Glass speaks to perfumer Marc-Antoine Barrois – founder of his eponymous fragrance house

Glass speaks to Marc-Antoine Barrois, founder of the eponymous fragrance house, about his vision for the brand, his parallel career in haute couture and his company’s extraordinary success  

BORN in northern France into a family who were in the textile business, it was perhaps natural for Marc-Antoine Barrois to work in fashion himself. After creating his own collections in Lille, he subsequently worked for Dominique Sirop’s couture house and Jean-Paul Gaultier during his Hermès era and then Giambattista Valli in Paris.

In 2009, while at Valli’s, he realised that there was a gap in the market for haute couture clothes for men and so established his own fashion business – specialising in “costumes to tuxedos, capes, coats and even jogging jackets in incredible materials/fabric”.

Marc-Antoine Barrois. Photograph: Olivier Yoan

Barrois met master perfumer Quentin Bisch in 2015 while still in his early 30s. Due to a shared vision and love for quality materials they “immediately created an extraordinary creative partnership”. In collaboration with Bisch, he launched his eponymous perfume brand in 2016. This creative partnership continues to this day.

The leather and spice-infused B683 was their first perfume – named after the asteroid in the Little Prince by Saint Exupery and also Barrois’ date of birth. In a remarkably short time, Marc-Antoine Barrois fragrances have become a huge success, winning a Fragrance Foundation award in 2020.

Creating imaginary universes in his small but formidable perfume collection, he has also opened two enchanting fragrance boutiques – in Paris and London – and in February, he unveiled his flagship store on Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, Paris.

B683 Extrait by Marc-Antoine Barrois

How and why did you make the move from couture fashion to perfumery?

I didn’t move from one to the other … As a creative director I like to create with different medium and I had already added some pieces of jewellery to my portfolio, so when I met perfumer Quentin Bisch I thought “why not a perfume?”, although I had not thought of creating a full line of perfumes as I do now. It started with one – B683. I never thought it would be so successful – despite the fact I am mad about this first scent.

How does the creative relationship work with perfumer Quentin Bisch??

Quentin is a genius and I have a huge respect for his work. When I met him, I felt like I had met a twin brother. There is a lot of this in our work relationship, from a few words and quick brainstorming between the two of us. He suggests many ideas from which we have to make choices and move forward to create unique scents.

In your opinion and experience, are there any similarities between haute couture and perfumery? And if so, what are they?

Yes and no. Couture is season driven. However, I always tried to create creative timeless pieces; perfume to me is all about creating a timeless elegance and signature. The main similarity is that the root of my perfumes is in my couture DNA. Exigence, perfectionism, elegance, creativity and uniqueness are some of the ingredients of my perfumes.

You seem fascinated by imaginary, futuristic and also nostalgic worlds and creating these in your brand. How does this creative artistry influence and inspire your perfume-making and brand?

My creative vision and my dreamlike imagination inspire my work the same way it can inspire a director. Look at how crazy the amazing universes of Tim Burton are. I am fascinated by the power of imagination. Sometimes, it emphasises a nostalgic memory and other times it makes you try to create a memory for a possible future.

The interior of Marc-Antoine Barrois’ shop in Piccadilly, London

Sustainability is very important to your fragrance house. Can you tell me what sustainable practices you use and how you plan to develop them?

Ten years ago I read an article about insects becoming extinct within 30 years – I was 30 then ­– and it was like a huge slap in the face. I had been alive during those 30 years and didn’t do much. As an entrepreneur, you can change things in a second. So, I decided to remove all plastic from my products (there is no plastic wrapping or velvet plastic foam inside the boxes anymore).

I stopped producing my packaging overseas and relocated everything to France. I took out controversial UV filters and preservatives from my perfumes’ composition and considered all the ecological progress we could make as a company – including traveling less.

The Marc-Antoine Barrois Boutique in Paris.

What challenges have you faced in setting up your fragrance house?

I have been really lucky. I am a hard worker, so I did not mind working on this project for hundreds of hours. Everything has been like a dream. My main challenges were first to make people accept that we would develop the company more slowly because I want to remain fully independent. Now we have grown a lot. We have found enthusiastic and talented staff who share our company values. We are like a family where kindness and respect are super important.

What are the high points of your career?

Due to Covid 19 in 2020, one of the high points of my professional life happened when I was on my bed watching the virtual ceremony of the UK Fragrance Foundation live. Ganymede won the Perfume Extraordinaire award. This was a true game changer as it drew a lot of attention and publicity to my brand.

Another high point is a very recent one. After opening my first perfume store in Paris and a second one in London, I have just opened my flagship store in Paris, at 14 Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré … where I started my career in 2004 working for French couturier Dominique Sirop.

Apart from your own fragrances, what other perfumes do you admire?

I have always loved Lanvin Arpège and Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps as well as Chanel’s Bel Respiro. When I worked at Hermès (with Jean-Paul Gaultier in 2006), I discovered a full range of other amazing fragrances such as the house’s Bel Ami, Eau des Merveilles, Eau d’Orange Verte, Un Jardin sur le Nil … but I was always disappointed by the short-lasting nature of these perfumes.

Tilia – the latest fragrance from the brand

What other plans do you have for your brand?

We have launched an exceptional new scent this year – Tilia. But beside that specific perfume, I want to keep sharing my dreams and creating experiences that bring all of us back to our emotional mind and let us be a kid again for a moment or for longer.

by Caroline Simpson