells and fine perfumers generally do not lend their fine-tuned noses to home fragrances. But he snared his co-conspirators (namely perfumers Dominique Ropion, Sophia Grojsman and Carlos Benaïm) and brought the nine fragrances to life through the use of headspace technology – a complex process of decoding scents on a molecular level and recreating them for the nose and brain. His goal was to bring beautiful smells into the home that mimicked fresh-cut flowers or that recreated exotic places and alluring atmospheres.
After nearly three years of research and development, the home fragrance collection was born and visually, it is breathtaking to behold. The fire red, bullet-shaped base bears no label and looks like an art piece, not a candle. Candles are displayed in stores with a clear glass dome that encapsulates the scent. One whiff into the clear dome and prepare to be transported.
The collection of nine candles are of two types: either a replication of an atmosphere (Santal Cardamom is nothing less than a trip to an exotic corner of India) or an exact production of flowers (tell me that Un Gardenia dans La Nuit doesn’t smell exactly like sticking your face into a gardenia bush in full bloom).
The candles are simply a wondrous creation. Each one is made of varying combinations of vegetal and tallow waxes so that they melt at just the right temperature to paint the full picture of the fume. Frederic suggests burning them only an hour at a time and never more than 4 hours.
Our interview ended with me asking for his advice on how to pick out a perfume that you won’t hate after getting it home and wearing a few days. His advice was simple. “Don’t try to be like some else. Fragrance is very personal. Like life.”
The Frederic Malle Editions de Parfumes candles are $80 to $140 and available at Barneys New York.