Master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is quick to draw parallels between the worlds of fashion and fragrance. Both personal to the wearer, clothes and scent leave a sensory impression. Whether it’s the feeling of a silk shirt on the body or the nostalgic smell of your mother’s garden, they create an experience for the individual. The craft of both also requires a deep understanding of the raw materials from which they are being made. For an olfactory artist like Kurkdjian, his vast knowledge of the nuances of different notes allows him to combine them in fresh and intoxicating ways.
Kurkdjian is the nose behind some of the world’s most popular perfumes. During his 25 years in the world of fragrance, the award-winning perfumer has created best-sellers for a number of fashion houses–such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Kenzo, and more–and established his own luxury fragrance label, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. He’s also pushed creative boundaries with a number of collaborations, from recreating Marie Antoinette’s personal perfume in 2006 to partnering with Fendi for a fragrance-infused capsule of handbags last December.
Part of Kurkdjian’s success is that he’s always on the pulse of what people expect from their fragrances. Instead of having a single signature perfume, individuals now enjoy having a suite of scents to choose from–thus Maison Francis Kurkdjian offers a customizable fragrance wardrobe. Now, amidst a rise in gender-neutral fashion and fragrance, Kurkdjian aims to challenge the preconceived notions of what makes a scent masculine with the release of L’Homme à la Rose. By taking a traditionally feminine note, the rose, and creating a fresh, crisp sillage, Kurkdjian offers a new interpretation of the classic bloom.
L’Homme à la Rose is a continuation of a fragrant journey that the perfumer began in 2014, with the original À la Rose Eau de Parfum, and continued with the L’Eau à la Rose Eau de Toilette this spring. Like its feminine counterparts, the L’Homme à la Rose harnesses the floral notes from the Damask and Centifolia roses, but instead of a fruity or powdery scent, it is centered by sharp, green top notes that give way to woody middle notes. A versatile fragrance for men (and women who enjoy borrowing men’s cologne), it points towards a new era in perfumery where the creator’s palette is no longer constrained to the gendering of specific scents.
Here, Kurkdjian speaks with CR about L’Homme à la Rose and how it breaks these conventions in fragrance, how creating perfume is not unlike designing fashion collections, and how scent can be a source of connection during the age of social distancing.
How did you decide to create a men’s scent around roses?
“I’m going to make a comparison with fashion because I think it’s easier to understand. As a fashion designer, you need to design outfits. What, as a designer, is my vision? In perfumes, it works exactly the same. I need to get a starting point, and mine is words. The name of the scent is very important to me. It’s half the job and the other half is how it smells. If someone asks you what you are wearing, you have to be proud to say it. When I got L’homme à la Rose in mind a couple of years ago, it defined everything: l’homme–man, à la rose–with roses.”
How does gender come into play when you’re creating fragrances?
“In the history of perfume, roses have been heavily exploited. I believe every single brand has a women’s scent with rose inside. It’s very important to know the history of your craft the same way some fashion designers [do]. I’m thinking about Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano, even Karl Lagerfeld. If you study the history, it’s even better to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘because’ of the era you live in. That’s the only way I [am able to] propose and envision something different and new. If you don’t know what has been done in the past, there is no reason why you should pretend that what you’re creating is [moving] things forward. In terms of roses, [they] have never really been [used] in male perfumes because the common parallel for men is geranium, which is a leaf. It has a strong rose heart in terms of smell, but the top notes are greener, sharper. Because those fresh, crisp, minty, herbal notes have been associated to masculinity by tradition, geranium has played as rose for men.
If you take a silk fabric and design a dress, it’s feminine by convention. But if you design a tie with the same material, a tie is a male attribute. Let’s say in 10 years time there is a fashion trend that decides that a tie is now feminine, then it can become masculine and feminine. It’s a social evolution. So what I’m launching today as a male perfume could, in the future, be seen in a different way than it is today. I’ve been working as a perfumer for 25 years now. The way we envisioned masculinity a quarter of a century ago is different from what I’ve learned. I was born and raised without thinking about gender fluidity. The name didn’t exist at the time, but today it’s common. It’s a normal evolution.”
How did you capture masculinity in the new scent?
“When I was working on L’homme à la Rose I knew I wanted something that was vertical in terms of smell–something bold, uplifting not your mind, but your body. Something that straps you from the back and opens your torso like you’re proud. I truly wanted a rose scent that was recognizable as a rose, with the code of what masculinity stand for right now.”
Do you have any personal memories connected to roses?
“Roses can adapt themselves to every type of climate. You have some in South East Asia, in the Arabic Gulf, in North America, South America, Africa. So if you have a little garden, as was the case when I was a kid, having roses is something very normal. My mother had two different species and one of them was a red rose called the scented cloud, nuage parfumé in French. It was a velvety, burgundy red rose, and the smell was quite extraordinary. When I started to learn more about perfume, rose was a case study because it’s one of the most important flowers to learn as a perfumer. We have about 1,200 ingredients at our disposal, and almost 10 percent of them are dedicated to roses. It is a big, perfect family because there is an infinity of facets (peach, violet, powdery, etc.). It’s important to get familiar with all those notes because the DNA of roses can be found in many different other fragrances or flowers.”
How can scent connect people during these socially distant times?
“If you are far away from a lover and know what their scent is, maybe you can ask for a sample of it. Scent gives a sense of humanity to places. In a kind of whimsical way, I always say that if you visited a new apartment, if there is a good smell, it’s always better than no smell, because it is the idea of someone living there.
Research on the sense of smell is very young. There was a Nobel Prize given to two Canadians in 2004, who discovered the mechanism of the sense of smell. Compared to what we know about the human body from over the past century, we only know about the olfactory mechanism from 15 years ago. One of the first things that a baby in the body of his mother has is the capability to smell. The brain of the child starts to build a a primal effective memory that will impact who they become as a kid and future adult. So this is why perfume is very cultural as well.”
Maison Francis Kurkdjian L’Homme à la Rose is now available online.
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createdAt:Mon, 31 Aug 2020 17:46:21 +0000