Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle
94 Greenwich Avenue, Manhattan
Steven Holl Architects
Passersby often stop to peer through the slipped-disk façade of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle in the West Village, according to Margaret Magnuson, who graciously opened the store to us this morning. Led by Olaf Schmidt and Filipe Taboada of Steven Holl Architects, our group of architecture and scent enthusiasts filtered into the 400-square-foot space. Although it is small, the shop is a jewel box of texture and form, an abstract insertion of a retail volume into a historic building.
Two materials dominate the space. Foamed aluminum gives a porous texture to the walls and ceiling, and sleek black walnut shelves house the product. Expertly constructed by craftsman Javier Gomez, the shelves help anchor the slipped-disk motif that appears throughout the store. Because scents break down more quickly in the presence of heat and direct sunlight, a custom-built refrigerated cabinet preserves the integrity of the perfumes that will be sold.
Three booths cut into the wall draw air through an internal system so that customers can smell a fragrance without overpowering the space. They offer an immersive and personal olfactory experience. Magnuson explained that rather than using scented cards that we so often see at large department stores, each salesperson has a deep knowledge of the fragrances and an instinct for the trade. Spraying 10 different perfumes onto cards can only be overwhelming; instead, customers might smell two or three in a visit. Then they can retreat to a secret garden in the back to mull over their choice. There’s no hovering or overzealous spritzing here.
Because the building is located in the Greenwich Village Historic District, the architects had to submit their design proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission before construction could begin. They went through multiple hearings before it was approved, ultimately with the strong support of commissioners.
The quality of the space is matched by Frédéric Malle’s vision. According to Magnuson, the company never discontinues a scent; it favors fit – finding the perfect scent for each customer – over novelty or trendiness. Malle cares deeply about functionality and detail, and he selected the architects with intention, giving them free reign over the design with the stipulation that portraits of perfumers who have developed fragrances for the company should hang on the wall, overseeing the operation.
Take advantage of tomorrow’s weather with a tour of Pier Two at Brooklyn Bridge Park.