You are recognized as one of the World’s most celebrated perfumers, do you feel a certain amount of pressure?
As a creator and a fragrance composer, creation is challenging. My goal is to bring new and innovative scents to my audience. However, I believe feeling the pressure is part of the deal of being celebrated. I have been working in the fragrance world for almost 25 years now. Each creation remains a personal challenge. To tell a new story, to bring something that women or men will desire is always very challenging. It is not always easy to express what you want and what you feel. It can be very hard for a person to imagine a fragrance that does not exist. Here is the secret of a perfumer: imagine a trail perfume that does not exist, a future olfactory imprint…
What made you break out on your own and create your own fragrance house?
The creation of my own brand was a natural process, like something I had to do, create and then share with the public. That was made possible when I met Marc Chaya with whom I have co-created Maison Francis Kurkdjian. He is the CEO since day 1. While founding Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2009, my desire was to share my contemporary vision on scents and luxury with the public. Today this desire hasn’t changed.
My House is a tribute to Paris and each scent is part of a fragrance wardrobe to accompany each of us, every day, every night. 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 find it hard to create a name that is well suited to your fragrances or does it come easy?
Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. Although it takes a team effort to manufacture and launch a product, the first creative steps are rather lonely. I begin to focus on a general feeling. Then I try to envision the final image for the fragrance. I dream my fragrance then only I start writing the formula. The name of the fragrance always comes first. It sums up what I want to say with my perfume. It’s like the title of a book or the name of a painting. It gives me a guideline, a creative path to follow. I have a certain ease to find names. I love books and literature. The main difficulty is the patent of a name as many of them have been already trademarked. Behind each Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances I have created, there is a story and my creative process gathers inspiration from many different fields. Many things can inspire me. Some names from my fragrance line are a perfect example. It can be a simple oxymoron like Lumière Noire, or a feeling (Cologne pour le Matin or Cologne pour le Soir) or a travel I have made (APOM). But I guess I am open to all art forms.
You’re always able to create fragrances with such purity, sophistication, and timelessness, do you put this down to your thirty years’ experience?
25 years of creation definitely helps. However, there is so much work behind the scene! You need to work more and more as time goes by. The more you are experienced, the more you need to work to reach perfection and create really new olfactive forms. As long as I am inspired I will continue creating fragrances.
Which perfumer do you admire?
I often think about Noel Guihot, a master perfumer with whom I worked with for 6 months when I started in the early 90’s just fresh out of perfumery school. He had a great influence on me and taught me all the basics of the Art of perfume. If I follow some of his guidelines still. I respect many other perfumers for their work and contribution to the craft. François Coty was the pioneer of modern perfumery. His contributions to the business and the craft are so important. The creative process of Edmond Roudnitska, and its consistency over the years has also nurtured my early years. As a young perfumer, I admired the energy and passion of Alberto Morillas, the diversity of style of Annick Menardo and the rigor of formula writing of Michel Almairac and Dominique Ropion, not to mention Sophia Grojsman and her amazing contribution and of course, Françoise Caron with whom I have worked during 10 years.
Where do you find yourself going when you are in need of inspiration?
There isn’t one special place as my sources of inspiration are very opened and wide. It goes from Culture, Art, Fashion, Couture and of course, the time we live in and my very personal experiences.
But I love the energy of Paris and enjoy long walks in the city. I am a city dweller, a citizen of the world. I am not inspired by Nature. I need the presence of people and humans around me.
Do you think your relationship with Marc Chaya is detrimental to the success of Francis Kurkdjian fragrances?
You can do things on your own and alone. But to create a great business venture I have always been convinced that you need to be two people. You need two driving forces which complete each other. Christian Dior builds his name with Jacques Rouet, Yves Saint Laurent with Pierre Bergé, Tom Ford with Domenic de Solle. These success stories have always been examples to me.
Marc Chaya is not only the business side and mastermind of the company. He has set up our company like a rocket but also is on my side during the creative process. We are not a big company at all but we are super-organized. I discuss all the matters with him. I am the first wearer of my creations but he is my first customer. He challenges me a lot.
We have read that you personally do not like to wear perfume, why is that?
Since I have been working as a perfumer I only wear the fragrances I create. When I am off, I am off. It means I do not wear any scent. That’s my very own way to be away from my work!
What is your favorite smell?
The smell of the neck of the person who I love. It is like a refuge.
What grooming products do you use yourself?
I go to the barber shop at least once a month. If not I take care of myself. My routine is very basic. I have been using the Nivea blue cream for the past 10 years. One a month I apply a white clay herbal mask from an organic shop in Paris. My shampoos and hair treatment come from Christophe Robin. And this is it!
What is your favorite Kurkdjian fragrance?
I don’t have any favorite scents. As a perfumer, when it comes to my personal taste, the ones I have in mind for the future are always for me the most intriguing and appealing. In fact, the most exciting in life is always what lies ahead. So I guess they are my favorite, even if they are not yet created. Nevertheless, I have a true attachment to Baccarat Rouge 540; an amazing fragrance with an incredible and distinctive trail. Aqua Vitae and Absolue Pour Le Soir are also two scents very dear to me.
Do you ever miss your dancing career?
If you have been on stage and enjoyed it, you miss that experience. Ballet will be a kind of eternal regret if I may say so. But I failed at the Paris Opera Ballet school when I was 13. So there is no way to go back. If I were a ballet dancer I would have to retire by now as I am older than 42. So I guess, perfume is my destiny. And who knows what the future will be made of anyway!
You are now creating a line of body oils and hair mist, do you still follow the traditional methods of creating fine perfume? Is creating your line of body oil and hair mist a lot different from creating a fine fragrance?
I have envisioned an entire scented line where there is a harmony within all the product form. All lines including the body collection reflect my sense of luxury. I am a very demanding person with quality and I am the first customer. For all the products, the creation part is more or less always the same. The formulas of our body line have been formulated for us and are exclusive to us. Usually, those products are less expensive, sometimes twice or three times less than the fragrance version. For my own range, we adapt the original oil scent in order to make sure it is stable and safe to use. We do not reduce cost at all. That is very important to have a perfect body cream or hair mist.
Do you have any plans to create any more fragranced jewelry?
The scented leather bracelet was my first take in the jewelry segment. I was very avant-garde at the time. For the moment I do not plan to create other fragranced jewelry. However, Maison Francis Kurkdjian proposes a line of scented leather goods. This collection of cardholders and leather items are made into remarkable materials: exotic hides (Mississippi alligator from America), lamb and calf leathers. The discovery of a contemporary fragrance sensation is made possible through the perfume techniques of glove-perfumers: a deep woody amber note for the calf cardholder and a vanilla amber one for the crocodile collection.
What gave you the idea to develop your own detergent?
At first, the creation of this fabric care line was to fulfill my personal needs and use! At that time of my life, I was living in NY in a townhouse, with no private laundry. So I used to drop my clothes at the laundry across the street. This is how I discovered Tide and Down, my two worse enemies back then. These products are so scented with heavy fragrances that I could not work. So I decided to create my own laundry detergent, I mean to create the scent that would be used with it, for my everyday laundry, from jeans to T-shirt, socks, and underwear, towels and linens as well, for machine and hand wash of course
I wanted a fragrance that conveys a sense of clarity, sun, fresh air and luminosity. So I used the scent of Aqua Universalis (a scent that quickly became one of my very worldwide bestsellers) but had to change the formula to adapt it to laundry care bases.
You create a line of custom-made fragrances, is the process harder when you have to deliver something more specific?
Creating a bespoke perfume is a long process. It starts with a phone appointment between the client and myself. During this conversation, topics such as preferences in term of perfumes, personal motivation about the bespoke scent, timing and terms of sales are covered. After approval of the estimate, a meeting is set up for a face-to-face and smelling session in order to define the exact terms of the project. During this session, the requirements are more detailed in order to define a range of creation and a fragrance territory. Few weeks after, I send the first fragrances to the customer or we meet in person. Discussion and new modifications are envisioned until final completion of the fragrance. The entire process takes about 6 months until the final scent is created.
Creation-wise it is the same process. In practice, I have much more freedom to create a bespoke perfume even though I have to respect the taste of my client. The price goes into the oil/perfume itself, therefore, I can use incredible raw materials. I can come up with very creative ideas because there is only one person to please. When you create for a wider public you have to think about thousands of thousand people. I have also several fitting sessions with my customer so I can perfectly adapt the perfume to her/his skin.
With your exceptional know-how and contemporary vision what’s next?
Bringing the world of scent to a new level of consciences, to new ways to wear or experiment fragrances… 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 outside the place to be, but no one has ever forbidden not to push the boundaries nor break them eventually.