When Frédéric Malle posted a photo on Instagram showing a few perfume samples and a pair of thick, dark glasses, it didn’t take long for his fans to realize that his next collaboration was going to be with fashion designer Alber Elbaz. For over 14 years Elbaz, known as the master of elegantly draped cocktail dresses, was at the creative helm of French fashion house Lanvin. After his abrupt exit in 2015 he teamed up with Frédéric Malle to create the perfume Superstitious, named as such because both Malle and Elbaz consider themselves very superstitious.
Congratulations on your collaboration with Alber Elbaz. Could you talk us through how you created Superstitious?
“We began with a deceptively simple concept: Alber asked me to make the perfume of a dress. Un parfum de robe. I was quite familiar with Alber’s dresses, as I have admired his designs for years, first at Yves Saint Laurent and then at Lanvin. I see his dresses as a mystery of construction and design – it seems that they are floating on women, but in fact there is a secret architecture behind them. This led me to the idea of having a perfume whose quality is unmistakable but whose ingredients are undefinable. I had been working with perfumer Dominique Ropion for over a year on a grand aldehyde floral, but which was completely reinterpreted and unlike anything I had ever smelled before. I could see that there was a complete parallel between this new work of Dominique and Alber’s designs.
When I shared Dominique’s fragrance with Alber, he immediately fell in love. Then Alber and Dominique met, and Dominique completed the perfume with Alber in mind and adapted his masterpiece to Alber’s wishes. There is the metallic of the aldehyde that only works because it’s tamed by something very beautiful around it. This metal stores the flowers in such a way that they are not flowers anymore. They become just a decor. So yes, there is very good jasmine, there is very good rose, but they are part of a bigger picture. The back is also hugely important, it is what we worked on the most in the end: there is this mix of labdanum, a lot of patchouli, a lot of frankincense and masses of vétiver that affect the flowers in a way that is completely unique. But you don’t smell them. This perfume is very much like the Berlin philharmonic, each musician (here each raw material) is so good that they could be a soloist, but they play together here as one.”
During the process of creating this perfume you once mentioned that Superstitious is not coming of collaboration, but of friendship and respect. What do you admire about Alber Elbaz as a person?
“One of the things that I admire most about Alber is his generosity. We have exchanged thousands of ideas. He never holds back with his creativity, his attention to people, his intelligence, and of course his designs. Not only did this make me want to return the favour, but it also freed me of a reserve of sorts. I had so many ideas and was able to just bare them all, which made the exchange effortless and natural. Alber kept on saying that it was almost too easy. This is a bit of an exaggeration, though!”
The name of the perfume is Superstitious since you both consider yourselves to be superstitious. What does this word mean to you personally and does it reflect in your work?
“We called the perfume Superstitious because on our first meeting together, we had a conversation about how we are both superstitious. Neither of us believes in set rules and pre-packaged marketing strategies. We both believe that creation should be about defying these laws, pushing boundaries and trusting your intuition. We share the same point of view when it comes to intuition, and we both conclude that rather than following established rules and recipes, that never lead to greatness, people should be more Superstitious!”
In the past you have collaborated with Pierre Hardy and Dries van Noten, now Elbaz. What is your fascination with fashion designers?
“My love in life is to work with artists, perfumers, architects, designers. This is my life's pleasure. It is what makes me grow, how I feed myself to become a better person. It is also a great opportunity to make nice objects!”
You and Alber Elbaz decided on an aldehydic bouquet with jasmine and roses, created by Dominique Ropion. How do you try and bring something to the genre of flowers?
“Although it is made with flowers, to me this perfume is not a floral per say, like Carnal Flower, Eau de Magnolia, or En Passant. It is an abstraction. The smell of a dress, the allure of a very feminine woman. We concentrated on trying to generate something addictive, we never really thought of flowers on this particular work. They were just instruments.”
Alber Elbaz has devoted his work to women, creating very feminine shapes. Do you believe this fragrance to be very feminine or is it unisex?
“We imagined this as a perfume for women. I am sure that a few men will borrow it, which is absolutely fine!”
What do you think shapes creativity in a perfume nowadays?
“As always in perfumery: new technologies that bring us new synthetic and natural raw materials, like new colours to a painter’s palette. The perfumer's work and talent. And the world changes in ways that always influence what inspires us. One must be modest, perfumery reacts to the world, the world doesn't react to perfumery, which doesn’t mean that a good perfume can't change one's life.”
Superstitious is available from Liberty and fredericmalle.com.