This week at Esxence in Milan, newcomer Malbrum Parfums will unveil three new fragrances titled Volume 1. Founded in Norway by entrepreneur and scent artist, B. Kristian Malbrum, the collection is an interesting mix of Kristian’s unique Nordic style and French perfumer Delphine Thierry’s classically trained nose for detail and construction. I first met Kristian through Facebook. Since then, we have exchanged the occasional message over the months, discussing raw materials. At the start of the year he messaged me to say his first collection was complete and he asked if I would like to be among the first people to sample his finished work. Knowing he created his perfumes in collaboration with Delphine Thierry, I was naturally curious. I’m a big fan of the fragrances she created for Lubin and Rive Sud Interior. After smelling the Malbrum perfumes and Skyping with Kristian this weekend, we both agreed that his fragrances have Delphine’s signature as a perfumer. I also think Kristian’s rogue influence creates interesting dynamics in all three perfumes, which is one of the reasons why I like his collection so much.
Kristian’s interest in perfume began at the age of 8, when he convinced his grandmother to take him to a perfumery to buy his first fragrance. He chose one by Hugo Boss. In time his collection grew and his taste and knowledge of fragrance broadened. Today he cites Byredo and Nassomato as brands that inspire him. Talking with Kristian about his background, he is not sure where his creative gene comes from. All his siblings pursued academic careers. He believes his entrepreneurial spirit came from his great grandfather, who left Norway at an early age to explore the world and find success as a tailor in Brooklyn, New York.
Growing up in Norway, Kristian realises that he his far from Delphine’s world of French perfumery. “Where I come from in Norway, the climate, everything is pretty rough. We have a history of exploring and being very raw and crude. You know like the Vikings? But in French culture, everything is very tasteful, nice and balanced.” Kristian wanted to play on these differences, counterbalancing the French way of constructing a formula with what he intuitively felt. He remembers the point when he asked Delphine to increase the Cashmeran content in her formula by 300%. He says, “my motivation is really about creating something a little bit raw and unconfined. I would go into her laboratory and open as many bottles as possible to find a material, maybe a CO2 extract or an absolute that I found interesting. Then we would make a selection. I specifically told her to use a lot of Cashmeran and incense. The formulas are not very balanced. This is something that we agreed upon. I told her that it’s not that important to round off the formula. Let it be more honest.”
Kristian is aware his fragrances may not have wide consumer appeal and we talk about his desire to create something very different from the bottle of Hugo Boss his grandmother bought for him when he was a child. Not only do his perfumes challenge the wearer to think differently about perfume, the creative process Kristian follows is also different from the way a mass market fragrance is created. Each perfume begins as a discussion on a selection of raw materials. There is no mood board or any traditional marketing tools perfume houses use to direct their product design. Kristian avoids giving his perfumes names until later in the process. “I don’t make the names and then I make the perfumes. It is the other way around.” Like any small business owner, Kristian is involved at every step. For manufacturing he is content to work on an artisanal scale. With no interest in hiring staff, he continues to do his own filling and maceration, producing small batches at a time.
I ask him how he feels going to Esxence this week; given there are so many new niche perfume brands. He admits it does feel similar to going to a job interview. “I know there is a lot of competition. The market is really saturated with one brand trying to be more niche than another. Everybody wants to stand out and do his or her thing but I have always been very impulsive and fearless. I always feel like there is a hope and I am not afraid to fail.” Putting aside the idea that success or failure is measured by sales volume, as Kristian says, “I am not interested in pleasing everyone,” I think these first three fragrances are creative successes. They showcase some of perfumery’s most beautiful natural raw materials as well as Kristian’s selection of chemistry’s most innovative molecules. Delphine Thierry is a talented engineer, building finely crafted structure around Kristian’s ideas and aspirations.
Synthetic notes: Ambrettolide, Boisambrene Forte, Hedione HC, Exaltolide Total
Head: Sicilian citruses and aldehydes
Heart: Mimosa, cumin, ambrette seed
Fond: Natural iris, musks, civet
On the surface, Shameless Seducer is delicate mimosa flower. A sharp citrus accord and sparkling aldehydes gives the effect of smelling the flower outdoors against a pale blue sky. The flower’s brilliant yellow colour is enhanced with radiant Hedione High Cis. Mimosa’s anisic/heliotrope facet grounds the flower in a bed of powedery iris, ambrette seed and soft musks. Kristian specifically wanted to use a lot of Firmenich musk, Exaltolide Total, describing it as one of the finest musks he knows. What I find most interesting about Shameless Seducer is the way the sour civet note rises up out of the fragrance holding this delicate flower at ransom. This intimate odour is amplified with cumin. Kristian says, “If you smell real civet it’s really fecal. It’s not at all nice, but with lime and lemon and the really soft musk base, I think it is very nicely layered. It is very interesting how it evolves on the skin, especially on women.” It is a challenging juxtaposition where classic beauty is forced to face the reality of the grotesque and it is a theme that reoccurs in Kristian’s perfumes. Talking in more detail about the inspiration behind the fragrance, Kristian mentions he read a book about the greatest seducers in human history. He says that in many cases, attraction didn’t come from looks or money. They had something else, a special energy and contrast in their personalities. Kristian uses Aldous Huxley as an example. The Brave New World author was tall and spindly like a grasshopper but when he arrived at Oxford, he was a love-magnet to the most gifted women. He is equally well known for his use of psychotropic substances, which leads us to discuss the next Malbrum fragrance.
Synthetic notes: Cashmeran, Ambrinol, Sandalmysore Core, Timbersilk
Head: Cypress, elemi, pimento berries
Heart: Incense, saffron, gurjum
Fond: Sandalwood, cedarwood, styrax, ambergris
Kristian says that to the untrained nose, Psychotrope and Tigre du Bengale may smell similar, but they are actually very different. With saffron and fiery notes of woody-ambergris in common, there are similarities. Psychotrope begins with piquant notes of pimento berries, elemi and herbaceous cypress. Sandwiched between the sharpness of the beginning and a jagged base of burning resins, there is a thick paste-like effect of gourmand notes at the heart of the fragrance. Here, Kristian and Delphine created something unusual. Using rice pyrazines, they worked a basmati rice accord into Psychotrope, colouring it with saffron. This gourmand effect is pierced by a puff of incense smoke, fiery amber molecules and warm resins. With so much going on in the composition, Kristian felt the fragrance was feeling too heavy. Replacing Iso E Super with an additional 30% of IFF molecules Timbersilk, and Kohinool, he was able to bring lift to his glutinous rice accord. At the time of making Psychotrope, Kristian listened to the music of Australian singer songwriter Ry Cuming (RY X), who like Huxley, enjoys psychotropic substances. “He really inspired me to make that particular scent,” says Kristian.
Tigre du Bengale
Synthetic notes: Toscanol, Safranal, Nimberol, Ambrofix
Head: Juniper, cardamom
Heart: Myrrh, labdanum
Fond: Castoreum, Burley tobacco, patchouli
Kristian was initially curious about how spicy a leather perfume could be. This led to an interest in spices typically used in Bengali cooking. Tigre du Bengale is heavily infused with spicy cardamom and saffron notes. The gourmand theme continues in the base with a touch of vanilla and coumarin bringing warmth and roundness to the leather and amber-woods. Kristian’s first impression of it is tiger skin and what that would smell like. “I felt it had something to do with an animal. There is an erogenous aspect in it as well. Tigers have this mating habit where the male tiger scratches off the bark from trees and he urinates on the pile of wood chips to attract a female. This pile of urine and wood chips gives a lot of information to the female tigers. They can smell if he is big or small, how old he is etc. The tigers use their molecules wisely.” The animal’s skin comes alive through a leather accord of isobutyl quinolene, Suederal and a hint of castoreum. Myrrh and Burley tobacco give the impression of damp jungle foliage but also the sophisticated masculine charm of generations past – these days it is rare to find tobacco absolute used at such a high concentration.
From the collection, Tigre du Bengale is my current favourite and my next blog post will be a more detailed review of it. With Volume 2 of Malbrum Parfums already underway, I am very keen to see what the future holds for this new brand. If you think you won’t have time to explore every new fragrance 2015 is offering, I recommend Malbrum Parfums is one brand you don’t overlook.
For more information about Malbrum Parfums, visit: www.malbrum.com