Histoires de Parfums is one of the most famous and most respected niche perfume houses in the world. I had the privilege and pleasure of doing an interview with Gerald Ghislain, the man behind HdP and the man of unbound creativity and passion for life. In this interview, we talk about characters that inspired many of his perfumes, future of the perfume industry, even how would Baudlaire would smell like. Enjoy!

gerald ghislain

IGOR: Some of your fragrances are inspired by remarkable people. For many perfume lovers, you and your fragrances certainly are. So, my question is…How would you smell as a perfume?

GERALD GHISLAIN: I’d smell good I can tell you that. It’s not easy to assess one’s own qualities but I know I’m bold, loud, extravagant, hyperactive, generous, gourmand, gourmet. I love life in all its ways, I love good food, I adore good wines, I enjoy travelling, hosting parties. In a way, all of my perfumes smell like me. That’s why they’re all so different and all so specific. I’m just as much a 1740 than I am a 1/.2, it just depends on my mood. Although my perfumes are inspired by stunning characters, they’re my interpretation of them, my vision of their work so you can smell me in all of them. Now, if I had to create a perfume based on myself, I’d go for something very solar, joyful, with a lot of spices since I love cooking. Some cumin, orange blossom, cinnamon, thyme, Mediterranean herbs, notes of red wine and berries and a heap of Ambroxan that I love.

IGOR: And on that note, what kind of people would wear it, what do you think?

GERALD GHISLAIN: I’d imagine people like me. People who like to smile, to live, a bit careless and carefree. It’d be for extrovert people, who love the arts, who love singing and dancing in all forms. Or for introvert people who’d like to see another side of them, to have a different take in life but this perfume would be exuberant and bold, it’d be a statement as are all perfumes but this one in particular would be a perfume to be noticed as soon as you get into a room. Be noticed in a good way though, not intimidatingly but nicely, like when a character arrives in a movie and you instantly know that he’s the good guy.

IGOR: What kind of compliment would you like to someone wearing you get? That they smell beautiful, unique, unusual, or?

GERALD GHISLAIN: I don’t like the word “unusual”, it’s such a polite way to say that you don’t like something. There’s nothing more heartwarming and confidence-building than someone telling you “You smell so good” because it’s not a statement on your clothes or hairdo, it’s a statement about you. I don’t want to hear someone say that my perfume smells nice, I want them to love my perfume, the way I wear it, if you know what I mean. This is such a lovable experience that I wish it on anyone who wears my fragrances and I hope that it happened to them and still happens to them everytime they wear a Histoires de Parfums.

IGOR: There was a very talented poet in our country, Branko Miljkovic, who tried to turn philosophy into poems. Would you like to tell a story about humankind through perfumes?

GERALD GHISLAIN: I wouldn’t pretend to be so bold. Perfumes have been around for thousands of years; I think the first archaeological evidence of an attar comes from the Indus civilization and that was 7000 years ago and Histoires de Parfums has only been around for 20 years so… See the picture? Humanity and perfumes are intrinsically linked, I wouldn’t pretend to change or revolutionise anything in this matter, I only want to tell my own stories in a medium that I know. Some people will sing, some others write, I use fragrances as a way to reminisce, embellish and empower – reminiscing my past, embellishing the present and empower your future and I say yours because you will be wearing my perfumes, making my personal stories your own. This is the form of sharing I chose because it’s so intimate and secret and personal that no one can ever take it away from you or say you got it wrong. For instance, my latest perfume, This is not a Blue Bottle 1/.6 was inspired by a poem called “The Earth is Blue like an Orange”. I love that poem. I fell in love with it ever since I read it and I’d always wanted to put it into a fragrance and so we did. We worked on it for years, the project went back and forth because I knew exactly what I wanted to portray, that is a citrus grove in full bloom under a blinding sun. Now, this is how Love smells to me but I’m pretty sure you’ll have your own memories with citruses – maybe it’ll be the orange marmalade you’d eat when you went to your grandmother’s, maybe it’ll be the orange soda you’d drink in St Tropez during the summer, I don’t know but I know that my fragrant memory will stir up something in you that only you can understand. Your secret garden if you like. That’s what I want to tell.

IGOR: How far in history would you go? I know I would love to smell your interpretation of famous people from the ancient world…Ancient Greece, Egypt, even cavemen.

GERALD GHISLAIN: I never thought about this actually. The Characters collection started with literary figures that I loved but it was not much about History than their histories. Now, with 7753 we worked around the figure of Mona Lisa but again, it wasn’t a perfume about Lisa Gherardini but about the Mona Lisa as a work of art and all that this entails in a creative process, that’s why I chose the number “7753” which is the dimensions of the painting and not the date of birth of Lisa Gherardini. You can’t speak about people you never met, then again I’ve never personally met the Marquis de Sade or Ernest Hemingway but they left us something so intimate, their writings, that when you read them, you form a bond with them. That’s how I get my inspirations and these are the stories I tell – my encounter, my relationship with Hemingway, Colette or Turandot. I really wish that Cleopatra had written something but she hasn’t so I could hardly connect with her. I can connect with her story but that’s a story told by other people so… My point is, there might be perfumes inspired by characters from the Antiquity, I’m just not familiar enough with writers and poets of this era yet.

IGOR: How do you imagine people from the future will smell like?

GERALD GHISLAIN: It depends how futuristic we’re looking at. The thing with science-fiction, because this is sci-fi to me, is that most of the times, we’ll only imagine something we already know, but in another form. I’d like to think the people of the future will smell like something we cannot even imagine because they’ll wear molecules we haven’t yet invented. Had you asked Aimé Guerlain this question, I’m not sure he would have been able to answer. He’d never have predicted the white musks, the rise of single molecules such as Ambroxan, the invention of Iso E, Calone or Cashmeran. Perfumery is moving so fast that I can’t predict what molecules we’ll invent in ten years, what trends will catch on and that’s the beauty of it. I’d love to smell such perfume, to create a “perfume of the future” that no one has ever smelt because it features unique, unknown materials, either unused or unseen in such concentrations.

IGOR: What element about some figure inspires you the most? Their life or ideas, or maybe how you imagine their essence would smell like? After all, Heraclitus said that it is the smell of the soul that distinguishes one from another in the afterlife.

GERALD GHISLAIN: Generally speaking, I love inner contradictions, I always found them fascinating and funny to look at and dissect. That’s how you can enter someone’s history and mind, through these crevices of the soul. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way by which I’ll connect to an author. I love George Sand because she had such a deep connection with nature, I love Sade because he was so impertinent and went to places no one had dared to express, I love Hemingway because he was a gentleman and a drunkard both… You can’t really say in advance how you’ll connect with an author or character in history because they all have a different history and because you don’t know who you’ll be just a year from now. And that’s very much what Heraclitus believed too, that we’re constantly changing and evolving, sometimes becoming the contrary of what we were before. You don’t approach authors the same way depending on how old you are and what you’re looking for when you decide to read them. You don’t approach composers the same way either. When I listened to Verdi for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect and I absolutely loved it. Had I listened to Wagner with the expectations I had from listening to Verdi, I probably would’ve hated Wagner because they’re so different from one another but I love them both for different reasons.

IGOR: Your perfumes got amazing ratings by renowned critic Luca Turin. How did you manage that, and what is the defining quality that sets them apart?

GERALD GHISLAIN: Staying honest and generous. I am really thankful to Luca and all the other perfume critics and reviewers who have praised our creations and mostly to our customers who have faithfully helped us grow and become what we are today. When I launched Histoires de Parfums 20 years ago, it was a bit of a folly but I committed to it. I followed my instincts, my inspirations, drove some perfumers a bit mad to get them to the place I wanted. The key to getting praise is not working for it. If you work to be praised, you’ll end up diluting your personality. I am not like that. I couldn’t care less about what people think of me, I love myself quite enough that I don’t need other people’s validation. I just follow my bliss and while it’s worked well for some fragrances and unwell for others, I’m proud of each. Take your work seriously, not yourself.

IGOR: What would Baudlaire smell like through the eyes of HdP?

GERALD GHISLAIN: Now this is interesting because Baudelaire was a fascinating character, full of contradictions and he embodied the transition between two worlds. He was modern but he was a dandy, he worshipped beauty but he relished in evil, he loved women but passed as a gay man… I guess I would go where down the opium road, which he was fond of. You’d have to imagine a very orientalist fragrance, the fumes of opium, of laudanum, wine, saffron, datura, brumansias. A really intoxicating fragrance, white petals but deadly if you will. Imagine 1740 but without the overall sweetness of the davana and benzoin. It’d have to be a sweet venom, one you cannot live without.

IGOR: How would you describe your perfumes to someone who lost their sense of smell in the late 90’, before the rise of niche perfumery?

GERALD GHISLAIN: Interestingly, I think that niche perfumery is closer to the perfumery before the 90’s. Someone who wore the avant-garde perfumes of the 70’s or the bold perfumes of the 80’s might find Histoires de Parfums to be familiar. The perfumery landscape radically changed in the 90’s, that was already 30 years ago and we’re slowly coming back to what we knew before, in terms of scent and in terms of artistic directions. Our time’s fascination for vintage fragrances proves it. If you smell 7753, you might be reminded of early 90’s perfumes. If you smell Noir Patchouli, you might remember the 70’s chypres while 1725 has an obvious fougère architecture. That person you speak of might have a hard time understanding the This is not a Blue Bottle collection as it’s resolutely more modern in terms of architecture, with 1/.5 using some ingredients in concentrations unseen before the 90’s. So I would probably tell this person that they will certainly find some of our fragrances familiar but more refined, more acute, as is the style of the post-90’s. We have a definite French vintage flair but we bring the niche aspect with new ingredients, with new ways of composing the fragrances. Our This is Not a Blue Bottle collection is certainly something a pre 90’s fragrance addict might find new since it’s more abstract and I could only paint them as lunar, telluric and stellar olfactive landscapes.

IGOR: Is there some perfume from HdP that is more special to you than others? And why?

GERALD GHISLAIN: No, they’re all special to my heart. It’s like asking a parent if there’s a child more special to them. I like all of my perfumes equally with the same passion. I have different stories with them so naturally they’ll evoke different emotions and I won’t wear them for the same reasons but I love them all the same. 1/.6 is very special to me because I’ve been willing to launch it for years and I have a deep connection to this poem by Paul Éluard so right now, I feel like I’m nurturing 1/.6 more than others who can fly on their own.

IGOR: What 3 perfumes would you recommend someone to try first if they never encountered HdP perfumes before and why?

GERALD GHISLAIN: 1899, Tubéreuse 3 and 1/.5. 1899 because it’s one of our first perfumes and it’s been our bestseller ever since we launched 20 years ago, so it’s probably a good introduction to the house. Tubéreuse 3 because it’s an over-the-top gorgeously animalic tuberose and immortelle with a slight vintage vibe and it’s the opposite of 1899. And 1/.5 is a totally synthetic fragrance crafted with high-quality synthetic materials which was a wish of mine, so it’s a resolutely more modern take on perfumery than our usual perfumes. But we have 38 fragrances so to narrow them down to 3 is really tricky. We recently launched an ultimate discovery set with samples of all our fragrances, I’d highly suggest to go this way if you want to really dig in the Histoires de Parfums universe.

IGOR: What were your favorite perfumes in the past, before you started with HdP?

GERALD GHISLAIN: I loved and still love Pour un Homme de Caron but nowadays I only wear the fragrances I’m working on.

IGOR: What can we expect from HdP in the future? Do you have some new collections that you are working on right now?

GERALD GHISLAIN: I won’t lie when I say that the Covid has affected our business. We had some really exciting launches planned for the end of the year but sadly we’ll have to postpone them for 2021. Within the next few years, we’ll actually be downsizing our library and discontinue some fragrances so that we may have more legroom to work on new launches. Right now, we’re focusing on This is Not a Blue Bottle 1/.6 which launched last month. 7753 Unexpected Mona which we launched in December is getting some good reviews as well so we’ll keep nurturing these two for a while. In fact, our next launch will be three launches in one as we’re working on a trilogy… but I can’t say more for now. You’ll have to wait and smell…