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Francis Kurkdjian on the Emotional Power of Fragrances

As a celebrated parfumier, Francis Kurkdjian’s mastery of scent making and evoking a visceral response from them is unparalleled. Having created the legendary Le Male fragrance for Jean Paul Gaultier in 1995—housed in an instantly iconic nautical-striped male bust form—Kurkdjian has gone on to collaborate with Nina Ricci, Burberry, and Elizabeth Arden, among others. In 2009, he founded his eponymous label alongside business partner Marc Chaya, establishing an original roster of signature scents, including the award-winning Baccarat Rouge 540. We recently spoke with Kurkdjian about his personal affinity for fragrances and their anecdotal potential, as well as the recent launch of the label’s Aqua Cologne forte collection.

What is your first scent memory and what does it mean to you today?

“It’s a bouquet of Mimosas, flowers that my beloved grandmother used to cherish. That was a luxury for her, to buy a bouquet of those flowers. Now, when I use this product in one of my scents (the latest being Aqua Celestia Cologne Forte for example), I have a special thought for her. I believe she would have been so proud of who I am.”

When did scent making transition from a passion to a viable career option for you?

“I often say that perfume chose me. Ever since I was very young, I’ve always been intrigued by the world of couture and luxury, I wanted it to be my work. I was not a very skilled drawer and fashion was not a viable career path for me. When I was 14 years old, I read an article about perfumers in a French magazine. This is how I first learned that perfumery could be a career. Since then, I knew this was the career path for me. I attended a perfumery school in Versailles named ISIPCA. After this, I studied for my Master’s Degree in marketing luxury goods while training as a perfumer at a major fragrance house.”

What certain feelings and emotions do you want your perfumes and colognes to impart in the wearer and others coming into contact with them?

“When it comes to fragrance and wearing a scent, I believe it should embrace the multifaceted aspects of its wearer and their moods. It should capture and translate what the wearer’s emotions are when they put on a fragrance. With the Cologne Forte collection, I wanted customers to be able to experience the feeling of freshness and light. Aqua Universalis Cologne Forte is meant to invoke cleanness, Aqua Vitae Cologne Forte is softer and gives off warmth, like the radiance of the sun hitting you, and Aqua Celestia Cologne Forte is uplifting for the spirit, the feeling of looking at the sea and the sky on the horizon.”

Francis Kurkdjian

Describe your creative process when working on a fragrance?

“When working on a fragrance, my inspirations are not driven by specific raw materials, instead I focus on a general feeling. When I create, the name of the fragrance always comes to me as the first step in my process. It acts as a creative path for me to follow and determines what I want my creation to express. I then try to envision the final image for the fragrance and I dream it. With each creation, I want to tell a story—this is when I start writing the formula. For me, when you don’t know what it is you are trying to say, you won’t know what raw materials and ingredients to blend. The creative process is more or less always the same. I enjoy every step of along the way, from creating the name, selecting the raw materials and even working on the visuals and video, all aspects that bring the story to life.”

How do these three new colognes nuance the Maison Francis Kurkdjian family?

“The heart of the history and inspiration of these eau de parfum fragrances is rather identical to the other fragrances of the already existing Aqua Collection. It is not only a matter of intensity but also a reharmonization of the formula, with Aqua Universalis, a step back of over 10 years. Imagine a musical composition played on the piano, then imagine the same composition played by a symphony orchestra. The melody stays the same but you feel the composition more intensely, it becomes more emotional because it fills up more space. The same principle applies to these fragrances whose concentration has been increased so as to find the right balance between freshness and a long-lasting trail. They are named “Forte” which is quite uncommon in fragrance, because they are stronger, louder, just like in music.”

Francis Kurkdjian

How do you continuously stay inspired to create?

“I’m inspired by a multitude of things whether it’s ancient, modern and contemporary art, fashion, couture and of course the time we live in. All of this paired with my very own personal experiences and my vision on my era. And of course, to me, Paris remains a constant source of inspiration.”