Maison Francis Kurkdjian is one of niche perfumery’s biggest success stories. Less than a decade since French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian launched fragrances under his own name, Maison Francis Kurkdjian has built a presence in 40 countries and last year became a member of the Comité Colbert, the association that promotes French luxury and art de vivre around the world. Having Francis Kurkdjian at the brand’s creative helm undoubtedly gave the brand a leg up from the outset. Somewhat of a prodigy amongst perfumers, Kurkdjian immediately wooed both the public and the fragrance industry with his innovative fragrances and distinctive style. The brand’s sophisticated yet subtle design captured all the romance of Paris. The square and rectangle bottles were reminders of George-Eugène Haussmann’s renovated Paris and the zinc bottle caps took inspiration from the city’s zinc rooftops. Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s discreet boutique near the Jardin des Tuileries has been one of Paris’ best-kept shopping secrets for years.
The secret is now out and in 2017, Maison Francis Kurkdjian is shifting into a different gear after announcing it will join the portfolio of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (LVMH) fragrance brands. We speculate that the new partnership will not change the brand’s creative direction but the financial heft of LVMH will support Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s ongoing expansion.
In December I met Francis Kurkdjian when the perfumer visited Sydney for the pre-launch of his latest fragrance, Aqua Celestia. The perfumer’s Australian retailer, Mecca Cosmetica, hosted a press event where he spoke about his new fragrance. “When I created Maison Francis Kurkdjian, I started what is now the Aqua family with Aqua Universalis. The idea of Aqua Universalis was to go back to the tradition of Eau de Cologne, to keep the meaning of Eau de Cologne and to give it a modern eye. As you may know, Eau de Cologne was created around the 17th century, and it is an accord around orange blossom, herbal notes such as thyme and rosemary, and citrus notes like orange, lemon and bergamot.” He spoke more about the history of Eau de Cologne, how it was once made from natural ingredients and people used it to clean their skin and they drank it for good health. This idea of using fragrance to feel good inside and out resonated with him and it became one of the identities of his Aqua series. Aqua Universalis (2009), Aqua Vitae (2013) and now Aqua Celestia (2017) are meant to make you smell good as well as put the mind in good spirits.
“Aqua Universalis is very clean like a clean sheet and a white shirt. Aqua Vitae is spicy, very musky and lukewarm. I was looking for an inspiration where perfume could help you to centre yourself. The idea was while you smell Aqua Celestia, you feel really connected to the elements. I believe the name translates to something celestial and heavenly.”
Kurkdjian wanted to create a fragrance that had an infinite freshness but he admitted it is difficult to create a fragrance that sustains a fresh note. “It’s almost impossible right now. Technology doesn’t allow us to create long lasting perfumes based on freshness unless you use marine and ozonic notes. Usually fresh notes die very quickly because all our fresh materials are set up that way. They are set up to die after an hour or so.”
Aqua Celestia opens with a fizzy, sparkling freshness that has more in common with Aqua Universalis than Aqua Vitae. Smelling clean and cool, Aqua Celestia wears down to become soft and musky with a hint of fruity sherbet. During his press presentation, Kurkdjian gave his audience five key ingredients to smell and he spoke about their role in Aqua Celestia’s formula.
Aqua Celestia is the first Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrance to use mimosa absolute. After the success of his fragrance collaboration with Baccarat, the perfumer wanted to steer his work in a new direction. “I wanted to renew my palette of ingredients. I felt I had to move forward. Not in terms of style but in terms of vocabulary. I asked the supplier in Provence to handpick only the yellow blossoms.” Kurkdjian explained that during mimosa harvesting, the tree leaves are often mixed with the yellow blossoms, which gives the extracted odour a green facet. “I wanted a raw material that was very true to the flower. Here I believe the mimosa scent is almost perfect. It has that kind of fuzziness. It’s very sunny and bright, and it has something slightly fruity.”
A musk accord is the signature that links the three Aqua fragrances together. Because many people are anosmic to certain musks, he created a signature blend of seven different musks to ensure a broader range of consumers can perceive the note and the accord showcases a range of musky facets. “The musk family is a very big part of perfumery because out of about 1200 ingredients we have about 100 musks, which is a lot. We have musks that are powdery, creamy, dry, woody and we have fruity floral. We have a diversity of musks. Basically if you can imagine tonalities of white, we have the same thing with musk.”
Like Mimosa, a new raw material that found its way onto the perfumer’s palette was Mexican lime oil. Lime’s fresh and clean scent suited the fragrance’s theme but there were still design challenges. “Lime is used in many detergent products. It smells like Windex or something close to Windex so my idea was again to challenge one of my suppliers to treat the fruit with a lot of care because it is a fruit that is very fragile. It gets acidic very quickly. It gets ripe very quickly and therefore you miss all the part that I like which is fruity, fizzy, sparkling and joyful. There is a little bit of quirkiness in the scent and I wanted to capture that part of the scent for as long as possible.”
Kurkdjian used Mitcham mint oil to bring a cool freshness to Aqua Celestia. “It is originally from England but it grows in France. It has an icy feeling so it’s very mentholic but if you wait a little bit it turns out unconsciously smelling like chocolate.” He explained that the raw material does not smell like chocolate but it is the mint used in the food industry and it is common for our brain to connect this smell of mint to chocolate or confectionary. “I use it because of the icy effect. It is sleek and clean but also because it induces a feeling of something yummy and a bit like chocolate.”
The last raw material we smelled was blackcurrant bud absolute, a specialty from Burgundy in France. Kurkdjian warned, “Be careful with the last ingredient. It’s a rather challenging ingredient. It’s kind of a love-hate raw material because if you can’t see the beauty of the blackcurrant side you turn between cat pee and sweat.” Like many natural ingredients used in fine perfumery, blackcurrant bud has both pleasant and unpleasant odour facets. This combination creates a beautiful complexity and in small doses, the subtle animalic facets help build a connection between the world of plants and human skin. “If you can forget that part, the nice part of it is the fruity, blackcurrant side. It’s a rather exceptional quality because as the raw material dies on the paper, you will see that the cassis side takes off and builds on the fruity side.”
Aqua Celestia will appeal men and women who enjoy fresh, clean scents. Celestia’s fruity floral facets could read more feminine than masculine but overall it presents a gender fluid form. Kurkdjian is a master of creating luminous fragrances and Aqua Celestia radiates light and freshness. I enjoy wearing it as a day fragrance. The bright mimosa note and soft musk accord come alive on skin. Kurkdjian advised, “I encourage you to put it on skin because the paper doesn’t really translate the fullness of the scent. I say a fragrance on the blotter is like a piece of clothing on a hanger. You need the body to give it life.”
Perfumer: Francis Kurkdjian
Release Date: 2017