Speaking Scents : Francis Kurkdjian

Inspiration is the invisible part of creation

Someone who has always pushed the boundaries and has eventually ended up breaking them, Francis Kurdjian, is considered to be a creative powerhouse by everyone in the perfume world.

Born in an Armenian family in Paris, France, Francis Kurkdjian is an ISIPCA graduate and has since then worked for several international labels including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Burberry, Christian Lacroix, Davidoff, Elie Saab, Giorgio Armani, Lancôme, among others. He also steers the luxury fragrance house Maison Francis Kurkdjian, which he co-founded with French businessman Marc Chaya. Here’s more about him by the man himself.



I am sure your readers would want to know who Francis Kurkdjian is. So here’s a little about me.

Our family had nothing to do with perfumes or perfumers. I had an undaunting curiosity about everything and loved handicrafts. After a short-lived career as a classical ballet dancer and while trying to embark upon fashion designing, I chanced upon a piece in the VSD magazine featuring Jacques Polge, Jean Kerleo, Françoise Caron, Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Annick Goutal. This article was a revelation and I realized I wanted to be a perfumer. I tried enrolling at ISIPCA (the perfumer school in Versailles, France), but was told to come back after a master’s degree in Chemistry. After acquiring one in Mathematics, I applied and graduated from ISIPCA in 1992 at the age of 20. I then completed a Masters in Marketing while doing an internship at Quest, Paris in 1993. Today, it’s been 25 years working for the craft and all my creations have lived up to the tradition of French luxury perfumery, albeit with a modern vision.

And let me move now my earliest memories of fragrances.

Well, so many memorable fragrances to dig into, but the scents experienced with my family come first. Each member exuded a distinctive scent, which I vividly remember. My grandfather diluted his own cologne, a blend whose recipe I could never decipher. I remember him mixing things, and I was so intrigued and fascinated by it all. He was a hero to me. My grandmother was the typical grandma, tender and loving. She used to wrap me with kisses and her fragrance (Femme by Rochas) would linger on me for hours. My late mother was very modern and experimented with several fragrances, including fresh fragrances such as First by Van Cleef & Arpels or Fidji by Guy Laroche, to Mitsouko or For Her by Narciso Rodriguez. She loved Chypre notes. My father wore the original Paco Rabanne, Kouros, and Le Male, he now indulges in fragrances from my own collection.

People often ask me how I perceive my creations and if there’s a process I follow.

But my approach to creation is always the same. Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. So far, my inspirations have been driven by culture, art, fashion, couture, and my own personal experiences and vision. Typically, creating a new fragrance takes up to 18 months. First, there is reflection during which I envision the creative territory I want to explore. At this stage it is about the purpose of the scent. Once I have gained my inspiration, I set out for the name. The fragrance name always comes before the scent. It sums up what I want to say, the emotions I feel and the story I want to tell. It’s like the title of a book or the name of a painting. Then I start writing the formula using raw material as words. Once I have a clarity on the name and where to go with my emotions, I create the formula in the lab. Although it is a team effort to manufacture and launch a product, the first creative steps are rather lonely. The heart of my inspiration is Paris. My travels take me away, but they also bring me back to Paris and its diverse population, to its monuments, the greys of its rooftops, and the bursts of magic as its golden spires puncture its incredible skyline.

The toughest question that I can’t ever answer is which of my own fragrances do I enjoy the most.

Each new fragrance is a creative challenge, a new story to tell and in the end, it has to become an ideal olfactory form. As a perfumer, the fragrances I have in mind for the future are always for me the most intriguing and appealing. In fact, the most exciting in life is always what lies ahead. So, I guess they are for me the most enjoyable, even if they are not created yet.

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And it’s the same about the other perfumes out there.I do not admire any perfumes and I do not wear any either.

I prefer to name some perfumers that I look up to for their work and contribution to the craft. Noel Guihot, a master perfumer with whom I worked for 6 months when I was fresh out of perfumery school. He had a great influence on me and taught me the basics of the Art of perfume. I still follow some of his guidelines. Then there is François Coty, the pioneer of modern perfumery. His contributions to the business and craft are significant. The creative process of Edmond Roudnitska and his consistency over the years nurtured my early years. As a young perfumer, I also admired the energy and passion of Alberto Morillas, the diverse style of Annick Menardo and the rigor of formula writing of Michel Almairac and Dominique Ropion, not to mention Sophia Grojsman and her amazing contribution and of course, Françoise Caron with whom I have worked for 10 years.

About the future, I will continue to follow my instincts and create perfumes for my eponymous fragrance house.

Also, I look forward to bringing newer ways to wear or experiment scents. I find it my mission to crack newer paths and question my era about the importance, meaning and place of fragrances. You have to play the game, if not, you are outside the place, but no one has ever forbidden not to push the boundaries nor break them eventually.

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