Interviews Jean-Claude Delville in Retrospect: From Cabotine to Marjolaine and Many More...

Jean-Claude Delville in Retrospect: From Cabotine to Marjolaine and Many More...

11/28/16 11:04:32 (8 comments)

by: Miguel Matos


Jean-Claude Delville

Jean-Claude Delville is the father of some of the most memorable perfumes from the 1990s until now. He was the man who created the masterpiece Grès Cabotine in 1990 and also the recently reissued Jean Couturier Marjolaine, originally launched in 1997. The relaunch of Marjolaine was the perfect excuse for me to get in touch with this extremely kind perfumer who lives and works in New York, creating fragrances within the highly respected Drom company.


Delville's works


Jean-Claude Delville is a discreet gentleman, but he should be praised as someone who developed very important commercial step stones like Clinique Happy, Givenchy Organza Indecence and Kenzo Parfum d'Eté. Just this year, he signed the compositions of the new Oscar de La Renta Oscar VelvetDunhill Icon Elite and Perry Ellis Aqua Extreme. I decided to play a game with Jean-Claude: I would start obviously by Marjolaine and then pick my favorites among his portfolio. And next, he would pick his own personal favorites and tell me some stories around them. The result was a very informative and entertaining conversation between two men who are deeply in love with perfume.




Marjolaine Ad

The year 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of Marjolaine, the classic and bright fragrance of Jean Couturier. The current owners of the brand Jean Couturier thought that this would be a great opportunity for highlighting this legendary fragrance. In fact, Marjolaine does have something in common with Jean Couturier's iconic Coriandre: both are based on an aromatic herb. In the case of Coriandre it was coriander. In Marjolaine it was marjoram. These green herbs are so important that they ended up naming the scents. Both are green and fresh, but whereas Coriandre is more high-pitched and of a typical 70s chypre complexity and sophistication, Marjolaine is more simple and romantic, dewy and transparent.



Miguel: Jean-Claude, it's a great honour to talk with you. In my mind, there is something of a personal signature of yours that comes from Cabotine and is transfered into Marjolaine. Is this true?

Jean-Claude: That's correct. Marjoram is a very delicate, fresh, clean, aquatic, dewy green note. Nicole Tate, the person I worked with when developing Marjolaine was the same person that had worked with me on Cabotine. At the time, the marketing team of parfum Grès didn't expect Cabotine to be such a success. When they decided to ask perfumers to do Cabotine, they immediately picked my accord because it was the opposite of Cabochard. It was for a younger, laid-back, happy woman. A more sensuous woman also. When we started to develop the scent, they thought that it would be just a flanker to attract consumers to the classic Cabochard. Then, very quickly, with the way the fragrance was built, using some new molecules like ambroxan, and the way it was arranged with tuberose and hyacinth, this architecture was very well received and Cabotine became a big success.

Cabotine ad

After the hit that Cabotine represented, when Nicole Tate asked me to work on Marjolaine for Jean Couturier, I remember that she wanted something very pastel, very light, very fresh and green floral. The kind of floral that is refreshing but lasts. It's like a second skin and for me it was inspired by the colour of the green leaf you see on the package with peony and a vegetal note. Something innocent, candid, but sometimes when someone is innocent it means that the person is hiding something rich inside. You don't always show it. Sometimes you have to scratch over the surface to understand someone's true soul.

Marjolaine bottle and box

Marjoram notes

Miguel: It's the floral green aspect, and the sparkly freshness with aldehydes... I think that Marjolaine can be a close relative to Cabotine. Do you consider that this comes from your style of composing at the time?

Jean-Claude: It's like a musician. After a certain number of years of experience, a perfumer tends to narrow down his palette. We all have our favorite notes and we like to play with them and try to arrange them differently. There is definitely a certain pattern that comes back. Picasso had a blue period and a rose period. Until one day we feel that we've had enough of using green, or blue, or yellow. And then we want to challenge ourselves. I think you are right, Marjolaine was some kind of continuation of that romantic, innocent, bright and uplifting family of floral. I like to use this bouquet to create a certain femininity and a skin feeling. And then in the top I used a dash of citrus and some green leaves to give a natural and beautiful sensation. I find inspiration in nature. I like to go to gardens, I like florals. I look at flowers and it's a very special moment; I feel connected and I want to capture their secrets. In conclusion, there is a connection between both fragrances but they are different.




Amazing by Bill Blass

Miguel: Another fragrance I love and in Europe this is pretty much unknown: Bill Blass Amazing. This was launched in 1999 and it's a very interesting scent. I know that you worked with Jeffrey Dame (today the owner of Dame Perfumery Scottsdale) in its conception. Jeffrey told me you wanted to recreate the use of strong aldehydes taking Estée Lauder White Linen as inspiration. Can you tell me more about it?

Jean-Claude: It's an old story and I have to step back in time. Amazing was indeed a fragrance that was supposed to translate a new and less traditional way of using aldehydes. At the time, I was with IFF and I was very close to Sophia Grojsman. For me, she is still one of the most extraordinary human beings and also a genious woman in perfumery. When you work near someone like Sophia Grojsman, you are obviously going to be inspired by the way she creates, the way she pushes you and forces you to go in certain directions. Many times she told me that only a woman can create a fragrance for another woman. That was very funny but sometimes I realize that Sophia was right. Well, some guys have a feminine sensitivity. You look at beauty from a different angle. Amazing took inspiration from White Linen because of the aldehydes and orris, because of the floral notes that were used. The idea was to create an instant classic. Something that smelled like the skin of a woman in love. A woman that wants beauty just for herself. She doesn't care about the others, she really wants to have a good time. Kind of a selfishness. A self centered signature. People liked it, the way the fragrance was moving in the air and diffused. It was a way to work with a different signature from Cabotine and Marjolaine, but it had that kind of sophisticated and elegant floral bouquet of peony, magnolia, tuberose with orris and aldehydes.

 Aldehyde C11

Aldehyde C11 undecyclenic

Miguel: In Amazing I smell something like an animalic and masculine leather also...

Jean Claude: There's a dash of labdanum in the back. Also, I like my fragrances to have ambroxan, like I used in Cabotine. Ambroxan smells like ambergris and it's an amazing material. Now you see it a lot in overdose, because it's an extraordinary molecule. In Amazing, there is also a bit of styrax. This, plus the spices, tuberose, aldehydes and very fresh citrus notes like mandarine leaf, make the special character of the perfume.




Givenchy Organza Indecence Ad

Miguel: Moving on to another great creation of yours and a completely overwhelming example: Givenchy Organza Indecence (1999). That's an entirely different style in the oriental direction, very sexy and a good example of a cinnamon scent.

Jean-Claude: It's a very interesting fragrance. I think it was a little bit too early for Organza Indécence. Givenchy wanted an oriental amber. We decided to use a bit of cinnamon because it was a spice that was not overly used. The scent is extremely ambery, a bit heavy. For its time, it was brave to come up with something so daring, so intense. It was an interesting challenge for me and I remember using Cedramber, a molecule from the more masculine perfumery. I was tired of Iso e Super, I wanted something with more character and more density. In that fragrance I used rum, cinnamon, cedramber, vanilla and benzoin. The result was surprising.



Ambre de Cabochard bottle

Miguel: In 2006, you worked on another flanker for Cabochard. Ambre de Cabochard is a very underestimated fragrance, but it is also a very interesting and syrupy fruity amber oriental. I think that Ambre de Cabochard is in the same family of Organza Indécence, but instead of spicy amber, it turns into a fruity amber with raspberry.

Jean-Claude: For this one, I was asked to reinvent Cabochard using a few ingredients from the original fragrance in a different way. I wanted to make a fresh, floral and addictive perfume. There is a lot of orange blossom, mandarine, benzoin in the back, a bit of vanilla, patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood, narcissus, Sambac jasmine, rose, damascone, ambroxan, a very woody facet and a gourmand element.




Clinique Happy ad

Miguel: These were my favorites from your portfolio. Now it's your turn. Can you highlight some of the most important fragrances of your career?

Jean-Claude: There are two fragrances that made me very proud and at the same time very humble. One of them is Clinique Happy (1997). It was a major challenge for me. Raymond Matt, the person in charge of the development in the Clinique brand, was looking for something different, sparkling, a new kind of freshness. First of all, I didn't know anything about what the name or colour of the packaging would be. Anyway, Raymond Matt was not satisfied because nobody had been able to translate what he was looking for. At the time I was working with a young perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, but unfortunately our progress was not good enough. At one point we had only two weeks left, and we were asked for a meeting with Raymond. Just before going to his office, I was in the lab and I needed to make a concoction that would be bold and crazy. I had to let go and not be afraid. Push the envelope, try to have fun. I needed to please myself before anything else. So I did a crazy accord with grapefruit, red fruit, a captive IFF molecule with a powerful grapefruit signature, tangerine and something green. I put it in a bottle inside my pocket and went for the presentation. Raymond smelled our other propositions, he liked them but he thought that they weren't quite good enough. Before leaving the office, I said "I have something in my pocket to show you". So he picked the bottle, sprayed it in the air and said "it's incredible, I can't believe it". I said: "well, I knew it was too much", but it was actually what he was looking for. It was just a top note, like a suit with the front but without the back. He told me to work on it and come back. That top note was so intense that if became the fragrance itself. It took me two weeks to complete it. After that, in a meeting with Aerin Lauder, she asked me what I felt with this fragrance. First I said "it makes me happy". And then I said I felt "orange" because it was nature, like catching the sun in a bottle. She asked me if I'd had any information, because there was a confidentiality agreement and I wasn't supposed to know anything. In Happy I used some of my favorite ingredients like orange blossom, mimosa, marigold, jasmine, lily of the valley... The fragrance goes into the theme of my perfumery, the florals that I love.



Parfum d'Eté bottle

Miguel: Can you pick another important step in your career?

Jean-Claude: I am very proud of Kenzo Parfum d'Été (1992). I spent some time in Asia and I loved the culture. I wanted this fragrance to have hyacinth and violet as well as a note that I had discussed with the brand: cactus sap. I wanted to create something dewy with narcissus, cactus sap, lily of the valley... We perfumers tend to select a palette of notes - I work now with 85 raw materials. The brand immediately fell in love with the green note. I love to touch leaves, smell trees, to walk in the forest... that's my inspiration. But it took us a long time to finish Parfum d'Été and the client was unhappy. One day the person I was working with in Kenzo sprayed a blotter and told me to smell it. I smelled and I thought that it was incredible. "Are you joking with me?" she said, "You know what this is? This is mod 3 and we are now in mod 125". When I was at the third one, I should have stopped there. I just had to add a little more cactus sap and it was ready. This happens a lot during research. Sometimes you need to go back to the essential. Less is more and sometimes we forget that in perfumery. I believe that we are surrounded with cosmic energy. One day, I was driving and I started to feel an emotion. I was about to cry and I didn't know what was happening. I went into the office, it was 9 in the morning. I received a telephone call and it was the marketing guy telling me we had won the fragrance for Kenzo. I had felt it moments before! I believe that fragrances carry emotions inside.

Miguel: I believe that the first and most important ingredient in a perfume is emotion. Without emotion, a perfume is useless.

Jean-Claude: Exactly. Fragrance has to have a certain attraction. When you smell it you have to feel something.

Miguel Matos is a Portuguese journalist obsessed with perfume. Miguel likes to see himself as a fragrance curator, investigating perfume as contemporary art. He directs his own cultural magazine, Umbigo, and writes texts for museums and galleries. He is a vintage perfume collector and organizes regular talks called Vintage Perfume Sniffing and Olfatto L'Amore. Honorable member of the International Perfume Bottle Association. He did workshops for brands such as Versace, Grès, Roger & Gallet and Florescent. He also writes on beauty and grooming for He is a Fragrantica writer, translator and editor of

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Beautiful interview!


Absolutely fascinating! i am craving to have again some of those


That's very humble and kind for a busy man, as Mr Delville, to share his ideas indeed, great job, Miguel, for getting in touch with him!
I do think that herbal Marjolane and gourmandish Ambre Cabochard are underrated and beautiful fragrances, I am enjoying them very much. Marjolane is very magical at some point, reminds me of Brothers Grimm fairy-tales, German folklore and water fairies and such...
Can't wait to find and try Amazing now!


Such a privilege to share the thoughts of an artist on his art. This interview reaches the heart of what fragrance means.


I enjoyed this article!


Parfum d'ete was amazing. So tragic that Kenzo felt it necessary to pull such a beautiful creation off the market. It was absolutely brilliant, what a talented man.


Fabulous discussion! Makes me want to buy all of them and re-experience them, especially Marjolaine; too bad it's virtually nowhere to be found in the USA! Thanks for this wonderful article, Miguel!


What a lovely man!


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