Monday, April 24, 2017

Interview with Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian: Talking About LVMH, New Perfumes and Looking Forward



Neiman Marcus in Fort Worth, Texas, just opened the new and updated store and they've been having a flurry of special events. Recently Francis Kurkdjian, perfumer extraordinaire, came to Neimans to talk about his line and sign bottles. Kurkdjian is such a prolific perfumer that it would take up a whole post just listing the fragrances he has created, and this was before he launched his own company, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris in 2009. His first great success was Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male launched in 1995 when he was only 26. He has amassed a large portfolio working for such fragrance houses as Burberry, Elie Saab, Indult, Narcisco Rodriguez; the list goes on and on. He has created one of my favorites of the house MDCI Parfums, Rose de Siwa reviewed here. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris has a portfolio of twenty perfumes, and I've reviewed a couple of favorites, Grand Soir and Petit Matin here.

When I set off for Neimans to meet Kurkdjian I explained to my husband who I would be interviewing and made the comparison he was a sort of Sting of the perfume world. I love so many of his scents and am a huge fan. When I arrived at Neimans the message that I wanted an interview had not reached Kurkdjian, but he couldn't have been more gracious about spending fifteen minutes  with me and letting me ask whatever I wanted. He was so easy to talk to and absolutely open. Top on my mind was the recent March announcement of French luxury brand LVMH acquiring a majority stake in Maison Francis Kurdjian, as they continue to expand in niche luxury brand fragrance.

Q: I'm interested in the recent news of the sale of a portion of your company.
A: Yes, we sold a majority of the company and my business partner, who is a co-founder and myself we have the rest of the company and we're still on board . We're still very active....I'm here.
Q: So your role is not really changing?
A; Not at all. It's a move that we would have done, that we would have to do, not maybe this year but within the next four years. There are not that many independent companies anymore and when you live in the retail environment you have to have the power, you have to be backed up by a powerhouse to be capable to get good spots, good point of sales, and at some point to grow. You have a level where you're too big to be small and you're not big enough to be big. And there is an awkward situation where I needed to do something. I believe because we were seeing a very good financial increase, I believe it was the right timing to give away part of the company. To negotiate it is always better if you are strong than if you are weak. We lost the majority but we are on the board. I keep my hands on the creative part. From the front nothing is going to change.
Q: I read in Persolaise blog that you had a really big increase in sales.
A: Yes, in two or three years.
Q: What do you credit that to?
A: Because you need your name to get out. It takes time. We're very young. We'll be only eight years old this fall and it takes time. I believe also that the portfolio is the right size now because we have about 20 perfumes, so you have enough proposal for the customer. If you launch with only two to four scents you might miss many people, because if someone wants vanilla, if someone wants wood; now the portfolio is quite structured. And you need to have a decent retail size so you can become profitable. Also the Baccarat fragrance (Baccarat Rouge 540)  helped a lot. It's very popular; right now it's our best seller. It's always the case when you launch a new perfume, the new perfume always takes over. This is how it works.
Q: Today I'm getting the Grand Soir. It works better on my skin than the Baccarat Rouge.
A: It might  be a bit acidic.on your skin.
Q: It's more of a winter scent for me because Singapore is hot and humid all the time. I was kind of leaning toward the Petit Matin but I really love that one so I think that's going to be it.
A: It's nice, I like that one. I like them all! I've never launched a scent that I don't like. It's hard for me to make the choice.
Q: You're still a perfumer that goes out of house too?
A: I'm releasing a scent from Burberrry in about ten days. I'm releasing something new for Elie Saab. Many things are in the works.
Q: I really like Ellie Saab. It seems like you have a really good feel for orange blossom perfumes, which I love.
A: With orange blossom? It was the brief. The brief for Ellie Saab was not about orange blossom. The brief  was to create a scent that would convey the idea of the Middle East without being woodsy or based on oud, so I thought that orange blossom was a nice twist. I like rose as well. I'm not familiar with jasmine. I put a little bit in some fragrances. I use jasmine as a booster but, I don't know why, I've never tried to create something big around jasmine.
Q: Is there any note or fragrance family that you feel you really have something left you want to say?
A: There are some, the only thing is you have to be careful when you launch them. Some themes are very trendy at some point and you might give the impression that you want to follow the trend. I've been working on  the leather accord for many years now because the first time I worked it was for my cousin, to create for her. Usually the perfume I'm launching has been created before for someone, most of the time. She had a small men's clothing shop in Paris next to mine, nearby the Ritz, and she wanted me to create a mens cologne for her, for the shop. And that leather note has been in her shop for a few years now. She doesn't sell it. She sprays only the clothing and it as if the man has just left the shop. I wanted to redistribute but now there is the big trend on leather. Everybody is launching a leather note so I am delaying it. I'm going to wait two or three years before we launch it. Now I am working on many. I have decided I want to launch a new couple. It's a long time since I have launched two partners.  I have to deliver things by August and I have no idea yet, so I'm trying to find inspiration where I can! I know I want something white but it doesn't mean anything so far. I don't know why I want something white ...
Q: White flowers you mean?
A: No. White something. White ambiance. I have no idea where it's going to lead me. I just know that white could be an option.
Q: So when you're not creating perfumes what do you do for happiness?
A: It a 24/7 life.  I play the piano. I love cooking. I love to host. I'm away very often. Two thirds of my time is out of Paris. Every time I come back to Paris, my home, my first thing is to call my friends, to see who is in town and host a dinner for 10 or 12 people. I love doing that. I go to the opera. I go to the museum. I have a passionate life. I know that I am blessed. That I know. There is not a day that looks alike. I don't feel I'm working, in a way.

There is another five minutes of interview, but it devolved into travel story comparisons and my asking advice for a summer trip to Europe. As I said, Mr. Kurkdjian is extremely easy to talk to!

Two things of personal note: I did get a photo with FK which he graciously posed for. I really try hard to conquer vanity but this photo was so horrendous (me, not him!) it will never see the light of day. And secondly, I really appreciate the time and kindness shown to me and cooperating with my ambush interview. It is so refreshing to meet someone who is such a success in their world but still comes across as gracious, humble, and grateful. Thank you, Francis Kurkdjain, and I can't wait to see what else you have in store for the perfume universe!

Top photo from www.theladylovescouture.com. Thank you to Neiman Marcus for providing this opportunity.

2 comments :

maureen wheeler said...

Love the interview Cynthia! So interesting and you are fortunate to have met him. And I love your blog.

Cynthia said...

Thank you, I do feel fortunate as my little blog is not well known. Yet he was very generous with his time!