In Nowfashion’s newly-minted column on scents, self-defined ‘perfume-nerd’ and director Maria Host-Ivessich asks world-renown master perfumer Francis Kurkdijan about one of the most recurring themes in his work as a perfumer: duality.
Looking at the way society and the relationship of the individual with his own identity is evolving, how do you see the world of perfumes changing?
Perfumes are an expression of civilization. They ultimately reflect the times in which we live, and they follow the evolution of humanity. Fragrance as a work of art is a transmitted expression of intimacy. The history of humankind shapes the history of Perfume, the history of Perfume marks that of humanity.
I think of gentle fluidity in Gold and Silver (but also Apom, Pluriel): you often work on male and female energies, bringing out your creations in duo. How do they communicate with each other, and how would you like them to be interpreted?
Perfume, in its ancient form, was not limited to our gender. However, there are olfactive patterns that suit women and men in different ways. If one looks at the evolution of our times, our society has tremendously evolved. And so has the means to choose perfumes as a consumer. Therefore, as a creator, I believe it is my mission to rethink how I envision femininity and masculinity. Everyone is free to choose a fragrance based on their identity.
Gender Fluidity was my answer to contemporary questions on gender identity. It reflects the idea of freedom to express our personality without having to submit to diktats and our freedom to choose a fragrance that suits us without any gender pressure. Gender Fluidity doesn't mean any Gender; it means you don't have to secluded in one category only. That's a big move forward. At Maison Francis Kurkdjian we have as much unisex fragrances as perfumes in a couple. For the couples, I wanted to have mirror perfumes; sometimes, some feelings are just tough to translate into one unique fragrance. Ingredients and raw materials in perfumes are like colours for fashion. You can use all of them to create a man's or woman's perfume, and it's a question of balance and aesthetics. It's also a question of culture. But in the end, the client remains free to wear the fragrance of his choice.
Duality can be both of gender (although it is now more a plural) but also night and day, order and chaos, calm and noise, flesh and spirit. Did the perfumes (apart from Pour le Matin and Pour le Soir) also initiate from similar concepts? If so, why?
My sources of inspiration are very open and full. My inspiration ranges from Culture, Art, Fashion, Couture and of course, the time we live in. It's all about that mixed with my very personal experiences and tastes, and my vision about the era we live in. Some fragrances, if I feel it is appropriate, play on a duality. For example, our next men's launch, it will be the partner scent of A la rose, and it plays on the symbolism of femininity and masculinity.
If you were to compose a single composition inspired by the concept of duality, how would you approach the task?
My approach to creation is more or less always the same. Inspiration is the invisible part of creation. Although it takes a team effort to manufacture and launch a product, the first creative steps are rather lonely. The name of the fragrance always comes first. It sums up what I want to say, the emotion I feel. My fragrances tell stories. It's like the title of a book or the name of a painting. Then I start writing the formula using raw material as a word.
How do you balance the two worlds of niche and mainstream, both worlds in which you manage to excel? What do you receive from each one, and how does your inspiration change - if it changes?
Too many often, people think of popular as a dirty word, as being too mainstream or cheap. I believe this is a total misinterpretation of what popular can mean and how it can be expressed in an exquisite and qualitative way. You can be popular, creative and qualitative. I like olfactive stories that carry universal messages, that can speak to many people at once. It's about simplicity and coherence. Less is always more!
You've previously mentioned that working with perfumes makes you feel like an actor who can play multiple roles. As a consumer, I agree, scents give freedom. How do you recommend approaching the world of perfumes to a shy neophyte who doesn't know who, what or how he/she wants to be?
When choosing a scent, the first thing you have to think about is: does this fragrance move me? Do I have an emotion while wearing it? And then: Do I get comments from my entourage? Then after only the technical aspects of the fragrance come the long lastingness and the volume of the scent, its trail. So choosing the best and right Perfume is, above all a matter of time. Sometimes it can be very challenging. I always draw a parallel between Perfume and love. In some ways, finding the scent that suits you is like finding love. You have a passion, at first sight, the love of your life, and loves that come and go. This is what life is about. Perfume is the translation of the world and era we live in, another expression of contemporary art. The fragrance is all about us, and it tells so much about who we are. Nowadays, we have much more freedom and power to express all of the facets of our personality. This is why I have created a fragrance wardrobe; you don't have to wear only one Perfume or two... you can have as many as you want to wear at different times of the day.
Can you end your interview, leaving us with a quote/ a sentence that has inspired you and your work over the years?
I have many quotes that define my work, or I use to help me as guidelines. Among those, I quite like this one: Never think you are satisfied, never think you are done.