“Why is a perfume good?
Because it is sensual without being vulgar?
Because it is rich and opulent without being suffocating?
Because it is so carnal that it can become part of us by transforming our own unique odor?
The great perfumes are those that embody these contradictions.”
I love coffee table books. I don’t actually have a coffee table, but I love coffee table books. There is something wonderful about an oversized, aspirational book to leaf through at your leisure that is undeniably pleasing, both intellectually and aesthetically.
Frederic Malle of Editions de Parfums has pulled out all the stops for his book; it’s huge, it’s beautiful and in true Malle style he has continued his penchant for dropping big names by including a foreword by none other than famed French actress and N°5 loyalist, Catherine Deneuve.
Deneuve gushes over Malle and the Editions de Parfums line, saying: “I love the way Frédéric works, building intriguing layers of notes and experimenting with a new rainbow of scents”, and who are we to argue with her?
Before diving in to his perfume works, Malle tells of how he came to establish his own “house”, a history that seems part destiny - his Grandfather was Serge Heftler-Louice, founder of Parfums Christian Dior, and part coincidence - confessing that he was born on the same day as Patrick Süskind’s famed homicidal-prone perfumer from the novel “Perfume”. He also lets slip that he had grew up in the same bedroom as once inhabited by Jean-Paul Guerlain. Although the creation of his perfumes hasn’t necessitated the murder of beautiful virgins, Malle is the creator and master of one of the world’s most venerable perfume houses.
“I want to create contemporary classics because to my mind they are the only way to perpetuate people’s desire for perfumes, a sort of antidote to celebrity fragrances.”
In the book, Malle says his fear for the continued existence of the perfume trade that he knew and loved was the catalyst for the creation of his perfume line in the year 2000. His plan of attack was simple, he says, his aim was to “go back to the roots of perfume making to gives us the means to create the classic fragrances of tomorrow. Focus on perfume rather than its image, and most of all, let the perfumers take the initiative by giving them total creative freedom.”
The creation and inspiration for each of the fragrances in the line forms the bulk of the book. Following Malle’s pioneering ethos that it is the perfumers who should be showcased, we hear of Dominique Ropion’s fancy new tuberose “weapon” for Carnal Flower, the revelation that Malle’s assistant found Maurice Roucel’s Musc Ravageur “dangerous to wear” due to its stalker-inducing qualities and the fact that Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant is the only Malle perfume “created to correspond to an existing name”, On Perfume Making gives you all that you need to know about the world of Malle.
The tale of Malle’s parfums is suitably complemented by some serious eye-candy in the form of vivid illustrations by Konstantin Kakanias. The illustrations are befitting of the Editions de Parfums aesthetic, using stark contrasts between simple shapes and bold colours, much like the black bottle labels and tomato-red boxes of the perfumes. Whilst they may be on the simplistic side and not to the taste of all discerning perfume-lovers, I challenge anybody to find a more befitting image for the so-sexy-you-could-be-eaten allure of Musc Ravageur than Kakanias’ illustration of the bejewelled fingers of a woman clutching the hairy hands of her lover.
Despite its beauty, insight and glory On Perfume Making feels more like a company brochure, albeit a rather fabulous one, rather than a book that adds something new and exciting to the world of perfume-based literature. Its price and size, both of which are relatively large by most people’s standards, are also set to alienate it from those who aren’t die-hard Malle fans.
For me, On Perfume Making more than serves its purpose as a coffee table book to be flicked through, either by myself or curious visitors. It makes a big statement, and it does so in an undeniably French way – yes it’s over the top, decadent and superfluous, but aren’t all the best things in life?
All I need now is that coffee table.
On Perfume Making by Frederic Malle is available now. (Amazon US, Amazon UK)