Meet The French Perfume 'Editor' Inspiring a Global Following

By Adam Baidawi
26 December 2018
Frédéric Malle
Getty Images
Frédéric Malle has built a transcendent fragrance empire around one key skill: curation

Maybe you’ve got a carefully-studied nose – one that can detect the nuances of olfactive top notes. Or, y’know, maybe you don’t. But chances are at some point, you would have heard a grown man fawn over Frédéric Malle.

The brand (and the man behind it) have inspired a cult-like global following thanks to scents that have true layers, insane depth, and a sensual vibe that’s never anything short of ready for the evening. This, after all, is the man who’s said that fragrance is the most intimate thing you can buy. (Meet the Frenchman in person – spend a fraction of time in one of his stores – and you might start to believe that too.)

Dawn, the brand’s newest fragrance, is crafted by Moroccan perfumer Carlos Benaïm, and you’d know that as soon as you pick it up. The bottle bears Benaïm’s name, loud and proud atop its label – even above Malle’s.

Malle often describes himself not as a business owner, nor a perfumer, but rather a publisher. Since 2000, he has released Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle – a curated collection of fragrances by his hand-picked perfumers. The fact that each bottle has born the name of its actual creator? Well, that’s something of a minor revolution in an industry that typically renders its perfumers as anonymous.

“The idea is simple justice,” Malle says one afternoon in Dubai. “I was surprised that no one had done it before. No one had mentioned the perfumer before us. Before, they did not exist. They were ghostwriters.”

For Malle, it was a simple bet: that championing his noses wouldn’t detract from his brand, but add to it.

“When I know who has been making my perfume, that it is a great artist, that my perfume has been conceived like a work of art, that you have best materials from all around the world and you have the best of technology behind it – all of a sudden it’s way closer to what I’m going to wear.”

Malle describes Dawn is Benaïm’s take on oud – an ingredient that attracts eternal obsession in the perfume world.

“I was having a conversation with my friend Dominique who is arguably one of the best perfumers in the world and were saying how much we love Middle Eastern perfumes and how much I’ve loved them since I was a child.”

Dawn came from a desire to create a perfume that was pure oud – which, as it turns out, isn’t exactly possible. But Malle and Benaïm were determined to elevate oud beyond the ordinary.

Federic Malle

“All of these perfumes that are called oud are make-believe oud – they barely contain oud. I always find them a bit condescending to people,” says Malle.
Instead, Benaïm worked to add other elements that elevate – or as Malle puts it, photoshop – oud. The result? A scent that’s just as daring as intended: luxurious and bold, with a dark focal point.

Dawn marks the second oud fragrance in the Editions de Parfums collection, a nod to the brand’s healthy fascination with the Middle East.

“My father used to live in a quarter in France where there were many Arab people in summer visiting,” says Malle. “I remember going to Plaza Athénée where there were these ladies who were wearing these perfumes which were not in fashion yet, in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, and I loved them.”
Turns out, some scents really do leave a lasting impression.

Dawn Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle 100ml, $1580; fredericmalle.com