Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle can be attributed to bringing the perfumers out from behind the curtain. Not only did it expose them to the light of day it shone a spotlight on all of the ones who have their name listed on a bottle. It is an exclusive club for which the perfumers are given a lot of latitude in designing their creations. That latitude can result in perfumes which can be very polarizing. There have been a few of the more recent releases which have not grabbed me right away. Over time I return to them and, usually with someone who really likes them, get a second chance to find something I had previously missed. I’ve had my sample of the most recent release, Monsieur, for a few weeks. It is another one which is not drawing me in, yet I believe there might be more here than I might be giving it credit for.
Monsieur is the twenty-fourth release from the brand and it is the second composed by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. Monsieur is meant to be a companion to 2010’s Portrait of a Lady, composed by Dominique Roipion. Portrait of a Lady is one of those previous releases I was speaking about as I’ve spent the last five years running hot and cold in my emotions about it. Portrait of a Lady is a bone dry version of rose and patchouli. It is that very aridness which makes it difficult for me to wholeheartedly love it. I admire the construction but it seems standoffish. Monsieur goes the other way with an overdose of a molecular distillation of patchouli. By going almost to the other extreme I am having the same difficulty in embracing it although Monsieur is more like someone who is standing too close while my back is against a wall.
Monsieur opens with the juicy citrus of tangerine lightly combined with rum. The rum is not truly boozy as it is contrast for the citrus. Then the patchouli lands with a huge presence. According to the press materials the patchouli is over 50 % of the oil. If this was straight patchouli this would have been that dirty hippie smell so commonly associated with patchouli. The fraction M. Jovanovic chose is that child of the 60’s given some refinement. This fraction has a much reduced earthy quality while I found the herbal and spicy facets to be more pronounced. The fraction also sometimes has a bit of a leathery quality which I kept noticing from time to time. It never persists and it might just be my imagination but every time I started wearing and sniffing Monsieur I would have a moment where I encountered a very transparent leather. M. Jovanovic takes the patchouli fraction and frames it with a very clean cedar. After a long time, amber and vanilla provide a cozy sweet warmth.
Monsieur has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If Portrait of a Lady is so mannered that it leaves me wanting more; Monsieur gives me too much making me want to push it away. The overdose of the patchouli fraction does this no favors. I wonder if instead of overdose; a balance was sought if I would have liked Monsieur better. What is here is going to appeal to those who wanted something different than Portrait of a Lady. It is also going to appeal to those who really love patchouli. I am not either of those people.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.
When I look back over a perfumer’s career I look for those years when their creativity comes into full bloom. If pressed to pick the time period where perfumer Olivia Giacobetti reached that level, I would say that 1999-2001 was the moment when she was finding her first peak as a perfumer. Over ten fragrances in that time period she made some of her most memorable perfumes including Editions de Parums Frederic Malle En Passant, L’Artisan Passage D’Enfer, and Hermes Hiris. The one which got lost in this period of creativity was a collaboration with famed French interior designer Andree Putman.
Andree Putman (Photo: Nour El Gammal)
Mme Putman came to her vocation at the age of 46 when she founded Createurs & Industriels where she was free to indulge her desire to “design beautiful things”. She also provided an incubator space for designers among whom were Issey Miyake, Claude Montana, and Thierry Mugler. The idealism of Createurs & Industriels would go bankrupt and she would turn to the world of interior design. When she was commissioned to do the interior of the Morgans Hotel in New York City it would spark a career which would see her design museums, boutiques, government office buildings, and other hotels. One of her last commissions was to revamp the interior of the Guerlain flagship store on the Champs-Elysees in 2005. In 1997 she opened the Andree Putman Studio and branched out into all areas of design including fragrance in 2001.
During this time period Mme Putman was doing a lot of one-of-a-kind design like asymmetric flatware for Christofle or a champagne bucket for Veuve Clicquot. When it came to fragrance she turned to Frederic Malle to help advise her on the creative direction and employed Mme Giacobetti to bring their vision to life. What they came up with was an asymmetrical response to the aquatic wave cresting in fragrance at that time. Mme Giacobetti composes one of her most ethereal perfumes which carries a fragile beauty. The perfume was called Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman when it was released. It was gone from shelves in 2013 and I thought it was going to be an entry in the Dead Letter Office. Last March I discovered it was returning, renamed as Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman L’Original, as part of a collection which included six other new releases.
L’Original opens on a fascinating duet of pepper and damp wood. Most often pepper has a nose-tickling presence. Mme Giacobetti uses it to breathe life into her damp wood accord. If you spend any time in a rainforest you know that Nature adds its own form of spiciness to the trees in the wild. The pepper is used to make the top accord feel as if it is photorealistically accurate. The heart is a transition note of waterlily where the green qualities of the floral float through a mist of water. This is the riposte to the Calone-heavy aquatics as Mme Gicobetti makes an aquatic that is meditative instead of disruptive. The base is the opposite of the top as a bleached out driftwood accord is displayed paired with cilantro for a unique green contrast. The driftwood accord is a triumph of delicacy as again something which can be so strident is instead turned into something which requires you to lean in to get the full impression. The cilantro is such an outre green note yet it conjures up the grass growing in the dunes as the sea breeze blows through it.
L’Original has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
L’Original is a masterpiece of construction by a perfumer in her prime. Every note has a function and a place in creating a fabulous perfume. I had thought this lost but now it has been found again. If you love the architecture of perfume do not allow L’Original to not be on your radar screen.
Disclosure: This review based on a bottle of the 2001 release I purchased and a sample of the 2015 re-issue I received from Andree Putman.
Ever since oud was introduced to the west a little over fifteen years ago it has become one of the most used ingredients in perfumery over that time. Especially over the last five years there has been a virtual wave of oud perfumes. The funny thing is most people who have worn those perfumes have never smelled the real thing. Most often it is either one of the synthetic ouds or cypriol/nagarmotha as a substitute in those perfumes. The real oud is so expensive to source, and create, the real stuff is difficult to find. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years buying direct from Asian sources to acquire a little of the real thing. Real oud is one of the most fascinating substances a perfumer can use. What region it comes from, how old the tree being harvested is, how long the oil has aged, all have an effect on its profile. For those of you who want to try real oud the opportunity has arrived with the release of the new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle The Night by perfumer Dominique Ropion.
The Night is purported to contain an “unprecedented” amount of oud from India. M. Ropion only adds in two other notes, Turkish rose and amber. From the moment I opened my sample there was no doubt in my mind this was indeed real oud. When I, and others, write about oud we remark on it with unflattering adjectives like medicinal, band-aid-y, cheesy, dirty gym socks. Those don’t inspire one to want to put something like that on their body. The funny thing it is the combination of all of those derogatory aspects which make real oud so much fun to wear. I would also be the first to admit that it is an acquired taste. If you let the more confrontational character of oud push you away you will miss something sublime. In The Night M. Ropion clearly understands this and so keeps the perfume simple.
When I put The Night on for at least two hours it is nothing but the Indian oud. It smells like any of the oud oils I own. Indian oud tends to tilt towards the dirty bandage side of the oud spectrum. There is also a bit of cheese here too but it predominantly is the medicinal oud on display. These first two hours you might feel like this perfume is wearing you instead of the other way around. Because I knew what was coming I had a chance to mentally brace myself for the onslaught. There was still a bit of struggle but this Indian oud is an excellent choice to use because it really does display the quirky nature of pure oud. When the Turkish rose does finally make an appearance hours after first application it probably takes another couple of hours for it to even begin to make an impression with the oud. Once it does happen you can really appreciate why rose has been the historical yin to oud’s yang. The Turkish rose used here has an enhanced spicy core and it is that which allows it to gain some traction. The rose feels like it is the chaperone in bringing real oud to a western audience. Amber is used as an opaque shimmer of finishing but The Night is all about the oud and then the rose and the oud.
The Night has ridiculous longevity of over 24 hours. It also has significant sillage. This is a perfume to wear and appreciate around others who enjoy fragrance.
The Night is going to cause a lot of commotion once it makes its way to the usual Editions de Parfums stockists next year. There are many who are going to learn what they always thought was oud was something else. I kept hearing Mick Jagger singing the opening line of “Sympathy for the Devil” imagining these reactions. The ones who persevere will be rewarded with an experience of oud unlike anything they have tried before.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
It happens to me a couple times a year there is a fragrance I have consigned to the “not going to review” pile because I am not fond of it. Then some of the perfumed voices I respect all start lauding it making me give it a second, or third, chance. The new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Eau de Magnolia is one of these examples.
Eau de Magnolia from Frédéric Malle on Vimeo.
Based on the press release and the personnel I expected to be if not enchanted then at least interested in it. In the press release Creative Director Frederic Malle and perfumer Carlos Benaim talked about wanting to take the magnolia candle Jurassic Flower M. Benaim did for the line and turn it into a cologne/chypre hybrid. They literally talk about it in the video above. In the press materials there is also a section on how they used headspace technology to capture the magnolia raw material to be used in Eau de Magnolia. Headspace technology is, in a very simplified explanation, encasing the living bloom in an airtight container and while blowing an inert gas over the flower to release the aroma the container itself is cooled so that it will condense and be collected. It is a painstaking process which has produced some spectacular versions especially of floral raw materials. All of this was prelude to my receiving my sample a couple months ago, my expectations were high perhaps they were too high. Upon first sniff on a strip I got hit with a very spiky lemon containing none of the green and indolic nuances I associate with magnolia. I also got a way too green vetiver overwhelming any delicacy that was present. For the next few nights I kept spraying a strip and a bit of skin trying to find something I was missing. Finally I conceded this was the first Frederic Malle fragrance that just didn’t work for me.
Over the last few weeks I have been surprised to see how different my experience has been to other reviewers. Many of the most respected reviewers I know have raved over it and they certainly have given me more to think about. I read enough of this that I ordered another sample of Eau de Magnolia just on the possibility that my sample was off. I so wanted to like this that when I received the new sample I think I was almost chanting to myself as I pulled it out, “please be different”. Alas the juice that was in the purchased sample was identical to the review sample. I still had problems with it.
On my skin and to my nose the magnolia still seems sharp and it never seems to display the softer character that the more recent Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine captured so perfectly. Eau de Magnolia somehow takes the headspace magnolia and neuters it. Worse by using fractionated patchouli and vetiver coupled with cedar all of the raw materials seem like they are missing some of their vitality. Even the oak moss in the base meant to turn this chypre-like seems as if it has been wilted in the summer sun.
Eau de Magnolia has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to eventually come around to appreciating Eau de Magnolia. It took me quite a few years to overcome the too-realistic Coty lipstick in a leather purse vibe of Lipstick Rose. For right now Eau de Magnolia feels like a perfume which has conformed instead of inspired.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and one purchased from Surrender to Chance.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.