I recently visited Frederic Malle’s beautiful Madison Avenue (at 73rd Street) boutique with my girlfriend and a friend. The store looks like a well-lit French parlor with a desk, no visible cash register, and three eight-foot-tall tubular glass chambers that resemble science fiction teleportation pods.
These pods, which are also featured in the brand’s alcove of the Barneys fragrance and cosmetics floor a dozen blocks south, give browsers a way of smelling the fragrances “as if they were worn by someone walking by,” as the staff explained to me. But despite the look of them, one does not actually enter the glass chambers; instead, a fragrance is sprayed inside and left to circulate for a moment before you lean your head inside. It’s a great way to get the ambient aroma of a perfume, and it doesn’t linger on your skin or in your nose. When you’re done, they turn on a powerful exhaust fan to clear the chamber.
I knew before I went to the store that I was interested in Frederic Malle’s Géranium pour monsieur and Musc Ravageur scents. The former is a great summer masculine floral with subtle mint. The latter is a potent but intoxicating amber musk that’s probably best saved for cooler weather.
I’d filled out a questionnaire online (http://www.editionsdeparfums.com/mallesite_gb/index.htm) a month ago, and a Frederic Malle representative replied with a few suggestions, including Musc Ravageur. Some questions were vague—Do you have any particular desire at the moment?—while others were specific—Why do you wear perfume? To seduce, to refresh, to add a final touch…—and one direct—Which perfumes have most marked you? It’s a great way to get personalized suggestions from a perfumer, and a great way for the perfumer to encourage experimentation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my list of suggestions, and recalled only the one.
No matter. The sales associate, a thin brown-haired woman in a very avant garde black couture outfit, was extremely helpful. After asking me some questions—not all of them like the ones in the questionnaire—she had me smell a couple of fragrances in the glass chamber. Dans tes bras, one that the associate figured was a gamble on me, was intriguing. It’s described by the company as “cashmeran, sandalwood, musk and patchouli, reinforced with salicylates and incense, softened with heliotrope, colored with violet accord.”
It was too subtle at first, but then there was something soft and floral, but not feminine, just clean smelling, like a good soap. The sales associate told me the perfumer was aiming for the scent of skin, and that the result was a very old school French perfume. If it’s skin that creator Maurice Roucel (who also created Musc Ravageur and Bond No. 9’s superb New Haarlem) was after, it’s the skin of someone who smells great. To me it’s a neutral smell, not like a perfume so much as the scent of someone whose natural skin scent is pleasant (is that pheromones?), combined with a mild soap.
I’ve been wearing it for more than a week now (I left the store with a sample) and it’s like nothing else I have. It’s not even in the same category—it’s not something that ever would have occurred to me to try. The obvious reason for this is that while Frederic Malle doesn’t clearly market its fragrances by gender, Dans tes bras clearly falls on the feminine side. And yet on me, it worked. —Harry Sheff