Smell of success

Heady scents are synonymous with perfumer who dares to be different, writes Catharine Nicol

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 11:39am


Renowned for his work with Armani, Kenzo, Christian Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier, Francis Kurkdjian has made a name for himself as a perfumer who dares to be different. The French winner of a Prix Francois Coty (the Oscar of the perfume world) launched Maison Francis Kurkdjian (MFK) in 2009.

"Even before having my own company and brand, I always tried to be different; not just to be different but to bring new ways to look at things, new ways of doing perfume," he says. "For so many years, perfume has been restricted to being bottled, the work of the perfumer restrained to the art of blending."

Kurkdjian is talking about past collaborations such as scenting the fountain of Versailles, creating the smell of money for French artist Sophie Calle and a dessert for the Hotel Plaza Athenee Paris, and his infamous perfumed bubbles that featured in the Shanghai Expo in 2010. Visit his Paris atelier and you'll also find scented incense paper, his popular Tour Atour perfumed leather bracelets and scented bubbles designed for children.

"Installation is a great way to give people the beauty of perfume," he says. "When you look at the numbers, not that many people use perfume on a daily basis, especially bespoke fragrances, which are more than niche."

Despite his laments about the size of the market, the perfumer has become synonymous with contemporary fragrances, creating an array of MFK perfumes such as Aqua Universalis, APOM (A Piece of Me), Lumiere Noire, OUD, Pour le Matin and Pour le Soir. He has even been knighted Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

Kurkdjian's latest creations, Amyris Femme and Amyris Homme, debuted this year. Dedicated to his sister, this is his third "couple" fragrance.

"The first steps are the inspiration and the name." he says. "I don't write any formulas. It's not about the scent - it's a pitch, a script."

In this case, the name comes from a tree that grows in Jamaica while also bringing to mind amyron, Greek for "intensely fragrant" and the flower iris.

"I smell the different grades of iris I have used," he says, sniffing the two scents on testing paper. "The magic of this product is that the more it dries, the more it smells, which makes it unique in terms of ingredients. What is beautiful is how it resonates with other parts of the product and how it makes the whole beautiful, nature adding an extra value we can't bring."

The men's scent suggests smoky tobacco, while the women's blend is light and floral with a subtle sophistication.

"This third 'couple' fits daily ready-to-wear," Kurkdjian says, summing up the typical Amyris Femme wearer.

"She works, she's a mum, she's a lover, she has kids; in 15 minutes her day's preparation must already be complete. Amyris suits that kind of way of living. No matter what you do or who you are, it will fit the day."