Buro exclusive: An interview with master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian

Buro exclusive: An interview with master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian

Making scents of it all

Text: Renée Batchelor

Buro delves into the mind of the quiet but enigmatic perfumer behind Maison Francis Kurkdjian, to find out more about his plans for the house

A Maison Francis Kurkdjian (MFK) fragrance is at once singularly modern and eternally timeless. In a sleek bottle reminiscent of the glass and steel structures we see in today's architecture, are scents that are quietly luxurious and so hush-hush, only true aficionados know about them. The house doesn't have flashy campaigns or make giddy promises, but what they do is make scents for men, women and everyone in between, that are unique to the vision of their creator. Cool, offbeat, charming and made for everyday life, MFK scents are not too precious — after all the brand made scented bubbles — yet amazingly so. Find out more about the process of fragrance creation and gaining inspiration from Monsieur Kurkdjian himself.

What was your vision for Maison Francis Kurkdjian and how has it changed since you first started the brand?
By creating my own fragrance house in 2009, I first wanted to share my vision on scents and luxury with the public. In these early years of the 21st Century, fragrances should be seen in a contemporary way. This is how I started to build my eponymous line as a wardrobe. You can go from a white T-shirt to a fur coat; you can have leather pants or a couture gown. For perfume, I believe the same: you can play with it depending on your mood. Today, this desire haven't change.

Describe your creation process for each MFK scent. How do you begin to conceptualise and design a scent — with an idea you have or perhaps an ingredient?
Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. I can't start a fragrance without giving it a name. And that is the result of thinking: What is the story? All of a sudden, that abstract concept becomes a name, which is like the title of a book. Then for my own creations, I try to get the feeling of the fragrance. When consumers smell a perfume, they spray it on the card, and they feel something about it. My job is the reverse, I think what the feeling of that scent could be, and then go to my desk and write the formula, and tweak it until I have the balance that matches the feeling in my head.

How do you and the brand continue to innovate when it comes to creating fresh and new scents?
The palette of ingredients for a perfumer is extremely diverse, and defined molecules ones offer a real freedom of work Combined with the purest natural ingredients, all the raw materials help me to compose and translate my vision into scents. As long as I am inspired I will continue creating fragrances. My sources of inspiration are very open and wide. It goes from culture, art, fashion, couture and of course the time we live in and my very personal experiences.

Francis Kurkdjian
How do you keep the MFK brand identity and scents distinct from the scents that you create for other brands like Burberry?
For my brand, every single piece of the project comes from my own creativity, my own sensibility and my own responsibility. When I work for brands such as Burberry, Nina Ricci, Kenzo or Elie Saab, my work is the expression of someone else's vision. The purpose then is not to do "Francis Kurkdjian for Elie Saab," but pretending Elie Saab did it for himself. I therefore immerse myself in his universe, to translate it the same way he would have done it himself.

What to you are the defining characteristics of an MFK scent?
I have created a fragrance wardrobe to mirror our relationship to Fashion.

Our scents are meant to be become a signature fragrance or part of a fragrance wardrobe you can wear whenever you want or you feel. 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. I am not talking about luxury, but quality which is to me a step further! Today, luxury is all about prices and the dreams are gone. So I have envisioned an entire scented line where there is a harmony within all the product forms (lantern candles, body lines, scented leather, fine fragrances, liquid washes, scented bubbles). Each of our products is carefully crafted. I push the limit so each product, each detail tend to perfection. That's the only way to create a luxury product.

Tell us about your top three scents that you created for your brand. Why are these your personal favourites?
When it comes to my personal taste and favourite, I can tell you that my favourite scents are always the new ones to come, the ones yet to create. Baccarat Rouge 540, the latest creation, is an amazing fragrance with an incredible and distinctive sillage.

Aqua Vitae and Absolue Pour Le Soir are also two scents very dear to me. And of course I am really enjoyed creating our two new fragrances: Petit Matin and Grand Soir. They are about to be launched in a couple of months.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Grand Soir
As a perfumer, is there any perfumer whose work you admire?
I think about Noel Guihot, a master perfumer with whom I worked with for six months when I started in the early 90's. I often think about him. He had a great influence on me and taught me all the basics of the art of perfume. 

MFK is known for taking the 'luxury' connotations out of fine fragrances by making everyday items like laundry detergent and bubbles scented. What is next for the brand?
I will continue to follow my instinct and create perfumes. While some product forms from my House may be perceived as unusual with the world of luxury, they have a legitimate place in my Maison. Perfumed life 24/7 is the motto of Maison Francis Kurkdjian. It means we are surrounded by scents from day to night. So I have decided to have a new approach to the world of fragrances.

Lately I have been working a lot on my new scented leather collection of cardholders and leather items that 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.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540
For your latest scent with Baccarat, what was the fragrance concept and sensation that you wanted to achieve?
I wanted a fragrance that translates the feeling of transparency and density. A contemporary fragrance by its name and its scent that would reflect the essence of Baccarat. Crystal is obtained through the addition of three components: minerals, fire and craftsmanship. Powerful and distinguished, the name Baccarat Rouge 540 evokes a metamorphosis of a clear crystal mingled with 24-carat gold powder and gradually brought to fusion at 540 Celcius degrees, arousing a glowing scarlet appearance. Luminous and sophisticated, Baccarat Rouge 540 lays on the skin like an amber floral and woody breeze. It was imagined as a poetic alchemy where the aerial notes of jasmine and the radiance of saffron carry mineral facets of ambergris and woody tones of a freshly cut cedar wood. A graphic and highly condensed signature.

Since you started in perfumery, how has the tastes of both male and female consumers changed and what adaptations have you had to make to the way you create perfumes, if any?
As explained, perfumed life 24/7 is the motto of Maison Francis Kurkdjian and it means that we are surrounded by scents from day to night. I am inspired from my time and my vision was to offer 24 hours a day of a perfumed life. Each scent of our collection is also designed to fit a certain "mood" and to match your aura and sensuality at a specific occasion. Modern men and women are multiple as we are not the same at work, with friends and family, when we travel or at other particular occasions. If I open a sophisticated person's wardrobe, I am sure to find casual wear, dressed up or formal attire, as well as evening standards, and why not couture. Our collection of fragrance has been created in the same spirit.

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. Then there is the "easy to wear" segment with very elegant yet easy to wear scents such as Amyris, Pluriel and A la rose. Our evening standards include more dressed-up scents like APOM, Lumière Noire, our OUD collection or our last creation, Baccarat Rouge 540. Each fragrance has its own 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 on a date and an OUD person at a black tie event. 

Maison Francis Kurkdjian is available at Escentials