You can’t mention niche fragrances without talking about Maison Francis Kurkdjian — a luxury French fragrance house named after perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, which has seen success since its launch in 2009, and has continued growing even through the pandemic. We sat down with Marc Chaya, Co-Founder, CEO & President of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, who was in town recently for the opening of their newest boutique in Ngee Ann City, to talk about how it all started, the creative synergy in the Maison and the refusal to chase after newness.
The story of how Marc Chaya and Francis Kurkdjian met dates back to 2002 at a dinner party, where the pair were seated next to each other. Chaya enquired about what Kurkdjian does for a living, to which he replied, “I am a perfumer”. Already a prolific perfumer then, Kurkdjian has created scents for Narciso Rodriguez and Elizabeth Arden, but Chaya was surprised that he has not heard of him before that faithful encounter.
It was obvious to me that perfumers were geniuses of creation and there was something totally wrong when we have ignored them and have their talent hidden.
“As a perfumer, you would work for a design house and no one would ever use your name,” Chaya explains. “It was obvious to me that perfumers were geniuses of creation and there was something totally wrong when we have ignored them and have their talent hidden.”
“So at the beginning, I was attracted by him as a friend, but I also had the attitude of an activist, you know, facing an injustice. And when I met Francis and I saw how talented he was, and how the industry was totally unfair to the perfumer, I found myself in massive drive to reestablish a kind of truth and a kind of justice.” This chance encounter, Chaya’s sense of injustice for the perfumer and friendship of a lifetime eventually led to the establishment of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, where the perfumer is put front and centre, where Francis Kurkdjian would have a holistic view of his creations including advertising, marketing, brand identity, product design and store design — areas where the perfumer is usually not privy to when working for a brand.
As it turns out, the pair complement each other at work perfectly — with Chaya describing it as, “We’re like one brain — left and right brain collaborating together”. Kurkdjian is the mastermind behind fragrance creation, where Chaya would end up as his sounding board, giving feedback for fragrance samples that are given as vials for him to test out. The same goes for the business aspect, where Chaya would run the show on business strategies and vision, and Kurkdjian would give his input.
However, the rule they have for each other is that they would never release a scent, until they both decide it was ready, with Chaya commenting that they’ve pushed launches four times since the start of the company. In an industry where brands are focused on newness and dishing out launches several times a year, this is a refreshing take on the idea of allowing a fragrance to take its time to blossom.
“To me, [having so many launches is] a weapon of mass destruction, because what is made with time needs to be respected by time. To anchor yourself, to anchor beauty — you need time. We stopped launching five years ago, what we do is we launch around an existing franchise. For example, within our Aqua collection or À la Rose, we only release a new set every three, four years. And we like to give it time to blossom. We like to invest time, passion and love for it to be shared with customers and come back to it. We are not a launch house.”
To me, [having so many launches is] a weapon of mass destruction, because what is made with time needs to be respected by time.
This also explains why the Maison’s collection of more than 50 fragrances largely sport the same bottle designs. “It’s the idea of the House’s identity. We are not selling you a bottle design, we are not selling you a story and we are not selling you a celebrity,” Chaya explains. “We are offering you an uplifting, joyful journey through fragrance. We want you to wear our wardrobe of fragrances as a way to express yourself, to express your emotions, to be in touch with yourself, but also to give a part of yourself to others. And we are in the business of creating beautiful scents that are empowering, uplifting and give you the freedom to choose. So the bottles are beautiful, but they are here to house very precious creations that come to us from Francis.”
“We are not selling you a bottle design, we are not selling you a celebrity.”
The Maison’s latest creation is also housed in their signature bottle design. 724 is named after the bustling cities that are always on — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Explaining the story behind 724, Chaya said: “Francis is a very urban perfumer — he was born and raised in Paris. He’s not a perfumer from Grasse. He grew up in Paris, he lived in New York and he wanted to create a shell where you can almost hide yourself when you’re confronted by the extraordinary energy of the cities when you’re always on the go. The blue color of 724 that you see in the packaging is inspired by the colour of blue jeans, which is also very European, very easy to wear. I find it to be a beautiful scent, because it’s very fresh at the same time, very enveloping.”
The idea of finding your “signature scent” has been a concept that is ingrained when shopping for fragrances, but Chaya disagrees with that idea. “Perfume is there to express your personality, like clothing, like your haircut,” He shares. “A lot of people would say, ‘I haven’t found my signature scent.’ It’s like okay, have you found your signature hair cut? Your signature skirt? Your signature makeup? No, you change over time.”
In the spirit of the Maison’s approach to letting their launches blossom, take the time to go through the collection of the Maison’s signature Baccarat Rouge 540, À la Rose, and Aqua — not in search of a signature scent, but rediscovering the joy of fragrances and the genius behind these creations.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian is located at Ngee Ann City #B1 – 35.
Brought to you by Maison Francis Kurkdjian