Interview with Francis Kurkdjian

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Francis Kurkdjian has had a love affair with fragrance for as long as he can remember.  

At the age of 14 he read an article in the newspaper about perfumers and knew this was his calling.  At the age of just 26, Francis Kurkdjian created one of the world’s best selling perfumes: Le Mâle for Jean Paul Gaultier, marking the launch of a very successful career of crafting perfumes for some of the biggest names in beauty and fashion (Christian Lacroix, Elie Saab, Dior, Ferragamo, Narciso Rodriguez, Versace and more) and at the age of 40 he opened the doors to his namesake fragrance house, Maison Francis Kurkdjian in Paris, where he employs the purest and rarest oils to create custom, luxury fragrances.

This weekend I sat down with the charming Francis Kurkdjian at Neiman Marcus Fashion Show to talk fragrance, his brand and of course, bubbles!

Q: You are one of the youngest  perfumers/noses in the business.  How do you think your age influences your fragrance decisions?

FK: I take my time.  What I try to do with my fragrance house is to bring perfume into this century and to show how perfume can be used in different ways which is why we offer laundry products, scented bubbles and scented leathers. It’s my way of bringing modernity to a very old craft.

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Q: What is your process when creating a scent?

FK: I work backwards in a way.  When you smell a scent it makes you feel something.  It’s a body language between you and your perfume. So when I create a scent my first task is to understand that feeling- what type of feeling I want to create, what type of emotional response I want to share with the wearer.  Once I have that feeling I try to create a scent that fits that idea. 

Q: You are unique in that you create scents not only for your own brand but also for other brands and fashion houses.  How does this work?

FK: It’s like acting. Clint Eastwood has his own movies but he also acts in other people’s movies. When you work for someone else most of the work has been done already.  The brand has a vision of what they want and you just play a character- you have 1 mission which is given from the beginning to translate that vision into a scent.  When I work on my own I have to create everything- the bottle, the names, the visuals, the colors and of course the fragrance.  In the end it is the same- I tell a story- sometimes it’s my own script and sometimes it’s someone else’s.

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Q: How long does it take to create a fragrance?

FK: Typically 10-12 months.  Even if I had a scent done today it would take the company about a year to release it because you have to go through manufacturing, testing- which we never test on animals-, bottling, marketing and we create little movies for each scent.  The whole thing besides just creating the fragrance takes about a year.

Q: Which is the most memorable? Which is your favorite?

FK: For each brand they each have their own story but I think we all remember our first love. Even one that was a catastrophe.  So the first fragrance I created is something I will remember forever but each one is very important.

Q: Do you have a signature note you like to include?

FK: I try to stay away from signature notes.  The idea of my fragrance house is to create an olfactory wardrobe, to offer an array of fragrances that move from a white t-shirt and jeans to a leather jacket and even an evening gown or tuxedo.  

Q: So what are your feelings on having a signature scent?

FK: I have always believed in a fragrance wardrobe because when I look at the diversity of people and women especially they can be so many things and their fragrance expresses this.  I don’t understand having a signature scent.  I know why brands say that of course because you have a captive audience who is being told you have to wear one scent.  It’s overwhelming to tell women you HAVE to have just one scent, it’s like saying you can only have one love in your life.  

Q: When someone asks you how to choose a scent or what scent they should wear?

FK: Wear who you are.  We know what we like and don’t like instantly when we smell it. Perfume is personal.  It’s a love hate thing.  When you smell something you don’t like you move back, when you smell something you like you move forward. 

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Q: I’m obsessed with your bubbles!  What made you think of using perfume in this way?

FK: That is an interesting story.  It began when I was walking down Broadway in New York and a man was blowing bubbles with a bubble gun.  One of the bubbles hit my eye and burned.  It was like time compressed for me it took me back to my childhood and I thought “this burns like shampoo, I should try scenting bubbles like shampoo”.  Then when I started doing my olfactory installations bubbeles were a key component.  For the one in Versailles (2007-2008 A playful olfactory installation by Francis Kurkdian at the Latona parterre in the gardens of the Château de Versailles during the Grandes Eaux Nocturnes in 2007 in 2008. Sixteen bubble machines released thousands of strawberry, pear and melon-scented bubbles in homage to Louis XIV’s favourite varieties of fruit- video of  installation is below) I wanted to use the bubbles like bubbles in a glass of champagne to tast the event, but there were children there so I didn’t want it to smell like champagne which is why I experimented with fruity notes.  The final chapter to the bubbles development was when one day I watched my sister teaching my niece colors.  She would show her a color and say “this is Yellow”/  I said to her “are you doing anything to train her nose, the nose is as important as the eyes?” and my sister replied “that is your job”. I remembered my bubbles and decided to use color and scent playing together.  The bubbles are named after my niece, Agathe.

Q: I read that you don’t wear fragrance.  How can this be?

FK: Its true, smell me.  There are two reasons, first I wear perfume everyday when I work.  I wear what I’m working on.  I’m the first wearer of each scent. I live with it 24-7 during it’s creation.  When I’m off I don’t wear fragrance. I know that when I create the perfect scent that I want to wear on my days off I won’t create another scent ever again.  Not wearing one inspires me to create.

Q: What’s next?

FK: I’m working on 2017.  It will be a brand new chapter for the house.  New bottle design and new story.

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