Frédéric Malle has spent the last 14 years trading on his good taste. Since starting his perfume label, Editions de Parfums, in 2000, the charismatic fragrance expert has nurtured some of the most avant-garde and adventurous creations from the industry's most lauded perfumers. Today not only marks the company's birthday (its first store at 37 Rue de Grenelle opened on the same date), but also sees Malle venture into a new realm of curation: architecture. With the opening of his new West Village store, Malle heralds a new edition of standalone stores designed by top architects.
'My plan to open more free-standing stores around the world allows me to live my childhood dream: "publishing" the work of great architects in the form of Editions de Parfums stores,' the entrepreneur explains. 'I will have the same sort of creative relations with architects that I have with perfumers. I will ask them to design their dream shop with no compromise, nor limitation, although this time there will be a budget!'
For the inaugural effort, Malle wanted to work with an architect who had an understanding of the idiosyncratic nature of the West Village. 'I was looking for an artist whose style would contrast harmoniously with the character of this particular block,' he says. 'My wish was to work with a top architect, but someone whose practice would be small enough so I would work directly with him, rather than with a battalion of assistants.'
The answer came in the form of Steven Holl, whose work Malle has long admired. Says Malle: 'I stated my only requirements: the presence of the portraits of the perfumers, refrigerated cabinets to store our perfumes, and the existence of smelling devices to allow our clients to truly discover each composition. Finally, I stated that our stores are always comfortable places, where visitors feel at ease and manage to get away from the stress of every day life, places where time stops.'
From the outside, the boutique is a futuristic slipped disk, inserted into the brownstone-lined Greenwich Avenue. Upon entering, visitors are met with a lustrous silver interior. The walls and ceiling are made from a porous aluminum foam; a material that Holl also used for a giant door in his office. Walnut wood panelled floors run across the 400 sq ft space and vertically in the form of matching display counters, an arching bench and a semi-circular shelf, which trails off around the room and joins with a similar frame that decorates the glass storefront. On one wall, framed black and white portraits of participating perfumers hang tastefully over chilled cabinets containing bottles of fragrance, while three smelling pods adjacent allow visitors to experience the scents in all their purity.
The feeling of calm is palpable. 'You arrive here, and it's like a parentheses in your life,' Malle summed up. To complement the intimate space, the shop boasts an intuitive lighting system designed by Hervé Descottes, a creative accomplice of Holl and the likes of Andreé Putman and James Turrell, which subtly adjusts and dims according to the time of day. Venture further in and you might also catch a glimpse of the circular private garden - the perfect finishing touch.
With more stores to come in London, Miami and Los Angeles, we're eager to see what other creative collaborations Malle is concocting.