It’s a jungle out there – an incredibly refined, ultra-green, 1970s-inspired one, thanks to Frédéric Malle and perfumer Anne Flipo‘s latest creation: Synthetic Jungle eau de parfum.
We were lucky enough to be part of the virtual launch event for Synthetic Jungle, where Fréderic and Anne discussed the inspiration behind the fragrance, and exactly how the composition came together. And Frédéric was particularly keen, as you will see, to make the point that synthetics are a vital and creative component to the fragrance industry, not some dirty little secret that fragrance houses should seek to obscure from public view…
Fréderic Malle: I had an idea about revisiting ‘green’ perfumery, and thought Anne was the perfect candidte for that. She’s very good at starting points. We looked together at formulas from the past.
One we thought particularly interesting was Private Collecion by Estée Lauder. This was our starting point. Working with Anne was like two musicians jamming together. We were very comfortable together, with common interests, a common language. There was no fear!
Anne Flipo: At the beginning I was a bit stressed because I had to understand how he works. But it was immediately very easy, he works the way I do. Everything was possible, but I wanted to organise the floralcy around the greenness. I chose lily of the valley.
Frédéric: The paradox, that people don’t often understand, is that to create a natural smell we need synthetics. Each synthetic note is part of the puzzle. I chose this paradoxical name to remind people how perfumery functions. And to show that what man makes is often as interesting as nature. …
Anne: When I choose the ingredients, (I work with over 400), the green note, for example, is very different to the colour itself…
Frédéric: There’s a difference between a smell and a perfume. Between a flower and a fragrance. A fine fragrance has to feel like it’s coming out of you, not worn on the skin.
Anne: I wanted it to smell like this jungle was coming out of you. The chypre accord helps it last on the skin, it balances the formula.
Frédéric: When Anne added the lily of the valley it was a huge turning point, it was the key. And then the dampness comes from Patchouli.
Frédéric Malle: Interesting perfumery really started at the end of the 19th century, because there were some synthetics available. Perfumery as we know it today has big doses of synthetic, and furthermore, if you want to recreate nature you need synthetic. The name, Synthetic Jungle, is a way of opening the debate, I love nature, it needs to be preserved, don’t get me wriong; but this idea that everything from nature is great and everything from man is awful is a new kind of facism.
Anne Flipo: Making the formula very short was important to me, overdosing some ingredients – there’s a lot of cassis, overdoes of floralcy, not so many base notes volume-wise. They’re present, you smell them, but the construction is very modern.
Frédéric: Sometimes you have contrast. The patchouli and oakmoss is a black background, but it’s not dirty. A lot of the fragrances from the 1970s smelled dirty. This smells carnal, but not dirty. There’s a distinction.
Anne: I’m so proud and so happy to be part of the Frédéric Malle family.
Frédéric:Yes, look, she’s a completely transformed woman! [laughter]
Anne: Well, we really had the chance to challenge each other further during this.
Frédéric: It was a challenge, yes, but Anne has a great sense of humour and that’s really important. It’s like dancing, making perfumes; deep concentration, but also deep relaxation…
Frédéric Malle Synthetic Jungle from £38 for 10ml eau de parfum
Synthetic Jungle is brave in many ways. For one thing, it has the word ‘synthetic’ in the title, at a time when there’s much so-called ‘green-washing’ – the implication that fragrances and cosmetics are ‘toxic’ if they aren’t all-natural, when in fact many essential oils are potentially more harmful and less environmentally sustainable to produce. For another, intensely green fragrances aren’t always the easiest to love. But Frédéric Malle has always been about the quality of the fragrance first, allowing the perfumer’s talents to shine through. And oh my, how Flipo shines in Synthetic Jungle…
What does it smell like? Bitter green crunchy stems and sticky sap – it’s very chic French Chypre from 1970s snogs a Cologne and goes wild, hacking through undergrowth, with vibrant bursts of tart, mouth-puckering blackcurrant, fuzzy tomato leaves examined under a microscope. WHOAH BLACKCURRANT GOES NUCLEAR! Everything gets HUGE AGAIN! Rolled in soft moss and seed spores to dampen the edges, the fruitiness gets warm, viscous, jammy.
Synthetic Jungle is the Indiana Jones ride at Universal Studios, or a missing scene from Honey I Shrunk the Kids as shot by a Vogue photographer in 1976 (a steamy greenhouse becomes a surreal cartoon jungle and everything’s impossibly glamorous). You emerge with berry stained lips and leaves in your hair, covered in grass stains and grinning wildly.
By Suzy Nightingale