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!
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.
How is it the end of 2015 already? Seriously, I feel like things were only getting started! Anyway, seeing as it is very nearly the end of the year it can only mean one thing: The Candies! That’s right, it’s now time to take a look back at 2015 to identify the good, the bad and the downright ugly perfumes of the year. As always, it has been an active year for the industry and we’ve seen some great stuff. We’ve also seen some pretty dreadful stuff as well. It will make for exciting reading, I’m sure,
This year, I’ve done a bit of tinkering around with the awards we have on offer. Most have stayed the same however, we have said goodbye to the Best Celebuscent Award because really, celebrity fragrances appear to be on the out and I honestly don’t think I’ve even reviewed one this year. We’ve also said goodbye to the Best Advertising Campaign Award which has now been replaced with the Best Top-Down Design Award, an accolade that celebrates those perfumes that get the juice, bottle and advertising spot on. Finally, I’ve also added a new award this year for Best New House, which aims to highlight the best new fragrance brand launched within the year. Other than that all is the same.
So without further ado, ladies and gentleman of the perfume loving community, please take your seats, adjust your undergarments and fix your weaves as we are about to commence The Candies 2015. We require silence within the auditorium, selfies are banned and everyone must be suitably perfumed. Them’s the rules. There will be snark, there will be gushing sentimentality and there will be more hyperbole than you can shake a stick at, so gird your loins, dear readers, and get ready for the alternative perfume awards!
Also, please be sure to head on over to Persolaise’s blog to check out his round-up of perfume in 2015.
Gift guide, gift guide, we all love a gift guide! Dear readers, I’m definitely working my way into this Christmas spirit quite heavily this year and I have been scouring the wondrous expanse that is the world wide web to identify some delightfully scented gifts that can; a) make excellent presents for your loved ones; or b) sit quite happily on your Christmas lists for aforementioned love ones to review, and hopefully take note. So far, we’ve had a look at some pretty awesome scented candles but we haven’t finished traversing the world of perfume gifts just yet, and we have more gift guides to go.
In this instalment I’m taking a look at some brilliant perfume gifts ranging from the cheerily affordable to the distinctly expensive, or as I like to call them the ‘Stocking Stuffers’ and the ‘Wallet Wreckers’. Hopefully there is something for every person and every budget here, whether you be tempted by an inexpensive novelty, a mid-range marvel or even if you intend to blow your budget completely to treat that special loved one to something out of this world. Failing all of that, you may just want to treat yourself. Why not, eh?
[Oh and P.S., do swing by for another gift guide in this week’s Escentual column in a few days time and again next week for our final guide, which will be focusing on quirky perfume gifts…]