A few years ago I had one of the biggest “highlights” of my blogging career; sitting down and interviewing master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, who I am willing to bet you or a loved one has one of his perfumes and colognes.
He has created many best selling classics, and out of 500 perfumers in the world who created thousands of perfumes on the market right now, he is easily in the Top 3. Such an honor.
I wanted to post it again because it was such an interesting talk – read on to hear Francis Kurkdjian’s thoughts on perfume (obviously!), Singapore, celebrity fragrances and blogging. Read on!
Hi Francis, Thank you very much for speaking with me! I’m a big fan.
I guess my first question is what started your love for perfume?
Hmm! My love for perfume? I think it’s… to me perfume as it remains even now mysterious. There is a mystery with perfume, because it’s something that gives you so much emotion. You can be so emotional about the scent. And yet you don’t really see it. It’s more emotional to me than music, than visual, art, listening to something and yet you don’t see it, you can’t touch it. It’s in the air, you can’t “trap” to, it dies very soon because you cannot keep it for a long time. So it’s… perfume is just very interesting.
So when you create perfume, how does it start? What inspires? A feeling…?
It’s very diverse. If I tell you the inspiration for the line, one of the best seller of the line, Aqua Universalis. Acqua was inspired by the feeling of freshness. Not the smell of fresh, but the feeling of when you get into bed, in a hotel, or at home. It’s like the first time you get into the clean sheets, the first time you put on a fresh white shirt, fresh iron, it’s all about that crispness and that feeling of being fresh.
Amyris last year was inspired by the idea of “effortless elegance”. As a woman or as a man, when you put your first wardrobe and you have to pick out something that you know are peace with; and you know it fits you very well, you know you can rely on that look; your comfortable shoes, you can be elegant, this is very “you”. What does that mean in terms of perfume? Amyris is all about that.
Aqua Vitea is the idea of sensuality. During all the creation of the fragrance I have a tagline in my mind “the space between us”; as two people in love. What would be the space between two people who are in love? What about the feeling of… a whisper in your ear. It was all about the feeling of a body on your body; the body contact of someone else, you feel someone else, the heaviness, you have the pressure, it was all about that.
May I try it?
[The perfume is laid out in front of us, and Francis shows me the ad campaign for it]
And this was inspired by just this: when you touch someone; and I decided to put the bottle in-between. Because it’s two different hands, it’s not like one person holding the same bottle; it’s like two people sharing the same scent. That’s the whole idea about it.
And what made you want to start up you own line of fragrances, Maison Francis K?
It was my retirement plan! [laughs] No, I started when I was 24; I had my first success [Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male] when I was 25. It was global, it was huge. And I understood that I will be tired. And having my own brand was a place to breathe at my own rhythm. And not to be in the rhythm that I gave to do it. You know like in fashion shows? They have to do all the collections, they HAVE to do it. I want to be able to be in the mood where this year we launched a lot; last year we launched less; next year we launch even less; I want to be able to set up the timing and having your own company is a bit easier.
Different kind of pressure. You have pressure, but it’s a different one.
Jean Paul Gauilter’s Le Male perfume was your first fragrance, and was – and still is – a huge success. Did you know after that this is what you were meant to be doing?
Le Male… I had different feelings. I had the feeling that, the first thing I had was “OK, you’ve done it, you’ve made one”. That means you can do others. Straight away, the second feeling after the success was, it’s so big that maybe you are only doing one! The third feeling was um, maybe I will be known only for that? And I was quite depressed after that! It’s like when you’re a singer or a writer, after you have a huge hit, what do you do next? You can’t be as successful as before! It has to be different. So I understood that it had to be different. I was very young, I was 24 usually people have that kinda hit when they are in their 40, 45, maybe 50. So it’s something that comes, usually you have time to digest and to understand how it works, and not to be put up into the arena and try to swim. And basically try to swim. Basically 4 or 5 years after that I was like that, by myself, trying to swim. It’s kinda hard.
When fashion houses come and ask you to create a scent for them, how does it work? Do they come with you first with guidelines, or do they just let you do your thing?
They give you guidelines, but it depends on the brand. It’s very matriculate. It can be very strict. I am working for Elie Saab right now again, and we are working on several perfumes, and they gave me guidelines. I’m working for a different company, and it’s totally free. It’s very together. So it’s kind of back and forth. And it’s like a work together thing.
So do you prefer to work with a bit of guidelines?
Sometimes having a lot of guidelines is very easy. Sometimes you don’t do too much thinking. Like if someone tells you, Oh, I want a French Rose blah blah blah, you follow blah blah blah, and you do it! And sometimes they just tell you when you ask. Like a job. Like in your job, having an interview, you have a white page. What are you going top put? So you start to think, start to think. And then you do your ideas; then you ask, is this the right direction, etc. You know, when they open too much options, it’s bad as I cannot decide!
Is there one particular perfume that you are most proud of? Perhaps a favorite you made?
My next one!
Ooh, tell me more?
No! Because I cannot tell you. But I am most proud of always the next one. For me, even I don’t know what it is. And I haven’t even started yet! The only thing I know, on what I would love doing is doing something dark and something bright. Two perfumes, that’s all I know. As of today, it should be two perfumes, one very dark, and one very bright.
I look forward to that!
I have no idea on the story, I have no name, no scent It’s not gonna be one male or one female; it should be two… I don’t know what. We’ll see!
You make a lot of unisex and some that are for male and female fragrances. What is–
Yes! What makes something unisex and something else female or male?
I do believe you have some… there are some stories that are for both genders. Because it don’t involve… they involve the emotional part of you as a human, not as a gender. So it’s more like global, it’s like being a mankind thing, it’s not about being a woman or a man. When you look at the feeling of freshness, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman in my mind.
The feeling of warmth, or feeling in love, or the feeling of life, as I describe in Aqua Vita, doesn’t have anything to do with whether you are a man or woman. But getting dressed up in the morning, feeling sexy and glamorous, you don’t feel the same or you don’t act the same whether you’re a man or woman. So to me a fragrance that is dedicated to glamour and kind of sensuality has to be different for a man or a woman. You cant follow the same pattern.
Do you have favorite notes to work with?
An ingredient for a perfumer is not… it’s like a word for a writer. If you start to use over and over the same ingredients you may start writing the same book. So you better add… improve to your vocabulary!
I don’t know, some perfumers like to have a very short list, I don’t because I do believe what matters is what you say. And something you need – prose is prose because as a French writer – because its long sentences, because he needs it, otherwise it won’t be prose, you know? For short novels, short written sentences, you need to know the vocabulary too. My collection of ingredients is very big; but for each subject, I say it’s essential. Sometimes it can be very short, it can be very long. The subject of the fragrance… to me it would be a mistake for me to say, I have only 25 ingredients. Why? I start with small, but I need 50 [notes] I put 50, if I need 100, I put 100.
And did you learn perfumery?
Yeah! I went to perfumery school in Paris… it’s not in Paris, in Versailles, it’s outside, it’s a little perfumery school. I teach there also, I am old enough to teach now!
Because I know you do customization–
Ah yes, bespoke perfume!
And you teach, and you travel, and you have your own line, and making perfumes for others… where do you find the time?
Ummm… it’s in-between. I have time. There is time dedicated to each thing. I am very… you know you have artistry, but if you are not organized thenyou cant do anything in your life.
And a good assistant?
Yeah! I have very good people. An amazing assistant. She put my travel plans, all here. [Shows me his cellphone]. She types everything in, she’s a real dear. She’s really hardworking.
So is this your first time in Singapore?
No! This is my 4th time since we opened, no it’s my 3rd…. but before that I came once. So its my 4th or 5th time.
Do you like Singapore?
It didn’t change that much! I was expecting more dramatic changes. Last year you have Marina Bay… over the past 4 years I saw a lot of changes, but this year I was like, Alright…
We’re running out of space!
But it was the Gardens by the Bay? I wanted to see that, but next time.
You must stay longer next time!
Yes! We have discussed that already.
What do you think about celebrity fragrances? They’re definitely changing the industry….
Are they really changing the market?
They definitely in your face. Every year a new celebrity is coming out with something.
Yeah, I know but uh…
Now there’s Nicki Minaj, One Direction, to name a few.
Yeah, but you can’t wear Nicki Minaj when you are 65! [laughs] The world is aging, and so at some point… so their young target audience; it will go very fast. Which maybe it’s good for me; I should target the older crowd! [laughs] But I don’t know, I am worried about one thing. With these celebrities… Hollywood doesn’t produce enough celebrities. If every single celebrity has a perfume, I think Hollywood is desperate. So are these celebrities, they are desperate. They don’t make money with other things, so they have to make perfume to make money. And this is what scares me. What scares me is that this is all fake. At some point it’s like why do you do a perfume? To make money. It’s not because of a perfume statement, they don’t care, they don’t even wear what they create. But they want to make money. So that means if they have to do a perfume to make money, it means what they do as a living… acting, it’s not enough for them to live of and I think this is very sad.
You hear that, Hollywood?!
Yeah, it’s just sad.
Lastly, I’m a blogger for the most part. What do you think of the rise of blogging? Is it adding to the industry? What do you think?
There is good and bad, I have to say. I used to be crazy about it when it first started, at least in France. Because I thought it was maybe a place to bring something to the craft, to add controversy, in a good way. But what I see now, is people, most of the time, it’s people giving their opinion. Um, alright… I mean, my mother has an opinion also, my sister, my niece… so it’s alright, but it doesn’t really bring anything deep. Sometimes! Sometimes it’s to keep up with people. I have people who love me, who hates me, but both are wrong because they don’t know me [laughs]. But sometimes they want to “kill” you. There are some bloggers I’ve met – no, I mean read, sometimes they say; you know. Does it hurt me? No, I don’t really care but you know it’s bizarre to talk about people they haven’t met or spoken to, or asked things. Um, I think it’s still rather optimistic. I do believe at some point something will come out of that. but it depends on the blogger.
Very true. There are some doing it for good reasons, and some not.
But you know, you could say the same for press. You know some… they don’t have an opinion because it’s tied up with advertising. I think it [blogs and press] is one is helping the other, if its well done.
Finally! Thank you.
It can be good or bad! I don’t know, you look at chemistry. Chemistry is very good when you save people. You can cure them with pills. But its very bad when you create weapons with these chemicals. Chemical weapons. Humanity, has the chance – or not the chance – to be able to create a bad or good thing with the same – well, almost – product. So, I won’t put blogging as… well, we’re not saving lives, as like perfumers [laughs] but, you have good blogs and bad blogs. It depends on what you do and what you bring to people. But it’s interesting. No matter what, it’s interesting.
Thank you Escentials for this opportunity! Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances are available at all Escentials outlets in Singapore.