a journey of the senses by FLACONNEUR
After a bit of shopping, I made my way north on Rush Street to the famed Barneys New York. In the approaching dusk, the potential existed to escape to a warm spot in an otherwise cold, blustery Chicago December evening. Some weeks earlier, I was cordially invited to a meet and greet of sorts. The guest of honor is a Frenchman, well known in the world of perfumery. His family has been intricately involved for many decades. The man’s rather inevitable participation may have been purely a matter of relations, regardless, his grandfather, Serge Heftler-Louiche, happens to be the founder of Parfums Christian Dior. He possibly derived additional inspiration from his mother, who not only worked as an Art Director for Dior but was involved in the creative process of Dior’s famous men’s fragrance, Eau Sauvage. During my walk, I found myself contemplating a one on one with this iconic person of such historical background. There are many articles and video interviews I’ve seen and read over the years featuring this gentleman. He was always eloquent, shifted the focus from himself to his perfumers.
Grateful to escape the cold night air, I entered Barneys finding comfort in the warm surroundings. The architecture of the store is captivating and tasteful. Without delay, I made my way to the fragrance and cosmetic department, situated on the lower level. As I descended the modern glass and metal staircase, the room seemed to be electrified with anticipation of the evening ahead. There were customers peppered throughout the room anxiously awaiting the guest of honor’s arrival. Not only would they have the chance to meet the man himself but he would be personalizing their purchases with his autograph. Working my way through the crowd, I was seeking out the hostess of the nights festivities, the beautiful and always informative Dinara Tuleuova. Dinara is the Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums’ Business Manager at Barneys. She was busy getting last minute details for the night ahead in order. I was a little early, so Dinara gracefully accommodated me by taking time to sit down for a little chit-chat before her exclusive guest arrived. In front of us, was a mirrored coffee table laden with the complete Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums collection. Dinara is an expert in perfumes,especially in the Frédéric Malle line and knows each of them intimately. She is an honest woman and made no reservation about her favorites in the collection. There was one perfume in particular that in her words “every man should smell like,” it was Bois d’Orage. Duly noted Dinara. We continued to compare notes on several more of Frédéric Malle’s fragrances until she was whisked away by a fellow associate in need of her attention. Dinara politely excused herself, after which I decided to get busy revisiting some of the fantastic perfumes laid out in front of me. Iris Poudre, Vétiver Extraordinaire, Bigarade Concentrée, En Passant, all fantastic examples of the quality present in the Frédéric Malle line. I was grossly indulged in spraying and sniffing until I was distracted by some movement just in front of me. Someone leisurely occupying the seat Dinara emptied moments earlier. I glanced up and over my glasses to find none other than the man behind the masters himself, Frédéric Malle.
I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Malle was impeccably dressed. He was wearing a deep gold-toned corduroy suit, sporting a black and white checked shirt, a navy colored tie and finished with a suede shoe. His attire was classic yet fashionable. Abruptly and without hesitation, he engaged me in exuberant conversation. He seemed comfortable in his own skin and happy to initiate the evening. Our conversation began by Mr. Malle talking about the terrible delay he experienced on his flight from New York to Chicago. All travelers experience flight delays like this at one time or another, but his casual complaining regarding his unfortunate travel experience was refreshing and completely unanticipated. It was at this instant I realized that this man was truly accessible. Our conversation moved on inevitably to the subject at hand tonight, perfume. We discussed a few key points about fragrances of the 1970’s and a popular recipe known in the fragrance industry as chypre. The term chypre was first used by François Coty to describe the aromas he found on the island of Cyprus. He created a woodsy, mossy, citrus perfume entitled Chypre de Coty released in 1917. Interestingly enough, Mr. Malle’s grandfather founded Dior after working for years with François Coty. It seems that Mr. Malle might have some insight to this particular subject. Fragrances based on the chypre formula generally have a soft, sweet, earthy quality. Mr. Malle went on to discuss how many of the famous perfumes of that decade, and for decades to come, used the chypre formula to capture customer’s interest and successfully so. Many perfumes were injecting the chypre formula as a means of instant appeal for their products. At this point the evening was underway and Mr. Malle excused himself and attended to the responsibility of greeting the customers and obliging them by autographing their purchases.
Mr. Malle was seated at a striking black desk, flanked with two vases featuring an arrangement of flowers in a deep luscious red. He took great pleasure in conversing with all who came to see him that evening. At one point, there was a fairly large line waiting to see this niche fragrance icon. It is relatively easy to respect for someone as selfless as Mr. Malle. He grew up surrounded by one of the best known fragrance families, and instead of focusing on making a name for himself in the perfume world, he decided to be an advocate for some of the most brilliant noses in perfume today. He acts as their curator and affords these perfumers the ability to create without boundaries of price. He gives them access to the best raw materials and allows them the necessary time to work their creations, free from the restriction imposed by commercial brands and marketers. Some of the most famous perfumers in the industry have created fragrances under the Frédéric Malle brand including: Pierre Bourdon, Jean-Claude Ellena, Edouard Fléchier, Olivia Giacobetti, Dominique Ropion, Maurice Roucel, Edmond Roudnitska, Michel Roudnitska, Sophia Grojsman and Ralf Schwieger. Mr. Malle has much to be proud of with the launch of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, which opened its doors in 2000. It was in 2002 that Barneys New York featured a boutique dedicated to this man and his mission, including the signature red space-age “smelling columns.”
As quickly as the evening began, so it would end. It was just after 7 p.m. and Barneys was now closed. Guests were making their last selections and it was time for me to finalize my night’s purchase. I chose the latest release in the Frédéric Malle line, Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle. I patiently waited my turn to once again engage Mr. Malle. Dinara was very gracious and thanked me not only for my patience but for finding the time to come for the event. As Dinara humorously pointed out, I was the first to arrive to tonight’s event and the last to leave. Mr. Malle picked up his pen and proceeded to sign my purchase inscribing it with “To patient Tony. F.” I’m certain that Mr. Malle has heard every conceivable comment about his work from his fans tonight. I’m probably not the first to take the time to personally thank him for his contribution to the world of perfume. When I did so, Mr. Malle replied, “Don’t thank me, thank them (pointing at the black and white portraits of his perfumers). They are the creators and without them, this wouldn’t be possible.”
All photographs by Barry Brecheisen ©2013, courtesy of Evelyn Han, Public Relations and Special Events Assistant, Barneys New York.