At Editions de Frédéric Malle, matching a person to the right perfume – whether in person or virtually – has always been a crucial part of the brand’s mission. «From the get-go – twenty years ago – I thought that, while a face-to-face session with one of our specialists was always going to be the ultimate, you shouldn’t have to go to a store to get a great experience or find the right match,» says Frédéric Malle today. «Not everyone was able to visit our stores, but we had a perfume for almost everyone. That’s why we were the first perfumers to launch a website, which at the time seemed to many people counterintuitive. I always knew that a virtual experience could eventually be just as fun and accurate – a similar type of exchange, but in a way, more intimate, and quite extraordinary.»
With Frédéric Malle
The original e-commerce site contained the first attempt, an almost Proustian questionnaire that – seemingly by magic, or intuition – produced amazingly accurate recommendations. At first, Malle answered each one personally. It was so good it’s still there, 20 years later.
This acuity was a triumph of study and observation of people’s visual language, individual style choices, and aesthetic preferences. In the early years, Malle had made a point of personally working the floor at the rue de Grenelle boutique, getting to know the clientele, learning the art of pairing customer and scent, and training his perfume consultants to be expert matchmakers. This felt crucial: the combination of rationality and instinct, meticulous refinement and fantasy, was to Malle the ethos of the company embodied. «By simply observing and really listening to people, we learn so much,» he says, «and as a result, we can give really precise advice. And this made-to-measure, very careful way of looking at people, helps them to find the freedom they really want – the freedom to be themselves. And they, in turn, because they are so varied and multifaceted, allow us the freedom of incredible creativity and the desire to generate an even-more eclectic perfume collection.»
Enter Kakanias. The Athens-born, LA-based artist, known for the whimsy and theatrical drama of his illustration, would seem at first glance an unlikely match for the painstaking Malle. «When I work with him, I try to get into his skin,» says Kakanias. «He’s so precise – and I’m not.» And yet, the two are not only longtime collaborators, but have become dear friends. Their skill-sets are in fact complementary and both share a fascination with observing and capturing the world in all its fabulous, glamorous, complex dimensions. Together, they combined their different landscapes, experiences, and intuitions to create a series of deft visual character sketches.
The Find your Match quiz combines both: at first glance a beautiful collage of images, of characters, the questionnaire will, in fact, result in the perfect perfume. What’s your ideal setting? What shoes do you wear – what coat – and what underwear? What do you drive? This self representation is reflected by an algorithm, based on Malle’s years of observation, that he calls «a true representation of my brain,» translated into images with Kakanias‘s inimitable whimsical grace («It wasn’t easy – there were so many objects!») and leads to a result of uncanny accuracy.
What starts as a delightful escape from your day can become so much more. How do you want to use perfume – as weapon, as seduction, as discretion, as disguise? Will you want to sparkle, dominate, charm? What are the important moments in life, when you want to shine? Do you see yourself running a board meeting in Louboutins? Trysting in the woods with abandoned hair? Meeting in-laws while carrying a Birkin? Riding a Vespa across the Bridge of Sighs at midnight, en route to a highly exclusive and vaguely sinister after-hours club, with Dante in your pocket? Maybe all four at once!
It’s almost like going to a psychologist, a meeting of the minds in your telephone – but at the end, you’ll have the perfect scent. Who are you? Who do you want to be? What was your childhood like? (OK, maybe not that – but who knows? This stuff is powerful.) You’ll gradually hone in on a reflection of how you see yourself, and how you wish to be seen: your perfect match. And it will change your life.
Photos: © Frédéric Malle and © Sandra Bauknecht
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