The last time I interviewed Quentin Bisch, in 2018, the Paris-based perfumer was already making an impression with his creations for brands such as Chloé, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Etat Libre d’Orange, Mugler, Ex Nihilo and Jean Paul Gaultier.
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Four years later, the Strasbourg-born Givaudan Perfumery School graduate has become highly sought after, so much so that this follow-up interview almost didn’t materialise due to his non-stop schedule.
Quentin Bisch made his fine fragrance debut in 2010 with Reminiscence Essence EDP. Most recently, he has produced fan favourites Hibiscus Mahajád (2021) and Patchouli Magnetik (2022) for French niche brand Maison Crivelli.
His creations for the Parfums de Marly Delina Range – Parfums de Marly Delina EDP (2017), Parfums de Marly Delina Exclusif EDP (2018) and Parfums de Marly Delina La Rosée EDP (2021) – are particularly popular.
When we got the opportunity to catch up over a half-hour phone call, we chat about the pressures of being in demand, the Parfums de Marly Delina line, and the trickiness of working with roses. We also go into the existential territory, which just adds to my admiration of his authenticity and sensitivity.
Is perfumery a profession or a calling for you?
Both. But working with such a passion may change the rules of typical “professions”: you barely can stop, because you always create perfumes in your mind, while watching a movie or sleeping at night. It is an absolute part of myself and takes up the main part of my life.
You’re equally adept at niche and designer fragrances. Is there any difference for you in the creation process?
Not that much. I work with as many creative and bold accords for a niche as I do for designer fragrances. The main difference is the target.
When you want to appeal to a larger audience, you need to include it in the deal. That’s why designer fragrances often are so faceted: a bit of fruit to be joyful, flower notes for fluidity, musks for comfort, and gourmand for addiction and youth…
In that situation, we are far away from a niche perfume featuring only amber or spices. You don’t aim for the same result.
Has your style evolved since your debut?
With increasing confidence, I tend to go straight to the point. My formulas are bolder and shorter.
But the main part of the job is connected to the brands. Hence my “style”, as you call it, is clearly connected to them and adapts to answer each one.
I totally get to dive into the brand’s DNA and become like their internal perfumer. I am not the same perfumer when I work for Chloé or for Paco Rabanne.
You are very in demand and are increasingly referred to as a “star perfumer”. How do you cope with the pressure and expectation?
Please don’t [sighs]. When I hear those kinds of things, I’m honoured and touched.
At the same time, it’s just not talking to me. Maybe because I’m strict with myself so I’m always seeking, doing research, looking at my next goals to achieve. So when I hear those compliments, it’s like people are nice, but that’s it.
With the pressure, it’s only my pressure, which is quite huge. It’s sufficient and quite enough [laughs].
I get the impression you’re a perfectionist.
Yes, maybe too much. But my self-engine that pushes me all the time is good like that too. Sometimes it’s a bit tricky. I can get into things in an obsessional way. It tends to take a lot in my life.
I still see myself as someone looking for something I haven’t accomplished yet. I feel young and new and having done nothing yet. There’s a huge gap between sometimes what I hear and what I feel in my head.
Apparently, you used to struggle with chemistry, an integral part of perfumery. How’s that part of the equation going now?
No. No [emphatic]. I have understood with experience you don’t need chemistry at all, in fine fragrances especially. Maybe if you’re working with household detergents and so forth, you do, but that’s not my domain.
You don’t need to foresee the chemical reactions in fine fragrances. You just need to perfume alcohol, which has no smell. I’m more of a chef mixing ingredients than a chemist.
You make it sound too easy, Quentin…
You’re right. Anybody can create, with a little training, something that smells good. There are some tricks. If you take vanilla, patchouli, and labdanum, it smells amber, which is a beautiful accord. You can learn that trick.
Creating beautiful perfumes that are modern, different, and expansive is complicated because then you must adapt the art of mixing to the art of feeling what will be good, trendy, and suits the brand. That is difficult.
Which would come from experience and intuition…
True. Intuition and lots of work. You need to try and try and fail and fail again to discover something nice and interesting.
You need to be very patient. If you’re looking for something that’s rewarding quickly, perfumery is not for you.
Let’s discuss the hugely successful Parfums de Marly Delina range. How much freedom were you given to create these fragrances?
Quite free, I must say. We presented to Julien [Sprecher], the olfactive director of the brand. At first, he didn’t like the note, but we insisted and he reconsidered. He asked me to do one single modification and that’s it.
Delina is powerful stuff. Was that part of the brief?
It’s very important to have that aspect in the whole package. It needed to be powerful and fluid – the way it’s distributed in the air – and transparent at the same time.
How did you ensure Delina Exclusif is different from the original while keeping certain elements?
Exactly. It needed to be a continuation of the first one, like season two. If Delina was roses blooming in the garden at noon, full sun, a beautiful day, then Exclusif would be the same thing, but by night. It’s the same idea but with a different atmosphere.
I see you used Evernyl in the creation of Delina Exclusif. Did you prefer to use this synthetic moss rather than real oak moss?
When a perfumer uses a material, it’s not a basic choice between a natural and synthetic. I used Evernyl for a certain reason. It’s a different material.
It’s like if you asked why I used hedione or benzyl acetate in place of jasmine. They’re three completely different materials.
Creating a perfume is not a battle of choosing between natural and synthetic, good and bad. They’re a range of different ingredients.
For example, using a high amount of rose essence oil sometimes is not good. It stinks because it’s too dark, too spicy. It’s a cocktail of molecules when you use the natural. The synthetic allows you to use just one part of the rose, so then you can create your own rose.
I’m enjoying the relative softness of La Rosée with its aquatic vibe. What was the idea there?
I thought it could be the prequel. The same rose, but in the morning and not fully bloomed at that moment.
There’s a dewy, wet atmosphere. It’s transparent but still powerful.
Are you surprised by the success of the range?
Yes! And everywhere! In Brazil, the Middle East, America, Russia, France. It’s crazy. That’s very interesting.
You never know if something is going to be a success. I don’t create perfumes thinking of that. Sometimes a beautiful fragrance can be launched at the wrong time and it misses the audience.
All these Delina fragrances feature Turkish rose. Is this an easy ingredient to work with for you?
No, not at all. It’s beautiful but very powerful and can be a bit tricky. If you overdose it, it’s not modern.
For Parfums de Marly, it needed to be the legacy of this olfactory fantasy, tradition and modernity.
It’s really a duet of this rose, from Turkey and which is natural, and Petalia. This captive molecule from Givaudan [the company he works for] is a key ingredient of the modern rosiness of Delina. It keeps the litchi, fresh rose facet from top to bottom.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with?
It changes all the time, like one’s mood. It depends on what you want to do. At the moment, it’s vanilla, because I’m working on something with it.
You know for Jean Paul Gaultier La Belle EDP, it started with le grand cru vanille, a delicious French cake with vanilla in all its states – powdery, dark, leathery.
It was very interesting, the first time I was really trying to create an accord around vanilla and all its facets. Since that day, I’m a vanilla lover.
Are you working on the next addition to the Delina range already? I know these things are confidential…
[Pause] Not for Delina. I can tell you I’m working on something else for Parfums de Marly.
If I read correctly, you turn 40 next year.
I turned 39 one week ago.
Hope it was a good celebration. Does it mean anything to you, as you approach that landmark year? Is this a time of reflection for you?
Definitely, but I’m always in that kind of state [laughs]. I’m always thinking about where I am, what I do, and asking myself: Are you doing the right thing? Are you doing it properly? And if not, change it.
It’s tiring but also good because you’re sure you’re at the right place at the right moment and you’re not lying to yourself and others. I hate, hate not being honest with myself and others.
I can relate. It can keep you up at night, all those questions, especially when there are no answers.
Yes, yes. You can question something without having the answers.
And then it follows you in your everyday life and sometimes, suddenly, you will have that revelation: now, I know this is for me, this is not for me anymore. We evolve all the time and I definitely have the feeling I’m not the same as before.
Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.