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terça-feira, 8 de março de 2016

An Interview with Frédéric Malle: The Development of Éditions de Parfums

by: Evgeniya Chudakova, Serguey Borisov

The Russian perfume community recently had a chance to enjoy the opportunity to meet Frédéric Malle of Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and ask him some questions during his visit to Moscow.  Here is Sergey's and Evgeniya's interview with one of the most important representatives of modern niche perfumery.
Frederic Malle
Sergey: How did you get started in perfumery? What did you do while working for the fragrance company Roure Bertrand Dupont?
Frédéric: God, I was a little boy! Roure Bertrand Dupont means a lot to me... I really did not want to get into this business, that was almost too feminine. It never felt like work; I was always fascinated by it. What I wanted to do if I hadn't gotten into this business,was to have a job similar to a man who I admired, who I had a lot of love for - it was Jacques Helleu who was art-director at Chanel. And I thought maybe I could do that.
So, I started to learn history and I worked for photographers. I was then working in advertising so I did some jobs that would possibly lead me there, but I wasn't so sure. I was young, I was a bit lost and it was too close and still I was attracted to it. I thought if I wanted to know this job I needed to know every single thing about it - printing, photography, advertising, marketing, etc.
People in the perfume industry called Jean Amic "the guru"; he was the head of Roure Bertrand Dupont and later became the head of Givaudan. You know he was behindOpium, he was behind Obsession, he was behind KenzoLoulou...all these successful fragrances of that time. He also had a perfume school. And this man was a very keen observer of human nature.... I knew him as he was a friend of our family. And one day he offered me the opportunity to become his assistant. So, I was hired as Jean Amic's assistant and that was a dream job.
Sergey Borisov at the Frédéric Malle interview
And there I did really learn how to smell. I also learned the market by heart. In those days, each fragrance was very easy to recognise because they were all very different from one another and they were not that many. And I was like a magician for these people because I was saying 'Oh, you smell this, you smell that....' I was sent to perfumery school for a few weeks and there I was left alone in a room that was all white, as if I was in a mad house,  where basically all the ingredients were classified and you sort of learn the evaporation. So, after two months in a mad house I was going to see perfumers like Edouard Flechier, like Jean Guichard, like Françoise Caron, big stars... and we had become friends. They took pity on me; maybe they thought I could be useful in the future and they invested in me and every evening I had a little class. So it was a very deluxe way of learning perfumery because I learnt it from the very best. And during the day I worked on my own smelling things, and in the evening I went to ask questions.
And one day I was asked by Jean Amic to do a selection of fragrances and to show them to the client. So I ended up in front of the chairman of Nina Ricci with Jean Amic, I remember it was late in the afternoon and I knew the things so well and so by heart that he thought I was a perfumer. And Jean Amic was so funny, he kicked me and said "Go on, you made this." And I sort of kept going on [smiling]... and that's how I started.
And then I stayed there for a while and then went to England which was much more mass-market for them. And then I left and thought that I was going to become the French Ann Gottlieb - a woman in the USA who is a go-between for marketing people and perfumers; I thought that there was a new breed of people in this industry who were deciding to do the fragrances. And a year before they were selling dog food; they had no idea of what they would do. They were just very savvy marketing people. And unfortunately sometimes my compatriots lack modesty and the minute you enter one of these great companies you become an expert-perfumer. That I didn't foresee. I could be useful for translating between  marketing people and perfumers. And I thought I could work with Ann Gottlieb but it didn't work.
So I started working on the whole fragrance process myself, because after all I was brought up with this, my mother was in the industry. I had been doing my little thing before with advertising, photography and all of this and so I started making fragrances as a whole. Then I was consulting for something Jean-Louis Dumas of Hermès asked me to do and I also worked for a few years with Christian Lacroix, for LVMH.

"...all these fragrances sometimes had names, but the juice in them was always all the same and they had to aim for the middleground. I mean that to work in a self-service environment you needed to make fragrances like you made fragrances for odorants, the sort of crap that pleases everybody. So the business changed so much that to be honest I thought that it was going to die; all the major houses were producing the same things."
 
Then I realised that business had changed completely and what I had thought of doing, which was doing fragrances a bit like L'Eau d'Issey or Angel with designers and translating designers' words into fragrances, was so wrong because distribution had changed. You could not sell these very personal fragrances if you had a self-service distribution. And after that, all these fragrances sometimes had names, but the juice in them was always all the same and they had to aim for the middleground. I mean that to work in a self service environment you needed to make fragrances like you made fragrances for odorants, the sort of crap that pleases everybody. So the business changed so much that to be honest I thought that it was going to die; all the major houses were producing the same things. People stopped wearing fragrances; they preferred to buy an Apple gadget, to go on a trip or something else. And all the people I knew in France and the USA were always wearing fragrances...all of a sudden you lived in a world where the most sophisticated people either wore old perfumes or nothing. Because there was no alternative. It was a very depressing world at that time.
Now it's much more funny, I can  tell you. I would go and see Pierre Bourdon, who is the perfumer I worked the most with, or Jean-Claude Ellena and saw that they were asked the things that were so boring to them - no money, no time, market tests, marketing people who didn't know what rose or patchouli was. They were a little bit depressed. So my idea was to link those more demanding clients to the rest of humans. Made-to-measure perfumes wouldn't work as I knew that a good perfumer takes the same amount of time to make a formula that will be available for a million people as would be available for just one person. For our business, this doesn't work. Only perfumers that don't have a job elsewhere can do that. And then I thought about a collection of fragrances developed by perfumers.
I called my company Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, but initially it was calledNouvelles Éditions de Parfums because my family had a publishing house for films that was called Nouvelle Edition Film. My father started it for my uncle who was a movie director. And working with my friends first of all I wanted them to have their names on the bottles and I'd realised that my job was very similar to a publisher and so reduced the name to Éditions de Parfums.
And getting back to Roure Bertrand, I will always remember that once I entered Jean Amic's lab, I felt completely at home and it was very strange and I realised that I would do that probably for the rest of my life; I knew that before I started. It was a sort of deep feeling of knowing that after all, I will specialise in this.
Evgeniya: You said that while creating perfumes you had some images in your head. Are any of your perfumes derived from the films of your uncle, Louis Malle?
Frédéric: When I worked on French Lover with Pierre, I'd just moved to America and it took me a while to re-adapt to New York. Though I'd spent a part of my life there, the city I met was quite different from the one I knew. I was going back and forth with Pierre on this and I suppose I was very nostalgic for the Paris of my youth. And one of my favourite films by Louis was Feu Follet which is very, very autobiographical and it reminded me very much of my father and my uncle somehow. And when I worked on French Lover I was thinking about Feu Follet and the character of Maurice Ronet which is a bit depressing, I would say. And the funny thing is that my son who was always interested in movies, watched Feu Follet with me when I was working on this fragrance and afterwards he said that I dressed totally like this character, same suit, same tie and I hadn't even noticed. These things are very close. But I never think of any character before the development process - all characters come as we start working on a fragrance, and when the perfume becomes more tangible I use the characters and images from my head to keep it close. But it's a completely random system. And Louis's films are part of me but it has nothing to do with the fragrances.
Evgeniya Chudakova (at center) with Frédéric Malle
Evgeniya: You have said that you created a monster by putting perfumers' names on the bottles (Frédéric said 'I've created a monster - now perfumers talk to journalists more than to me, they've became stars - that's another problem'), but aren't you proud of it as a fair or just approach? Doesn't it change the moral face of the industry?
Frédéric: Of course I was joking; It's 95% percent good. The only thing I want to say is that not everybody is a Perfumer. Now everybody is coming out as artists...every single chic woman in New York has a line of fabric that all looks the same; everyone is a decorator; one prepares a salad and becomes a chef.... But it takes ten to fifteen years of working every day to become a decent perfumer and in this world of immodesty there are a lot of people that pretend to be perfumers. But I'm very happy for real perfumers, those who are really working in these important labs, who went to perfumery school, who worked modestly for years. So, the process of making a perfume is finally being recognised. For example, the man who created Poison, Edouard Flechier, was not even invited to the launch party. I'm glad that I've turned things around.

"I'm very happy for real perfumers, those who are really working in these important labs, who went to perfumery school, who worked modestly for years. So, the process of making a perfume is finally being recognised. For example, the man who created Poison, Edouard Flechier, was not even invited to the launch party. I'm glad that I've turned things around."
 
But honestly I never understood why no one had done it before, because for me, even aside from the justice, it was normal...I mean, they [perfumers] are very interesting people, each of them is different, each of them has their own style, each of them is an artist, maybe not like Mozart but like a very good designer. And we had the same pathetic stories for perfume advertising - for one good story there were three hundred terrible ones. And for perfume advertising all we needed to do was just talk about our business, of our everyday business, the ingredients we use that are pretty cool when you think of them, whether they are chemicals made by people at the Nobel prize level, very important scientists, or naturals that we get around the world and refine with amazing technologies and perfumers who are all full-fledged artists. None of that was used in the past. I think it was just silly. And when I had this idea I was sort of saying to myself that there must be a problem, but there was not.
Evgeniya: Is there something that you've never been asked but think is important to talk about?
Frédéric: [thinking] I suppose the thing that people don't understand, and it's the most difficult question with us, is "When do you know you are finished working on a fragrance in development?" And I think there is a time of completion because at some point it is a very good fragrance in a very systematic way, and at another point it just clicks and becomes obvious. But it's a very difficult thing to explain and that's why people don't ask about it. These are sort of the more intimate aspects of our work.
Evgeniya at far left, Frédéric Malle at center, Sergey at right
Evgeniya: Thank you very much, Monsieur Malle.

Following numerous queries from our readers we have an update.
UPDATE: Additional question from Sergey Borisov:
The question that agitates every brand fan is now that Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle has been sold to Estée Lauder, what can we expect?
Frédéric: Nothing new, everything will be the same as previously. Maybe, Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle will become a bit more luxurious [slightly smiles]. My clients don't have to be worried. I respect Estée Lauder; this company was built from nothing, as mine was, and there are real professionals working there. They know how to treat brands. Listen, if Estee Lauder wanted to create a mass-market brand, they would rather buy a mass brand and do it the best way possible. But as they acquired a luxury-brand and left me leading it, it means that they want to make it the best one in this category.
For sure, it's a marketing term: "niche" means a small brand for a certain circle of consumers. Not a single businessman wants all his lifelong to be a small company; everyone wants to grow up, wants a big future. Me too, I never wanted to be "niche", my company was oriented to luxury-level fragrances. I create perfumes that can become new classics. I'd rather follow my grandfather Serge Heftler-Louiche who created Parfums Christian Dior, and who had only three employees in the office.

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