Francis Kurkdjian has long used his olfactive intuition to create iconic scents for the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Giorgio Armani, even concocting a fragrance for Marie Antoinette for one memorable project. Recently named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France, the perfumer, who turns 40 in May, is about to unveil his latest vision. In September, he’ll open Maison Francis Kurkdjian near Paris’ storied Place Vendôme, which will sell an eponymous fragrance line, as well as objets like candles, incense papers and fragranced bracelets. Here, he weighs in on desires, dreams and memorable opening nights.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE BEAUTY?
Oscar Wilde said, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ I find this a charming definition.
HOW DO YOU CHANNEL YOUR CREATIVITY?
I learned discipline during my childhood and adolescence when I was being trained as a classic dancer and practicing the piano. I have no problem with working on several projects at the same time, as each one stimulates my imagination in a different way.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST?
My inspiration comes mainly from emotions that may be aroused by a word, a color, a moment of everyday life, a person or a place.
WHAT’S YOUR FIRST OLFACTIVE MEMORY?
I don’t remember the first one but the strongest is from my childhood. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandfather was a men’s tailor and I remember the odors created by the sewing machine oil and tailor’s chalk, together with certain spices, which were always present in my grandparents’ flat.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SMELL?
I love the smell of the skin of the person whom I love.
DO YOU HAVE A MOTTO?
I have two. The first one I was told is from the sculptor Auguste Rodin: ‘Something which takes time to create will endure forever.’ And the other one is from me: ‘Perfume is a work of art arising from a legacy of intimacy.’
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE YOUR OWN LINE?
As a child I dreamt of one day opening my own House. A combination of personal and professional encounters and the desire to share my joy and enchantment with others has resulted in this becoming a reality. My idea of happiness is to create so many perfumed products that each day may be filled with fragrance.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU’VE CREATED IN THE PAST?
When you create a scent for clients, a celebrity, a cosmetics brand or a couture House, you have to enter, understand and interpret those worlds. You act as an actor to serve an inspiration and a vision, which is not yours, but you make your own. To open my own House permits me the freedom to follow my own intuition and desires. But the big difference is the power as the perfumer to talk of my own emotions.
YOU KNEW AT 15 YOU WANTED TO BE A PERFUMER. WHAT PROVOKED THE EPIPHANY?
I dreamed of becoming a couturier, but sadly I have no talent for design. As an adolescent who loved to read magazines, I discovered that the Houses of Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel offered fragrance in addition to fashion. Most importantly, I realized that they didn’t create the perfumes themselves but entrusted the work to perfumers. The fact that creating perfumes could be a career was a revelation. I immediately knew what I wished to do.
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WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE FRAGRANCE CREATION AND WHY?
I have a special place in my heart for all the fragrances I’ve created. Nevertheless, Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier, my very first creation, will always represent something very special. I was 25 and had just graduated from the fragrance school ISIPCA. This brief offered the chance of a lifetime.
WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO CREATE A FRAGRANCE FOR?
The actress Kirsten Dunst inspires me a lot. I was on the set of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette when I was re-creating the late Queen’s fragrance. I like also creating fragrances for events like I did for a music festival at the French Embassy in New York or the Versailles fountains. One of my dreams is to create a scented event for the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera.
HOW DO YOU NURTURE YOUR MIND, BODY AND SOUL?
I don’t think too much about it. To take care of myself could be to spend an hour in my gym or to drink a glass of Champagne when I’m in the mood. To stay healthy I avoid boredom.
WHAT DID BEING NAMED A CHEVALIER DES ARTS ET DES LETTRES MEAN TO YOU?
The pride of being able to dedicate this award to my parents. They brought me up to respect others and were always open to my projects. They understood how to give me freedom of choice whilst still bringing me up to share their values. It also represents the recognition of my vision of becoming a perfumer.