Notes on Notes: In Conversation with Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian

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Francis Kurkdjian perfumes interview
Photo: Courtesy of @maisonfranciskurkdjian

When it comes to people with a passion for perfume, Francis Kurkdjian is at the top of the list. Since 1995, he’s been shaking up the scent scene with innovative and iconic creations for the likes of Dior, Guerlain, Elie Saab, Armani, and — of course – he’s notably the Creative Director of his eponymous luxury fragrance brand, Maision Francis Kurkdjian.

Promoting an artistic approach to the production process, his vision (alongside that of co-founder Marc Chaya), is to put the perfumer front and center stage of the creative process – resulting in a curated line of scents that celebrate both tradition and innovation. Thanks to this creative mindset and influence in the industry, he was even knighted by the French Ministry of Culture in 2008. Like we said, top of the list.

Sitting down with Savoir Flair to talk all things scent, Kurkdjian shares his top fragrance tips as well as revealing his inspirations, favorite smells, and why you should never stick to just one signature scent… read on to find out more.

Francis Kurkdjian interview
Photo: Courtesy of @maisonfranciskurkdjian

Jean Paul Gaultier’s ‘Le Mâle’ was your breakthrough fragrance when you were just 26. How did its success shape your career?
Such success usually happens when you’re much older. So, at such a young age I had to reshape my entire career. Right after the creation of ‘Le Mâle’, I lived in New York for several years, creating fragrances for companies such as Estée Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, and Coty.

In early 2000, I returned to Paris and continued creating fragrances for many beauty and fashion companies, while starting to create bespoke scents at the same time. Then in 2003, I met Marc [Chaya], who became a friend. We shared the same vision of lifestyle and definition of luxury, and we had complimentary professional and creative skills. We co-founded Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2009. His vision and sense of business have been key points in the success of Maison Francis Kurkdjian. I am very proud of what we have built together over the past 11 years.

What’s your earliest fragrance memory?
My earliest scent memories are definitely associated with the fragrances of my family. Each member had a distinctive scent, which I still remember. My grandfather used to dilute his own cologne. I never discovered the recipe, I just remember him mixing things and creating his own blend. I was so fascinated and also proud of him. He was a hero to me. My grandmother was ‘The Real Grandma’, caring and loving. She covered me with kisses and, of course, her fragrance. ‘Femme’ by Rochas would be printed on my skin!

What smell do you love most in the world?
My favorite smell is the neck of the person I love.

And what’s your worst smell…?
I’m like everyone else and hate what we all hate, like the smell of garbage! [Laughs].

Francis Kurkdjian perfume interview
Photo: Courtesy of @maisonfranciskurkdjian

How do you apply perfume?
A fragrance is like a piece of clothing on a hanger: it comes to life on a body and needs the skin to truly exist. Avoid the wrist if you wear jewelry or a watch with a metallic or leather strap. The strap of the watch always smells. Spray the fragrance above that zone — on the back of your arm where the skin is softer and thinner — and then, spray it anywhere you want!

How important is sustainability in fragrance, and what is the future of sustainable scents?
Even though it’s not a marketing claim, we have always considered sustainability issues. We produce locally (in France) as much as we can, and we always try to lower our environmental impact. It’s a daily creative concern. Our suppliers must respect environmental trade agreements and laws. Sustainability and quality are top priorities, and to get quality products, you have to pay the price. The future is about rethinking the entire creation and production chain: from the rose field to the retailer. Even encouraging consumers to recycle a product once it’s finished.

A fragrance is like a piece of clothing on a hanger: it comes to life on a body and needs the skin to truly exist.

Where do you seek inspiration?
Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. So far, my inspirations have not been driven by raw materials or specific notes. My sources of inspiration include culture, art, fashion, couture, and my own personal experiences and vision.

Your love of travel goes hand in hand with your love of scent. Where’s your favorite place in the world? Aside from Paris, of course!
I would say Naoshima in Japan. Otherwise, any place where I can gather with my friends and/or my family.

maison Francis Kurkdjian perfume interview
Photo: Courtesy of @maisonfranciskurkdjian

There are countless boutique perfume brands on the market. How do you stand out from the rest?
As a perfumer, I follow my own path and my mission is to serve the public: to create the most beautiful, contemporary, and modern fragrances. These are gathered in what we call a ‘fragrance wardrobe’ – a line of fragrances that can represent them with total freedom while respecting the French tradition for perfume.

Why is this idea of a ‘fragrance wardrobe’ so important to you?
I strongly believe that the idea of wearing one single fragrance is old-fashioned. Women now have much more freedom and power to express all the facets of their personalities. From work to love or being a mother – they are multiple, and there’s not one single fragrance that could embrace all the facets of one personality. That’s why I created a fragrance wardrobe. Each scent from Maison Francis Kurkdjian has its own unique signature and can fulfill all your emotional needs.

What do you think about mixing scents?
Perfume mixing is not my cup of tea, as I work to create the most perfectly balanced fragrances. Each has been carefully created, balanced, and crafted. So personally, I am not at ease when asked to give advice on how to layer scents. People can experiment with scents the way they want. Who am I to judge? However, matching your fragrance with your body lotion will enhance the trail of your fragrance and improve its long-lastingness.

Francis Kurkdjian fragrance interview
Photo: Courtesy of @maisonfranciskurkdjian

Is there an ingredient you haven’t worked with yet but want to explore?
I have a wish list, but I won’t work with them until I find the right quality. Myrrh resin is one.

If you weren’t a perfumer, what would you be and why?
I have a lucky star that put the art of fragrance in my life when I was 13. I have never questioned this choice, nor thought about anything else!

What is the biggest mistake people make with their perfume?
The only mistake people make is to leave their bottles next to a source of light and/or heat – the worst two enemies for perfumes!

What’s next for MFK…?
We have just launched a new olfactive variation on three existing fragrances. I created the ‘Cologne Forte Collection’ to express the idea of power and strength in cologne scents. ‘Aqua Universalis’, ‘Aqua Vitae’, and ‘Aqua Celestia’ are now in a new form that conveys the feeling of freshness induced by light. These three scents are reunited as part of the ‘Cologne Forte Collection’.

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