Making Sense of Scents

Behind every creative genius is a person who makes them profitable. We talk to Marc Chaya, CEO and co-founder of Maison Francis Kurkdjian about the way business and creation mingle in perfumery
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Maison Francis Kurkdijan is a Parisian fragrance brand founded by its eponymous perfumer and Marc Chaya, who creates fragrances with the philosophy of craft and luxury in mind. Their standout quality is a dedication to celebrating the perfumer's sensitive yet precise art in an industry of mainstream mediocrity.

What is your earliest memory of perfume?
I think it’s my parents’ beach house in the Mediterranean in Lebanon with natural aromas like jasmine, orange blossom and the scent of the sea. When I smell jasmine, lavender and pine trees I think of my childhood. I think smell always follows you, whether good or bad. It’s the only sense that has a direct link to memory.

What perfume you were wearing when you first met Francis?
I was wearing Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male and I was in love with Eau Noire from Dior and I had in my collection also Armani Mania (editor’s note: all Francis Kurkdjian creations). I first met him at a dinner party and I asked him what he did and he said “I'm a perfumer”… and I didn't know what a perfumer was!

Was it his talent that captivated you?
Absolutely. I was completely seduced and astonished by the man. He's very smart, very sharp, very gentle and profoundly creative. I could feel that his talent was really beyond this world. I said, “I don't even know who you are and maybe 300 million people are wearing your work without even knowing it”. That was the situation 10 years ago. Today his name is well-exposed and luxury fashion houses talk about the perfumer now.

The brand was one of the first in a long time to carry a perfumer’s name.
Marketing people in the fragrance industry somehow decided it was a lot to talk about the fashion house’s and the perfumers’ name. They decided to keep the perfumer hidden and that’s led to a lot of misunderstanding. We’re actually still the only fragrance house to carry the name of a celebrated perfumer in the 21st century.

I've heard that the fragrance industry is very hierarchical and that you have to respect the creations that came before you.

Francis did not do that!

Yes, you were both relatively young disruptors to the industry.
We play within the rules, but disrupted the marketing by saying that creating a fragrance is an art and talent. Even Jean-Claude benefited from that because when we started Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Hermès would not talk about monsieur Ellena. Maybe to the press, but customers didn't know who he was. It’s dangerous when industries think they cannot change. Think of hotels and taxis, and Uber and Airbnb coming out and taking them on. 

What is the relationship between you and Francis like?
Francis always says “Marc Chaya is my Pierre Bergé” and he always refers to Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford. I think it’s the balance between what both of us bring to the table. If I said amen to every wish Francis had we would be bankrupt. And if Francis had to say amen to every business wish I had we would also be bankrupt because we would kill the creativity and be overly commercial. Our working relationship is almost like a marriage. Our children are the perfumes.

How often do you and Francis have children?
Twice a year.

That’s unusual for today’s industry.
We’re in a market that requires newness all the time. Personally, I don't like it. That’s why we try to limit our launches to twice a year so we have an opportunity to come up with something new.

Aqua Celestia eau de toilette (from $235 for 70ml), the newest release by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, is available at escentials.

This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of L'Officiel Singapore (available on Magzter). Click here to subscribe.


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