I first saw Quentin Bisch a little over a year ago at a conference at the Institut Français de la Mode, given by a neuroscientist specialized in olfaction. He was invited to give the perfumer’s point of view. It turned out to be quite a show – unsurprisingly, since Quentin is not only a classically-trained dancer, but also a pianist, singer and songwriter; he even directed his own theater company for three years.
All along, what he really dreamed of becoming was not a performer, but a perfumer. But he was no good at science, and you need some kind of chemistry degree to enter ISIPCA. His vocation was triggered at the age of 11 by a teacher who wore an intoxicating perfume. He asked her what it was. She found the question inappropriate and bawled him out. He took that as a challenge, and sniffed every single perfume at his local Sephora until he identified Opium. They then engaged in a game of guess-what-I’m-wearing as she kept changing her scent…
Quentin went on to study performing arts, but he still had his mind set on shifting a couple of letters around in his job description. So he besieged the industry until he finally got admitted to the prestigious Givaudan school sans chemistry diploma… Since then, he has composed scents to accompany several musical performances, but La Fin du monde is the first fine fragrance bearing his sole signature. Of course, he’s a perfect fit for État Libre d’Orange. I’m sure he wasn’t daunted by the scent’s “libretto”…
La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.D. grew out of a stump. Its author, Blaise Cendrars, lost his right arm during WWI. The “End of the world filmed by the angel N.D.” is the first thing he wrote with his left hand – or so he said, but then, Cendrars was a fabulous fibber. The story of the apocalypse seen by Cendrars as a surrealistic SF movie is something I’ll let you read up about on the ELO website.
Like Wes Craven’s Scream series, La Fin du Monde is “meta”: ironic, self-aware and citational (ELO’s sensibility is nothing if not post-modern). You’re not experiencing the apocalypse, you’re watching the movie originally scripted by Blaise Cendrars in 1919. The ELO website helpfully supplies offers a smorgasbord of excerpts to round out our culture of the genre, from Dr. Strangelove to Children of Men via The Cabin in the Woods. This is yet another example of the current trend for storytelling fragrances outside the traditional press-release box something ELO has always indulged in. With La Fin du Monde, this referential apparatus is going full throttle.
La Fin du monde is a two-speed scent. First, the Big Bang: a popcorn machine gone rogue, shooting kernels and ejaculating that melted butter-like stuff they squirt on it. (As an aside, the French didn’t get the popcorn, since they’re used to eating it sweet). Then, entropy: the scent collapses into burnt-caramelized notes, sucked into a liquorish black hole. At that stage, apocalypse smells like butter-basted leather.
The buttery smell doesn’t so much subside as get filtered out at some point: that’s when savory, agrestic effects take over – a celery-green, curry-spicy, almost acrid bitterness reminiscent of angelica, though the note is not listed (considering Cendrars’ apocalypse is filmed by an angel, you’d think the ingredient would be claimed if it was used). Some reviewers compared this to Dior Homme, but despite the presence of iris and aromatic notes in both, I don’t get that at all (possibly because I become “nose-blind” to the iris ingredients while the buttery notes fade quickly for other people).
Throughout the development, the scent maintains an old-school heft and density: though it comes nowhere near the crashing chords of Antoine Lie’s Rien, for instance – another ELO juice inspired by oblivion –, it’s ballsy, a bit messy, loud… Quentin Bisch is a punk perfumer.
Illustration drawn from the 1919 edition of Blaise Cendrars’ La Fin du monde filmée par l’Ange N.D., illustrated by Fernand Léger, conserved at the National Library of the Netherlands.