perfume enthusiast (originally through Twitter, believe it or not) who writes about vintage perfumes, on an outing with another friend, where we all had both the quintessential uptown and the downtown perfume experience. It was an experience of almost complete opposites. The brutal cold of this winter Saturday, heightened the sense of interior welcome at each place. The first was at 72nd and Madison, the Frederic Malle store. The cool beauty and elegant, thoughtful design of the interior is like an invitation to be intellectually engaged while being sensually seduced. There is a lot to try here, but because of my current enthusiasm for Carnal Flower, I took the opportunity to focus on and try each of the Dominique Ropion fragrances produced for the Malle line. This was, to say the least, an experience of one extremely refined beauty after another. There is an emphasis on technical innovation, where head space technology is used to refine the effect of the reality of actual materials and flowers at their peak, pushing and drawing back various elements and components of materials subtly so as to direct sensual awareness toward a more refined version of the flower or material itself. These methods present a very personal interpretation of the soul of the flower or material, and then a composition that speaks to memory or an archetypal form of experience. There is also the use of a much higher percentage of material itself in the perfume, heightening its power while still keeping it from jumping over the edge of too much.
Being able to try all of them is quite the experience. The First of May (1er Mai), for example, is the lily of the valley bouquet of idealized youth, when that scent was the essence of early spring and you recall the green of the vegetation around the flowers shading and cooling the floral sweetness into a liquid freshness and energy. I loved Vetiver Extraordinare. Wearing it, while it is a typical masculine material, would be like having a handsome man on your arm, who smells like a field of new mown hay laid on the embers of a fireplace with smoldering aromatic woods. Une Fleur de Cassie was an urban, modern, sophisticated version of the ultra luxurious and intense materials of the older classics, with mimosa, jasmine and cassie absolutes balanced by clarified dark base of vanilla and sandalwood, of an elegance so refined it is no longer gender specific. Un Gardenia, la nuit is as close as possible to a very fragrant night blooming gardenia as science and skill can make it; Ropion proves his reputation as a specialist in the aesthetic of white flowers. Geranium pour Monsieur is built on the idea of the leaves of the geranium plant, an astringent freshness that is mellowed by the exotic resin and benzoin substances mixed with spices like close and cinnamon with musks, it gives the impression of alert intelligence, because the balanced composition of unusual ingredients. Santal Cardamon is in candle form, a version of sandalwood that was found during experimentation with cardamon, the combination of the two a spiced wood. It recalls the Indian custom of building and carving with sandalwood to aid interior contemplation, with the cardamon recalling the sense of taste to bring it back to the present. The gardenia and the lily of the valley are also in candle form.
The very polished interior of the store has three enclosed columns of rapidly refreshed air in cabinets that are used to test the fragrances. I would imagine that otherwise such dense perfumes would never dissipate if sprayed into the room or on the people in it. The glass door is opened and the ventilators waft the perfume within the column of air, and you can reach in and try it that way to see how it will be when it evaporates around you in sillage.
The staff fulfills your expectations that they be sophisticated and highly knowledgeable about perfume, the perfumers intentions and body of work, and are very generous and gracious with their knowledge. We presented ourselves not as customers, but as perfumistas/bloggers and the store manager went through a thorough an amazing demonstration and talk about each of the Ropion perfumes one after the other (and a few others, huge topics in themselves, about which more another time). It may have been helpful too that we came in so awe of Carnal Flower, and because she knew we were making a special pilgrimage, and partly because we were kind of lucky that it was so incredibly cold that everyone was staying inside and it was not all that busy when we first came in. Though by the time we left, it had started to fill up and I can imagine people bringing these wonderful things into their own personal worlds, and I am very happy they are diffusing this artistry around NYC.
Above: The Store: Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, 898 Madison Avenue; (212) 249-7941, and a portrait of Mr. Ropion from their fascinating site.
The next perfume stop we made that day will be the subject of my next post, on the very different NYC downtown experience of Enfleurage -- a raw materials source.