Inspired during a trip to the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, perfumer Francis Kurkdjian’s latest creation is not a postcard fragrance; it is a fragrance that is inspired by a moment, a realization the perfumer had on this trip. Kurkdjian composed Aqua Vitae around the concept of “the space between us,” the unconscious dialogue that takes place between two people when they are in physical contact. In Western culture, we commonly describe this as the negative space around two objects or people. Unless you are a graphic designer or artist, it is something that mostly goes unnoticed. In Japanese culture and art, the word ma is used to describe the concept of the in-between. This space is given as much consideration as the objects themselves. In his book, The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher writes:
Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modeled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space”. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses… Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form”… The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval, which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.
Within Aqua Vitae you have the silhouette of two entities, male and female. Their presence forms the skeleton of the fragrance; masculine guaiac wood smells of hot male skin and a softer feminine form is created with tonka bean and vanilla. Hedione, a molecule that has been used in perfumery since the 1960s because of its diffusive and light-giving qualities, reflects the aura that exists between these two forms. Add to this a dynamic citrus accord and you sense the energy that flows between the two olfactory characters Kurkdjian has brought to life in his Aqua Vitae.
The perfume’s beginning is a bitter tonic infused with tart Mediterranean citrus fruit. These top notes refresh and enliven the wearer, washing over the nose like a summer breeze or a fresh ocean wave. Although there are no marine references in Aqua Vitae, the fragrance’s invigorating opening makes me imagine a beachside setting of sun on skin and salty air. Hedione, a major constituent in the formula colours the entire construction with golden light. At this point you cannot help but be pulled into Aqua Vitae’s radiant aura. Guaiac wood brings a dry, slightly leathery quality to the fragrance, which dominates the dry-down. Tonka bean and vanilla bring femininity and softness, contrasting the harder masculinity of guaiac wood and punchy citrus notes.
Men who have worn fragrance in the past 20 years will find something familiar in Aqua Vitae. Fresh citrus notes decorated with Hedione have been the starting point for many popular men’s fragrances over the past 20 years and Aqua Vitae feels like reconnecting with an old friend. Francis Kurkdjian has refined the spirit of the genre; masterfully balanced, his Aqua Vitae shows why he is regarded as one of the world’s most respected perfumers. The simplicity of Aqua Vitae may not be for every niche perfume lover, many of whom desire challenging fragrances with novel accords or exotic naturals. Aqua Vitae will connect with men and women who are looking for something refreshing, pared back and easy to wear. I’ve enjoyed wearing Aqua Vitae as a day fragrance over the spring months and it will continue to be one of my favourites for the Australian summer ahead.
Perfumer: Francis Kurkdjian
Bottle Designer: Fred Rawyler
Release Date: 2013
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Citrus