Two years ago, I quite vividly remember my mother telling me about a perfume my father bought her at Neiman Marcus on their trip to Chicago. “You should try this, Haley,” she said, “It’s amazing- unlike anything I’ve ever smelled.” My family is big on fragrance. I can still remember the scent of my late grandfather’s cologne. He would always put on cologne, even before bed. Additionally, my grandma only wears two different fragrances (depending on her mood): Chanel No. 5 or the Paloma Picasso perfume introduced in the 80s. As for my mother (their daughter), she’s never really chosen a signature fragrance, but tends to have an overfilling beauty tray of different scents. But, I do remember her telling me about this one in particular because she talked about the interesting bottles, asserted the scent lasted forever, and claimed it was difficult to choose a favorite – everything from the line smelled amazing.
French master perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian
So, this week, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to meet the nose behind Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris at Neiman Marcus NorthPark. The man behind my mother’s new favorite perfume, Aqua Universalis, was master French perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian. Francis Kurkdjian has been working in the fragrance industry for over 20 years. He has created fragrances for a variety of fashion houses and international beauty companies including Jean Paul Gaultier (all fragrances), Elizabeth Arden, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Elie Saab, Salvatore Ferragamo, Narciso Rodriguez (for him and for her), and more. In 2001, he received the Coty Perfumer’s Award for Lifetime Achievement at the age of 30. And, in 2008, he was Knighted “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” by the French Ministry of Culture.
The following year, in 2009, he opened Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris and its boutique. Right now, he has 13 different fragrances (which include men, women, and unisex) – soon to be 15. His zinc topped bottles are inspired by the zinc rooftops of Paris and the gold tops of Parisian monuments. The glass bottles are very simple and inspired by a crystal quartz that was purchased at an auction. “I wanted my customers to be transfixed by the perfume, not the bottle,” he said. This is something he’s achieved. At first glance, it’s difficult to spot the fragrance pump inside of the bottle.
What makes his work different? He views the creation of scents and fragrances as art and does consider himself an artist. “People think perfumers are simply chemists,” he said, “To me, perfumers are couturiers, it’s an art.” This assertion is further supported by an installation Francis created at the Grand Palais in Paris for the European Museum Night: NoctamBulle (2010). For this installation, Francis filled the air with a collection of scented bubbles that the visitors interacted with during the evening.
And, who wears his fragrances? Francis says they are those “passionate” about fragrance, celebrities, politicians, and royalty. In fact, Catherine Deneuve was the inspiration behind his fragrance, Lumiere Noire (for her), a combination of spiced rose, patchouli, and narcissus. It also happens to be my absolute favorite from his collection.
Another reason it stands as my favorite? Francis told me that it was the perfume for me. Yes, he can do that, I watched him. Another lady told him during this week’s reception, “I love APOM.” He told her to try a bit on her wrist. He then took a sniff. “No, this is not for you,” he said, “Just a moment.” With that, he returned with Absolue Pour le Matin, a rich combination of bergamot, lemon from Sicily, white thyme, lavender, neroli, and flower of violet. “This is amazing,” she said. “It’s perfect.” When it comes to picking a fragrance, this is an absolute must for Francis. “You must put a perfume on the skin to try it,” he said, “It’s like having clothing on a hanger versus trying it on for fit.”
The best part about working for himself, has been the ability to launch a fragrance when he’s happy with it. Because he’s not mass producing his products, he certainly doesn’t have to follow a commercial time frame. “There’s no distinct timeline,” he said, “No average.” He said he’s inspired by emotions, names, people, and places. He works from his own labs in Paris and uses only the best and purest essential oils. All of his fragrances are made in Paris and even the scented candles are handmade. One candle from Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris burns for 2 1/2 weeks.
His bestselling fragrance is the Aqua Universalis. The Aqua Universalis Shower Gel and Body Cream come out next week at Neiman Marcus. The Shower Gel was just deemed by Vogue Paris to “have given back the letter of nobility to shower gel.” They deemed it the chicest shower gel in Paris. “The inspiration for Aqua Universalis is a sense of being fresh, sleek, pure, sexy, soft, and elegant,” said Francis, “When you smell good, you feel good. Aqua Universalis is a feel good fragrance like wearing a pair of jeans- casual.”
The Aqua Universalis Shower Gel and Body Cream. The shower gel was deemed by Vogue Paris as the “chicest shower gel in Paris.”
He said many of his customers switch back and forth between two of his fragrances. Aqua Universalis is often the casual staple and then they often pick one of the others- OUD, Lumiere Noire, or APOM depending on their mood. “There’s a feeling connected to fragrance,” he said, “It really depends upon the individual emotionally, what they are feeling, who they are.”
Shop the Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris at Neiman Marcus.com and call your local Neiman Marcus store to see if the collection is available in-store. Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances sold at Neiman Marcus NorthPark.. Find out more about Francis Kurkdjian here.