Sunday, 9 November 2014

Change Is Here - Estée Lauder Buys Frederic Malle

It's been only a few days since the announcement was made that Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle is to be bought by Estée Lauder, but already the finger-waggers are crawling out of the woodwork, saying they saw this coming. Perhaps they did. However, I don't have a particularly business-conscious head on my shoulders, so I don't mind admitting that the news took me by surprise. What's more interesting is that it seems to have struck a powerful chord amongst scentusiasts online. I'd love to put together a lengthy, detailed response to some of the comments that are being made, but I'm afraid I'm currently in the throes of time-consuming Day Job duties, so instead, I'll direct your attention to Elena Vosnaki's post on the subject on her Perfume Shrine blog (click here to read it). I'll disable comments on this post so as to encourage the discussion to remain focussed in one place. Do take the time to check out what Elena's readers have said on the matter and please add your own voice to the debate. Several juicy issues have already been raised, including the role of bloggers in providing brands with publicity and the (rather grim) future of 'niche'.

I'll leave you with a few thoughts. Nothing remains static, least of all in the world of perfume. Companies will continue to be formed, dissolved, taken over, bought, broken up or sold. Unless we have some sort of privileged insight into Frederic Malle's life, we can't pass judgement on the professional and personal circumstances which persuaded him to steer his company along this particular route. Perhaps he'd always intended to sell to one of the Big Boys. Who knows? Unlike several commentators, I don't feel personally aggrieved by his decision. I don't subscribe to the view that his company - or any other company, for that matter - owes me allegiance purely because I happen to be more interested in fragrances than the average shopper. I understand that fiscal imperatives often have to make way for aesthetic ambitions. I also don't agree that 'Lauder' is necessarily a synonym for 'evil'. There are plenty of mainstream brands out there which continue to treat us to praiseworthy releases; by the same token, there are plenty of niche brands which are taking us for a ride and expecting us to part with our cash for sub-standard products. In other words, just because Malle will now be a Lauder company doesn't automatically mean his perfumes will deteriorate.

That said, I am worried about the future. The PR reps for both brands have assured everyone that everything is going to remain exactly as it is. But they've got to say that. They're hardly going to put out a press release claiming that everyone had better stock up on Portrait Of A Lady right now because there's every possibility that its formula is going to be mucked up. Indeed, it's almost certain that no formulae are going to be mucked up straight away. But what about later? That's my main concern. Yes, things will stay the same for now, but what about 12, 24 and 36 months down the line? If anyone can maintain creative integrity whilst working for a massive corporation, perhaps it's Malle, but I wonder if even his will is strong enough to do so. Time will reveal all. Until it does... I confess I'm very, very tempted to add a few Malles to my Christmas list.


PS If you'd like to be reminded of what Malle said about why he decided to create his own brand in the first place, please read my interview with him from January.

PPS In light of Malle's recent announcement that his latest perfume is an oud - a Dubai exclusive called The Night - you might like to read his thoughts on making oud fragrances by clicking here.

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