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This Fragrance Was Inspired by the Middle East and the Moon

the moon


There is nothing quite as ethereal as the moon. A significant part of Middle Eastern culture, it is the inspiration for the latest scent from Frédéric Malle. The fourth Middle East-inspired fragrance in the Desert Gems collection the fragrance was composed by a promising young perfumer Julien Rasquinet. Here he shares the story behind the blend.

How did you become a perfumer?

Becoming a perfumer was not something obvious to me, at all. I cannot say, like many perfumers, “I knew I wanted to become a perfumer since the age of five”. In fact, I had no clue the job of a perfumer even existed. But since I was a teenager, perfumes were a very important part of my life, like an extension of my personality.

My first encounter with the perfumes I started wearing was with the same intensity as the first adolescent loves. If we do a parallel with music, it has been proved that when asked “what is your favorite song ever”, people would generally tend to name the tune of the year from when they were 14 years old. I believe emotions around that age are very particular, memorable, like our first love(s), our first perfumes, our first experiences in life.

How did you meet Frédéric Malle and begin working together?

I met Frédéric Malle at the very beginning of my career, almost 14 years ago. I was a perfumery trainee under the revolutionary perfumer Pierre Bourdon, and I was sometimes sitting on a desk in Pierre’s office. That was the moment when Frédéric and Pierre were creating the masterpiece “French Lover”. I was not participating but I could listen to most of their meetings while I was studying.

Their relationship was much more than a working relationship, they were friends respecting each other’s talent, sharing the same values, the same philosophy. Listening to their unstoppable discussions on arts and perfumery, fed a lot of my perception of the world, of creation, and partly forged my creative personality. At that time, I was so far from imagining that Frédéric would one day ask me to create a perfume for him. And that day arrived, about four years ago, it is Frédéric who contacted me when I was working in Dubai, he told me he was going to Dubai and wanted to have a breakfast (my reaction was: “with me?!”).

I was honored and pleased to know him more. We shared a nice moment and got along very well. I was impressed by his natural elegance and simplicity. But at that time, nothing happened. I was just happy to see he was interested to see my evolution since he had known me as a perfumery student. A few months later he came to me with an offer that cannot be declined: “I’d like to do something with you” (again, “with me?!”) He told me Pierre highly recommended me and had presented me as his “heir”.

Julien Rasquinet

Perfumer Julien Rasquinet. Courtesy of Frederic Malle

Can you explain a little around the creative process, working with Frédéric Malle?

For most projects, we are in competition with other perfume houses. But, for Frédéric Malle, this is not the case. His approach to creation has always been unique and has an intimate dimension that adds a soul to his fragrances. The essence of the brand lies in Frédéric’s relationship with his perfumers. Creating for Frédéric Malle is like a conversation. He chooses his interlocutor. He is always a perfumer in whom he trusts and respects. And from this relationship of trust and dialogue comes a perfume.

The Desert Gems Collection is a tribute to the beauty and richness of the Middle Eastern Perfumery. When he decided to write a new opus, Frédéric came to me with a simple question: “How would a young perfumer give Oud a different perspective? We decided to capture the beauty of the raw material, but with the beauty of the scenes of an Arabian evening. His idea of “The Moon” made me think of the flavored shishas that embalm my souvenirs of the air from Jeddah to Dubai, and even further in the region. The Moon is a narrative fragrance, telling a story of the region, made for all the lovers of Haute-Parfumerie.

I can tell that the lack of competition doesn’t make the work less rigorous. Even though I knew I was going to make it, the amount of work, of fine-tuning, of meticulous evaluation, to get exactly the right balance between all the elements, the right intensity of the sillage was humongous. It took two years before we reached the perfect balance for this creation.

What is your first memory of The Moon?

The memory I have of the very first essay is in fact quite loyal to the final stage of the development of the fragrance. I believe the creative intention was clear, and the final essay contains very few ingredients that were not in the formula since the very first essay. The whole process has been to make sure the message of the original idea would be even more clear, understandable and potent. It already had this leathery, raspberry tension that we immediately thought was key to the creation.

The Moon plays a leading role in conducting the rhythm of life in the Middle East, her ethereal appearance hailing the beginning and end of all festivity. Yet in Arabic, invoking the moon is also an allusion to romance — ‘my moon’; a term that speaks of beauty and eternal devotion. The Moon is telling a celestial love story.

The Moon

Frederic Malle ‘The Moon’ by Julien Rasquinet. Courtesy of Frédéric Malle

Tell us about the notes?

Rose, frankincense, oud and an abundance of sweet red fruits.

A warm floral opulence meets a surprising abundance of ripe red berries.

In subtle evocation of the fruit-flavored shisha enjoyed across the region, the profusion of redcurrant and raspberry notes adds sweetness and color.

How does The Moon differ to its Oud predecessors?

The Moon is seen by a younger perfumer, I believe it might appeal also to a younger audience. It has all the signs of an Arabic fragrance, with the oud, rose, leather and saffron, but it also has a “French” inspiration, with a sparkling crispy red fruit note. To me it was important that this fruity note was not just a top note that would fade up immediately, I wanted that playfulness of the fruits to be really long-lasting.

You are based between Dubai and Paris. What have you learned about fragrance in the region?

First, I was astonished as I realized I was already doing Arabic perfumery even before I knew the market. When I visited the region for the first time, I realized that I had a lot of affinity with the Middle East; I had a lot in common with the people: the same taste, the same love of perfumes, the same excitation when discovering a new smell, same emotion (the beginning of a smile) when a fragrance is very evocative. It was obvious to me that this region was made for me and I craved to know more.

I heard IFF was looking for a perfumer for the region, and I wanted to dedicate my creation, at least for a period of my life, to Arabic perfumery. I discovered a perfumery of excellence, of intuition, of risk-taking, and of extreme enthusiasm. I had the feeling I was in Europe in the ’80s when everything in creation was still possible.

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