Other: Francis Kurkdjian, Perfumer

Francis Kurkdjian, a name synonymous with perfume royalty.

The contemporary French perfumer has been the force behind some of the world’s most celebrated fragrances, having created scents for the likes of Burberry, Elie Saab, Nina Ricci, and Dior. A visionary in his field, Kurkdjian pioneered bespoke perfume services 17 years ago, bringing what he describes as the ‘ultimate luxury’ and the haute couture of perfumery to his clients. While many have followed suit, Kurkdjian continues to pave the way and remains one of the most celebrated figures in the business. His vision is nothing short of romantic, luxurious and enticing, a dream and one which culminated in the founding of Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2009. Co-founded with Marc Chaya, the perfume house embodies the very essence of free-expression, the sensual and the French lifestyle. For the fashion lover, it provides the ultimate extension of their self-expression. Because we know your scent is the signature that lingers long after you have left the room.

TWAIN spoke all things fragrance and inspiration with the man himself. Take 5, sit down and get inspired by the pioneer that is Francis Kurkdjian.

We’d love to hear how your love affair for perfume began?
It began when I was 14. First, I read an extensive piece about perfumery and 5 perfumers in the glossy pages of a French magazine. I found out that the couturier (we mostly say fashion designer now) was not the one who was creating his perfumes. There were people behind the scenes, and those people had a very special craft and gift. Second, there was that movie with Yves Montant and Catherine Deneuve called “Le Sauvage”, in which the main character plays the role of a perfumer in a remote Venezuelan island. It was a true revelation, and I knew deep inside that it was a vocation!

Who did you look up to as a perfumer?
I respect many perfumers for their work and contribution to the craft.

François Coty was the pioneer of modern perfumery. If he hadn’t committed himself into politics (he was a far right-fascist politician) history would have been more inclined to remember him and all its contributions to the business and the craft.

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, not to mention Sophia Grojsman of course and her amazing contribution.

Tell us more about your bespoke service…
I started creating bespoke fragrances 17 years ago. I am a pioneer in that field and was followed by many others. There was a demand for the exceptional and the ultimate refinement. A bespoke perfume is the ultimate luxury in perfumery. It is like haute couture in fashion: a world where there is no limit in terms of creativity and exclusivity. There are also no boundaries in term of ideas, fragrance territories. My task is to make your olfactive dreams and wishes come true. It can be for yourself, for someone you love, as well as home and interior scents.  Recently I created a bespoke fragrance for a private yacht.


Looking for the perfect fragrance is like love, if you look too much, you might not find it…

Describe the feeling of creating a scent…
Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. Although it takes a team effort to manufacture and launch a product, the creative steps for to compose a fragrance are lonely.

The creation is made in two stages. First there is the time of reflection during which I think, imagine different fragrance accords in my mind. In fact, the only thing I need to be inspired is an emotion, a feeling or wonderment. I don’t have any rules and never restrain myself from having any. For instance, I cannot make a fragrance without having its name in mind. It is like a title for a book or a piece of art. Words are extremely important to me. They resonate. They have their own rhythm and music. They create a world on their own, translate your emotion and feeling.

When I think I have a very clear idea on what to do and where to go with my emotions, then I begin the time of the composition and go to the lab to create the formula.

What is your favourite collaboration to date…
During my career I had the chance to collaborate with several perfumers. But I always first think about Noel Guihot, a master perfumer with whom I worked with for 6 months when I started in the early 90’s. He had a great influence on me and taught me all the basics of the art of perfumery.

I have also been working for more than 20 years with many different fashion brands such as Burberry, Elie Saab, Nina Ricci, or Dior.

Also I am very lucky to have my own fragrance house, as it allows me to follow my own vision and technique. I really need this diversity in my work experiences and that’s why I love working for other fashion, beauty, or luxury brands and on olfactive installations.

Talk us through the Francis Kurkdjian philosophy…
In 2009,  I decided to have a new look to the world of fragrances. Modern women ( and men as well) are multiple. We are not the same at work, with friends and family, when we travel or at other particular occasions. My fragrance collection is though as a fragrance wardrobe. You can allow yourself and indulge for the fragrance of your choice. We have no olfactory territories as I cover all the fragrance families and work with all type of raw materials as long as the quality is the highest one. It’s like in fashion where you can turn to and have your perfect wardrobe.

Our Aqua collection stands for an essential piece in one’s wardrobe, it is like a white shirt or a pair of jeans that you can wear at any occasion. It is fresh, bright and genderless. Then there is the easy to wear segment with very elegant yet easy to wear scents such as Amyris, Pluriel and A la rose. Scents like APOM, Lumière Noire, our OUD collection or our last creation Baccarat Rouge 540 are more about olfactive signature.

Finally, we have our bespoke offering which mirrors the haute couture in fashion. So you can be an Aqua Universalis person on a lovely sunshine day, an Amyris person one day and an OUD person at a black tie event.

What makes your brand unique in an already flooded market…
As a perfumer, my brand carries my name and I am the first perfumer of the 21st century to have done so. The positioning I have described just above is unique in the fragrance business. Being the in-house creator and perfumer makes a significant difference. It offers me a free space of creation as I am behind each fragrance.

I started my own business because I wanted to do things I couldn’t do anywhere else. I entered in the business at a young age and experienced my first big success very early on. My career was super condensed. It was almost like an immediate immersion into the real world. When I look at my peers now, I feel like a veteran. Setting up Maison Francis Kurkdjian was my way of doing things that no one else was doing in the industry, like launching scented leather, infuse laundry detergent, children’s bubbles and home scents.

What should we all look for when choosing the right fragrance?
The first thing you have to think about when choosing a fragrance is… Does it move me? Do I have an emotion while wearing it? Do I get comments from my entourage? How do I feel about it?

It takes time to get to know a perfume as top notes differ from base notes. The trail is to me the most important part. You really need to try the fragrance several days on your skin to go deeper into it and wait to see how your entourage reacts to it. If you don’t get any feedbacks, that means it’s not the right fragrance and you may try another one until you find the scent that pleases you and the people you care about.

The technical aspects of the fragrance come only after the emotional ones: the long-lastingness, the volume of the scent, its trail (How long can I smell the fragrance on me? How long my friends are able to smell me for?).

So I would say that choosing the right perfume is above all a matter of time. It’s like a love affair. Are you looking for a long-term relationship or a flirt? You have the love at first sight and the love of your life, and they are rarely the same. A signature fragrance will follow you many years while a ‘one-night stand scent’ would be more like an accessory that complete your look and follow your mood of the moment.

Looking for the perfect fragrance is like love, if you look too much, you might not find it…

What is your own signature scent?
Personally I wear each of my creations. I have created a special fragrance to me. I wear it occasionally on private occasions.

What’s next for you and the brand?
I will continue to follow my instinct and create perfumes for my own fragrance house. Also bringing new ways to wear or experiment scents is really something I am more and more looking at. There are new creative and olfactive paths to open and Maison Francis Kurdjian has already came up with great products such as the scented bubbles, the laundry washes or the scented leather good collection. I love pushing the boundaries. There are also 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.

For Maison Francis Kurkdjian our ultimate goal is to become a major player within the fragrance and luxury arena. The fragrances and accessories collection developed as an olfactory wardrobe will continue to grow each year and embodies our unique vision of perfumery. We will also continue to work on scented leather, and we have planned to launch more products in the year to come. Other developments will also emerge such as new body lines.

Discover Francis Kurkdjian at Mecca here.