Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle launched in 2000 with a rock-star lineup of perfumers, including Maurice Roucel, who composed the culty Musc Ravageur for the brand. Art direction and commissioning independent perfumers was nothing new in 2000. In fact, it was the founding model of niche perfumery. Early examples Diptyques (1961), l’Artisan Parfumeurs (1976), Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier (1988) were still going strong. The Serge Lutens brand (1992) had attained permanent revolution and were the leader in experimentation.
Hip and trendy were taken, so Frédéric Malle took a different approach with his line. The strategy of the initial roster of FM perfumes was to emphasize quality and distinction. Perfumers were apparently given the edict and the budget to create perfumes of impeccable caliber and taste. Same principle as Amouage, different sensibility. The nine perfumes in the initial launch wore their perfumers on the label, reflecting Malle’s belief in the artist as well as his line’s concept of authorship and publishing. The art direction focussed on the perfumers’ signature styles. Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant had her characteristic water-color dynamics. Angelique Sous la Pluie demonstrated Jean-Claude Ellena’s expertise with transparent tones. Edouard Flechier’s Lys Méditerranée fits his history of oversized narcotic florals. And so on.
Malle and Roucel were an ideal pair. Malle directed perfumers to work within their sweet spots and Roucel had a history of exploring a compositional motif over the course of years. Musc Ravageur was a tailored version of Alain Delon Lyra, a Roucel fragrance from 1996. Roucel would go on to create le Labo Labdanum 18, Helmut Lang EDP/EDC and Missoni by Missoni, variations on the same aromatic/musk/vanilla-chocolate theme.
Roucel and Malle collaborated again with Dans Tes Bras. Roucel had made violet the principle note of his hairspray-fantasy, Guerlain Insolence in 2006. He punched up the violet and the volume in the 2008 Insolence EDP. Dans Tes Bras, a violet perfume of a very different cut, was released the same year. If Insolence candied violet, Dans tes Bras fermented it. If you can imagine scent-scape of violets and toadstools growing out of vinegar-soaked concrete you’ll catch the shape of the perfume. It’s a doughy floral musk with notes of soil, salt, spice and sour skin. Our nose/brains are conditioned to try to sort scents. Materials that emulate botanicals are assessed for how ‘natural’ they smell while identifiably synthetic qualities aren’t expected to feign realism. Dans tes Bras flips the expected and uses floral notes like heliotrope and violet that smell for lack of a better word, unnatural. With an apparent overdose of cashmeran, the synthetic side of the perfume smells remarkably like something you know, namely concrete sidewalk drying after a rain .
Most Malle perfumes land in identifiable categories, the result of deliberately chasing the ‘best in class’ distinction that the Malle line aspires to. The risk is that many of the line’s perfumes can be seen as simply extra-fine versions of department store perfumes. Dans tes Bras, not so much. In a line that leans heavily towards florals it is the least conventional of the lot.
The Malle line seemed like it was headed for a soft landing even before Estée Lauder purchased the brand in 2014. Eau de Magnolia, Cologne Indelible and Monsieur were a citric floral-chypre, a concentrated eau de cologne and a Soli-patch. Finished and tony but a bit dull. I assume that each perfume in the Malle line will be looked at very closely by the Lauder accountants. If there is a thinning of the line, florals in particular, will Dans tes Bras make the cut?