A bit of perfume humour: What do new niche brands want to be when they grow up? Frédéric Malle, of course. Seriously, though, few perfume companies have the pedigree of the maison founded 22 years ago by the worldly Parisian.
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Some background on the man himself. He grew up surrounded by luxury and elegance. His grandfather Serge Heftler-Louiche founded Parfums Christian Dior and his mother was artistic director of the same company.
After working for Laboratoires Roure, where his appreciation of the finest ingredients and the process of creation were honed, the art history graduate put his knowledge to great use when he launched his own eponymous brand in 2000.
If we’re being correct and super French, it’s Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, because he compares himself to an editor / publisher in the way he works with his chosen perfumers.
It’s become a niche cliché – the best perfumers and materials, unlimited creative freedom, quality and craftsmanship over crass commercialism – but that’s because there’s much truth in it when we’re talking about this house.
From the launch collection to the acquisition by Estée Lauder Companies in 2014 and beyond, several releases have gone onto become modern classics and genre bests, always with the creativity of his collaborators in the spotlight.
Let’s not forget what was a novel idea – for the perfumer’s name to be featured on the bottle – is an industry aspiration now.
We present the very best Frédéric Malle fragrances, including several additional must-tries.
Our Shortlist For Best Frédéric Malle Fragrances
Frédéric Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse (Edmond Roudnitska)
We can thank Edmond Roudnitska for classics such as Dior Diorissimo, Eau d’Hermès and Femme Rochas. We can also thank him for this innovative composition that was originally created in the 1950s.
The legendary French perfumer created it for the exclusive use of his wife, Thérèse. She gave the formula to Frédéric Malle when he launched his company in 2 000.
Opening with fresh notes of melon and cucumber, it richens with the appearance of prune, rose and jasmine notes, eventually settling on a woody base of patchouli and vetiver.
Complex and intriguing, it’s unlike any fruity fragrance we’ve smelled before.
Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose EDP (Ralf Schwieger)
According to the brand’s website, Lipstick Rose EDP came into being after an early version captivated a blindfolded Monsieur M in a young perfumer talent competition.
This 2000 creation is now part of the company’s excellent selection of rose fragrances that includes Portrait of a Lady, Rose Tonnerre and Rose & Cuir.
Slightly sweet and fresh violet is offset by the bitter citrus of grapefruit in the intro.
The powderiness of the violet is accentuated by the star of the show and the iris.
The dynamic between the rose and raspberry is technically brilliant, each bringing out the fruity rosiness in each other, with musk and vanilla concluding the modern classic.
Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre (Pierre Bourdon)
It doesn’t get any better than Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre, one of the launch releases from the year 2 000 that established the Paris-based niche house’s impeccable credentials.
This creation opens with the floral richness of ylang-ylang. Notes of violet and rose lay the powdery path for the headline iris.
Iris can be a bit of an ice queen, but we find this take welcoming and embracing once you get to know her. There’s also an aldehydic element, but it never steals the show. It gives the composition a classic feel.
Warm and smooth sandalwood defines the drydown, with musk and tonka bean lingering sensually on the skin.
What a treat!
Frédéric Malle Angeliques Sous la Pluie EDP (Jean-Claude Ellena)
If we had to take Instagram as an indicator, Jean-Claude Ellena’s first creation for Frédéric Malle isn’t as popular as some of the brand’s other launch releases. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of your attention.
Although impressionistic in style, it’s highly distinctive stuff. That’s due to the green aromatics of angelica (the herb that also gives the French liqueur Chartreuse its kick) supported by the freshness of juniper berry and bergamot notes. Pink pepper adds spiciness to the mix.
With notes of cedar and white musk, the drydown is soft and soothing.
We think it’s a fine example of the petrichor effect (the smell of rain on dry soil or a hot sidewalk).
Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur EDP (Maurice Roucel)
The name alone conjures all sorts of torrid imagery. The scent itself – part of the launch collection – does not disappoint.
The fresh and aromatic opening is deceptively innocent, with notes of bergamot, mandarin and lavender.
It shifts into warm and sensual mode with an exemplary amber accord –rich with sweet vanilla and resinous spice – partnered with oodles of powdery musk.
Sandalwood and patchouli maintain the musky vibe in the drydown to complete this supremely sexy scent.
The rum-licious Frédéric Malle Monsieur EDP, created by Bruno Jovanovic and released in 2015, is sensationally seductive stuff too.
Frédéric Malle Noir Epices EDP (Michel Roudnitska)
If his name sounds familiar that’s because Michel Roudnitska is the son of the legendary Edmond Roudnitska. With this 2000 release, he showed his finesse as a perfumer in his own right.
Those skills are evident right from the start where a fruity rose supports fresh notes of orange and geranium.
And then loads of spice in the form of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and especially cloves for sensual warmth.
There’s more depth in the drydown thanks to patchouli and sandalwood.
While decidedly rich and full of character, it’s not as dark and foreboding – “layer upon layer of somber notes” – as the brand website makes it sound.
In fact, we think there’s something festive about this composition. Almost Christmas-y but without any of the tackiness. Frédéric Malle is about French sophistication, after all, and this EDP has that in abundance.
Frédéric Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire EDP (Dominique Ropion)
You’ll often find this 2002 release mentioned in the same breath as other great vetiver fragrances such as Guerlain Vetiver EDT and Lalique Encre Noire EDT. And for good reason.
While pricier than those examples, Vetiver Extraordinaire is a standard bearer and a must for fans of the perennial grass.
The opening sings (yes, it’s that good) with sharp citrus notes of bitter orange and bergamot.
Haitian vetiver is known for its freshness and Dominique Ropion makes the most of the variety in his second outing for the brand. Its earthiness is complemented by the musky-woody tones of the synthetic Cashmeran and cedar, with creamy sandalwood in the background.
With musk and oakmoss wrapping up things in the drydown, you’ve got the epitome of elegance.
Frédéric Malle L’Eau D’Hiver EDT (Jean-Claude Ellena)
Never mind winter is coming; winter is here with this 2003 release (“hiver” is the French word for winter).
It has Jean-Claude Ellena’s minimalist style (the former in-house perfumer of Hermès also created Angéliques Sous La Pluie, Bigarade Concentree and Rose & Cuir for Frédéric Malle).
The initial bracing freshness of bergamot morphs into something altogether warmer with the deft use of iris and the synthetics heliotropin and hedione (for heliotrope and jasmine notes). The effect is perfectly powdery with nuances of almond, vanilla and honey.
It’s the kind of scent to wrap yourself in when you’re in need of olfactory solace. You can’t help feeling you’re in the presence of something special when you wear it.
Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower EDP (Dominique Ropion)
Apparently inspired by Frédéric Malle’s aunt Candice Bergen’s role in the 1970s film Carnal Knowledge, this 2005 release makes the most of tuberose’s illicit reputation.
Starting out innocently enough with the freshness of melon, bergamot and tuberose notes, Dominique Ropion then explores the flower’s more temptatious flipside with assistance from absolutes of jasmine and orange blossom.
A note of coconut adds milkiness to the blend without venturing into tropical territory, and musk wraps up the seductive proposition in utmost style.
While we can’t verify the brand’s claims that it “contains by far the highest concentration of natural tuberose in the perfume industry”, it’s undoubtedly one of the best tuberose fragrances around.
Frédéric Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur EDP (Dominique Ropion)
Master perfumer Dominique Ropion has created a number of classics for the French brand, including Carnal Flower EDP and Portrait of a Lady EDP. So you know you’ll be getting top quality and craftsmanship when you spend your hard-earned cash on one of his creations.
The opening of this 2009 release is wonderfully distinctive: a combination of super-fresh mint, spicy aniseed and thoroughly authentic geranium from China.
The treatment of the title note brings out all the facets we want from this floral: green, aromatic and rosy.
Clove and cinnamon notes add to the spiciness of the opening, while sandalwood, benzoin and frankincense bring a creamy, smoky dimension to this true original.
Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady EDP (Dominique Ropion)
No best rose fragrances list would be complete without the inclusion of Portrait of a Lady, a modern masterpiece that’s affectionately known by its fans as P.O.A.L.
An extraordinary perfume demands a different type of review, so here are four facts:
- It’s named after the Henry James novel, which was published in 1891.
- Its creator, Dominique Ropion, who is highly regarded for scents such as Givenchy Amarige, Lancôme La Vie est Belle and Mugler Alien, received The Fragrance Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement, Perfumer Award in 2019.
- Released in 2010, it became one of the most revered niche fragrances of the last decade.
- According to the brand’s website, each 100ml bottle contains no less than 400 Turkish roses.
That said, this is a seamless fragrance that whispers its supreme beauty from the opening rose note.
Tinges of raspberry and blackcurrant bring delicate fruity piquancy to the blend, while cloves add spicy warmth.
An ultra-refined patchouli note takes the lead in the drydown and is given just the right amount of sensual mystery with swirls of smoky frankincense and creamy sandalwood.
The perfumer’s other rose-centric scent, Frédéric Malle Promise EDP (2017), with its Middle Eastern ambience, is well worth checking out too.
Frédéric Malle Eau de Magnolia EDP (Carlos Benaïm)
Frédéric Malle set the standard for floral excellence with En Passant EDP (Olivia Giacobetti’s breezy ode to lilac) and Lys Mediterranee EDP (Edouard Fléchier’s aquatic take on gingerlily) from the launch collection in 2000.
A 2014 release, Eau de Magnolia elevates the white floral to a new level of beauty.
It opens in the citrus-fresh territory with notes of lemon, bergamot and grapefruit. Unmistakable without being overpowering, the magnolia note builds on that freshness with its creamy sweetness.
There’s a slight fruitiness in the background, courtesy of notes of melon and peach, with cedar in support.
The initial freshness is skilfully contrasted in the earthy drydown with its notes of patchouli and oakmoss.
Frédéric Malle Cologne Indélébile (Dominique Ropion)
Frédéric Malle describes Cologne Indélébile as “erotic naivete.” Only the French could get away with such language. What we do know is that this 2015 release makes us feel incredibly calm and refreshed.
Opening all fresh, citrusy and green with notes of lemon, bergamot and petitgrain, it isn’t a reinvention of the classic cologne format. There’s no need for that.
The florals of orange blossom and narcissus maintain the crisp feel, while tempering the initial sharpness.
Colognes are often things of fleeting beauty, but an overdose of white musk gives this one more oomph than usual. It also gives this beauty a chic cleanness.
We also recommend the citric crispness of Jean-Claude Ellena’s Frédéric Malle Bigarade Concentree (2002).
Frédéric Malle the Night EDP (Dominique Ropion)
Frédéric Malle fragrances don’t come cheap but The Night is gasp-worthy expensive at $1 800 for 100ml.
This 2014 release is part of the Middle East-influenced Desert Gems Collection that also includes Promise EDP, Dawn EDP and The Moon EDP.
While the brand’s contribution to the oud genre is relatively late in the scheme of things, it more than compensates with its superior quality.
Many fragrances, niche and designer, feature synthetic versions of the precious ingredient or accords to produce an oud-ish effect. There’s no doubt the real thing (and lots of it) is used in The Night.
You’ll know that from the intensely pungent opening which, if you haven’t smelled real oud before, can be a tad disturbing, even repulsive.
Give it time to settle and for the Turkish rose and saffron to come through and soften the initial animalic overload. The spice of frankincense and creaminess of sandalwood in the drydown also add to the uncompromisingly bold oriental ambience.
Is it worth the price? Yes, if you want one of the best ouds and have the cash to splash. In the end, though, value is highly subjective.
Frédéric Malle Sale Gosse EDP (Fanny Bal)
For a Frédéric Malle release, Sale Gosse has been surprisingly under the radar. Perhaps that’s because Sale Gosse (French for “brat” – these things always sound better en Francais, don’t they?) doesn’t fit the traditional Frédéric Malle mould.
It can be quite a serious brand, whereas this 2017 creation is such fun, we’ll forgive any naughty behaviour.
It’s bright and effervescent from the start, thanks to a hefty dose of neroli oil, with citrus-green assistance from notes of bergamot and petitgrain. Rosemary adds to the freshness.
There’s more greenery of the floral kind from narcissus absolute, while notes of violet and rose sprinkle subtly sweet powder about. Musk prolongs the merriment.
The result: an irresistible bubble-gum effect. It’s a quadruple “c” for us: charming, chic, clever, cheerful.
Frédéric Malle Music for a While EDP (Carlos Benaïm)
This charmingly named 2018 release is one of our most complimented scents in a long time.
The opening is briefly citrus fresh, with notes of lemon, mandarin and bergamot.
The large helping of lavender is sensual stuff, but what’s really surprising is the way it’s paired with the juicy tropical fruitiness of pineapple.
The drydown is in amber territory, with patchouli and vanilla bringing warm spiciness to the mix.
It’s sweet from top to bottom, yet master perfumer Carlos Benaïm somehow keeps it admirably light and airy.
Frederic Malle Synthetic Jungle EDP (Anne Flipo)
Frédéric Malle has tended to work with the same perfumers over the years (for example, Jean-Claude Ellena, Dominique Ropion and Carlos Benaïm).
So good to see Anne Flipo – the master perfumer behind creations such as Coach for Men EDT, L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons EDT and Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme EDT – making her debut for the company with this 2021 release.
Inspired by the classics of the 1970s, the opening is sharply green (almost galbanum-ish, although not officially listed) with notes of basil and synthetic blackcurrant.
There’s lots more greenery from floral notes of lily-of-the-valley, hyacinth and jasmine, accentuated by the synthetic styrallyl acetate, with earthy depth from patchouli in the drydown.
Bravo to the brand for not going the easy route with this one.
The 2007 Pierre Bourdon creation Frédéric Malle French Lover EDP is another standout green fragrance.
Frédéric Malle Rose Tonnerre EDP (Edouard Fléchier)
Originally launched in 2003 as Une Rose and renamed in 2022, Rose Tonnerre was Edouard Fléchier’s last perfume before he retired.
By modern standards, Fléchier isn’t prolific, but the Frenchman is highly regarded for creations such as Davidoff EDT, Montana Parfum d’Homme, Christian Lacroix C’est la Vie EDP and Frédéric Malle Lys Mediterranee EDP. His place in perfume history is assured with the 1980s classic Christian Dior Poison EDT.
There’s no doubt this is a rose fragrance from the opening, but it’s no ordinary rose. It’s rich, deep and full-bodied with fruity and honey undertones, courtesy of the Turkish rose absolute.
This rose is prominent throughout, but its character morphs as other notes come into play. At times, there’s a slight sweetness to it, but mostly it’s dramatic and uncompromising. The wine dregs add further character and depth to the mix, while the geranium adds a herbal facet.
It’s increasingly intriguing as it progresses to the drydown. The notes of castoreum (no need to worry about any cruelty to animals, this is a synthetic version) and vetiver work together to complement the earthiness of the truffle accord. Like its edible counterpart, this accord is not for everyone and emphasizes the dark aspect of the rose.
Rose Tonnerre is a standout in a category where there’s no shortage of competition. Where Portrait of a Lady might be crowd-pleasing, this one’s a top choice for rose perfume aficionados.
Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.