Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle: a fragrance that evokes the softness of a scarf

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle arrives later in April, the first-ever fragrance from the Swedish fashion brand. Wallpaper* speaks with Jonny Johansson, Malle and Suzy Le Helley about their collaboration

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle perfume; portrait of Jonny Johansson and Frédéric Malle
Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle perfume, and Jonny Johansson and Frédéric Malle
(Image credit: Photography by Neil Godwin for Wallpaper* at Future Studios; Photography by Brigitte Lacombe)

To visualise the composition of a fragrance, perfumers use an olfactory pyramid split into three parts: the top notes, the heart notes, and the base notes, with each third performing a collaborative dance with the other. This is very similar to the synergistic approach used by Acne Studios co-founder Jonny Johansson and leading ‘perfume publisher’ Frédéric Malle, along with perfumer Suzy Le Helley, to produce the Swedish fashion brand’s first fragrance.

‘I received a handwritten letter from Frédéric, inviting me for a couple of meetings in France,’ says Johansson. ‘I don’t really get handwritten letters that often – nobody does, sadly. It was a beautiful one: Frédéric explains design in poems or words, and you see pictures. I had been wearing his fragrances for years, and I like the experience of collaborating with interesting people for the sake of the people, not the product. Although I will say: I like this product, and I think we did a good job.’

Acne Studios x Frédéric Malle

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle

(Image credit: Photography by Neil Godwin for Wallpaper* at Future Studios)

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle contains notes of rose, violet, and peach skin

Johansson has overseen the creative growth of Acne Studios (founded in 1996 as ACNE, an acronym for Ambition to Create Novel Expression) from its debut producing unisex jeans – Wallpaper* was one of the first magazines to pick up on the brand – to its current status as a multidisciplinary phenomenon known for its irreverent take on impeccably crafted clothes.

So naturally, a push and pull between eclecticism and classicism is what Johansson set out to capture with the molecules of the perfume, entitled Acne Studios par Frédéric Malle. ‘The goal was to make a fragrance that wasn’t too conceptual; it needed to have a classicism but combined with a kitschiness that bounces against it,’ explains Johansson, who began the collaborative process by presenting Malle with visual references spanning from Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 avant-garde film Persona to the ‘white nights’, a natural phenomenon that Stockholm experiences for around six weeks of the summer. ‘And this is what I like about the fragrance,’ says Johansson. ‘It has a traditional sort of weight, but at the same time, it’s quite transparent and light.’

Jonny Johansson and Frédéric Malle

Jonny Johansson and Frédéric Malle

(Image credit: Photography by Brigitte Lacombe)

‘When Jonny showed me Persona, which happens to be one of my favourite films, there was this image of Bibi Andersson wearing a crisp white turtleneck outside on an island,’ says Malle. ‘From that image, I wanted to capture something clean, white, bright, yet soft, and translate that into the perfumer’s language. Because this is what I do. I know how to work with perfumers and speak their language.’

Malle, who hails from a long line of artists and perfumers (his uncle is French film director Louis Malle, his maternal grandfather Serge Heftler-Louiche was the founder of Parfums Christian Dior, and his mother was the artistic director of Parfums Christian Dior), began his own venture, Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, in 2000, a project that would give perfumers free creative expression and the raw materials to produce scents of their choosing. Portrait of a Lady and Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion are, perhaps, two of the most renowned in the Frédéric Malle portfolio.

Jonny Johansson

Jonny Johansson, photographed by Brigitte Lacombe

(Image credit: xxx)

‘I usually work with perfumers one-on-one,’ says Malle. ‘I think of Éditions as a publishing house. But then, once in a while, we have a guest star; someone who gives us a different point of view. I did this with Dries Van Noten around ten years ago. Jonny is a good match for us in the sense that Acne Studios is rooted in tradition and modern in its approach. We both make things that are really pushing the envelope and transformative, yet that you also can wear for years and years to come.’

Malle then tapped Le Helley, a graduate of renowned French perfumery school ISIPCA, as the third player in this olfactory trio. ‘The process was like a dance,’ says Malle. ‘And Suzy can dance really well. There was not one moment where we disagreed. And I’m really proud to have been the first person to work with Suzy in this big way,’ he continues. ‘This entire project was a pleasure. An opportunity to push the envelope, work on someone else’s terms, please someone I admire.’

Frédéric Malle and Suzy Le Helley

Frédéric Malle and Suzy Le Helley

(Image credit: Photography by Brigitte Lacombe)

Le Helley is known for combining botanicals and synthetics, and took a similar approach for this project, with the scent’s backbone comprised of aldehydes, followed by rose and violet. It is then underscored by orange blossom, vanilla, sandalwood and peach skin. ‘Many classic rose and violet perfumes are influential to fabric softeners,’ says Malle. ‘And we liked the idea of taking some elements from that, which feels comforting yet a bit utilitarian. There’s a modern sweetness to it that has never been used in a classical aldehydic shape.’ 

Le Helley continues, ‘We discussed how we could evoke softness, like you are wearing an Acne Studios scarf, but the fragrance’s biggest signature elements are the aldehydes: these are what make it very light and bright and give it a lot of energy, contrasting with the floral, powdery elements and the comforting, creamy sandalwood.’

Despite having completed her studies just three years ago, Le Helley relished the challenge: ‘I like that it’s methodical and structured, but at the same time, I have always loved art. Being a perfumer is a blend of these two. I think fragrance today also has a lot of storytelling around it, and for Acne Studios par Frédéric Malle, there is a harmony between the story and the scent. It’s a perfect match.’ 

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle launches April 17 2024 and is available on and Frédéric Malle and Acne Studios boutiques.

A version of this article appears in the April 2024 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today.

Beauty & Grooming Editor at Wallpaper*

Hannah Tindle is Beauty & Grooming Editor at Wallpaper*. With ten years of experience working for media titles and brands across the luxury and culture sectors, she brings a breadth of knowledge to the magazine’s beauty vertical, which closely intersects with fashion, art, design, and technology.