lundi 11 février 2013

Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle: A cookie-shaped portrait


Frédéric Malle’s most groundbreaking move in 2000 was putting the perfumer’s name on the label. It is conspicuously absent from “XXX par Frédéric Malle”, his new collection of olfactory portraits of “people or brands I admire”.
Since three names on a label would become quite confusing, edging the perfumer’s off in favor of the brand’s and the model’s – in this case the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten – is justifiable. Still, it does blur the notion of authorship that is the core of Éditions de Parfums’ brand identity: par means “by”. In this case, is “Frédéric Malle” the brand or the co-author?

 The booklet included in the box does address this new “model + brand owner + perfumer” equation, which Malle further explained at the press presentation with Bruno Jovanovic, a French-born, New York-based perfumer at IFF who has already authored three candles for the brand.  Since introducing a third party would disrupt Malle’s dynamics with perfumers, Jovanovic and Van Noten didn’t actually work together. Malle interpreted the designer's world for Jovanovic, and translated the work-in-progress back to Dries.

Olfactory portraits and one-off, “co-branded” niche fragrances are not entirely novel concepts: État Libre d’Orange, Comme des Garçons and Six Scents, which bases its entire identity on it, have all gone that route. It is interesting that Dries Van Noten chose this approach rather than launching his own brand – at one point, he was in discussion with a major company handling designer brand fragrance licenses, which clearly fell through. Perhaps the uncompromising Belgian designer didn’t feel comfortable harnessing his own company, which has remained independent throughout its development, to such a large commercial concern. His brand doesn’t advertise, which would have become compulsory if he’d launched a mainstream perfume line. It’s likely he felt his integrity would be better respected in a partnership with a similarly artistic and independent house.


Dries Van Noten’s aesthetics yield countless sources of olfactive inspiration. His bold collages of colors, prints and textures draw from various folkloric and historical sources, with an underlying Bauhaus vibe and an appealing disregard for “sexiness”: one of the strongest recurring motifs of his work is the way he challenges Western gendering. Yet his collections also give off a gentle, tender mood, and his shows are often subtly moving events.  When I learned he was partnering with Frédéric Malle I immediately though of Van Noten’s 60-acre garden near Antwerp and envisioned a vegetal, unconventionally floral scent.

I envisioned a landscape instead of a portrait. Frédéric Malle headed straight for a warm, well-ordered Flemish interior with a plate of cookies. Dries Van Noten is a very delicate woody gourmand, folding a cinnamon and clove-sprinkled, vanillic speculoos cookie accord into milky-smoky Mysore sandalwood[i]. To conjure the toasted, nutty, yeasty cookie dough, Malle remembered that sulfurol, more commonly used in food aromas, was also resorted to by Grasse perfumers to boost sandalwood (the material was featured in the odd, yeasty-milky Le Feu d’Issey). Patchouli coeur (i.e. divested of its musty/camphor notes), methyl ionone and musk set the blend between woody and cosmetic accords. Jasmine absolute is listed, but not legible per se to my nose; the patchouli is fairly prominent. Saffron and Peru balsam are also listed. A hefty dose of bergamot was added in the last mods to give the fragrance an old-school vibe, Malle explains.

Dries Van Noten is a cosy, milky-fluffy ball of a fragrance which fleetingly brings to mind Sophia Grojsman’s plush, “hug-me” style. However, I’ve worn it several times now and have found its sillage surprisingly introverted despite several spritzes. Perhaps this is a deliberate option to reflect Dries Van Noten’s low-key personal style?

Added Feb. 12th
After discussing Dries Van Noten with other French bloggers and perfume lovers who'd tested it, it seems that while the wearer stops being able to perceive the fragrance after a while except in whiffs, other people smell it quite well. 

We agreed we'd noticed this occurring with a few sandalwood and iris accords (there is no iris in DVN but there are ionones) like Cartier L'Heure Promise, Tom Ford Santal Blush and Diptyque Volutes. Other people can smell them just fine on us while we feel the fragrance has all but vanished.

Could there be some type of anosmia or "de-sensitization" at play?



[i] Frédéric Malle says this is genuine Santalum Album from India: apparently, sustainable stocks can now be found.

Illustrations: Detail of The Arnolfini Wedding by Jan Van Eyck and Dries Van Noten boutique window display found on Vogue.fr




19 commentaires:

  1. Seems to be a strange move by Frédéric, also using a virtual unknown (apparently he has created something for the US brand A&F) perfumer. It also seems odd that Van Noten had no input. Anyway, no doubt I will eventually sniff it and probably give it the thumbs up :)

    RépondreSupprimer
  2. Prince Barry, Malle was instrumental in raising the profile of the perfumers he worked with back in 2000 (otherwise, who'd have known their names outside the industry?). If they're stars to us, it's partly thanks to him. I think it's fantastic for him to work with a younger perfumer, though in this case Jovanovic isn't named on the bottle.
    As for Dries' input, as far as I've understood he did have some, but mediated through Malle. That is the standard M.O. when developing designer fragrances: things go through project managers, evaluators, etc.

    RépondreSupprimer
  3. I love DVN designs. And I'm surprised, and intrigued, by your description of the fragrance.
    I was expecting an exotic and maybe vegetal perfume, but I'm always interested in trying a new FM, even if the notes do not immediately "click".
    As you point out, this release bears few surprises: no explicit authorship on the perfume packaging, and the FM vessel for a DVN perfume... But at the end, it's the juice that counts for me. Do you know if it will be distributed along with the "regular" FM offerings?

    RépondreSupprimer
  4. Zazie, yes, as far as I know this first fragrance of the new collection will be offered in all Frédéric Malle points of sale, from Feb. 15th I think. I love DVN's designs very much as well.

    RépondreSupprimer
  5. Thanks for the first look at this one - I am very interested in this for all the reasons cited - Malle, van Noten, Mysore Sandalwood . . . okey-dokey. I like his 'menage a trois' idea, I think it bodes well for a new set of creations to complement his more inward looking 'duet' works, it offers some room to play a bit. Morton.

    RépondreSupprimer
  6. Morton, I've very intrigued by this new series as well. Frédéric Malle said the following "models" would not necessarily be in the fashion world. Dries was certainly a wonderful choice.

    RépondreSupprimer
  7. There do seem to sustainable sources of Santalum album coming on don't there? A company in Western Australia has it but is a while away from large scale harvest. Sounds great though:
    http://www.tfsltd.com.au/sandalwood-products/ and http://www.mtromance.com.au/shop/details/pure-indian-sandalwood-oil-bulk/
    A kilo will set you back $6,000.

    RépondreSupprimer
  8. Annemarie, the Société Française des Parfumeurs is organizing a conference next week on the very subject of sandalwood sources, which of course I shall attend, so I'll know more soon!

    RépondreSupprimer
  9. Oh good, I'm curious about this. If I was truly dedicated, and had some money to spare, I'd buy a teeny sample of TFS's Mysore sandalwood and another of the more common Australian species that they also produce, to see how they compare. But that money would come in handier for my next perfume sample order, not to mention a new dress I have my eye on. :)

    RépondreSupprimer
  10. I'm looking forward to this one, Denyse, as I love DVN. I hadn't expected a gourmand, but am curious to see how the sandalwood works out.

    RépondreSupprimer
  11. (That last post was from Jarvis)

    RépondreSupprimer
  12. Natural sandalwood is usually ever present when in a formula. It tends to be very pronounced and I never get nose-fatigue from it. I sometimes use a 10% dilution as perfume and only a couple of drops to the wrists can be smelled throughout the day.

    The de-sensitization you mention is very common to me. I do relate it to iris perfumes and recently I verified that it occurs because of irone alpha in natural orris which desensitizes your nose to all smell not just itself. This to me is the "powdery feeling" and not a smell per se. It is a feeling (almost a certainty) that a very fine and crystalline powder is suspended in the air. To me this is magic, to others I guess it is hate. I am guessing this was one of the reasons orris powder was included in many scented preparations in the past because it could so well make your own B.O undetectable. Having said that, Could it be that this is the case with ionones too?

    RépondreSupprimer
  13. Annemarie, a perfume lover's life is just endless arbitrage about allocating resources, isn't it?

    RépondreSupprimer
  14. Jarvis, you're pretty set up on the sandalwood front with L'Arbre, but of course this is very different. Not terribly gourmand, happily. Speculoos aren't cloying cookies to start with.

    RépondreSupprimer
  15. Kostas, interesting what you say about irone... That said, I don't get this disappearing act from the Prada. I'm too lazy to look it up but I do remember there's an issue with ionones, which one can stop smelling fairly quickly. I know there's a touch of ionones of the DVN...

    RépondreSupprimer
  16. That L'Arbre is fantastic.

    I actually have a bit of a thing for speculoos. One of my favourite cookies. And I love that speculoos spread that they make as well.

    Oh, and that book, you know: Speculoos. De l'autre femme. :-)

    RépondreSupprimer
  17. Jarvis, that spread is sinful. As for the speculum/mirror/speculoos play, it survived only in the illustration. Irigaray was kind of my intellectual nemesis back in the crazy 80s.

    RépondreSupprimer
  18. I'm a HUGE DvN fan, he's one of my favorite designers. And right now I'm sniffing the first sniffs of my at-last-received decant of this and it's making me very happy. I love the milkiness. I can find the jasmine - a very smooth waxy one - but it's mostly spice and a slight shaved-wood hint with that creamy, vanilla-y Mysore. Oh, I do like this.

    RépondreSupprimer
  19. Amy, glad Dries didn't disappoint! As I said in the post, this type of scent tends to make me anosmic to it, which is a real pity because I do enjoy it very much.

    RépondreSupprimer