Perfume, Art, and Time:
Correspondences by Frédéric Malle
An art historian by training, Frédéric Malle has an impressive knowledge of art both ancient and contemporary. So if he believes that each perfume in his collection deserves to be called a masterpiece, it is for a very precise reason.
Frédéric Malle has a gift for always managing to surprise us—elegantly.
When asked about the relation between his taste for art in general and the collection of thirty-one perfumes he has worked on over the course of the last twenty years with the world’s greatest perfumers, one might expect him to speak of this or that correspondence between an old master or a great artwork and a perfume. But not at all.
For him the parallel lies elsewhere—it’s all in the energy.
For Frédéric Malle, what gives a work of art its force is that it encapsulates the vital energy of its creator, vibrating in unison with their whole character.
He invites us to see how one single line of a Picasso contains hours of drawing within it. That it is a concentration of the energy of the painter, and that it also emits an extremely strong energy.
For Frédéric Malle every work of art act like this, as an emitter of the energy of its creator at the moment they made it. And this is what makes art so desirable to the collector. The art that surrounds us has the capacity to communicate that energy to us, and therefore to lift us, even to make us better people.
If art has this ability to diffuse its energy through us, so do perfumes.
Malle believes that this is what explains the startling and continued success of certain perfumes by Dominique Ropion such as Carnal Flower and, of course, Portrait of a Lady. This capacity to create wonder comes from the fact that they succeed in encapsulating the creative energy of the perfumer.
There is another parallel between perfume and works of art: their relation to time.
Behind the genius of a perfumer there is an expertise acquired over many long years of work. Frédéric Malle has observed how perfumes that have a feel of being so obvious and right have often required many long weeks to develop. On the other hand, this expertise must be combined with instinct in order for the creation to come forth in a unique, singular way. According to Malle, creativity in perfumery requires this incessant ballet between the two hemispheres of the brain—a permanent oscillating movement between the purely instinctive during the immediate phase of olfaction, followed by a more rational approach to generate careful adjustments and improvements, Cartesian in its precision and spread out over time…
As a man in love with his profession, Frédéric Malle prompts us to reflect on the beauty and magic of a perfume’s power.
He reminds us that just a few drops of perfume can be enough to change a life. That the sillage of a perfume can immediately create a purely instinctive encounter that will materialize further and become more tangible with the passing of the years.
To be sure, there is a great nobility and a kind of romanticism in the way in which Monsieur Frédéric Malle conceives of his profession.