Perfectionism: “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” This seems like a perfectly fitting description for French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, who is the focus of my review today. Think of him as a more romantic, less direct Tom Ford, but with all the same exacting demands.
The award-winning nose decided he would pursue the art and science of perfumery at just the tender age of 15. He went on to study at the International School of Perfumery in Versailles before joining Netherlands-based Quest International (later acquired by Swiss rivalling fragrance manufacturer Givaudan). At Quest he was responsible for some of the day’s biggest hits, like Elizabeth Arden Green Tea and Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male. He became a rising superstar in the designer realm at only 30 years old, producing work for Versace, Armani, and Christian Dior to name a few. And yet, he kept dreaming bigger.
In 2009 he launched Maison Francis Kurkdjian with business partner Marc Chaya, a natural move that reminds me of perfumery legends that built olfactory empires on the back of their own names (the Guerlain clan comes to mind). Right as the world economy took a plunge, Maison Francis Kurkdjian took off, proving that the appetite for French sophistication and luxury has never waned. Not only a perfume house, MFK is often internally referred to as a “creation house.” For just €20,000* they will deliver to you two bottles of custom-produced fragrance, and for an undisclosed sum their Special Orders department will manufacture exclusive candles, scented bubbles, and whatever else you can dream of for your business, celebration, or yacht.
Ever the showman, Francis is known for his artistic collaborations and installations that incorporate the illusive sense of smell. He’s fragranced iconic venues such as the Palace of Versailles and Expo 2010 in Shanghai with custom-designed aromas of strawberries, pears, melons and violets. His talent is only matched by his own ambition.
When it came to imagining his namesake brand, it is clear that everything was thought of. The clean, streamlined edges of the flacons are designed to show off the clarity of the glass. The sturdy metallic lids are inspired by the tin roofs of Paris. A small insignia is present on the back of the bottle, an artist’s signature on a treasured piece. Even the flagship store is built to enhance the sensory experience, with a specially arranged display window and soundtrack.
I received a few samples for review consideration, which gave me a real insight as to how Francis’s range works. What I found was a series of lightweight unisex fragrances that focus on a select few ingredients each. Lumiere Noire Pour Homme (€120*), for example, is a rose and patchouli number that balances the two in perfect harmony, as though they are in constant competition but neither ever comes out on top. This combination was attempted before in Loud by Tommy Hilfiger, which famously failed to capture its intended audience. Lumiere is a spicier take on the pairing with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, evocative of a heavy night in the city of love rather than rock and roll. This scent makes me think of reality and not fantasy, a gentle grounding scent that lasts many hours on the skin. I could see a man taking a liking to this one, wearing a dark coat and brimmed hat, walking alone as silent snowflakes descend. It is a dark and mysterious fragrance without being mean, like there is a sad story behind him.
APOM pour homme (€120*) is a decisively happier scent. Virginia cedar, amber and African orange blossom are arranged in such a way that they gently evoke sunscreen. The smell of decaying wood fills the top notes, and when all is said and done the delicate sweet floral scent of the orange blossom lingers on the skin (notice the inverted pyramid structure of woods first, florals last). The name stands for A Part of Me, a fragrance meant to be shared. The feminine version replaced the orange blossom with ylang-ylang.
And relatively new from MFK, Aqua Vitae forte is all about the smell of summer. Tangy, sour-sweet citrus notes of mandarin, bergamot and lemon make the top notes, gently transitioning into that familiar orange blossom. In my mind’s eye I see a young woman standing at the top of a cliff in clean white clothes, listening to the wind and soaking in the sun’s rays. It is a truly innocent fragrance, very feminine and pretty.
And in conclusion of today’s review, I want to share with you my favorite of the group. Originally retailing for approximately $4,000, Baccarat Rouge 540 is now a modest €195*. It was born as a collaboration with the famous crystal manufacturer Baccarat, named for the temperature it takes 24-karat gold powder to turn the crystal its signature red color. Deliciously sweet amberwood is the star ingredient, tinted by cool fir and rich jasmine. I could smell it for hours! If you’re looking for a scent that declares its value up front, look no further. Like caramelized sugar with notes of apple and molasses, and it lasts ages.
Thank you so much to Kristin for organizing this review. I feel as though I now understand Maison Francis Kurkdjian and what it stands for; understated yet evident perfection in every aspect of the business. Wonderful. You can find the luxury range at the links below or in stores the world over.
*Prices true at time of writing.
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