SUNHEE GRINNELL & FREDERIC MALLE

SUNHEE GRINNELL & FREDERIC MALLE

FADE IN:

INT. EDITIONS DE PARFUMS FREDERIC MALLE BOUTIQUE, GREENWICH VILLAGE, NEW YORK CITY — AFTERNOON

An unseasonably heavy snow falls on the street outside FREDERIC MALLE’s Greenwich Avenue outpost on the first day of Spring. Inside the Steven Holl-designed store, fragrance bottles are displayed on shelves like objets d’art. The front door opens. SUNHEE GRINNELL walks in, her coat speckled with a dusting of fresh white snowflakes.

CUT TO:

SUNHEE sits on a curved wooden bench. FREDERIC enters from the street, and SUNHEE rises to greet him. They share a friendly hug, then sit down on the bench next to one another.

SUNHEE
So many things have impressed me in getting to know you, but the first was your French accent, which you can’t not love. It isn’t heavy, but —

FREDERIC
It’s there.

SUNHEE
And it’s divine. The second — and I’ve never told you this because I don’t want to make you blush [laughs] — was your voice. It’s gallant, yet hushed, and sounds like it falls on a bed of Turkish roses before projecting out.

FREDERIC
Okay [laughs]… I remember first meeting you at a restaurant in New York City; the moment you walked in I thought, ‘Wow. This is much nicer company than usual.’

SUNHEE
We had an an instant, mutual understanding of one another. I’m a romantic till the end, and you’re a true observer of beautiful things. You enjoy working with and around them.

FREDERIC
What puzzled me when I started in the fragrance business is that the most interesting parts of it — the famous noses — were often hidden. There was a revolution in the ‘90s, when marketing invaded and took everything by storm. A few of us who saw ourselves more or less as artists were suddenly asked to make the same fragrances over and over again. Everyone became frustrated, and furious. So I had the simple idea to go the opposite way, and make products everyone would be proud of creating.

SUNHEE
It’s kind of a recent phenomenon for perfumers to be recognized and celebrated because, up until then, they had to be behind a brand.

FREDERIC
Not just a brand — they were behind most brands.

SUNHEE
Exactly. So when you launched Editions de Parfums, in 2000, the concept behind it was so new. You allow the perfumers to function like authors, and you’re the publisher; you’re a storyteller but you give them creative freedom.

FREDERIC
Perfumery had gotten to a very stale point; it was incredibly empty and boring. The time to recognize the perfumers as artists — which they are — was long overdue.

SUNHEE
I remember thinking, ‘How amazing that a man of your stature would project such humility, and support these people shining on their own.’ It’s so rare.

FREDERIC
I was reminded — speaking with you, actually — of how my mother always used to say, ‘Stop talking about yourself.’ It’s a very French thing. So I thought, ‘Fine, I can stop talking about myself; it’s much easier to talk about other people anyway.’ As a result, the perfumers, or noses, fell back into the spotlight.

SUNHEE
You really brought them back to the forefront.

FREDERIC
A few of my friends in Paris are book publishers, and I realized we do very similar things: we help people do their job better. It comes somewhat naturally to me; at the beginning of his career, my father worked with my uncle, Louis Malle, as his movie producer. So they practiced a form of ‘publishing,’ too. Their company was called Nouvelles Editions de Films, so everything kind of came full circle with the creation of my modest enterprise.

SUNHEE
It’s so refreshing. Over the past few years beauty has become like fashion, in that every season there’s something new launching. And there aren’t just two seasons: it’s spring, summer, fall, holiday… and in between those, there’s Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day [laughs]

FREDERIC
It’s crazy.

SUNHEE
Above all else, beauty to me means confidence.

FREDERIC
It should draw people to you.

SUNHEE
But today, there’s very heavy marketing behind it. As an editor, I get loads of products to sift through, and I often feel overwhelmed. So when I come across a product like yours, with integrity and quality, that only launches because it’s ready, I get very excited. The development timeframe that you allow; six months, a year —

FREDERIC
Cologne Indélébile, which was released in April, took three years to make. The idea was so simple that we got it right in one hour, but there were all sorts of imperfections in creating it. To make the fragrance perfect without taking any of the emotion away from it was very difficult.

SUNHEE
I’m still waiting for the perfume version of Cafe Society [laughs]; I always say my home smells like I do, because I spray it all the time, and that you had me in mind when you created it with Carlos Benaïm.

FREDERIC
It’s true. I’ve listened to you a fair amount of times in my life, and I know what you like. When Carlos and I worked on that scent together, we thought it was exactly your type. At a time when people want to be different — want to be special — I’m giving them an alternative. Fragrance can be something other than a celebrity-endorsed perfume.

SUNHEE
Yes, it’s called bespoke — and it’ll cost you [laughs].

FREDERIC
Fragrance always used to be a luxury. Sure, it would be expensive, but with good reason. We live in a world that is completely visual — which I love, don’t get me wrong. But there’s more to it than that. It’s time for the other senses to make a comeback.

CREDITS

Photography byBramble Trionfo
Nori Pao

Conversation moderated byAnthony Rotunno

SunHee Grinnell is the Beauty Director of Vanity Fair.
Frederic Malle is the founder of Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. His collection of perfumes, candles, and home scents is available online and at select retailers.

Did you see? Inside Karl Bradl & Robert Gerstner’s opulent Aedes de Venustas perfumery, hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai takes The Thick Questionnaire.

THE END