Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle: In conversation with Suzy Le Helley

vor 4 weeks

When a fashion house launches a perfume, it’s always a question of identity. After all, a fragrance is the essence of its history, design language, and attitude.

The excitement was therefore immense when Acne Studios, one of the most progressive labels in the fashion world, known for developing a radically new aesthetic, presented its first perfume. The second reason? Alongside Jonny Johannsson, founder and designer of Acne Studios, two other masterminds were involved: Frédéric Malle, legendary creator of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, and olfactory prodigy Suzy Le Helley.
Suzy Le Helley’s vision? To create a perfume that would be at the crossroads of the great classics of yesterday and tomorrow, which resulted in a exceptional creation of floral notes like rose, violet, and orange blossoms, wile hints of incense and vanilla provide contrast and depth. A perfume so quintessentially Acne that it needed no name other than this.

by Ann-Kathrin Riedl

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle

Suzy Le Helley and Frédéric Malle by Brigitte Lacombe

You decided to become a perfumer while still in high school. Not a wish that’s obvious for someone at this age. How did that decision come about?

I was a very good student in high school, but I did not know what kind of job I wanted to do at that time. I was good in science, also attracted by art and interested since my young age in nature, agriculture, and scents. My chemistry teacher, who passed two hours of his time explaining to the class what kind of jobs we could do after chemistry studies, was the one who suggested the perfumery industry to me. It was a revelation. Nothing less than this. I found his email recently and wrote him 15 years later to thank him for his help to find my path.

Do you remember the first time you consciously thought about a scent? What was it and what did it trigger in you?

It’s not easy to remember the very first memory. Nevertheless, since I was very young, my grandparents invited me to their house during holidays and my grandmother loved gardening. She was very proud to bring me with her in the garden and we selected together the most smelling roses to make a bouquet of flowers. I still remember today the differences between the varieties and my favorite one!

And how do you navigate through life? Is scent the primary way you perceive your environment?

I am like everyone, I just pay more attention to the scents around us.

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle

How would you describe your identity as a perfumer? Or rather: Should a perfumer have a clear identity at all, or is it more important to adapt like a chameleon to different challenges?

My identity as a person and as a perfumer is the same one. I am a very demanding person with a clear vision and conviction in terms of olfactive aesthetic and I love sharing it with my customers. No matter the challenges, I believe people should keep their own personality, this is what makes us unique.

Does a perfumer also need to be a dreamer?

I think perfumers should be more well grounded and work hard on new ideas to make people dream.

Your specialty is the search for new natural ingredients. Why did you developed a passion for this and how you go about it?

I started as technical perfumer for several years focusing on reformulating fine fragrances due to regulatory updates. On top of this strong technical background, I spent time working on naturals and developed new ingredients with our Madagascar filiate. For example, at that time we worked on a hand pressed Mandarin oil, a special leathery vetiver oil and a fresh green pepper oil. We discovered a new species of spice in perfumery called Longoza.

Since I joined the perfumery industry I have always been attracted by naturals, I love the interaction with famers and people who transform a plant to an essence. I grew up in the countryside in the South West of France and I have always been sensitive to nature. I continue during my personal time and my travels to visit fields, the last one was cinnamon in Sri Lanka during Christmas time.

Jonny Johansson and Frédéric Malle by Brigitte Lacombe

Let’s recall your first encounter with Frédéric Malle. How do your visions align?

Frédéric is always looking for meeting new personality in the young generation of perfumers. I had the chance to meet him and since the first day I felt a special connection, something difficult to explain. It is always very enriching to exchange with him. I think we both trust and respect each other and we don’t mind saying if we agree or not on the direction to go. What is interesting to realize is that we instinctively agree on the way to build the fragrance.

What was it like to enter this business as a young woman? After all, you were the youngest perfumer Frédéric had ever collaborated with.

Frédéric has the chance to work regularly with master perfumers with decades of experience, nevertheless he is visionary enough to think neither the sex nor the age is important. Only the personality, the conviction and the work as creators should matter.

This is your first major solo launch as a perfumer. What are your feelings towards this project and how would you describe its significance in your journey so far?

I remember when Frédéric was in Stockholm to see Jonny to let him decide on the final fragrance, he went out of the building and called me in the street to share the great news that they agreed on this perfume. I was in l’appartement Etoile of Symrise, rue de Presbourg in Paris, looking at the Arc de Triomphe and could not say a word, I simply could not believe it. Fédéric insisted with a “Hallo?” and I realized it was real. I felt very lucky and grateful to have my chance on this project since the beginning. I felt it even more after the announce. My first major solo launch is a Frédéric Malle, this is such a beautiful story.

How can we imagine your very first meeting with Frédéric and Jonny Johansson? What were the most important points for each of you in creating this perfume?

Frédéric was the orchestra conductor between Jonny and myself during all the development process. I met Jonny only after the fragrance was selected for a photo shoot with the talented Brigitte Lacombe. I always admire humble personality and he is a one of a kind. I could feel the authentic respect between Frédéric and Jonny, the collaboration between them is very inspiring.

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle

Acne Studios by Frédéric Malle

How is the development process different when three creative minds are involved? And what did it feel like to immerse yourself in the creative world of Jonny and Acne Studios?

I kept in my mind the fragrance should be Acne Studios signature, nevertheless I focused more on creating a perfume I should be proud of. Hand in hand with Frédéric we build a floral aldehydic structure, both chic and timeless, which are important aspects in Jonny’s work.

What inspiration did you get from Jonny in order to create this fragrance, and how did you implement that in your work?

Jonny mentioned to Frédéric many elements. Some were key inspirations such as the movie „Persona“ from Ingmar Bergman, Scandinavian design and the remarkable light in northern countries that gives a feeling of purity. In the fragrance, we work a lot around this clean sensation that represents well both Stockholm’s atmosphere and fabrics.

Describe the world that this fragrance creates for everyone wearing it.

I wish it creates a unique comfort zone. It is first of all a fragrance for yourself, but we worked carefully on the technicity of the perfume, the strength, the long lasting and the sillage. People that will smell you should also be embarked in your luxury coziness!

Speaking of coziness: You once described the scent as „the warm feeling that an Acne scarf can give“. What exactly do you mean by that?

The background of the fragrance is comforting thanks to musks, sandalwood and vanilla. It gives modernity to the floral aldehydic structure and at the same time it translates the impression of a wool scarf Jonnny designs. The same way you want to keep your Acne scarf all day long as it is soft and warm, you would love to keep the fragrance in your neck.

Which quality of this scent do you appreciate the most?

It’s new timeless aesthetic.

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