I interviewed Francis Kurkdjian a few weeks ago when he was in London to promote his new Oud, and at one point, our conversation turned to the unresolved issue of objectivity in perfume criticism. I thought some of you might find it interesting to read what he had to say. His responses reminded me a great deal of the answers Luca Turin gave Chandler Burr when he was asked similar questions (see The Emperor Of Scent); I'll leave it to you to decide if Monsieur Kurkdjian sheds any new light on the topic. Oh, and if he comes across as overly spiky below, blame the baldness of transcripts: I took his contrariness as evidence of a genuine attempt to engage with the dialogue.
P: What are the roles of subjectivity and objectivity in perfume appreciation? Is it possible to be objective?
FK: Why not? Why can't you be objective?
P: Well, because your response depends on your socio-cultural background, your experiences, your personal tastes...
FK: But that’s the same as for music or design. Perfume doesn’t differ from the other arts.
P: So at what level can you be objective?
FK: I think it’s really time for people to understand that perfume is the mirror of our days and our lives. No 5 was a reflection of the 20s, in the same way that Miss Dior was a reflection of the late 40s. We are so nostalgic about perfume nowadays. We say that now we have too many trends. But there were trends in the past too. There were many perfumes like Miss Dior at the time, there were many perfumes like No 5, for two reasons. The first one is that perfumers were looking at each other’s work. The second is that the number of raw materials was so limited that the chances of doing the same thing were much higher than they are now. We now have much more diversity. But we keep thinking that things were better before.
P: But if you were going to advise somebody to evaluate a perfume objectively, what would you say?
FK: ‘Objectively’ means: with your nose. With your guts.
P: ‘With your guts’ means ‘objectively’?
FK: Yes! You can like anything. You could like Jennifer Aniston’s perfume. I don’t care. Why not? What’s the problem with that? When you walk into someone’s house, you don’t see just masterpieces hanging on their walls. So when you walk into their bathroom, you can’t expect everyone to have just Chanel and Guerlain. They can have crap also, because everybody has good taste and bad taste.
P: But it sounds as though you’re saying that ‘personal taste’ is ‘objectivity’.
FK: Yes. It’s relative objectivity.
FK: Yes, of course. It’s still objectivity. And to me, the debates in the coming years will be all about that. We have to put experts talking about perfume on one side, and we have to leave people to experience perfume on their own. People, on a global scale, are never wrong. Critics are wrong more often than the global audience. Because critics are narrow-minded. Always.
In other news... Amouage are just about to release Opus VI, the latest addition to their Library Collection, and I'm very pleased to announce that Persolaise.com will be hosting a give-away for not one, but three special bottles of the scent. Be sure to come back on Friday to enter the draw!