Francis Kurkdjian Talks Scents


Francis Kurkdjian

By Sharon Forrester

LONDON (Vogue) — Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian first found commercial success after developing the Le Mâle fragrance for Jean-Paul Gaultier in 1995. A celebrated nose in the fragrance industry his accolades include being named one of France’s greatest perfumers by the French Ministry of Culture in 2009, setting up his own perfume house Maison Francis Kurkdjian in the same year. In London from Paris to launch his new scent, Aqua Universalis Forte, we caught up with Kurkdjian to talk inspiration, going it alone and Kate Middleton.

Sharon Forrester: What was the inspiration behind the new Aqua Universalis Forte fragrance?

Francis Kurkdjian: I was in the middle of trialing a new bergamot presented to me by my grower in Calabria in Italy. My business partner asked me to create something as a gift for a friend — she really liked Aqua Universalis but wanted more density, more volume. I was in a rush so I gave the trial I was doing with the new bergamot away. She was full of compliments about it and my business partner said we should develop it. And so that is Forte. We called it Forte as a comparison to music — different notes that tell the same story. It’s about changing nuances of Aqua Universalis, but not the whole fragrance.

SF: How different is it working on your own line to creating a fragrance for a brand?

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FK: The main difference is that if I’m creating a fragrance for a brand, they give you a script — [for example] it’s for a woman and we want it to smell fresh or of flowers. By myself I have to think of everything and I’m fully responsible for everything. When I work for a brand I wear clothes; when it’s for me I’m naked working in front of people — there’s nowhere to hide. There is an element of exhibition or showing off in that too.

SF: You are very creative with fragrances — what advice would you give people wanting to experiment with perfume?

FK: I think people need to change the way they buy fragrance — not just choose something because of the celebrity or brand. Ask for a sample, take it away, live with the fragrance. It’s not just about how it smells to you it’s also about the people around you and their reaction to the scent. A good perfume is one where you can’t tell if someone is wearing something or not —when the scent and the person become one.

SF: Who would you love to create a signature scent for?

FK: Actually Kate Middleton. Coming here at this time there is so much about the royal wedding, and it made me think: she has no intimacy with anything, everything is seen. Her dress will be seen, her hair, her ring. I love the idea that her scent, the fragrance she chooses to wear on the day, will be the only part that is intimate.

SF: What kind of fragrance would it be?

FK: I don’t see her [Kate Middleton] as a femme fatale. But she’s in the middle of something, something that is going to change her. Still, there is something that is warm and natural about her that is very interesting. I would choose something warm and fresh — the new Elie Saab fragrance I’ve created would be perfect for her.

SF: How do you stay inspired?

FK: I encourage myself to be as diverse as possible, playing on different scents and notes, that’s why I’ve been working more and more with artists. I’m excited about getting perfume to people in a different way, to reach people that don’t usually buy fragrance.

Aqua Universalis Forte by Kurkdjian will be available in June. For more information, visit

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