FRANCIS Kurkdjian is one of the world’s greatest perfumers. Since creating Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier in 1995, one of the most popular fragrances ever, when the Paris-born Kurkdjian was only 26, he went to make many other breath-takingly lovely fragrances for other brands such as Burberry and Elie Saab. In 2009, he established his own company Maison Francis Kurkdjian (MFK), which has gone from success to success, producing some of the most subtle, sophisticated and deliriously lovely perfumes of our times. This year it was announced that he had sold MFK to LVMH. Glass speaks to Kurkdjian to find out more about the inspiration and philosophy of MFK.
Where do you seek and find inspiration for your perfumes? And once inspired, what is your creative process?
Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. It’s by far the hardest part of my work and the most challenging one as time goes by.
My inspirations are not driven by raw materials. Classic and modern art, couture and lifestyle inspire me, but I always try to focus on a universal feeling. It must be an idea that everyone around the globe can understand in their own language and apprehend with their own feelings.
Timeless elegance can be translated through different manners, but everyone can understand what it means, and the same with the idea of an ode to femininity, and so on.
Once I have envisioned that idea, I translated it into a name that would become the one for the fragrance. To me, the name is very important. It defines a frame for me to work within. A name is unswervingly tied to a fragrance. Once I have that, I dream about the actual scent, and imagine the scent that goes with that name. I only start writing the formula after that stage. Because if you don’t know what you want to say, you don’t know what raw materials to blend together. Painters use colours, musicians use notes, and as a perfumer I use scents.
What is the dynamic between you and the co-founder of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Marc Chaya? How did you meet? And how did you decide to open a perfume house together?
I met Marc Chaya at a dinner after a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show in 2003. During our dinner Marc Chaya asked me what I was doing in life and I said, “I am a perfumer”. He didn’t know that much about perfumery. He wore Le Male at some point and we had a long moment talking about it. He was really surprised not to know my name despite the number of fragrances I had created.
With time, we became very good friends and realised that we were sharing the same vision of lifestyle and definition of luxury. Plus, we had complementary professional and creative skills.
In 2005, we both were at a turning point in our professional careers. We decided to do a world tour. When we came back, I told him that I would open my own fragrance house and that I wanted him to run the business. We started to work together on different projects and in 2009 we finally co-founded Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
I have always been convinced that to build a great luxury house, you need a creative mind backed up with a business genius. Christian Dior had Jacques Rouet, Yves Saint Laurent had Pierre Bergé, Tom Ford had Domenico de Sole. These success stories are examples to me.
Marc Chaya is the business side and mastermind of the company. He has set up our company like a rocket. We are not big at all but we are super-organised. He has basically built a shell around me. I discuss all the matters with him. I am the first wearer of my creations but he is my first customer. He challenges me a lot.
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Francis Kurkdjian is an Armenian contemporary perfumer and businessman