Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is a house that is very well-respected in the niche fragrance community. Its esteemed figurehead,
Estee Lauder Frederic Malle, is considered to be a talented editor of perfumes. It shows. The compositions crafted for this house are artfully done, stripped of excess, and technically innovative. And true to the brand’s purpose in giving perfumers freedom to express their creativity, the elegant bottles feature prominently the names of the perfumers.
Two significant things that I noticed about the Frederic Malle line: first, the names of the fragrances almost always accurately reflect the smell contained in the bottle; second, one should approach these fragrances as one would a soliflore – most fragrances from the collection are designed to draw out different facets of a single dominant note (tuberose, bitter orange, vetiver, etc.).
But where to start? I confess that when I first smelled the line some time ago, I was thoroughly unimpressed. While I recognized that these fragrances are of the utmost quality, it was hard for me to enjoy them, perhaps because I was just beginning to explore the niche side of the fragrance market. Recently I was provided with a range of samples from the collection. I have since revisited them and find the line to be worthy of an in-depth exploration. These are my impressions:
Vetiver Extraordinaire (Dominique Ropion):
How it smells: This is a peppery vetiver with a hint of ozone and a clean musk base. It’s classy, classic, and very simple. Unlike vetivers that are paired with a strong citrus or spice component (though both are present here), Vetiver Extraordinaire highlights the peppery and green facets of the note. In my opinion, this is for gentlemen only.
Why you might like it: It should go without saying that lovers of vetiver should certainly sample this fragrance. And if you like fresh, masculine fragrances with an old-fashioned vibe, this might be for you. It’s relatively simple, yet still complex enough to be interesting. Vetiver Extraordinaire is the olfactory equivalent of a vest and pocket watch.
Why you might dislike it: Stay away if you don’t enjoy vetiver in all its varieties. This is not likely to be a crowd pleaser, but probably won’t come across as unpleasant either.
Sample alongside: Roja Dove’s Vetiver Extrait, Creed’s Original Vetiver, Ermenegildo Zegna’s Haitian Vetiver.
French Lover (Pierre Bourdon)
How it smells: Fortunately, this does not smell like the name might suggest. The American name for this fragrance, Bois d’Orage (“Thunder Wood” or “Storm of Woods”), is a much better fit. On first spray, one is treated to a whirlwind of dry woods and angelica. Later in the dry down, slightly musky and mossy notes emerge alongside incense. To my nose, French Lover and Vetiver Extraordinaire are the only two fragrances from Frederic Malle that are on the extreme end of masculine.
Why you might like it: Lovers of the smell of dry woods might enjoy French Lover. The fragrance comes across as roguish and a bit austere. French Lover is for the cave men who dwell among us.
Why you might dislike it: It’s so dry that it might bother some people – this dryness can be oppressive, and might get in one’s nose. Angelica can be a love or hate note, so be sure to sample first. Some perceive a post-cigarette smell in this fragrance.
Sample alongside: Creed’s Royal Oud
Bigarade Concentree (Jean-Claude Ellena)
How it smells: A more concentrated bitter orange cologne. Bigarade Concentree is immediately recognizable as a Jean-Claude Ellena composition; his signature watercolor style is evident in this scent. Instead of clearly recognizable ingredients, the notes come across as whip-like brush strokes that carry an abstract fragrant essence. First bitter orange, then spice, rose and hay, and finally a light and grassy cedar.
Why you might like it: This is a very well-composed bitter orange cologne. If you want a simple citrus that departs from the typical lemon/bergamot mix, Bigarade Concentree would be a good choice. It’s light, inoffensive, and ethereal.
Why you might dislike it: Like almost all Jean-Claude Ellena compositions, Bigarade Concentree is an extremely simple composition. Some might find this simplicity boring. Though it is more concentrated than Cologne Bigarade from the same line, it still has the longevity (or lack thereof) of an eau de cologne. Some complain that the spice can come across as a mild hint of body odor (though it doesn’t express itself this way on my skin).
Sample alongside: Tom Ford’s Mandarino Di Amalfi, Acqua di Parma’s Arancia di Capri, Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte
Geranium Pour Monsieur (Dominique Ropion)
How it smells: Straight up geranium with a masculine edge. Geranium Pour Monsieur emphasizes the minty aspects of geranium. The minty geranium emerges as a blast of green freshness at the opening. Soon after it is combined with spices and cloves for masculinity, the combination of which is placed over a heavy dose of clean musks. The fragrance comes across as very fresh and clean.
Why you might like it: If you love the bracing freshness of geranium and mint, there is no better alternative. Geranium Pour Monsieur will keep you smelling clean and down to earth without ever smelling of citrus. It’s hard to find fragrances that smell fresh without using citrus, and in this regard Dominique Ropion delivers.
Why you might dislike it: Depending on skin chemistry, Geranium Pour Monsieur can ensure that your skin smells exactly like minty fresh breath. To the average consumer, it is a very well done, but instantly recognizable eau de toothpaste.
Sample alongside: Ys-Uzac’s Metaboles, Xerjoff’s 1861, Creed’s Vetiver Geranium