Frederic Malle was my introduction to fine fragrance.
When I was little I was given a statue of a fairy – its bottom half was a glass bottle in the shape of a skirt with embossed stars on it and its top half was a plastic lady in elegant blue. Her hand held a tiny silk bag for whatever scents fairies carry about with them, and if you pulled off her top half, a little screw cap was revealed. Inside was a perfume for little girls. I can’t remember what it smelled like, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I would recognise it were I ever to come across it again.
I can’t remember scent being part of my life for years after that, until I went away to Boston to study and began roaming about the city searching out luxurious things that didn’t exist in rural New Jersey where I grew up with Tinkerbell, bless her glassy/plastic soul.
There was a niche scent I picked up from a boutique on Newbury Street, wish I could remember the name of it. It smelled so chic to me – herbal and slightly sour in what seemed an enlightened way. I remember someone making a ‘nasty smell comment’ while I was wearing it once – it seared! I’m not sure I ever wore it again.
Soon after that I read about Frederic Malle’s fragrances in a magazine. I was captivated by the description of a questionnaire that you could fill out on their website which would generate a real response from someone on the other end with suggestions about which of their scents you might like. The questionnaire is still on the website www.fredericmalle.com; at the time when I took it they actually sent me four samples of the perfumes that they’d recommended to me. I’m not sure they do that now, probably for a small fee.
My first love was Musc Ravageur. It was the sort of scent I felt I couldn’t get enough of in my nose every time I smelled it – I just wanted more, more, more. I would have bathed in it, drank it. I wore it for years.
Then I decided it was time for a change and I happened to be in Paris and managed to find their shop at 37 rue de Grenelle. My boyfriend and I walked in – I think I was quietly squealing at the time, and may actually have hopped over the threshold. Luckily the very well-dressed man working in the shop was in the back helping another customer, so I was able to attack the beautifully presented bottles on the table with full force – I tried to spritz as many as possible onto testing strips, scribbling their names down with the handily provided Frederic Malle pencil, before interruption.
Soon the nice French man finished with his customer, escorted him out the door and turned to face me standing in a cloud of extremely expensive perfume with a pencil in one hand, about 12 damp strips in my other and a guilty, delirious expression on my face.
We soon established that the approved way to smell the perfumes, as demonstrated by Mr Malle himself in the above video, is in one of the large glass smelling chambers that reminded me very much of Star Trek transporter modules.
I left with what I had come for – Angeliques Sous La Pluie or ‘Angelica After the Rain’, which I had heard described as a ‘scent haiku’ – that was already enough to convince me to buy it even before I’d smelled it. Luca Turin doesn’t think much of it but I loved it, and still do – though it will never be a Musc Ravageur for me – more of an occasional nod to a graceful scent picture, something like a Monet watercolour or a field of flowers pictured through a sheet of glass after a storm – the drops sliding down the glass and abstracting the flowers. When I watched the wonderful BBC Perfume documentary recently with images of Jean-Claude Ellena in his beautiful house of glass and stone, I felt I understood Angeliques better.
We were in New York City later that year and picked up French Lover, or Bois D’Orage as it’s called in the States (why?) for my boyfriend, though I like to wear it sometimes. The elegant lady in that shop wandered around the whole time we were there trying to remember what Bois D’Orage meant (she was French, I might add, but a New York version of French). I remember her shiny black heels and elegant, still sexy though she’s a little older now walk. We paid and were saying our goodbyes as she remembered, “Thunderstorm! Thunderstorm!”
I can’t decide what one I’ll get when my Angeliques runs out… Lys Mediterranee? Carnal Flower? Noir Epices? O, glorious choices…