Upon entering Malle's Boutique, perfume was not the first thing on my mind. Walking into the store you are confronted by three 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, turns out that these cylinders are an optimal way to smell perfume, and it is one way that perfumers present their perfumes to clients. The perfume is sprayed inside the column then the door is closed for a moment and then soon after your head can go inside the top door to experience the full range of the fragrance. Believe me it works.
Malle commissions perfumers to make perfume. The perfumers get to do what they want without limitation, then he works as an editor in the final stages with the perfumer.
As I settle in, I begin to feel what might be important to Frédéric Malle. 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. 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. Black and white photos of perfumers, I think I counted 12, who have created the fragrances hang on the wall. 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 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 represents all that goes into making perfume.
Photo: Hanya Holm, Bennington School of Dance, 1938.