Classical Fragrance Composer Frédéric Malle and Time-Honored Master Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena Have Done It Again

Twelve years may have passed since their working together,  but nothing has changed in the art of their collaboration with the making of Rose & Cuir.

Master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and fragrance editor and publisher Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums, 2019.

Master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and fragrance editor and publisher Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums, 2019.

Something unique comes into existence when two old friends, who happen to be masters of perfume-making, get together. It is a meeting of the minds.

Imagine, if you will, an Abstract Expressionist painting. Perhaps a Franz Kline, to draw a visual, wherein each stroke possesses broad but deep characteristics, portraying a construction of particular life development not drawn from the apparent realm. Listening to Frédéric Malle speak of his process of making irresistible scents that are often out of the ordinary, I feel as though I might be staring deep into an abstract artwork, wanting to decipher the long, shadowy effects of various strokes laid on canvas. In Malle's case, the wave of fragrance notes brewing into a quiet storm.

"It was very simple, actually. I always said, ‘We must work together again,’” Malle explains, a sentiment he shared with Jean-Claude Ellena, the legendary master perfumer heralded as the first resident nose at Maison de Hermès, the position he held from 2004 to 2016. Prior to that, Malle and Ellena created numerous scents, timeless classics under Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, beginning in 2000. The early editions include L'Eau D'Hiver, Cologne Bigarade, Bigarade Concentrée,and Angéliques Sous La Pluie.

After Ellena's departure from Hermès, it did not take long for them to get together. "He called the end of December 2017 to say, ‘Come see me in January.’ So I did. He picked me up at the airport, and we had a long conversation in the car," shares Malle. And what was the conversation about? "It was about creations."

According to Ellena and Malle, they both simply knew. Malle explained that they had just been smelling Rose de Rochas, a perfume created by Edmond Roudnitska for Marcel Rochas at the end of the 40s. It was a fragrance inspired by the scent of an Étoile de Hollande, a beautiful crimson-red rose from Mr. Roudnitska's garden. Then, without saying a word, they agreed to work on a "rose." "Of course, the idea was not to reproduce this perfume that was no longer in production, but to create my version of this eternal theme," Ellena explains.

Latest from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle,  Rose & Cuir ; Ellena and Malle in Grasse, 2019.

Latest from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, Rose & Cuir; Ellena and Malle in Grasse, 2019.

Making Rose & Cuir was an evolution. An exchange of texts and calls between a fragrance author and his editor and publisher went on from January until the very end of October 2018. "Rose is the most common thing in the world. However, the idea for Jean-Claude was not to have the same music. It was to do something unexpected because people picture you in a certain style. Therefore, to be able, and to be honest, he felt very free and comfortable enough to do it," Malle explains. This fragrance is undoubtedly different. It has the lightest, the most simplified and minimalistic overture, yet it feels very complex. "For Jean-Claude, he wanted to draw big patches that are light on top, then adding darkness in two strokes," explains Malle. No doubt, this is a painting and Ellena did have a painter's work in mind, an Abstract Expressionist Nicolas de Staël.

This new edition is an airy rose: a geranium, to be precise. Adding to that apparent freshness, a fruity top and spice, peach accord, bright cassis, and black currant are present. It is then refined by including timut pepper and geranium bourbon, new materials specially developed at Jean-Claude's request. Timut pepper, which smells like grapefruit, is a new fragrance note that is being used for the first time in a perfume. Then a leathery note, a fragrance character that Ellena has the authority on from his tenure at Hermès, somehow simplifies things, furtively, with cedar and vetiver at the base. One can call Rose & Cuir a minimalistic scent that is very pretty yet profoundly mysterious, as the undulating bouquet seems to shift from moment to moment.

After listening to Frédéric Malle for a while on the romance of it all, it is evident that perfumers and fragrance composers are always on a journey of exploration and creation that never ends. Some time may pass, but then the right moment presents itself, and, at times, surreptitiously. The wandering of their subtle though effervescent minds is an ongoing affair that often results in a stroke of abstract genius. Rose & Cuiris indeed a quiet storm.

All photographs courtesy of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.

All photographs courtesy of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.