Francis Kurkdjian became a ‘boy wonder’ when his creation, Le Male, became France’s No. 1 bestseller, taking the crown from the undisputed market leader for 40 years, Eau Sauvage Dior
The Style Sheet: Did you always want to be a perfumer?
Francis Kurkdjian: I often say that perfume chose me [laughs]. From an early age, I was fascinated by the world of couture and luxury for the art, craft and handcraft aspects. I wanted it to be my work. Unfortunately, I’m not really a skilled drawer and I was told that the field was closed to me. At age 14, I read an article about perfumers in a French weekly magazine. I had a kind of revelation (and deliverance) that became a vocation. Since then, I never wondered about this choice and it never left me, as if it were written. So I studied at the perfumery school in Versailles named ISIPCA, the first perfume school ever created, notably by the Guerlain family. Right after, I did a master’s in marketing dedicated to luxury goods while starting as a trainee perfumer in a major fragrance house in Paris.
Were you prepared for the level of success that Le Male received?
With a 25-year background within the business, I can tell you, you never know in advance if a fragrance is going to be a major success or not. When I was briefed in 1994 at age 25 and just fresh out of the perfumery school, I could only dream about what happened next in my life. At that time, I was taking a marketing course after work where I met Chantal Roos, the CEO of Gaultier’s fragrance business, during my scholarship. She asked me if I wanted to work on a project as a training course and apprenticeship. I said yes, and she gave me the brief. After our first meeting during which I had to present my ideas, she told me she would ask Jean Paul Gaultier himself for his opinion. He liked one of the routes, which became Le Male after eight months of hard work and commitment. A few months before its launch in France in October 1995, I went to work in New York. So I wasn't here in Paris when Le Male became number one in France, ahead of Eau Sauvage Dior, undisputed market leader for 40 years. It was so unreal, and moreover so unpredictable! I had a shock. I think it was good to see the success of Le Male from outside.
How does one build a personalised fragrance wardrobe?
Choosing a perfume is like a love affair. You have the love at first sight, and the love of your life. Above all, it is a matter of time. It takes time to get to know a perfume, as top notes differs from base notes. I strongly believe that the dictate of wearing one single fragrance is past and old-fashioned. Nowadays, we have much more freedom and power to express all the facets of our personality. This is why I have created a fragrance wardrobe. You don’t have to wear only one perfume or two — you can have as many as you want to wear at different times of the day.