Dries van Noten Makes a Sublime, French-Vanilla Scent With Frederic Malle

Photo: Dries Van Noten

Your first whiff of the $185 Dries van Noten for Frederic Malle fragrance is vanilla pudding. It's there for just a few seconds, but that trace, like a deconstructed Nilla wafer, lingers and deepens, alerting you that this is no boring, cheap-smelling, vanilla-based scent. Dries's designs are lauded for being cerebral and poetic, yet intimate, and he worked with Frederic Malle to create a fragrance "self-portrait" that captures all of these elements. This isn't an ostentatious perfume; it's a skin-close smell that becomes warmer with your body chemistry, and like Dries's designs, is best appreciated for the details.

 To create the fragrance, Malle and perfumer Bruno Jovanovic examined the recurrent themes and materials in Dries's work: folkloric Indian embroidery, eighteenth-century engravings, and the gilded, touchable treasures seen in his spring 2014 show. For those traces of exoticism, they started with a generous base of sandalwood, adding patchouli and a hint of bergamot and musk. To keep the fragrance subtle and touchable, Malle looked to Flemish desserts, like speculoos and waffles, wanting to capture what he described as "the sober warmth" of their culture. The vanilla note is collected from those sweet characteristics, along with a touch of sacrasol or nutmeg. In the wrong hands, this fragrance could have easily combined to become an eggnog candle from the mall. But in Malle's and Noten's hands, it can't be categorized as a gourmand or overtly feminine or masculine fragrance. It can't be categorized as anything other than really, really good.