Frédéric Malle’s Guide to France
Published: April 2009
By Shane Mitchell
Follow the nose: perfumer Frédéric Malle reveals his favorite places.
Proud frenchman Frédéric Malle believes in taking his sweet time. Best known for collaborating with the beauty world’s most talented noses on 15 special-edition fragrances for his atelier, Editions de Parfums, Malle does not follow a strict launch timetable. "Fragrances are like wine," he explains. "They need time to macerate." And, so it would seem, does a visit to his native country. "Most visitors to France only see the greatest hits," he says. "People overlook the essence." Malle travels constantly to keep tabs on Editions de Parfums branches at Barneys in New York and Isetan in Tokyo. The latest of his three boutiques in Paris (21 Rue du Mont Thabor, 1st Arr.; 33-1/42-22-77-22) employs "smelling modules," in which clients can sample a spritz of his complex scents. Here, where the perfumer goes in his homeland to smell the proverbial roses.
Malle makes frequent trips to Biarritz, where his modules were made. An avid golfer, he always makes sure to schedule a round. "Chiberta (104 Blvd. des Plages; 33-5/59-52-51-10; www.golfchiberta.com) is one of the best golf courses, but I like it simply because of the fragrance of the green."
"I love remote, undisturbed places. Although my family’s from the north, I prefer the western beaches around Perros-Guirec in Brittany. But definitely not the harbor—it’s too crowded and unappealing."
"While on the Brittany Coast, I always indulge in a platter of Marennes Oléron oysters. They are smaller and have a more delicate flavor than the meatier Belon oysters from the same region."
Malle is lyrical about Megève, in the Rhône-Alpes region, where he takes his wife and children for vacations. "I love the scent of the mountains at night. The wood fires are amber and smoky, like Guerlain’s Shalimar without the sweetness. One can do anything—there’s even a very good golf course. No wonder it has become such a trendy place to go."
"In Megève, I have the fondest memories of Chalet le Forestier (Massif de Rochebrune; 33-4/50-21-12-95; lunch for two $66), a little hut run by the forest guards. It’s located on the ski slopes of Rochebrune. I often stop there for lunch."
"Paris was made for a slower pace. People used to spend hours at Café Flore" (172 Blvd. St.-Germain, 6th Arr.; 33-1/45-48-55-26; lunch for two $66). Now, two of Malle’s perches for a proper French interlude are exact opposites in sensibility. "Chez René (14 Blvd. St.-Germain, 5th Arr.; 33-1/43-54-30-23; dinner for two $79) is a typical Lyonnais bistro that has had the same chef for years," he says. "I also love Yen (22 Rue St.-Benoît, 6th Arr.; 33-1/45-44-11-18; dinner for two $119), which serves the best soba; it’s where I go most frequently when in town."
These three experiences provide a great training-ground for amateur noses wanting an aromatic immersion in Paris.
Since last month, the venerable beauty house has been holding full-day workshops at its flagship store, La Maison Guerlain. The class is devoted to the history and science of perfume creation, employing signature scents such as Shalimar and Mitsouko. Participants also create their own individual fragrance. 68 Ave. des Champs-Élysées, 8th Arr.; 33-1/45-62-52-57; www.guerlain.com; $237.
A three-hour introduction to the history and composition of perfume during intimate sessions conducted by fragrance specialists. 2 Rue de l’Amiral de Coligny, 1st Arr.; 33-1/44-88-27-50; www.lartisanparfumeur.com; $125.
Full-day sessions cover perfume-related topics that range from the esoteric (spices, wine, sex) to the technical (how the nose works). 49 Ave. de l’Opéra, 2nd Arr.; 33-1/53-05-25-87; www.thierrymugler.com; $106.