Feature
Frédéric Malle

The Slow Reveal

Frédéric Malle on the pleasure of perfumes that take longer to love

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Instant gratification doesn’t always equal the greatest olfactory reward. And, with a nose for innovation, perfume’s master curator Frédéric Malle is first to overturn the concept of love-at-first-sniff. Now, he unveils Rose & Cuir: a new exclusive created by Jean-Claude Ellena, the perfumer behind L'Eau D'Hiver and Cologne Bigarade. In an ode to the Mistral winds of the south of France, rose is lifted skyward with a gust of bright cassis and timut pepper. As this quiet storm lands, Frédéric Malle shares his story in scent, and suggests why it’s often the slow burning scents that might be worth a second spritz…

What most excites you when you’re developing a new fragrance?To create a new type of sensibility. Generally, there’s a Rubik’s Cube aspect to this, of getting all the facets perfect – there’s a geeky side where you want to make it work like a cuckoo clock. There is a mechanical aspect to perfume, every step is a little mystery that you have to solve and it’s sort of exciting. Also, sharing work with artists has been feeding me for years.

A lot of perfume shopping is geared towards the quick fix. How can we become more patient when trying new perfumes and draw out their delights over time?Never look for an instant reward. Otherwise you are shopping for the tune of the summer – you like the song for two weeks and then you never want to hear it again. Take a moment to think about who you are. How do you want to come across? Once you understand this, you are in a good place to judge a fragrance.

The few that you like the best, wear on your arm. Twenty minutes later, do you still see yourself smelling like that for weeks? When you are alone with the smell without the imagery, without the packaging, do you still feel the same way? If you are true to yourself, then you will find something that is really going to radiate.

Is falling in love with a difficult perfume about
a moment of revelation or a slowly acquired intimacy?It can be both. Some fragrances require time
to understand, but once you have been touched by their addictive nature you can’t leave them. Sometimes you fall in love at first sight but then it’s difficult to sustain. When you fall in love over time the slow burners can be very powerful.

Is there one vivid scent memory that stands out for you?My life has been in scent-o-scope in a way. I remember the scent of girls that I fell in love with, the smell of walking on the snow in the middle of the night, and you smell those burning fires. I remember the big bouquet of Casablanca lily that was at my grandmother’s summerhouse. Professionally, one of the biggest shocks was when we decided to add roses to what became Portrait of a Lady, and all of a sudden, it went into hyper-speed. It was something so different and we had done something which we never do; we had changed course on the middle of the perfume and it became a potential masterpiece.

What is it in the writing of certain fragrances of yours that means we need time to get to know them?If you think of fragrances like dresses, some are easy to wear every day, whereas others are almost part of another era. Anything that references the past can be hard for people to bring into their world. For example, with our Une Fleur de Cassie, it was really a scent of the late 1920s, early ’30s, when culture and the arts were moving towards surrealism. There is a smell to it that demands exploration and unmuzzling.

Where do you seek inspiration for your scents?Perfumery itself really. We really work to try to take this business further, and I work with very good artists that either have ideas or I have ideas. It comes in two steps, first it can be either a raw material or an olfactory concept and then very soon, when we start sketching it, it becomes almost human, it’s like a person. That person or the image that this potential smell projects helps me; it stays in my head to the end and helps me to stay on course.

Tell us about a fragrance outside your Editions that took you a while to appreciate.Mitsouko by Guerlain. It comes from another world, a relic of amazing elegance from the past. You are first intrigued so as not to be dismissive, then you question yourself about the risk of enjoying something you do not understand. But then, when the appreciation clicks, it is a secret kind of love that becomes personal. Only you know why or can explain it.

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