Fashion and beauty

How synesthesia helped perfumer Frédéric Malle create unique fragrances


There are some tricky technical words Perfumers are used to exchange ideas (try to say “tetramethylacetyloctahydronaphthalene” once, slowly) and easily recognizable (easy to pronounce) ideas, such as rose or vanilla. But there is no real universal language for complex works-the “freshness” of one person is the “sweetness” of another person. Instead, we often think of images of clothing breaking in the breeze, waves hitting the shore, or lemons ripening in the sun.

But these visual clichés are not the only way: “One of the most effective ways to describe smell is to use color,” said Frédéric Malle, founder of the perfume company Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. For Malle, linking fragrance to color is second nature. He is born with a sensory processing characteristic called synesthesia. When he smells perfume or any scent, he perceives a series of vivid, painting-like brushstrokes. This is an automatic reaction and plays a key role in his creative process. “When I develop a fragrance with a perfumer, I might suggest making it’darker’ or’purple’ instead of adding specific chemicals,” he said. “This gives some direction while leaving room for explanation. The results often surprise me.”

Although synesthesia is not common (it occurs in up to 5% of the population), visual scent methods may help establish a common perfume vocabulary. “It makes perfumes tangible and more practical,” Mahler said. “I believe everyone has the ability to equate color with smell.” We let Malle go beyond exaggeration and show us the true face of four new perfumes. .

Photographed by Brigitte Lacombe

Brigitte Lacombe

Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia Perfume

Illustration by Samantha Hahn

Illustration by Samantha Hahn

“In perfume, the violet flower has many different contrasting aspects—sweet but woody base and clean, strict top, mainly from its leaves. This perfume exerts these unique effects. Its color is a bit purple— Bright, transparent, and dry on the back, almost brittle.”

Frederic Malle Synthetic Jungle

Illustration by Samantha Hahn

Illustration by Samantha Hahn


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