with founding partner Marc Chaya

He knows how to talk about perfume like no other, using images that speak to everyone. Born an artist, Francis Kurkdjian became a perfumer. Through an association of ideas. Because he has a feel for his times, a desire to tell beautiful stories and curiosity about people and raw materials. For the pleasure of giving pleasure. For an attraction to taking risks – the antidote to boredom.

Our Zeina Mokaddam sat with Marc Chaya. Together with Francis, in 2009 they founded the Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Marc is the energy and business force behind Maison Francis Kurkdjian. 

Tell us a little about the DNA of the Maison of Francis Kurkdjian. 

You style yourselves as keen observers of society. In which aspects? 

Fragrance is a form of art, a form of creation that sits within its own time. Francis is an artist of the 20th and 21st century, and his work is reflective of his society and the era in which we live. The maison is a luxury fragrance house that carries the name of one of the most celebrated perfumers of our time. The DNA is that we see ourselves as the most luxurious fragrance house, but our luxury has a very special definition because we feel that the term ‘luxury’ has been overused and widely misused. For us, the luxury comes in the genius of creativity. Our luxury stands in the craftsmanship, in the knowhow. It’s not about the price, it’s about the quality of the work. Also, our luxury is shared through the highest levels of customer experience. We thrive on creating an uplifting experience through our fragrance. 

You’re marking a decade of the Maison. How have you seen the business of scents evolve over those years? What trends have you observed? What do you feel will be next to come? 

We’ve seen the landscape change dramatically. For nearly 60 years, fragrance was booming through something which became known as ‘mastige’ – a combination of mass and prestige. Fashion designers discovered that fragrance is an accessory that enables every customer to take a little piece of the designer’s dream home with them. If she can’t afford to buy a couture Chanel dress, she can afford a little bottle of perfume. However, through this ‘mastige’ the market became over-saturated. From designers, it then also became celebrities who marketed themselves through fragrance. In the early 2000s though, we began to see the emergence of niche brands. These grew because of customer demands, they wanted scents that were not widely distributed or too easily accessible. They wanted something more creative and sophisticated too. 

Then we saw an evolution in retail. Large stores looked for creativity in an attempt to reinvent themselves as destination stores to compete against perfume chain stores. 

Maison Kurkdjian was founded in response to these demands. We were and are creatively driven, not marketing driven. Our marketing simply serves our creativity. The industry is evolving in this direction. This is continuing. 

You refer to perfumers as artists. Tell us more about how you draw this parallel – particular in the case of Francis and his approach to the creative process. 

Perfumery is a form of art without question. In any form of art, you need to master your technique. You have to learn chemistry, how to mix essential oils. But even knowing this is not enough though – it doesn’t make you an artist. Francis Kurkdjian though, IS an artist, a creative genius. He regards those 800+ essential oils as colours, or as musical notes. He uses them to interpret and make real his visions. A perfumer isn’t a chemist, he or she is an artist. Something else to understand – art can express joy or sadness. But through perfume, we only express joy. 

Talk to us about the two spirits of Gentle Fluidity. The two perfumes are devoid of orientation. How does a scent successfully avoid gender? 

That’s the beauty of perfume. An essential oil IS gender neutral. It’s what you do with it that determines orientation. Take silk – you can cut it in to a tie and make it masculine, or you can cut it in to a dress and make it feminine. So, it’s what you do with your material – in Francis’s case essential oils – that gives it gender. Interestingly, in the Middle East there is no gender orientation in perfume – men and women can readily wear anything. Floral, woody, amber, anything. It’s only in the 20th century that the rest of the world started to define some scents as masculine, others as feminine. For Gentle Fluidity, Francis decided to celebrate these aspects and similarities. He has used the same five base notes to create two different scents. 

How should they be worn? Individually, blended on the skin? 

Every one of our creations is a stand-alone creation. They live on the skin in their own free way, they are not designed to be layered. They can complement each other though – in your own very personal way. Your scent is an invisible emotion that gives away part of your personality to others. Your perfume needs to make you feel happy, and feel at ease with who you are. Scents are often ‘love at first sight’ – you know immediately whether you like it or not.