Frédéric Malle should have quit while he was ahead. His perfume house, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, has a number of popular and well done fragrances. On top of enjoying regular publicity, Malle himself is an Allure magazine contributor and pens “The Fragrance Guy” advice column.
For someone who built a brand to put perfumers in the spotlight, his book Frédéric Malle: On Perfume Making is distractingly self-oriented. Memoirs inherently are, but On Perfume Making lacks the rich insight and detail that makes them so intriguing. Malle’s introduction focuses on his personal frustrations with the industry’s present fixation on blockbuster perfumes, mainly that corporate input and disproportionate marketing budgets are crippling the creative process. For the majority of blog readers, it’s preaching to the choir. Where are the cringe-worthy anecdotes of marketing department meddling? Or the depressing examples of brilliant ideas rendered lackluster by cheap inferior ingredients? Whatever stories Malle has to tell, he’s not telling them here.
The body of the book outlines the creation of each Editions de Parfums fragrance, and it, too, glosses over the good stuff. The perfumer's visions will be familiar to anyone who reads about perfume; the rest is mostly about why Malle admires each perfumer and Malle’s contributions to the final products, skimming right past the interesting details. Portrait of a Lady, for example, went through “hundreds of trials in less than two months to find the right balance” between an oriental base, Turkish rose and red fruits. Did a particularly musty patchouli careen the composition into Miss Havisham territory? Did one boozy fruit take the whole thing to the other side of the tracks? Sure, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez set a high bar for details per paragraph in Perfumes: The Guide, but with a whole book essentially devoted to 18 perfumes I expected a lot more.
Frédéric Malle: On Perfume Making would make an incredible gift with purchase, but in the end it’s more like a lesson in marketing material than a stand-alone publication. Even if it were the new Perfumes: The Guide it would be a lesson in sticker shock: it’s a whopping $150. If someone gave me that kind of money to spend at Editions de Parfum, I’d head straight for En Passant without a second thought for this book. Since my review copy is a PDF, I can only hope the paper and binding are really, really nice. Do comment if you’ve seen it in person.
I wanted to like On Perfume Making; I like Frédéric Malle. But after reading this book I wonder if he isn’t just as jaded about his customers as he is about fragrance executives. I hope that some day soon the book is packaged with a complete set of sample vials — at a lower price point. I also hope that next time around, Malle gives more credit to readers’ intellect and curiosity.
Frédéric Malle: On Perfume Making
By Frédéric Malle, illustrated by Konstantin Kakanias,
foreword by Catherine Deneuve. 112 pp.
Angelika Taschen, 2012. $150.
My guess is that this book is aimed at privileged ladies who lunch, not perfume blog-readers… This is meant to put on your coffee table and make you look cultured.
I’m sure it’s true, but that title sure seems designed to catch the eyes of perfume-loving readers
You saw that it was published by Taschen, right? Their specialty is art books, not works of critical inquiry. This book is more of a catalog than an appendix to “Perfumes: The Guide.” Bashing it because it’s not in the same style as The Guide seems a little unfair.
Taschen is known for this sort of thing. If you’re patient enough, copies of this will surely end up at your local B&N for $10. That’s how much I paid for each of the two HUGE Taschen coffee table books on the comprehensive works of Monet and Picasso.
Yup. I see art books that are a few years old at Half Price Books all the time. Hopefully I’ll run into this one someday. I picked up Christine Meyer-Lefkowitz’s book on Poiret’s Rosine perfumes that way… for $5!
The parallels between the authors and the subject matter of “On Perfume Making” and “Perfumes: The Guide” invite comparison. So it’s fair to be disappointed that “On Perfume Making” doesn’t measure up in terms of new, intriguing insights. I actually really like that “On Perfume Making” is formatted like an art book, it gives it distance from “Perfumes: The Guide” and it works nicely with Malle’s curatorial vision. But good art books are loaded with contextual details, and “On Perfume Making” just isn’t.
Not to stir the pot, but you said “Malle’s introduction focuses on his personal frustrations with the industry’s present fixation on blockbuster perfumes, mainly that corporate input and disproportionate marketing budgets are crippling the creative process. For the majority of blog readers, it’s preaching to the choir.”
The great irony is that NST has consistently promoted/announced (and thus, played a role in the marketing of) these exact kinds of fragrances. From dopey celeb fragrances to an abundance of forgettable flankers, I unfortunately associate NST with news & announcements for these types of big-budget, blockbuster-driven releases.
There are an abundance of indie/niche houses which get little-to-no play on NST, whereas the abundance of celeb perfumes from Spears to Hilton to Bieber to you-name-it gets a little too much action here.
I’m not telling you how to run your own blog, but I do find it a little condescending that you acknowledge blog readers are familiar with the frustrations and exhaustion of corporate driven fumes with a far greater emphasis on marketing than creativity, yet you continue to announce/discuss the exact same exhausting releases on an almost daily basis.
NST yields much power. The status & quality of almost any industry rests solely upon the level of connoisseurship and the quality of critique. A highly discerning audience makes for an elevated desire for quality from the purveyors. If you salute every release the big houses string up on the flagpole, they have no incentive to change.
I will butt in and answer this, since it’s my blog and not Aleta’s.
We announce everything we know about, niche, mainstream, indie, celebrity, whatever. That’s part of what we do — provide news about upcoming releases. I don’t consider that part of what we do (the fragrance announcements) as saluting anybody or anything. The announcements are factual, and other than in the comments, include no subjective material at all. Don’t shoot the messenger. If it’s not news you’re interested in, of course there is no reason to read it.
The reviews are a different matter. We try to review a mix of fragrances, and I think we do a good job of covering all kinds, from indie to mainstream. We used to be frankly more weighted towards niche (in the reviews, not the announcements) and people complained about that too. And people still complain that we diss more mainstream than niche, which is probably likewise true, and has to do with the personal taste of the various contributors.
I would dispute that NST wields any great power, but to the extent that we wield any power at all, it does not seem to me that *not* reporting relevant news is any sort of answer. That would be like telling a newspaper not to report the news about politicians they don’t agree with because they’d be playing a role in promoting them.
Its ironic because its obviously going to be more difficult for small niche companies to show up on the radar – just because they do less marketing. How does one access info about new releases of companies hardly anyone has heard of?
I agree that announcing and promoting are not the same thing – though both contribute to an awareness of specific products. Personally I am glad that some mainstream products are reviewed since very few niche products made it to my little corner of the world!
That’s true…it’s hard to “break in” — but even without a major advertising budget, if the bloggers & the fragrance boards (including the FB groups) & a few key retailers take you up, you can do very well even without mainstream media and advertising venues. Just look at brands like Tauer. It’s not going to happen for everybody, but I think it’s easier today than ever for the cream to rise to the top.
Absolutely. If I were a perfume maker, the first thing I’d do was send you and the other bloggers an email and some samples. My guess is I’d get far more response from you fine folks than I would from the beauty magazines or whomever else a person used to have to go through to get mentioned.
I for one deeply appreciate NST mentioning everything, niche to mass market to drug store. No one does it better. Thank you!
Thanks, that’s very kind!
True, the age of the internet has made things more democratic!
I’ve seen and handled this book twice. I’d been planning on purchasing it, even though my finances are pretty limited these days, but once I flipped through the volume in person, I was able to resist the temptation. It’s a large-format book, printed on heavy paper, but there just wasn’t enough interesting text *or* beautiful imagery to convince me to acquire it for my own collection. I’m not averse to the idea of coffee-table books, and I certainly own a few (from art to fragrance to other topics), but this one didn’t even appeal to me on that basis. Too bad, because I love the FM fragrance line so much; this book just doesn’t seem to fit the house’s overall style. I would have liked to see a smaller, more densely written book with just a few photos.
Yes, the illustrations strike me as really odd given what I’ve seen of the house’s aesthetic. But I’ll leave all that to the art and design critics, especially since I’ve never actually been to Editions de Parfums.
It is 99.50 used on amazon. still steep but perhaps closer to being worth it.
Definitely closer! Especially if you like the illustrations (which I don’t, so I would still pass).
Any mention of the translator anywhere? Books don’t translate themselves. As a literary translator myself, I believe translators should get credit for their work.
The main text was translated by Frédéric Malle, the foreword and biographies by Susan Pickford.
You’re kidding! It actually says, ‘translated into English [or French translation] by Frédéric Malle?! I’m sorry, but my reaction to this is ‘Yeah, right!’ His mother tongue is French; he is fluent in English, but not amazingly so. There is a difference between being able to give a talk or answer a few questions in a foreign language and translating a written text (especially one’s own). I’m afraid I don’t believe it. He must have had help. (I am prepared to apologise if *proven* wrong.)
Bela, I haven’t seen the English version, but at the Paris launch of the book the subject of translation came up. Frédéric Malle told me he reworked the initial version quite a lot, but never denied there’d been a translator.
Not denying there was a translator is not the same as actually mentioning their name and giving them a credit in the book. You, as a translator, should be just as upset by this as I am.
As far as I can see, only France has genuine respect for translators. My name has always appeared on the covers of the books I have translated. If not actually on the cover, the translator’s names should at least be on the title page. Translators have been invisible long enough.
Thanks Denyse! This is exactly what the English version says:
Translation: Frédéric Malle;
Susan Pickford (foreword and biographies)
Sorry for delay – was busy.
Yeah, and that line is a blatant lie since Denyse says, ‘Frédéric Malle told me he reworked the initial version quite a lot, but never denied there’d been a translator.’
My question remains: Who translated the main text? And why aren’t they credited for it in the book?
I love a good sharp review with my morning coffee! Many thanks!
Was Catherine Deneuve’s foreword interesting?
I’m also curious about that!
I don’t think it would add much value to the book for anyone but her hardcore fans. She does mention a few of Malle’s perfumes that have helped her get into specific characters; interesting, but you’d need to have seen the movie and smelled the perfume to appreciate the references.
Thank you for writing this review. If I see this book, I’ll probably peruse it but cannot see myself plunking down $150. There’s a dearth of perfume-themed books (fiction or non-fiction) that one eagerly anticipates a new publication and high expectations can easily lead to disappointment.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to reading The Passage of Power, Robert Caro’s latest tome in The Years of Lyndon Johnson series
I’m looking forward to The Passage of Power, myself. Meanwhile, in the “giant art tome” genre I’m reading Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design.
Ooh, I just read a terrific review of The Passage of Power in the New York Review of Books. It sounds excellent!
I will wait till this can be picked up at a very sweet discount. I sampled Frederic Malle Angeliques Sous La Pluie recently. Love it, nice dry cedar scent. Would love a full bottle except with it being a dry cedar and I live in a very dry climate..it disappears on my skin pretty rapidly.