Frédéric Malle x Alber Elbaz: In Their Own Words
How did the collaboration come about?
Frédéric Malle: “I had admired Alber’s work for a long time, at Yves Saint Laurent and then at Lanvin. I always loved when my wife Marie wore his dresses. I also remember my 15-year-old daughter’s absolute joy when she managed to get her hands on the very last dress available from Alber’s collection at H&M.
Later I found out that Alber had been buying my perfumes to give as gifts for the women he loved. We didn’t really know each other, but we did have a mutual friend, Élie Top, so I asked Élie to give me Alber’s number and invited him to lunch. When Alber and I finally met each other in person, we found we had so much more in common than just admiring each other’s work. We share many of the same preferences and many of the same concepts of beauty. When we began working together we found that out of hundreds of perfume samples, we both liked the same two.”
Alber Elbaz: “Frédéric called me on the phone and asked if I would like to do a perfume and I was like yes and no and no and yes. I always knew the work of Frédéric and I always had so much respect for what he created. The first time I discovered his perfumes was in Barneys in New York and then in Paris, in his gorgeous stores. But I didn’t know if I wanted to do a perfume. I didn’t know if the word ‘collaboration’ was right for me. And then in the end it wasn’t a collaboration, it was the result of friendship and love and respect.
Alber’s Back, And His Sights Are Set On Scent
We started working on the perfume, and we already had the word Superstitious in mind. Then one day, in early September of last year, I called Frédéric and I said, you know I’m getting a Légion d’Honneur on October 3, I will be an officer – actually an officer and a gentleman. It was the first time in so many years that I was inviting the whole fashion industry but I didn’t have one dress to show. And I’m doing it during Paris Fashion Week. We’re squeezing the Légion d’Honneur between two runway shows. I thought how embarrassing it would be for me to just come and show nothing where everybody’s coming for a show. And so I asked Frédéric if he could make the essence of a dress. Un parfum de robe. I wanted people to leave the place, and maybe not to see a dress, but to smell a dress.”
And how did the fragrance itself come into being?
FM: “I immediately thought of Dominique Ropion for this perfume because he works very much like an architect. Dominique’s other common trait with Alber is his love of women and the fact that he wants to help them be a more beautiful version of themselves, rather than hiding them behind his creations.
Then it so happened that I had been working with Dominique on a perfume that exudes the kind of natural elegance that Alber was alluding to when he asked me for the smell of a dress. I asked Dominique to offer this masterpiece in the making to Alber. My instincts served me well, as Alber loved it. He especially loved the dry down and asked me to ‘make it bigger’, so that the warm amber and the deep vetiver would be more present. And he was right – it made it nicer. He has very good taste. The secret architecture of the perfume is like the secret architecture of the dresses he creates.
I loved this process as I realised that, without planning it, we went back to the way great classics, such as Miss Dior or Chanel No.5 were made, respectively by Jean Charles and Ernest Beaux, then offered to Mademoiselle Chanel and to Monsieur Dior. A finished product. And as well as an old process, the scent is something of the past too, because no-one makes floral aldehydics anymore.”
AE: “When we started the perfume I thought we already have something in mind, we already know what we want. We just had to reach the same conclusion. But that turned out to be easy. During the process, I did not receive one email from him and he did not receive one email from me. It was all done over some phone calls, some texting, and mostly the discussions we had during our two-hour lunches. And I think we had five or six lunches. But what we had in the end actually was a story.
It was not just a mix of the two of us, of me and Frédéric, it was more of a chemistry, an alchemistry even, between two people, two ideas, two worlds that came together and became one. So it’s almost like one plus one equals three.”
And the packaging?
FM: “We came up with the name Superstitious during our first conversation. It was more flirtatious at the beginning: ‘If we were to make a fragrance we’d call it Superstitious…’ But I registered the name just in case.
Then I came back and had this idea of doing an eye – you know, like the bad eye. And so I gave him drawing after drawing. And… Alber didn’t like my eye! So he drew, on the page I had printed things out on, three eyes. And we crossed out two and I took a picture on my iPhone of the one we liked, tweaked it a bit for more contrast, then sent it to my office in New York. And that’s the eye you see on the box, and on the bottle. And the writing of the name is Alber’s writing.
With someone like Alber, he has 10,000 ideas per minute and he’s generous with those ideas, which makes you want to reciprocate with great ideas of your own. He’s not thinking: ‘Oh it’s a good idea, I must keep it to myself.’ He’s very bright, Alber.”
What kind of person do you imagine wearing this fragrance?
FM: “You can take it in two different ways. You could take it like a great classic – an understated luxury, that comes like a second skin. The fire under the ice, like a Hitchcock character. But because it’s a type of perfumery that hasn’t been done for such a long time, people can see it very modern at the same time, but with a wave to the past. I think much younger people could see it as very novel – for them it’s like when you take an old brooch and wear it on a jeans jacket. These are the women.”
AE: “We designed this fragrance for women, the perfume of a dress, the silhouette that lingers after a woman has left the room.”
What are your favourite smells in the world?
FM: “I live in smells. Life keeps on being mesmerising and a permanent source of inspiration: flowers, forests, wood burning in the night, kerosene at JFK, the glue that we used as children to paste paper at school, the scent of a good dinner, the purity of mountain air – these and 1,000 more never cease to amaze me.”
AE: “The scent of a dress.”
Superstitious is available from March 24 at Liberty, priced at £158 for 50ml.