Frédéric Malle’s Guide to France
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.
Located just a few steps from St.-Germain-des-Prés’ iconic Café de Flore, Yen is an authentic Japanese cuisine restaurant and noodle house. The simple lines, wood doors, and lone white flag outside complement Yen’s minimalist Asian décor inside. Although ordering sushi and sashimi at Yen is encouraged both for freshness and presentation, Yen is famous for its made-on-the-premises soba (buckwheat) noodles in hot or cold soup preparations. Japan-born pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki, who has several pâtisseries in Paris, provides the desserts and is famed for his green tea éclairs and delicate matcha opera cake.
Café de Flore
Café de Flore, which is situated at the heart of the chic St.-Germain-des-Prés, is a Paris landmark for its storied history, sunny terrasse, classic Art Deco interior, and broad menu offerings. Founded in 1887, Café de Flore became famous as a hangout for 1950’s-era writers and intellectuals such as Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, among others. On warm sunny days, tourists sit on the sidewalk alongside locals to sip a café crème or glass of wine. The menu features simple Euro comfort foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or anything in between.
Chalet le Forestier
Famed fashion designer and perfumer, Thierry Mugler began crafting clothes at Parisian boutique, Gudule, at the age of 24. Two years later, he was working for some of the biggest ready-to-wear labels in Paris, Milan, London and Barcelona. Mugler opened his first boutique in Paris in 1978. His career skyrocketed, and his haute couture collections and fragrances are now celebrated worldwide. A second Parisian outpost followed nearly a decade later on Avenue Montaigne. Both boutiques have since shuttered, and Mugler now sells his fashions at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. From structured styles for men and feminine silhouettes for women, Mugler’s simple designs accentuate the human form.
Established in 1976 by perfumer-chemist Jean Laporte, this tiny French perfume house in the Marais woos shoppers with rows of impeccably packaged fragrances, candles, and sachets created from high-quality, raw materials (Laporte later left the company to form rival Maître Parfumeur et Gantier.). At this La Grande Boutique location, shoppers are encouraged to sniff ribbons spritzed with scents (try the signature Mûre et Musc scent). L’Artisan Parfumeur also offers courses about perfume history and making, which includes an opportunity to create and name a unique scent.
Editions de Parfums
Founded ten years ago by master pefumer Frederick Malle, this perfumerie on Rue du Mont-Thabor keep its emphasis on the fragrance. Malle is the grandson of Dior Perfumes founder Serge Heftler and packages each of his 17 fragrances with a biography and picture of its designer. With a half-dozen outposts opened in just a decade, Malle's emphasis on composition appears to be paying off. Editions de Parfums' designs have been called "wearable art" and easily fetch $100-350 per bottle. This stylish location features framed photography of his "noses" and pieces from the perfumer's art collection.
In business in the city of lights for nearly two centuries, this iconic perfumerie dating to 1912 is one of the world's oldest perfume houses. A bit of old-style glamour at home on the Champs-Elysee, Guerlain occupies an uncommonly beautiful space merging Art Deco decor with designer Andrée Putnam's handcrafted gold mosaic. The perfumer's 300+ scents feature compositions taking inspiration from sweets: Vanilla and amber are often included ingredients. Dusky L'Heure Bleu is among Guerlain's most iconic perfumes, an original composition dating to 1912. But the popular unisex Jicky scent, which was created in 1889, is the oldest continually produced fragrance.
Chez Rene, near the Sorbonne, Pont Marie, and Ile St. Louis, is a popular bistro for the rich and powerful; President Mitterand used to frequently dine with his daughter here. Lyonnais classics are served, with the beef bourguignon and the coq au vin being in particular demand. Both are served with a thick, creamy sauce made with red wine. Chez Rene looks like the quintessential Parisian bistro: crisp white tablecloths, burgundy woodwork, a zinc-covered bar, and photos of the staff from every decade since the 1950's adorning the walls.