Frederic Malle, Estee Lauder & Perfume Industry Changes

Source: online.wsj.com

Source: online.wsj.com

As many of you know by now, Estee Lauder has purchased Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle after a two-month spending spree that included Le Labo and Rodin Olio Lusso. The sale of Le Labo — a niche brand seen as hip, edgy, and expensive — came as a shock, but it was nothing compared to the outcry which greeted the news concerning Frederic Malle. He was different, he was special, he was Frederic Malle! His Editions de Parfums was considered one of the leaders of niche perfumery, adulated for its elegance and class, and respected for its innovations. For example, it was Frederic Malle who truly made us all pay attention to the men or women who actually created the fragrances by featuring the name of the “nose” on the actual bottle, and giving them the recognition that they had heretofore been denied. Malle symbolized niche and sophisticated luxury to such an extent that the Estee Lauder news was greeted with cries of “Et tu, Brute” and claims of a sell-out.

My response was something else. The very first second, I was utterly astounded but my disbelief soon gave way to an inexplicable (and admittedly hard to explain), “I’m not surprised.” My real, main, and primary reaction, however, was to see the news through the lens of Estee Lauder as the flip-side of industry trends represented by Elizabeth Arden and Coty. Most of you will probably wonder what on earth they have to do with anything but, as I’ll explain here, the Frederic Malle acquisition symbolizes the way the industry leaders respond to market changes by diverging into two, very separate, polar opposite directions, and that may be telling for the future.

As a result, the focus of this piece will be as much on the perfume industry and its market changes as it will be on Frederic Malle himself. I’m afraid that means quite a lot of financial information and business figures from the middle section onwards, but I’ve noticed a definite trend over the last 8 months that I think is significant. The Malle acquisition accompanied by the latest Estee Lauder quarterly earnings report seems to underscore my theory, to my eyes at least.

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Kilian Light My Fire (+ Intoxicated & Smoke For The Soul)

Kilian Hennessy's Addictive State of Mind ad photo. Source: Kilian email.

Kilian Hennessy’s Addictive State of Mind ad photo. Source: Kilian email.

Light My Fire is one of a trio of new fragrances from Kilian Hennessy in the Addictive State of Mind Collection which debuted last month. The common theme which links all three perfumes is a dark smokiness, but each fragrance seems to have a particular focus. In Light My Fire, it is ostensibly tobacco. According to the press copy quoted by Bergdorf Goodman, “Light My Fire dissects the finest cigar tobacco, the olfactory pinnacle of a Monte Cristo.”

Well, not on my skin. I think I had quite an anomalous experience with the scent, while my time with the other two fragrances in the collection — Smoke for the Soul and Intoxicated — was very similar to that of others. I’ll briefly cover Smoke for the Soul and Intoxicated at the end of this post and in lieu of a proper review, primarily because I thought one of them was simply terrible and verging on the unbearable. First, though, a look at Light My Fire.

The Addictive State of Mind Collection. Source:  bmwclub.ru

The Addictive State of Mind Collection. Source: bmwclub.ru

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MPG Ambre Precieux & Ambre Precieux Ultime

Source: Pinterest via Uploaded. Original source or photographer unknown.

Source: Pinterest via Uploaded. Original source or photographer unknown.

Sometimes, the simplest things can be the most comforting. Ambre Precieux from Maître Parfumeur et Gantier (or “MPG“) is one of those things for me. An instant love, a soothing blanket, an addictive scent with a narcotic hold on me from the very first moment that I tried it and that I keep turning to again and again. Caramel amber with creamy vanilla, smoky incense, and bits of toffee in a lusciously sweet, frothy mix that has been lightly dusted with spices — it’s like a perfume lover’s dream latte, only far better than anything Starbucks could ever put out. In fact, Ambre Precieux is so deeply comforting to me that I ordered a full bottle within moments of sniffing it, and I’ve gone through a rather alarming amount of it in just a short time. You know how people sometimes say that a fragrance makes them want to eat their arm? That is Ambre Precieux for me.

"Abstract streams of gold." Photo: Jason Tockey. Site: jstimages.wordpress.com

“Abstract streams of gold.” Photo: Jason Tockey. Site: jstimages.wordpress.com

So, when I heard that MPG was coming out with a deeper, richer version of the fragrance — an eau de parfum this time — called Ambre Precieux Ultime, I practically salivated on myself. I had to try it. Immediately. The fact that the Ultime is a limited-edition release and only 1000 bottles were made added to my sense of urgency.

Others felt the same way, too. Ambre Precieux is not only one of the benchmark fragrances in the genre, but a mainstay in many amber lovers’ collection. Such is the love that people feel for the original that several friends of mine rushed to get their hands on the new Ultime, buying full bottles blindly and without regard to the higher price. I didn’t succumb to that extent because I’m wary about blind buys in general — and I’m glad I waited. The two fragrances don’t diverge enormously, but there are some definite, noticeable differences that impact my views of each one. As a result, I thought it would useful to cover both fragrances simultaneously. Continue reading

Parfums de Nicolaï Cuir Cuba Intense

Imagine a land in an alternate universe, a parallel Cuba called Cuir Cuba Intense. There, an old tobacco farmer rolls out tobacco leaves, not on the thighs of nubile virgins, but on cedar tables covered with thick, black licorice paste. The leaves are still a bit raw, half-moist, and wet, with a certain dirty darkness that borders on the leathery. The farmer layers the tobacco with generous amounts of sweet coumarin crystals, then more black licorice, before dusting them with geranium rose, bits of lavender and mint, and a touch of lemon. Rolled into cigars, they are lightly doused with civet and musk, then nestled between sheaves of sweet hay, and left to dry in a room filled with golden ambered warmth which carries the faintest traces of rum and honey.

"Tobacco Rolling, Vinales, Cuba." Photo by April Maciborka and David Wile. Their sites:  blog.aprilmaciborka.com (link to full website gallery embedded within) and davidwile.com

“Tobacco Rolling, Vinales, Cuba.” Photo by April Maciborka and David Wile. Their sites: blog.aprilmaciborka.com (link to full website gallery embedded within) and davidwile.com

Over time, the cigars change. The licorice melts into their body, the civet awakens to add a slightly sharp edge, and the tobacco starts to dry. They lose their raw darkness, tempered by the coumarin crystals which bloom into a subtle creaminess. Eventually, by some alchemical transformation of this alternate universe, the tobacco is no longer even tobacco. It has turned into leather. First, into a dark, sweetened leather dusted with spices and, then, finally, into the creamiest calf-skin with supple smoothness and a hint of sweetness.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

That is the world of Cuir Cuba Intense, brought to you by Patricia de Nicolaï, a talented perfumer who is, in my opinion, the true, rightful heir to the Guerlain throne. You can read more about that, her childhood in the Guerlain family, the glass-ceiling for female noses within both the family and the perfume industry as a whole, and how her Parfums de Nicolaï brand was really the first, truly “niche” house in a profile piece I wrote a long time ago. Here, I will only say that we’re all probably better off that Madame de Nicolaï (hereinafter spelled simply as “Nicolai,” sans the dotted “i”) is following her own vision and not subject to the dictates of a corporate overlord like LVMH. In fact, this year marks Parfums de Nicolai’s 25th Anniversary, so a huge congratulations to her and to her husband who co-founded the house.

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