Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the elite perfumers working currently. He burst upon the perfume scene in 1995 as one of the perfumers behind Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. His career would only trend upwards from there. M. Kurkdjian has made a large number of perfumes I think rank among the very best. In 2009 he started his own line, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. From the initial seven releases to a collection which now numbers twenty-seven fragrances it is one which has always had my attention. I have realized over the last couple of years that it is with this brand where I will start somebody off who is dipping their toe into the niche perfume sector. The perfumes which make up the collection carry a baseline classicism which I think is why they are such appropriate entry level choices into niche. These are the five perfumes I usually take someone through when introducing them to this brand.
One of the first seven releases Aqua Universalis lives up to its tag line of a “A scent for all things”. This is the best clean musk perfume I own. M. Kurkdjian uses a selection of citrus matched to lily of the valley as his come-on. The base has a few sheer woods along with a blend of white musks that M. Kurkdjian has become known for. In Aqua Universalis it all comes together. When I am showing this brand to someone new to niche this is the bottle that most often is purchased.
The masterpiece within the Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection is Absolue pour Le Soir. That is not where someone new to the brand should start. Instead the precursor release Cologne pour Le Soir is a great introduction to themes which will be intensified in the later release. Absolue pour Le Soir is an animalic feral beast with honey. Cologne pour Le Soir is a domesticated feline with honey. From a spicy opening into a lilting incense heart down to cedar sweetened with vanilla. In the original seven this was the one which captured my attention the most.
In 2012 the oud craze had reached its heights. Every time I saw oud in a new release I inwardly said, “Please no more”. The problem was the early oud fragrances were using oud as something to represent exoticism. 2012 would see the end of that as some of the best perfumers began to use oud in constructs which showed its versatility. The simply named Oud was one of those. M. Kurkdjian has a way of tweaking something classic and making it seem contemporary. With Oud he was able to take a note which had usually been used as a wrecking ball, transforming it in to something less pulverizing. By using saffron, cedar, and patchouli along with a Laotian oud which imparts a more delicate profile; containing interesting grace notes which M. Kurkdjian teases out. Oud will make you believe the wrecking ball has become a brilliant fragile crystal ball.
Masculin Pluriel is the best example of M. Kurkdjian’s way of re-interpreting classical styles. Here he takes the fougere and makes it his own. It starts with a single source of lavender that is herbal and green as well as floral. It is so good M. Kurkdjian keeps the rest of the development simple. Cedar, patchouli, and vetiver are the usual fougere components. The fabulous leather accord also present is not. It is that which contemporizes Masculin Pluriel.
When I tried the original 2013 release Aqua Vitae I wanted it to have more heft. Two years later M. Kurkdjian granted that desire with Aqua Vitae Forte. A fabulous mixture of spices, citrus, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vetiver. It is as easy to wear as an old pair of jeans. As I have only had a year to introduce this to people when I take them through Maison Francis Kurkdjian it seems like Aqua Vitae Forte is finding as many admirers from the novice niche users as Aqua Universalis.
These five are where I think you should start but this brand has many more advanced delights once you delve deeper. It is one of the stronger collections currently on the market.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.
Francis Kurkdjian is one of the elite perfumers working currently. He still takes briefs from many of the more mainstream brands but his best work has been for his own line, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. M. Kurkdjian is a refreshing personality who carries an amused smile at those of us, like myself, who take perfume so seriously. He has compared the perfumes in his Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection as pieces of olfactory wardrobe. Aqua Universalis is a t-shirt and Absolue pour le Soir a pair of leather pants. The idea being one you wear every day and the other only comes out occasionally. The latest two releases are to “complete the wardrobe” and are called feminin Pluriel and masculin Pluriel. If I understand the video below correctly these are supposed to be the versatile pieces of the collection the virtual Little Black Dress and Navy Blazer.
What M. Kurkdjian does as he has so many times in the past is to work within a very classic perfume architecture but to update it, to turn it into a new classic. Both versions of Pluriel have the classic part down perfectly as for the feminin Pluriel it is a chypre and for masculin Pluriel it is a fougere. Those forms are clearly present but for the feminin Pluriel he covers it in a delicate veil of florals. For the masculin Pluriel it is a really fantastic leather accord that transforms the fougere into something very special.
feminin Pluriel carries a beautiful bit of fragility despite being laden with some of my favorite floral notes. In truth as I read the note list before trying it I was having a hard time seeing how this was all going to balance out. I needn’t have worried as M. Kurkdjian has placed each floral as precisely as Calder does to make his mobiles attain the perfect position and spacing. The opening is the softness of orange blossom contrasted with the chill of violet. Muguet bridges the two notes and carries them down to the heart to mingle with orris, jasmine, and rose. You read all of those notes and you expect heavy pendulous powder. M. Kurkdjian delivers muted slightly powdery floralcy which comes to a conclusion on a base of patchouli and vetiver. Providing the chypre foundation underneath the flowers. feminin Pluriel really does feel as versatile as a Little Black Dress able to function from office to cocktail party to formal affair. It really does do exactly what M. Kurkdjian wants it to.
masculin Pluriel is even better as this note list is simplicity itself, lavender absolute, cedar, leather, patchouli, and vetiver. You have smelled that mix of ingredients in many other perfumes but you have never smelled it as it exists in masculin Pluriel. Lavender is often cleaned up so much in perfumes that it becomes insipid. The lavender that grows in my garden is a wonderful combination of herbal and woody components under the sweet floral. The lavender absolute M. Kurkdjian uses here smells more like the fresh lavender outside my front door and less like air freshener. The lavender absolute used is so full of nuance and texture M. Kurkdjian allows it to own the early development all by itself. The very dry clean cedar eventually comes along to pick up the woody aspects but it becomes an equal partner to the lavender absolute, making it just feel woodier. The leather accord is next and it is beautifully poised without getting too rambunctious or becoming a faint suggestion of the animalic. The accord M. Kurkdjian fashions here is a well-used and maintained leather strong but not forceful. masculin Pluriel ends with patchouli and vetiver as well but this time the balance is more vetiver, again picking up on the woody theme running throughout. This also has the same versatility as feminin Pluriel.
feminin Pluriel had 6-8 hour longevity and modest sillage. masculin Pluriel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
In the press materials M. Kurkdjian says these two Plutriels should be seen as mirror images and especially in the base there is some truth to this. I see them more as brother and sister undeniably sharing some genetic similarity but equally undeniably each is true to their own aesthetic. I really like both of them but masculin Pluriel has really blown me away as it has been a pleasure to spend the last few days with. It is one of the very best of the entire Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection.
Disclosure; This review was based on samples provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.