Being a Francis Kurkdjian fan-boy I am always excited when Captain Kurk launches a new fragrance, whether it be for a designer brand of his eponymous line, but especially when it is one for his own brand, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. So I need little encouragement to get excited about anything that bears the name of this incredibly talented perfumer, especially when the word ‘aqua’ is involved.
The latest launch from MFK is Aqua Celestia, which comes after Aqua Universalisand Aqua Vitae as the third in Kurkdjian’s ‘Aqua’ collection. This collection celebrates fragrance that is bright, buoyant and musky in a brilliant, breezy and bubbly way. Aqua Celestia takes the collection in a new direction, moving away from summer refreshment to something icier and more ethereal.
“Aqua Celestia forms a seamless bond between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea, forging a path toward absolute serenity. A heavenly freshness, an emotional journey lulled by the harmony of the senses and the mind.”
I’ve always seen Francis Kurkdjian as a perfumer of light. The fragrances he creates for his own maison and the many brands within the designer arena often possess a radiant and glowing quality that burns much brighter than many other fragrances on the market. Through the use of familiar, yet top quality materials, Francis Kurkdjian captures ultra violet rays and bottles them, making fragrances that glisten but are also approachable, effortless and exceptionally well made. What’s not to like?
His latest fragrance, Petit Matin (which has been launched as a duo with the yin to its yang, Grand Soir) is inspired by the lights of Paris during the early morning. It’s a dewy, optimistic scent made in Kurkdjian’s unmistakeable spacious and solar style, boasting citruses, florals and musks in perfect equilibrium. It’s just the thing if you fancy a fragrance that simply smells good and is neither too bland nor too demanding – something that’s just right (Goldilocks would be all over it).
I’m often asking people to sniff things and when I do, a common response is “it’s a bit musky”. This always strikes me as an unusual answer, mainly because many of these fragrances would not be classified as musks in the typical sense. Perhaps people see ‘musky’ as anything that is slightly funky, or perhaps it’s just anything that is difficult to describe and where musk seems like the safe descriptor. Whatever it is, this got me to thinking seriously about what musk really smells like and what it brings to a fragrance.
What I do know however, is that musk is a spectrum, one that ranges from laundry-like purity to animalic pornography. It’s a wide scope for sure and one that traverses a huge range of fragrances. In this post, which is the start of a new series entitled ‘Six Scents’, I take a look at six fragrances on the musk spectrum, moving from the cleanliness of a spin cycle to the shocking sin of a scent between the thighs. Buckle up, fragrance nerds, because this is going to be quite a ride!
One could argue that Francis Kurkdjian, the enfant terrible of the perfume industry, is not averse to playing with fire. He regularly crafts bold creations and dares to tread where many other perfumers do not. I truly believe that he is one of the great perfumers of modern times, up there with the likes of Dominique Ropion and Jean-Claude Ellena. The work he does for designer brands is often bold and trend-setting, resulting in many of the modern classics we revere today, fragrances such as Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Le Mâle and Narciso Rodriguez for Her. For his own brand, Kurkdjian crafts accessible designer-style fragrances with high quality materials, elevating the genre to its highest point. His latest creation, Baccarat Rouge 540, feels like a departure from his radiant MFK style and is instead, an essay in contrasts, olfactory shocks and unconventional luxury. It serves as further proof that he is at the cutting edge of the industry and the very top of his game.
Baccarat Rouge 540 came into being in 2014 when Kurkdjian was approached by the legendary crystal maker to create a limited edition fragrance housed within an exquisite Baccarat crystal flacon (you can see that here). The Baccarat Rouge 540 we see today is the much more affordable, but still rather luxurious, Eau de Parfum incarnation. For his inspiration, Kurkdjian looked to the house’s signature red crystal, a colour that features in many Baccarat designs, with one red crystal included within each and every chandelier since 1987. It is the red crystal of Baccarat that this fragrance presents in olfactory form.
The fragrance is crafted around three accords, each of which celebrates an integral facet of the manufacturing process for Baccarat crystal: mineral, fire and craftsmanship. Kurkdjian stated that he wanted to create a “graphic” fragrance that represents both the density and transparency of crystal, and also the modernity of the brand, which is moving back into the fragrance market following an extended break. This is a fragrance that Kurkdjian created to be representative of the future and that is exactly what he has done, “starting from the dry down and building up like a house of cards”, a perfume that is entirely new and positively futuristic.
Oud fragrances come in all shapes and sizes. There are the straightforward ouds presented in a vaguely middle-eastern style, uniformed with rose and amber. There are also the hidden ouds – ouds that are anything but the funky barnyard of the real thing. Finally, we mustn’t forget the unusual ouds – the ouds that do something a bit different, and a bit daring, with this now plentifully utilised note, and take it to dizzying new heights of olfaction. One of my favourite ouds that sits firmly in the unique camp is Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s OUD – a scent that colours the usually smoky and animalic odour of the noble tree rot into shades of cerulean blue, with flecks of gold shimmer. In OUD, Kurkdjian pairs oud from Laos with a metric-f-ton of musk and fresh citrus to create an ethereal, and not to mention, thoroughly modern oud, that is a world away from the oppressive, and dense ouds that attempt to conjure images of a middle eastern bazaar, but ultimately come across as a caricature.
Kurkdjian followed his tremendous OUD with his OUD Mood collection, which consisted of three oud-based fragrances inspired by silk, cashmere and velvet. My favourite from this particular collection was OUD Velvet Mood, an odd and industrial sort-of-oud that perfectly captures the smell of hot metal skyscrapers formed from steel and blazing sheets of glass, rising from the sands in Dubai. To put it simply, when it comes to oud, or the art of perfumery in general, Kurkdjian follows his own set of rules and he always offers up something new, and exciting. So, if you’re bored with oud (at this point, I’m bored with being bored with oud) Kurkdjian is the man to get you out of that funk.
This spring, Kurkdjian is treating us to yet another oud, and this time he’s ready to paint the town red – ruby red, to be precise. Joining the OUD Mood collection, this new scent, which is entitled OUD Satin Mood, is a delicious, decadent and daring take on the oud theme that plays with familiar themes, but twists them excitedly on their heads. It’s a fragrance that one wants to wrap around themselves in a veil of protection – an amulet and a talisman to ward of the greyness of everyday life – a banner that says, back of bitches, I’m fabulous.
“With your eyes closed, you can imagine flowing fabrics delicately draped over bare skin, caressed by intense and dazzling sunlight. You will want to wrap it around you, lose yourself in the depth of the moment and suspend time.”
There are few brands whose launches I look forward to more than those from Maison Francis Kurkdjian. I’ll just come out and say it – I’m a Francis Kurkdjian fanboy. If you’ve been following my Instagram over the last week, you will have seen proof of this in the form of me spending much of my time enjoying Kurkdjian’s creations for rebellious fashion designer, Jean Paul Gaultier (specifically; Le Mâle, Fragile and Fleur du Mâle). Maison Francis Kurkdjian, the perfumer’s very own brand is one of my favourites and with MFK, Kurkdjian manages to weave simplicity and complexity effortlessly together, creating approachable but high quality, and more importantly, high class perfumes.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s latest fragrance is À la Rose, and unsurprisingly, it’s all about the humble rose – 250 of them, in fact. You can never get enough rose in my opinion, and seeing as the flower can be interpreted in so many different ways, ranging from delicious rosewater treats (see Essence Nº1: Rose by Elie Saab) to heady examples of rosy exoticism (see Guerlain’s Nahéma), there’s always a surprise, or two, to be had. In short: the world of rose is never boring.
Kurkdjian already has two roses within his collection (Lumière Noire pour Femme & pour Homme –two heavy and oriental roses), so exactly what does À la Rose bring to the table that we’ve not seen from the perfumer before? Well, the focus is definitely quite different and this new rose feels very much in keeping with Kurkdjian’s penchant for clear and radiant signatures that present familiar themes in their purest form. It does exactly what one expects it to and for once, lives up to the marketing spiel, which is somewhat of a rarity in the industry today. À la Rose is described as follows:
“A la Rose is an ode to femininity, a declaration of love captured in a fragrance. Two hundred and fifty precious roses from Grasse offer their radiance and their unmatched richness in every flacon”
At the recent launch event for Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s latest duo of fragrances there was a lot of discussion around art and its relation to the world of perfume. Kurkdjian, who is ever a frank and fascinating speaker, asserted that perfume is not art because it is created to please consumers and where art is given a value by the market, perfume prices are set by their creators. This isn’t to say that Kurkdjian is belittling perfume by any means, in fact it seems that he takes a purely practical view of the subject, comparing his collection to an olfactory wardrobe, containing a plethora of pieces ranging from the everyday staple of the white T-Shirt (Aqua Universalis) to the more occasionally worn leather trousers (Absolue Pour le Soir).
Also at the event, Art Curator, Karine Giannamore spoke at length about what constitutes a masterpiece, piecing together simplicity, hard work, innovation and emotion, as the key ingredients that create a timeless work of art. Giannamore states that a masterpiece “has to be new [and] has to be original” but also must be “cemented in tradition”. This collision of the innovative and the traditional is exactly what Francis Kurkdjian has played with for his two new fragrances – féminin Pluriel and masculin Pluriel.
“What makes a work of art? A masterpiece? A Timeless work of art? Something so good or beautiful that it cannot be affected by changes in society or fashion.”
– Karine Giannamore
The Pluriel (Plural) duo has been created as a mirror image – two fragrances that perfectly capture the essence of femininity and masculinity, or as the brand puts it; “the eternal feminine and masculine.” With each fragrance, Kurkdjian takes a traditional theme and adds a contemporary twist to create a pair of perfumes that feel thoroughly modern and very much in keeping with his clear and radiant style. For féminin Pluriel and masculin Pluriel, Kurkdjian has crafted two new pieces for his olfactory wardrobe – two fragrant garments that are as modern, chic, timeless and elegant as anything a couturier could construct.