Francis Kurkdjian is one of the most renowned perfumers of our time. Having started his career designing some of the world’s most famous fragrances, most notably Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier, he launched his eponymous label in 2009 and became a major global player in the luxury niche fragrance industry.
With his latest fragrance, Kurkdjian is exploring new territory and introducing new sensory dimensions to his repertoire. We spoke to him about the inspiration behind the new scent and his passion for the craft that gives his brand such a unique essence.
What inspired your latest fragrance, Aqua Celestia?
Aqua Celestia is the third perfume in my Aqua collection after Aqua Universalis and Aqua Vitae. It is my latest creation and a new interpretation of freshness. This trio of scents is an interpretation of the diverse facets of the freshness and a modern tribute to the ancient Eau de Cologne. Invented in the 18th century, Eau de Cologne was sold and promoted for its scents but also as drinkable medicine. I wanted to reinterpret this idea of feeling good, being good and smelling good.
Aqua Celestia is the heavenly fresh scent of the collection. The inspiration of Aqua Celestia comes from the blues of the sky and the sea.
Who is the person who wears this fragrance?
Aqua Celestia is a gender free fragrance. Actually I never think about a particular woman or a man when I create a fragrance. I follow my vision of beauty and elegance. I am seeking a universal ideal beauty, and present it to the largest audience possible. That said, Aqua Celestia is for people looking for a different sensation of freshness, its scent brings an inner feeling of joy and relaxation, it uplifts the mood and brings happiness.
Can you describe for us the essence of the Maison Francis Kurkdjian brand?
‘Perfumed life; 24/7’ is the motto of Maison Francis Kurkdjian. It means that we are surrounded by scents from day to night. Each scent of our collection is designed to fit a certain ‘mood’ and to match your aura and sensuality at a specific occasion.
Modern men and women have multiple personalities as we are not the same at work as we are with friends and family or when we travel and so on. If I open a sophisticated person’s wardrobe I am sure to find casual wear, formal attire as well as eveningwear. Our collection of fragrance has been created in the same spirit, as a real fragrance wardrobe. Our Aqua collection stands for an essential piece in one’s wardrobe, a bit like a white shirt, that you can wear at any occasion. It is fresh, versatile and genderless.
You are also well known for your olfactory installations. Can you tell our readers what these are and why these are important to you in the communication of fragrance?
Today, I have a new approach to the world of fragrances, and I am looking more and more at new ways to wear and experiment with scents. My olfactive installations represent the opportunity to engage in a dialogue between the public and a place by using smell as an emotional medium. My experiences in Versailles and my work for Sophie Calle (for whom I have created the smell of money) gave me the desire to explore new creative roads and to stretch the role and the work of the perfumer.
I had the feeling that there were new creative and olfactive paths to open. There were other ways to be a perfumer; the final product did not have to be necessarily captured in a bottle. By creating scent installations I found out I was able to bring emotions to people in a different way, a way to create art with no commercial value attached to it.
Lately I have created a special fragrance for the exhibition Versailles: Treasures from the Palace that is currently taking place in Canberra at the National Gallery of Australia. This exclusive scent was spread in the hall of the museum and was based on King Louis XIV’s favorite flower: the orange blossom flower.
Did you know from an early age that you wanted to work with fragrance? What inspired you to enter this field?
I had parents and grand-parents that got me into the world of arts and craftsmanship at an early age, from ballet class to piano lessons and visits to museums; I was even immersed into the world of Couture with two grand-fathers working for the craft. I grew up in a very creative environment, with lots of fantasy and fun, and developed a love of handicrafts.
However, I had my true revelation at the age of 14, by reading an article about perfumery in the glossy pages of a French magazine. I discovered that the couturier and fashion designer were not the ones who were creating the perfumes. There were people behind the scenes, and those people had a very special craft and gift.
At the same moment, I saw the movie ‘Le Sauvage’ that features iconic actress Catherine Deneuve and actor Yves Montant in which he plays the role of a perfumer in a remoted Venezuelan island. I loved it! And even now I watch it again once in a while. After that, I totally fell in love with the craft and told my parents I wanted to become a perfumer. I knew deep inside that it was my vocation!
You have created some of the most famous perfumes in the world, including Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier. What are the differences when you work for your own House from working for other brands?
Working for someone else under guidance is a different type of work and a different way of working but challenges are there in both cases. When I work for other brands, I am in competition with other fragrance houses and perfumers very often. I work on a deadline and a budget; and most of the time I have to deliver a fragrance that will be tested on the market among targeted consumers.
When I work for my eponymous house, I am in charge and responsible for the project from A to Z. I can’t hide. Therefore, my inspiration is key. To be the in-house artistic creator and the perfumer at the same time makes a tremendous difference. The marketing around the product is at the service of a genuine artistic and creative vision. This is unique in the industry. In that matter, Maison Francis Kurkdjian stands apart in the Fragrance universe.
You have earned many accolades over your career so far; do you have any proudest moments?
It is always pleasant to get the recognition from the industry for the work you have done. Not only for me but also for my team which has been very supportive. It’s a collective work. However, the best recognition comes from the final users of the fragrance, the customers. When I was honoured as a ‘Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres’ by the French minister of culture I felt very happy for my parents and remembered my grandparents who in 1920’s decided to live in France.
You have been in this industry for over 20 years now, how do you feel the landscape of fragrance has changed in this time?
Two decades are almost a generation so many changes have occurred over the years. 25 years ago, it was all about the designer and the brand. The perfumer was behind the scenes and hidden from the press. Then, the ‘story’ became important and the story-telling of the ingredients took more and more importance up to a point where perfumers started to be in the frontline. Nowadays, the perfumer has more importance and recognition even though he is not necessarily the decision maker.
New natural ingredients and new molecules have entered the perfumer’s palette with incredible new shades or facets. Things that are totally unique now and help to create new olfactive paths.
Of course, nowadays, you have more and more fragrance launches as the market has totally exploded with lifestyle brands entering the category whereas 20 years ago it was more about Couture brands or Beauty brands. Let’s not forget the celebrity business and all these actors and singers launching their own fragrance brands with more or less success to the end.
Opportunities have never been so vast. However, what matters ultimately is the emotion and the joy of wearing a scent. This is what matters.
What do you feel the impact of social media is having on your industry?
The power of marketing with the social networks is very strong now. In few years we will see a brand picking a perfumer because of the number of followers he or she has on Instagram! But let’s not forget this is all about a gift wrap, what does matter ultimately is the product and its quality!
How do you protect your brand and remain in the niche and luxury space? What do you feel is unique about your brand?
Maison Francis Kurkdjian is very unique in the fragrance world. It is a luxury house that was founded by a perfumer and carries the name of its founder. It happened in the past centuries before, however I am the first one in the 21st Century to have done so.
In terms of scent, the collection of fragrances I have created can be seen and experienced as a fragrance wardrobe. That means you can allow yourself to wear multiple fragrances. If you have not found the fragrance of your life yet, then my fragrance collection is meant for you, meant to fulfil your emotional needs. Last, wearing a scent from Maison Francis Kurkdjian is a promise of wearing a state of the art scent, crafted in the heritage of French perfumery.
Do you see any particular trends emerging within the world of fragrance at the moment?
I do not look at trends at all. I follow my vision as an artist. Trends wash out creativity so it gives the feeling that everybody does the same thing. I want my customer and clients to feel different and wear different things. Trends disappear as fast as they appear and that’s why I prefer to stay away from them.
Coco Chanel once said in an interview to a French journalist ‘I do not know what the trend will be and if I would have known I would not tell you!’
What is your vision for the future of fragrance; where do you see the industry heading?
Personally, bringing the world of scent to a new level of consciousness, to new ways to wear or experiment with fragrances is really something I am more and more looking at in the future. I believe it is part of my mission in the world of fragrances to open new paths and question my era about the importance, meaning and place of fragrances. I do believe it is also the modernity of it: breaking, not the rules, but the boundaries. You have to play the game, if not, you are left outside. No one has ever been forbidden to push the boundaries.
Concerning the industry, only time will tell.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Perfumes Are Available at: Paris Gallery, TRYANO, Atelier Perfumery, Robinsons Department Store, www.obslifestyle.com