Pro Talk: Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian
“I was 15 years old when I decided to be a perfumer. Originally I wanted to do fashion and couture because my grandfather had an atelier in Paris and when I went to the fashion school in Paris, I was young, I was 15. I had pretty bad skills in drawing and he said, “You know what, you should try to find something else because it’s not going to be easy for you since you don’t know how to draw.” Then I saw a similarity between dressing women and men with clothes and dressing them in perfume. So I decided I would become a perfumer. At 20, I went to a perfumery school in Paris, the only one in the world at the time. At age 23, I got my first job as a Junior Perfumer in a big laboratory. My first fragrance was Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier. The blue bottle torso with the stripes. That was my first fragrance that I pitched and created. I blended perfume and the notes together for that fragrance. I was at Givaudan, a supplier company.
At around 25, I moved to New York to work for the same lab in the city. When I came back to Paris in 2000, I worked mostly with high-end fashion and beauty firms. As part of my pedigree, I worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Guerlain, Versace, Ferragamo, as an in-house perfumer from the major labs. You pitch for all these project, almost like an advertising company. So I worked for all these people, until now. One of my latest work is for Elie Saab, the fragrance. In 2000, I opened my bespoke atelier. I create bespoke perfume for private clients. Bespoke perfume is more for haute couture and then we opened a ready-to-wear line in 2009. And that takes my name. At the time I already put my name on the bespoke line because they are unique creations. It’s not something you can find on the market. Now it is Maison Francis Kurkdjian. My clients range from celebrities to business women. The clientele for bespoke is very diverse, geographically first — North American people, Middle Eastern and Far East people, and mostly European people.
When picking a scent for someone, I always compare it to a feeling I have. It’s part of my know-how and after all these years working for designers, I have an intuition of what type of perfume a woman should wear. You ask questions and you get a feeling very quickly. It’s funny because when someone talks about perfume, right away they talk about themselves and what they have in mind. It becomes very personal. If you were to come to me, I would ask you why, at this point, would you like to have a bespoke perfume. Do you want your own signature fragrance, or because you did not find something on the market? At some point you can imagine that with all the launches on the market, you could something that fits you, so usually there is another reason for a bespoke fragrance. Most of the time a bespoke fragrance celebrates a milestone in someone’s life. A woman getting married, or the birth of a child, or it could be a total change in her life, let’s say she gets divorced or a separated. There are many reasons why but most of the time there is a turn in someone’s life. I act like a hairdresser, like my good friend Christophe Robin. He owns a salon above mine in Paris and one of his most famous clients, Catherine Deneuve, is also one of mine.
My shop is on the rue d’Alger, number 5, next to the Le Meurice Hotel [in Paris]. We opened September 9th, 2009. Then we opened in the States at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, at Liberty in London, and Joyce in Hong Kong, all high-end department stores. The next coming fragrance is my 6th story. I call them stories, I don’t call them perfumes because each fragrance is not just about the scent, it’s about the environment and the story. The visual environment is just as important to me. The names are very important to me as well.
My inspiration is very diverse but I’ll talk about my current fragrance. I gather my inspiration from many different ways. I do a collage of things that I see in magazines, or on the street, music, or a piece of color. I was given an chocolate box a long time ago. I always kept the box, it was an orange color, which inspired me as a starting point. From there, I was in the lab smelling raw materials. Everyday I would smell between 5 to 10 raw materials to keep training my nose. This is how you train your nose. Usually I go from A to Z. One day I discovered, Amyris. Amyris is a name of a tree that grows in Jamaica. It’s a fragrant tree and the name Amyris itself comes from ancient Greek, it’s called Amyron and it means “intensely fragrant.” I thought it was a cool name and Amyris in French would be Iris, like the flower. So Amyris is the tree, Iris is the roots, and I wanted something very secret. To be elegant and glamour, when you see someone elegant like in ballet, you have posture of the shoulder and the neck and you have verticality. Women I like have that posture and elegance. My ballet teacher always told me you have to put your feet on the ground and you need to push on the ground to stand up. You see how diverse the inspiration can be? From the Iris and the orange box, you put that all together and wrap it all up in a way. So, basically, this is my next launch, that I built inspiration for, and that is my story.
I try to dress men and women with my perfumes, like I would with clothes. When I was younger, I couldn’t leave my home without putting on a perfume. It was like feeling naked and I see many people like that. Perfume is more than an accessory. There is something beyond that. An accessory doesn’t leave a trail in your mind, the way perfume conjures up images, feelings, emotions, nostalgia. My mission is to dress people in my own way, using perfumes and scents.” — Francis Kurkdjian, perfumer.