A few months ago or so, I sat down with iconic perfumer Francis Kurkdjian to chat perfume. This was my second time meeting Francis but my first interviewing him and he was as ever, candid, fun, cheeky and fascinating. You see, I’m a bit of a Kurkdjian fan boy and interviewing the man himself was a bit of a pinch myself moment, after all, I had spent much of misspent youth dancing in gay clubs surrounded by an atomic cloud of Le Mâle, and there I was meeting the very man that made that perfume. As you can tell from the ensuing conversation, he did not disappoint.
It was an interesting time to meet Francis Kurkdjian too – just after the launch of Gentle Fluidity, a duo of fragrances that are inspired by gender fluidity and share the same materials in different proportions. It was also the tenth year of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, his eponymous brand which was acquired by luxury conglomerate LVMH two years prior. Francis and I talked his new fragrances, not fitting in, the innovative products within his Maison and how social media is impacting the beauty industry and his favourite pair of leather trousers – it was an eyeopening discussion.
The most fascinating aspect of perfumery is the building blocks – the familiar (and often unfamiliar) materials that come together to create something entirely new. For me, I am endlessly beguiled by the way in which a singular material can, not only be so versatile in its use, but also add nuances to a fragrance that are so far removed from the material when experienced in isolation. One could call this magic, but it’s not, it’s chemistry, and perfumery is a fusion between art and science, where the latter is used to convey meaning and emotion from the medium of smell.
For me it’s always been the synthetics that hold more interest than the naturals. Without synthetic materials (incl. isolates, captives and aroma chemicals) modern perfumery would smell a heck of a lot different. We just wouldn’t have the perfumes that we’ve had for the last 100 years or so – what we’d have is inconsistent naturals that, due to their own density and complexity, often lead to an opaque soup when blended together. Synthetics give the space and definition to these materials allowing them to compliment, contrast and extend each other. They pull the naturals apart and bring new dimensions into play.
One of my favourite synthetic materials is Ambroxan. OK, so it’s not a fancy material, nor is it a particularly expensive one. It doesn’t take 3,000 years to mature under moonlight on an exotic island. No, it doesn’t have to be expressed from the anal glands of unicorns (perfumery has always had a weird fascination with the contents of animal butts, tell me I’m wrong) by golden-locked virgins in the dead of night. But it is an incredibly useful and popular material, and it finds way into many modern fragrances in both prominent, and stealthy ways. I see it as a bit of a ninja – it swoops in quietly, bringing dimension and space to dense compositions allowing them to expand, giving them tremendous lift but also a fascinating mineral facet. To put it simply, Ambroxan is ‘the nuts’.
Instead of a Christmas gift guide this year, I’m switching out my regular Candy Crush posts for just as regular Christmas Crushes instead. In these posts over the coming weeks you’ll find some wonderfully scented gifts just in time for the holiday season, with products that I am crushing on. So get ready for some marvellous Christmas gift inspiration!
Gosh, I’ve been reviewing so many candles recently you might as well call me ‘The Candle Perfume Boy’ (hold for applause). OK, terrible puns aside, I very much enjoy a scented candle so it was imperative that I brought you a selection for one of my Christmas Crush gift guides – nay, not a selection, an extravaganza! So that’s exactly what this is, a round-up of some beautiful scented candles that make lovely Christmas gifts for those languishing on your ‘to buy’ list (hurry up folks, because you don’t have many shopping days left). Some are evocative of the festive season and some aren’t, but all smell fabulous, making perfect gifts for the house proud or those that simply love a scented candle like me!
Please indulge me whilst I tell you a little tale that informs you all you need to know about Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. I was sit in the lobby of the Soho Hotel the other day, having just attended an evening with Perfumer Christine Nagel hosted by the Fragrance Foundation. It had been a long day and I desperately needed to charge my phone (for instagram purpose, obviously). As I sat there, minding by own little fragrant business, I watched industry bods trickle past me on their way out. After about ten minutes, two journalists walked past and their conversation went something along the lines of:
“You’re wearing Baccarat Rouge by Kurkdjian, aren’t you?” “No I’m not.” “Yes, you are. I can smell it.” “I’m not. I think I’d know.” “I can smell it!”
Guess who was rocking the Baccarat Rouge? Oh yeah, that’s right, this bad candy boy right here, that’s who! I fessed up, don’t you worry. But this little tale just goes to show how distinct and unique a signature the fragrance has. In fact, I don’t think I said this when I reviewed Baccarat Rouge 540 last year, but I think it is easily the cleverest perfume composition of the last five years. For a short formula it does a lot, evoking white and red hot crystal with novel accords that feel entirely new. It’s a technical marvel but it’s also a rather unrestrained essay in excess, from a perfumer who usually brings us spacious, chic beauty with a steady hand. I’ll stop beating around the bush and just come out and say that Baccarat Rouge 540 is a god damn masterpiece, and now it comes in an even more lush and luxurious Extrait de Parfum. Colour me excited!
The perfume community is very protective. All you need to do is search the subjects of European regulations, IFRA and reformulations on any fragrance forum to get an idea of just how protective perfume lovers are, and I’m right there with them. Heritage should be looked after, but at the same time, I think we all have to appreciate the fact that the world, and the industry for that matter, are ever-evolving. Things change, whether that’s because certain materials stop being available, regulations restrict their use, or because brands change hands. Change is inevitable but does that mean we have to accept it?
One of the topics that receives constant criticism is the fact that independent niche houses are being snapped up at rapid pace by big houses. So far we’ve seen Estée Lauder acquire By Kilian, Le Labo and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, whilst Puig have acquired Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Most recently LVMH bought Maison Francis Kurkdjian and this certainly set the tongues of the perfume community wagging, and rightly so, because it’s a big deal (although MFK has always been positioned as more ‘luxe’ than niche). More often that not, people view these acquisitions as brands selling out or a pre-cursor to their spirit, and beloved fragrances being crushed by corporate greed. But are they really a bad thing? Or are they just a reminder that, first and foremost, perfume is a business?
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!