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Francis Kurkdjian is easily one of the most legendary perfumers of our time. After composing one of the world’s best-selling perfumes, Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier,  at just 26, Kurkdjian went on to dream up  scents for a client base that reads like a call sheet of the world’s biggest luxury fashion houses (cue the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Dior, Elie Saab and Burberry.) In 2009, he created his own house, Maison Francis Kurkdjian — an innovative niche, luxury fragrance collection that positions itself uniquely through an ‘olfactory wardrobe’, whereby each scent is designed to fit one’s mood for certain occasions. The latest pioneering move? Removing the gender pressure synonymous with perfume shopping, thanks to the latest gender-fluid scents.


Here, The Style Sheet sits down with the prolific Paris-born Armenian perfumer as he reflects on everything from that life-changing break to why he’s never going to get on board the scent layering trend.

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
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.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances are available at Joyce Beauty, Pacific Place
Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances are available at Joyce Beauty, Pacific Place

Are you a believer in layering scents together?


I personally don’t like mixing fragrances and I strongly disagree with that trend of layering. But after all, people are free to use scent the way they feel, they want. It’s not my business any more once the perfume bottle becomes theirs. In my mind, it’s like mixing two desserts from one pastry chef, if the chef is not skilled enough to create the right dessert. As a perfumer, I create a perfume which is completely finished, no more no less. Each of them has been carefully created, balanced and crafted. What you can layer, though, is the ancillary products (such as a body cream or shower gel) in the exact same scent. It’s meant to be done that way.


Can you leave us with your perfumery philosophy?


Perfume is the keeper of our humanity in a world that is dehumanising itself.

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