An Experience: Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle: NYC Boutique
These days, it’s rare that I get the chance to wander around the city discovering or even rediscovering places. That’s why the moments leading up to my visit to Frédéric Malle’s Boutique were near blissful. I had somehow managed to exit the chaos of my (sweet) home, get in a cab and before I knew it I was on 61st Street with a few minutes to spare before meeting up with friends. It was a sunny day and it was early too, not many people out yet. Shops were getting ready for the day. As I walked by Creed its doors were literally open and their Original Vetiver, in its hunter green bottle was sitting in the window, ready. I approached 70th Street and without thinking turned left. The Frick. I put both hands on its tall black iron gates and and took a long hard look at its manicured garden with its lush water pond filled with waterlilies.
Upon entering Malle’s Boutique one is struck by three very tall glass columns. Each column has two doors that sit on top of each other vertically, and they can open separately. What are these? Well, these cylinders are an optimal way to smell perfume. The perfume is sprayed inside the column then the door is closed for a moment, and soon after your head can enter the top door. Once inside the experience resonates, the fragrance is still and enhanced.
As I settle in, I begin to feel what might be important to FrédéricMalle. The Boutique is less a boutique and more like an artist’s studio or perhaps a small art gallery. There is nothing sterile about it; Malle wants us to have an intimate experience. Malle commissions perfumers to make perfume. The perfumers get to create without limitation, then he works as an editor in the final stages with the perfumer, until the final fragrance is completed. The perfumes are displayed in a way that makes them appear as if they are paintings hanging on a wall. Maybe we should see ourselves as collectors? There are no counters with salespeople standing behind them. Hanging on the wall are black and white photos of perfumers in two columns, I think I counted 12. Most of them are still with us and one that I recognized is gone. So you can kind of create a flow, go to the Column and smell Le Parfum de Therese, then you walk over to the photo of Roudnitska (The Nose who made Le Parfum de Therese for his wife), and look and wonder about him. Then you walk away and turn your head to right and there is a wooden carving above your head, or perhaps Margaret will grace you with her incredible detailed stories about what you are smelling. Or perhaps she will want to know what perfumes are interesting to you. It’s fun, no? Editions de Parfums is of course selling exquisite perfume with a few select ancillary products too, but inside its walls, if you seek it, you will find history, art, story, and aesthetic, all strongly woven together. Malle is not selling a glossy lifestyle the same way a clothing designer might, he allows us to wander and possibly understand the mind of perfumery, the work it takes, his love of perfumers, and with some of his perfumes a desire to recall his scent memories. In a sense, the Boutique mirrors all that goes into the art of making perfume.
Photo: Hanya Holm, Bennington School of Dance, 1938.