3 ottobre 2011

Francis Kurkdjian: Being a Perfumer

"The grandeur of a metier est d’unir des hommes" (A. de S. Exupery)

Francis Kurkdjian has been the Honor Guest at Pitti Immagine Fragranze, and on that occasion he gave a lecture on what it means for him "Being a perfumer". The Conference was open and anyone could ask him about this issue, and he was very generous, answering in full detail. Still, I wasn't satisfied, so the following day I went to him to ask for more... This interview, then, puts together the conversations on both days.

Francis, from Le Male for Gaultier to Aqua Universalis for your Maison there’s fifteen years of hard work (spent working for Acqua di Parma, Kenzo, Narciso Rodriguez, Dior, Guerlain, Lancaster, Lanvin and many more): do you feel you've evolved, and how this evolution is manifested?
I become faster and faster. I keep refining my technique, and whereas before I spent much time in the lab, now I work more with my brain.

Where do your ideas come from? There are any differences between creating a bespoke and a brand fragrance?
"No, there’s no difference in the end, since I’m always working for myself, truing to do things at my best. Once got an idea, a concept, I decide how and where to spend it. I'll give you the example of a little black dress: I design it my own way, then if I need to realize a prêt à porter model, I’ll make it in lycra and add a zip; if it’s for high fashion I’ll do it in silk and think of a gorgeous pearl necklace to complement it. The design, the idea is still the same, but realization makes it different, because it identifies whom you made it for".

You seem a person who cares a lot about the professional side of his work.
"Yes, even in perfumery you need a good lot of professionalism. A customer may be more than ready to spend 800Euros for a scent of a certain type, but he/she also expects it to be worth 800Euros. But if he gets something poor and without ideas, then evidently it’s professionalism that is lacking".

How important is it to achieve a good technical background?
"Very much so, it’s absolutely necessary in order to transform your ideas into reality and execute a good job".
Perhaps Francis practices any martial art, because to clarify this concept tells me something that reminds me of some conversations I've heard from friends who practice martial arts: all of them agreed on the need to work hard and long to be able to gain mastery of the form (ie technology), the only possible way to transcend it, at that point a "gesture executed perfectly" would become the "perfect gesture", able to express themselves accurately.
So he continues: "Picasso, for example, was a terrific realist painter. Have you ever seen his realist paintings? Just perfect. Well, he spent a lifetime trying to forget the technique acquired in the Academy, to get to develop a personal style and become Picasso".

A huge part of the perfume market is led by fashion brands. What do you think of that?
"After all, in perfume as in fashion there are those who produce one million bottles, and those who make four shirts. The important thing is differentiating, remaining faithful to your uniqueness, because the homologation trend is everywhere, in fashion as in perfumery. In some tribes, if one is original or different, is a cast away. Well, I’m really bound to my uniqueness!"

Today, selective/artistic and industrial/commercial perfumery seem to go their separate ways ... What do you think?
"Please, stop dividing the field into selective and commercial! If you want to stay in a market, large or small, being commercial is a necessity. There are small and big industrial brands that work well producing interesting fragrances, and niche brands creating simply bad things without ideas. It was a pleasure for me to work with Gaultier and other brands, obtaining relatively large spaces of freedom because I try to empathize with the brand I work for. For me the problem is not industry vs. niche: the problem is that each year you’re offered too many new perfumes, there is no way to follow the market of perfumery and its evolution!"

What does inspire you?
"It depends. For example, one evening I was at friends' house and on a completely white wall I saw a sentence by Saint Exupery: "The grandeur of a metier est d’unir des hommes" (The greatness, in any job, is about uniting people). I spent all night reading it, for me it’s been a real source of inspiration. Then I have books like The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho), or The Prophet (Khalil Gibran) I re-read continually. For me, more important then inspiration, is to be able to recover and give value to what we love, that gives us pleasure, and create a virtuous circle: the Beautiful brings Beauty, Goodness creates Good. My aspiration is to bring joy through what I create, whether for a single person, for my Maison, or a fashion and perfume brand".

What do you like about your job?
"I’m the first user of perfumes! I try to do things that speak to me, that have value to me. If I'm not amused all day, I'm sure I wouldn’t do what I do now. The fact that my brand is named Maison Francis Kurkdjian means just this: that someone is at home. A resident who has a history, who thinks, has a vision, and his own way of doing things.
Moreover, very few jobs allow such an intimate dialogue between the composer and his audience, and I like that".

And so do I, Francis.
With his “bundle of nerves disciplinated by dance” attitude, Francis is a true joy to talk with. He sparkles with energy: asks questions, thinks, watches passers by... always three things at the same time. Does he ever relax?

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