How are perfumes formed, what do they have to do with acting and why should men be bolder? The great French perfumer Quentin Bisch, at the origin of brands such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chloé or Carolina Herrera, has the answer
We all have scents that will instantly transport us back to childhood. What are they for you?
My favorite olfactory memory is the smell of the fresh flowers my mother cut every week and put in a vase on the dining table. And also various scents from our garden.
Do you remember when you said you wanted to do fragrance work and be able to create a specific scent?
Exactly! I was eleven years old and it was the first day of school. It’s a funny story, although I wasn’t completely laughing at the time. I asked my French teacher what perfume it smelled like because it was absolutely fantastic. I was completely obsessed with the smell. And her reaction disappointed me because she refused to answer me. It was too curious and intrusive, and she didn’t like it at all. I apologized to her and ran away from class. But next time she had the same scent, and I just had to find out what it tasted like. I went around several perfumeries and finally discovered that it was Opium by Yves Saint Laurent. So I went up to her and said, “It’s opium. Amazing scent!” Since then, she started changing her scents, and I always guessed what they looked like. That’s when I realized the power of scents and decided to focus on them.
Your entry into the world of perfume was not quite traditional, before that you devoted yourself to theater and dance. Was it difficult to make a name for yourself in the new industry?
I was very determined to succeed, so I quickly started to thrive. And I was very lucky to meet the right people at the right time. I started at Robertet, a company specializing in natural raw materials, and that gave me a good foundation.
What is life like in a perfumery school?
It’s very intense and challenging, you have to learn a lot. You spend the first six months learning to recognize and use five hundred ingredients, then you have to confirm all your knowledge with scent tests.
What was the first perfume you created at school?
I worked on many chords, especially floral chords. I started with the mimosa, which never ceased to amuse me. Even today, I search for the perfect scent of mimosa in bloom.
You recently created “Le Male Perfume”, a new version of the mythical perfume “Le Male” by Jean-Paul Gaultier, made by another very famous perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian. Is it easier or harder to follow someone else’s work?
Both procedures are very interesting and very different. It really is something completely different. To rework the legendary to mythological perfume of the Le Male type, which is part of our heritage, our cultural heritage, is of course a difficult and somewhat daunting task. At the same time, it’s a great honor to have the opportunity to create a new interpretation of something famous. Otherwise it’s a process similar to creating a new perfume from scratch, you have to be creative and have a clear vision of what you want and then you can create something new.
When it comes to fragrances, many men are conservative and afraid to take risks. What would you advise them?
Open your mind and forget the division of fragrances by gender. Some perfumes, which we call feminine, smell absolutely fantastic on men. I found my perfume in the women’s section and it smells absolutely masculine and interesting on me.
What does the creative process of creating a new fragrance look like?
I listen to my intuition and let it guide my creativity. I take my clients’ ideas and inspiration, and then I develop them a lot more, so that I can create a fragrance that represents what they want to achieve.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everyone, always and everywhere! My whole life is an inspiration to me. It’s something that really defines me, my job is a real passion for me and everything in my life revolves around it. I can’t do without smells and perfumes at all. At the same time, my work and my sense of smell always surprise me. It’s a very subjective sense, and I feel like I’m discovering new scents and aspects that I already know every day.
Has your theater experience influenced your creative process?
Definitely yes, building a drama or a musical is very similar to building flavors. You have to take a number of elements and put them in harmony.
You have worked for many big names, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne and others. What makes these brands specific to you?
Each perfume is a separate story for me, but it’s like having children. Even though you have a lot of them and everyone is different, you love them all and you know what makes them special to you.
Is there a difference between the creative process of creating a niche fragrance and something that should have the greatest commercial success?
As I said, each perfume creation is individual and I have to pay exactly the same attention to each perfume and one hundred percent of my talent, whatever the order. Perfume is perfume, I can’t tell the difference. But a small difference can be that the niche perfume often has a more specific mission and therefore the discovery process can be a bit shorter. But the differences are only superficial, each creation is unique.
Perfumery has long been a very “French” luxury domain, a bit like Parisian fashion. Does it change?
Everything moves, but I think we still have a very specific French style, and that’s what gives our work a unique charm. It’s not going to go away.
The article was first published in April Fashion Bible Formen.