Dan Rolleri attended Frédéric Malle's June 17th event at Barneys San Francisco.
Let me go on record as saying that Frédéric Malle is the most intelligent, charming fellow in the world. He took time to answer every question, he was completely candid, slightly pretentious but always with a little smile or a comic roll of the eyes, he was just such a delight. Frédéric Malle is a delight, how about that!
He was wearing a smart blue linen suit, kind of a cool cobalt blue, and I kept thinking I could never get away with wearing a blue linen suit, not with my American build. I'd look like a bull wearing a tablecloth. But on Frédéric, it worked beautifully.
|Frédéric Malle: no bull here.|
The set-up was simply Frédéric with his perfumes, standing and fielding questions from the gathered group. People were moving in and out, and at any given time there seemed to be about a dozen people there. Barneys catered it, with champagne and colorful little hors d'oeuvres. (A Barneys sales associate told me, "And the champagne is actually expensive! Only the best from Frédéric Malle, I guess.")
So here's how the Malle exchange went: my friend Diane and I walked in and listened to Frédéric answer a question about perfumers. Someone had asked if there were any with whom he hasn't yet worked and would like to. He said there might be a few young ones and then he turned to all the Malle perfumers' pictures on the wall, looked them over, and said, "No. Of this generation of perfumers, I've worked with everyone I wanted to work with."
Then I asked my question. Or rather your question (“Which classic perfumes are next due for the chop with reformulation?”), but tailored for me. I asked if the EU restrictions have affected any of his own formulas. And he surprisingly said, "Oh, absolutely." So I asked which ones, and he ran his hand over the bottles and said, "Many of them."
Then he explained to everyone how the EU works, the impact it's had, how the industry has always policed itself and was fine without this political interference, that the EU sticks its nose into things about which it has no knowledge, but that his company, because it's relatively young, saw this coming. Even ten years ago, it knew which ingredients might be eliminated from use and so it crafted its perfumes with that in mind. So today when a change must be made, it's a minor one, usually just one ingredient, and he always works with the perfumer to get the new formula just right. He said if there was any perceptible difference, he would change the name, call it "Musc Ravegeur, part 2" or something.
I then asked about perfumes that have been around longer, that didn't have the luxury of anticipating these new restrictions, and he said there are many that have changed and many more that will have to. He said that he's smelled some that are surprisingly close to the original or even exactly like the original, but he knows that won't continue to be the case and there's one very established line that is in real trouble, that several key ingredients in many of its perfumes will have to change and it's basically screwed. (My word, not his. Though he inferred it.)
I asked which line, and he said he wouldn't say. To which I replied, "Guerlain?" To which he replied with a sly little smile, a raised eyebrow, a slight pause and pursing of the lips, all done with great subtlety and perhaps even unintentionally (Diane later called it "a hitch in his matrix"), and then he repeated, "I cannot say." So obviously he wasn't going to get into any specific naming of perfumes but I think you know which line about which to worry. And, it seems, the worst of these changes hasn't yet gone into effect.
|M. Malle eloquently not answering Dan's question.|
Anyway, we stood there for perhaps 45 minutes and just watched Frédéric Malle hold court. He talked about the process of creating perfumes, how it differs depending on the perfumers (some like to work in solitude, some are much more collaborative); how he often spends three times the money on ingredients as other high-end perfumers because for him it's about creating the very best perfume regardless of cost or commerce; how wearing perfume is, above all, making oneself more attractive and sexy, that he keeps that in mind with all of his creations, especially Carnal Flower, but that with his candles and home fragrances, it doesn't translate, that no one should want her home to smell "sexy," he said, "unless she's very self-centered."
Overall he was so very charming and patient and informative, he was signing bottles throughout, and I can't believe he stood there talking for three whole hours.
A blue linen suit, KP! Impeccable.
More with Malle in Part Two
Photos via Barneys