Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What I Hate About Perfumistas: More Thoughts From Francis Kurkdjian


I received so many emails in response to the brief extract from my interview with Francis Kurkdjian that I've decided to publish a few more comments he made during our chat at London's Sketch restaurant. I must stress once again that all the answers he gave me - even the most vociferous - were accompanied by a twinkle in his eye, a playful grin and frequent chuckles.

Part of our discussion revolved around the subject of perfume criticism, particularly the online variety:

Francis Kurkdjian: What I hate about perfumistas now is that they try to force everybody to do things in the same way, to love the same way. I mean, L’Heure Bleue doesn’t smell good. It never did. It smells like burnt latex. I think it just doesn’t smell good. But is L’Heure Bleue important for the perfume industry? Yes. If we do consider perfume as being an art, we have to consider two things: we have to consider that people may not like it, but that it may be important to the history of art. You can’t oblige everybody to like Picasso, but you have to recognise that Picasso has his place in art history. And you can’t say that Monet is crap, because many people like Monet.

I think perfume is the same. You can’t say that you have to like Shalimar or Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue, because that’s just like not seeing what’s happening now. What’s silly about perfume is that we don’t see the beauty of what’s been created over the last 50, 60 years. We always relate to old stuff that smells like what my grandmother used to wear. But that’s not my time.

P: So who are our best perfume critics at the moment?

FK: There are no best ones. They’re so boring. And the reason why they’re so boring is that, to prove their legitimacy, they try to drop ingredient names, chemical names, just to prove to their readers that they have the know-how. But so far, I’ve never been impressed by any critics. I read them to see if one day I come across something really different. I have a Google Alert on my name. So every time my name gets mentioned I get a message. Last week, I had an Alert about something on Basenotes: ‘Jean Claude Ellena versus Kurkdjian. Who’s the best?’ I didn't know if I should read it or not.

But what I’m trying to say is that people are trying to critique perfumes without knowing what it is to critique a perfume. They don’t have the knowledge. People don’t know what it means to compromise if you’re creating something for a brand. They always ask the same questions over and over: “Are you free to create what you want?” We have the freedom to create exactly whatever we want. As long as you have competition between perfumers, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have any constraints at the very early stage of the creation of a brief.

A brand calls me up. You know what they want and what they don’t want, and you work within the frame. But everybody has a frame. A painter has a frame. A musician has a frame. There’s always a frame, whether it’s technical or mental. You have to have a frame. So people try to judge the final result at the end, but they don’t even know about the process of creating it. You don’t judge a perfume just on its scent. A perfume is not just a smell. It’s a global thing.

P: So how should people critique perfumes?

FK: I don’t know. That’s not my job. But I do believe that what’s being done today is not the right thing, because people are focussed on the smell, and a perfume is not only a scent. A perfume is a product. I guess that the impact of the name of Monet’s painting, Impression, Soleil Levant, was as important as the painting itself. Because by putting ‘Impression’ before the description, he made it clear that he had a different vision from his peers. And to me it’s all about that. It’s like with Picasso’s Guernica, the title is the meaning.


P: But do you think we need perfume critics?

FK: I think we do, yes.

[Come back next week for the final instalment, in which Kurkdjian explains why he thinks one major perfumer's style has become "anorexic."]

---
In brief... You've got until 10 pm (UK time) on Thursday to enter the exclusive draw for a 30 ml bottle of Amouage's new Opus VI. The winners will be announced on Friday, at which point I'll start a new draw and reveal a bit of info about my Top Secret Writing Project.

Finally, check out this link to read about some rather interesting ways in which Andy Tauer and Brian Pera are trying to raise funding for a film project: for this month only, there's a chance to purchase a new scent called Dark Passage. If you're a fan of Andy's work, you might not want to let this opportunity slip past your nose.

Persolaise.

96 comments:

  1. Well, blow MY mind, why don't you? ;) Thank you so very much for posting this, Persolaise - even as I don't agree with some of what Francis Kurkdjian says, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate the sentiment behind it!
    What I DO agree with...there is a certain amount of ...backwards snobbery, in the sense that 'fumeheads tend to glorify the past - as he mentioned with L'Heure Bleue, Shalimar and Mitsouko - at the cost of the present, and really, here and now is all we ever really have to relate to. It is a fact that in some areas, the art of perfumery is sorely neglected in favor of cupidity, but it is also, I'm happy to report, a fact that perfumed art is still being created and as great and groundbreaking as any Picasso painting.

    What does make me wonder is where he takes issue with perfume criticism, since he's at one end of that equation as the creator, and we bloggers and writers are at the other. We can't know what goes on during the creative process unless the perfumer tells us, and as any creative will also tell you, it can be a bit tricky to articulate what happens there. In the end, a writer or a blogger only has his or her highly subjective nose to go on and only the finished product to review - the perfume.
    For my own part, In all the best case scenarios, a perfume - or a work of art in any medium. really - affects me on such an emotional level it's a wonder any words can be written about it at all, and a wonder no less that so many words are written by so many to articulate that art of the ephemeral - which is...perfume! :)

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  2. Thanks for this entry, Persolaise. It is nice to hear what happens on the "other side of the universe".

    I guess we all know that it's not only the scent that makes a perfume. The name, the story behind, the inspiration - they all are a part of experience. Unfortunately this part is mostly hidden. The only thing you have left with are the scent and a press-release. And the latter one is not always a good (or fair) source of information - sometimes it even doesn't match the scent at all.

    And indeed - there might be a huge discrepancy sometimes between what is an Art and what does smell good... Sometimes when I ask myself what the best criticism is in perfumery I think it's rather must be sharing your experience and explaining the confusions (like why do I smell raspberry in a rose perfume and don't see it in a pyramid) than judging.

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  3. Much that is interesting in this post, Persolaise. Thanks for putting it on your site.

    I think some of the comments are a bit disingenuous, but perhaps he has kept in mind who his audience might be.

    As to L'Heure Bleue, though: no latex here, just play dough. And, I still think it smells good.

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  4. Sometimes I read what perfumers have to say about bloggers (perfume critics) and I wonder if they read the same people I do.
    I mean, most of the blogs I read don't sound to me like they know best. Or maybe I'm just reading it wrong...
    I, for one, write about what I like in a perfume (or rarely don't like) and I believe the readers know it's my opinion, not a criticism if someone made a good or a bad perfume.
    I find I cannot criticize personal creations, as someone did his or her own best to create something, who am I to judge the value?!

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  5. Well, that's all nonsense. He's a talented perfumer. That doesn't make him the end-all on the topic of perfume.

    Art criticism is about a reaction to the painting. I have never read an art critique that seriously took the painting/sculpture name into account as a large part of the overall reaction. I do not think most music criticism does, either, though I'm not as familiar with that genre. The same can be said for giving opinions on cars, computers, tablets, clothes... anything.

    I do not know what Monet was thinking when he painted. Or what struggles he had. Or what was going on in his studio that may have impacted his painting. I cannot care about that, either. I can only react to the final product.

    This is how it is with perfume. Frankly, I do not care about the brief, which perfumers submitted, what the back-and-forth was as the scent was developed, what the perfumer's issues may have been. The resultant product is what counts. The rest is fascinating, but we're rarely privvy to bits of it, much less the whole story.

    And I hate the ingredient name dropping, too. Who cares. What did it smell like? How did it make you feel? That's the scoop.

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  6. cannot but completely agree with him on l'Heure Blue :))))

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    1. I am late to reading this article and found it interesting - though I absolutely love the perfumista bloggers. I am inspired by them and read a slew of them regularly. But what did blow me away about this were his comments about L'Huere Blue. I have NEVER heard anyone say this about that fragrance, but I get this from L'Huere Blue and had always thought there was something wrong with my nose, haha!! Thank you Mr. Kurdjian for validating that for me :)

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    2. Mary, better late than never :-) And don't worry: you're absolutely not the only person who finds L'Heure Bleue a little bit strange...

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  7. I think the point about artists always having a frame is extremely well-taken. If you think back to Renaissance artists, for example, they were creating to please patrons; they would throw elements into their paintings to please and flatter their patrons. Did this compromise their art? I doubt we'd much say so. In fact, we view their artwork to be masterpieces. There has always been this kind of element in art. In fact, today, with the advent of Kickstarter and projects like Brian and Andy's, we are actually returning to a patronage model of art (albeit a dispersed one).

    In other words; I don't think it's ever completely true to say that someone is completely free to make their art.

    I am interested in his point about critics talking about ingredients and chemistry and not having the training to do so. I don't know that he's correct about that none of the perfume critics have that knowledge - in fact isn't Victoria of Bois de Jasmin undergoing training - but I do always hesitate to speak about those kinds of things myself as I don't have the technical know-how to really speak authoritatively on them. I do think that can become a dangerous area for critics.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing more of this interview - great food for thought and I think Mr. Kurkdijian was admirably candid.

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  8. I don't critique perfumes- I write about the ones I love. Dropping perfume ingredient names is ridiculous & reading long winded blogs of pseudo Luca Turin-isms bores me to death. Who cares? Know what you like, know what you don't like. Wear what smells good. How neat that Mr. Kurkjijian reads Basenotes. Love it.

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  9. Thanks for this! I find it fascinating. I don't mind that the artist is criticizing the critics (like me) who fumble to describe his art. Artists should be dismissive of their critics. What kind of art would we have if they were obsequious? I love hearing it from his point of view, but of course I'm not going to stop blogging :)

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    1. Well said, Krista! Obsequiousness is a particular bugbear of mine, wherever it wrings its hands. ; - )

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  10. @susan: love your comment.

    "In other words; I don't think it's ever completely true to say that someone is completely free to make their art."

    right, especially if that art is going to be sold.

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  11. Tarleisio, thanks for writing.

    I'd agree that the past is viewed with rose-tinted glasses too often. And as for critics not being in on the creation process, I can see that this might lead to a certain 'blindness' in some cases, but surely the end product has to speak for itself, right?

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  12. AromaX, I'd be inclined to agree that the best criticism is a mixture of personal response and wider, more objective contextualisation.

    And you're absolutely right about press releases.

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  13. Ines, I'm glad that your experience of reading perfume blogs is generally positive.

    As for judging... even that is ultimately subjective, right?

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  14. Jen, I understand what you're saying, but I can very easily see what FK means, too.

    If someone released a perfume Vetiver and you couldn't smell the faintest whisper of vetivert in it, wouldn't it be possible for you to say that the perfumer had 'failed' in some way?

    Or if Prada's Candy had been called Ocean Breeze, wouldn't that have had an adverse effect on our reaction to the scent?

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  15. Fantasticna, I'm sure there must be lots of people out there who don't much like L'Heure Bleue :-)

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  16. Ronny, thanks very much indeed.

    I wonder what else we can find in poor L'Heure Bleue??

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  17. Susan, thanks for writing.

    As far as chemical/ingredient 'name dropping' is concerned, my personal view is that I can never say that a fragrance DEFINITELY contains something, unless the perfumer has categorically informed me that it does. That's why, wherever possible, I prefer to qualify my statements by stating that it seems to me as though a scent might contain x, y or z.

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  18. Bloody Frida, be nice to L'Heure Bleue: she's a hundred this year :-D

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  19. Daly Beauty, I absolutely agree that there's nothing necessarily wrong with taking the approach you suggest.

    But what about the people who actually enjoy more technical, critique-style reviews? Are they wrong to seek out such writing?

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  20. Krista, I agree that there's a danger in artists paying too much attention to critics. And I don't plan to stop blogging any time soon either ;-)

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  21. Fantasticna, some would say that too much freedom can actually be quite damaging to an artist.

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  22. The fact is that reviewing a fragrance is as much a nebulous, imperfect and subjective art as creating one is. Personally, I don't care whether someone wants to write a 2,000 word forensic review, simply list the notes or just wants to say 'to me this smells like creosote' - what's important is that people remain passionate enough to write about fragrance in the first place.
    To be honest, I hate the concept of having to be knowledgeable before you can critique something. To me, the opinion of a beauty blogger who smells a fragrance in a department store is just as valid as that of someone who's been writing about fragrance all their lives.

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  23. Thank you, Persolaise, for sharing more of your conversation with Kurkdjian with us here. Whether it is art criticism, music criticism, film criticism, food criticism, or perfume criticism - once you see it, hear it, taste it, or smell it you are going to have an opinion. That makes everybody a critic with an "equal" voice. Of course, knowledge, training, and experience make the opinions of some critics "more equal" than others, but just because someone has a "trained nose" and can articulate a fragrance perfectly in prose, does not guarantee that I'll like it, buy it, wear it, or even agree with them. But that's just my opinion.

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  24. Great post, Persolaise!
    I agree with FK that it's not about just the content or the packaging- it's about the whole product and how it makes you feel, etc.
    Can't wait for the next installment.

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  25. Fantastic interview, Persolaise. Looking forward to the second installment.

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  26. "There are no best ones. They’re so boring."

    It's kind of funny that he said that to you. Does he not realize that you're a perfume critic, or is he just that tactless?

    In protest of his arrogance and attitude, I refuse to wear Rose Barbare or NR for Her for at least a week!

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    1. Who cares if you don't wear Rose Barbare or NR for Her? You're the one who has the attitude.

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  27. P.S. Unfortunately, I kind of agree that LHB smells like latex...

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  28. Grooming Guru, thanks very much for stopping by. I agree that the blogosphere is large enough to accommodate the presence of all sorts of different reviewing and writing styles. I guess which opinions we find 'valid' depends on what we're hoping to gain from a review.

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  29. Leslie Ann, I can see the sense in what you're saying. I wonder if all perfume critics would agree that they're trying to persuade people to buy or not to buy a perfume.

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  30. I totally get what FK means when he says that a perfume is so much more than just the juice. A great example of this is what Michael Edwards covers in his French Feminine Perfumes, where he goes into the history of the perfume house and the perfumer, what inspired the creation of the perfume and the bottle and in some cases, packaging too. It really brought home to me the passion behind a lot of perfumers. It's very easy to diss a perfumer in a quick and hasty sentence in a blog, without thinking about what actually goes into creating a perfume, and making it sell. I really do get what he means there. On the other hand, I agree that perfume, as an art, should not be exempt from critique, but historically I don't think it has been considered in as much detail as, for example, couture, literature, etc.

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  31. BC Fragrance, thanks very much. On some level, perfume criticism does have to take into account the non-scented aspects of a fragrance, in the same way that film criticism has to take into account factors such as distribution and exhibition.

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  32. Alyssa, thanks very much... but next week's will actually be the third instalment ;-)

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  33. Elisa, I don't think FK was being tactless. He's perfectly entitled to think I'm not a good perfume critic. More than likely, he's never even read my blog!

    At least a week without Rose Barbare. Wow, talk about self-inflicted misery ;-)

    And as for L'Heure Bleue and latex... I don't know what to say.

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  34. Michael, I agree that it isn't enough to see a perfume as just a scent.

    And as for broadening the scope of fragrance criticism... hopefully, that's what we're all doing, right?

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  35. A very interesting interview, Persolaise. Thanks for drawing our attention here from the Basenotes thread !
    I do like Francis Kurdjian - he speaks his mind.

    Mimi Gardenia

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  36. Persolaise, hopefully we are. I think we are, and actually, in my opinion I think bloggers to a large extent are doing perfumers and perfume houses quite a lot of good, by broadening awareness of perfumery as a true passion and art. Of course, some of us do it better than others!

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  37. Interesting that he throws up 2 of the oft talked about masters. There were plenty of painters during the time that we do not talk about. Just like perfumes, Some will be remembered as glorious, most will be forgotten in the swill of mediocrity.
    I reckon the Amouage Opus VI may be one that lasts and would LOVE the chance to try it please.
    Portia

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  38. Elisa, I don't think FK was being tactless. He's perfectly entitled to think I'm not a good perfume critic.

    Entitled to think it, yes, but to say it to your face is not very tactful by my definition. :) Nonetheless I found the whole exchange very amusing and I thank you for posting it!

    By the way, in the writing world it is considered damning if no one reviews or talks about your work, so it's strange to me that it would be different for a perfumer.

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  39. Mimi Gardenia, you're very welcome, and yes, FK certainly gives a thought-provoking interview.

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  40. Michael, I'm sure we're all furthering and developing the discourse, each in our different ways.

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  41. Portia, I'm sure he was very deliberate with his choice of artists.

    By the way, if you'd like to enter the draw for Opus VI, please leave a comment on the post in which I've reviewed the perfume.

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  42. Elisa, you're more than welcome... but please can you help me out with something. I know that in the publishing world silence is very damning as far as reviews are concerned, but what point are you making in relation to the interview?

    Sorry, I know I'm being slow here.

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  43. I think I would love to see a discussion about this with people like Victoria Frolova, Denyse Beaulieu, Octavian Coifan , etc... It appears to me that perfumery has been going through one major change, redefining its concepts as an art. Discussions about its aesthetics and critics are always welcomed. Thank you for sharing this.

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  44. Persolaise,

    You mean if they call it something and it doesn't smell like what it says --- like Le Labo? lol

    xoxo

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  45. Vanessa, it's not a particularly productive trait, is it.

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  46. Armellide, thanks for writing. I think all the current discussions are certainly helping to shape the way perfume is perceived.

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  47. Jen, Le Labo is an excellent example to bring up, thank you.

    We accept that their perfumes don't always smell the way they're 'supposed' to be, because we know this is part of the brand's playfulness. Without that contextual knowledge, we might be a little dismayed or disappointed.

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  48. F.K has a right to his opinions. I was fascinated by what he said about L'Heure Blue anf the smell of latex. Last week I sprayed on some L'Bleue because I love it but forget that sometimes it brings on nausea ( as does latex). I felt sick and am sorry to say I was . I was ripping off my clothes and my daughter grabbed a towel and washed me down. I had to lay down for a while.It doesn't always do that .Angie Cox

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  49. Today we have lots of artists in all genres, generous and happy to reveal the tricks of their trade, willing to de-mystify the process and share their knowledge and practise of their art: digital, media visual artists and musicians talking about their themes and approaches right down to the brand of software they use has been a feature of modern life for a long while. The culture is one of sharing knowledge.

    Not so with perfumery it seems; one of the last secretive, analogue arts left. Instead we have a strange, ungenerous attitude from perfumers creating a grumpy atmosphere of school children shielding their answers in a school exam hall… and a deafening silence regarding their art. It is rare to find any of them talking about their formulas or techniques in any detail that might be helpful to….

    ….perfumistas who love the juice and write about it. Most of the writing is guesswork, of course, we all know that, but there has been a new development of late: these writers now have a basic knowledge of aromachemicals due blogs and forums and the increasing numbers of technical books on the subject by the likes of Luca Turin and Chandler Burr. Perish the thought that some of the writers might know the chemical names of some of the ingredients perfumers use and actually know what they smell like.

    Some perfumers obviously feel threatened by this and it looks like Kurkdjian is one of them. He is naturally vain (as any person working in a creative field is) and desires at least some feedback so he can feel he’s not simply offering his work up to a vacuum. But oh dear, it’s such a shame he has to hear opinions from these ignorant perfumistas who don’t know what they’re talking about, eh?

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  50. Can't say that I've ever met an artist who loves critics.

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  51. Isn't it charming that he has a Google Alert for when his name comes up? That's quite endearing.

    The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about:-)

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

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  52. Angie, maybe FK just articulated something that some people have thought about L'Heure Bleue for a long time.

    I hope you're feeling better now ;-)

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  53. Kev, thanks very much indeed for your detailed thoughts.

    A full response to your comment would constitute a post in itself, so forgive my brevity.

    I can see that, if you are a perfumer and if you see 'critics' around you making technical mistakes when they're writing about your work, that must be pretty frustrating. And I also think that FK was expressing disappointment with critics who try to blind readers with science, as opposed to chemical ingredient-spotting per se.

    By the way... do all creative people have to be vain??

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  54. Olfacta, you may be right... but don't forget, FK did he say he thinks we need perfume critics.

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  55. Anna, I should think most high-profile people in the industry have Google Alerts on their name.

    All publicity is good publicity, right ;-)

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  56. Hi Persolaise,

    I meant that Mr. Kurkdjian dismissed perfume critics (and by extension, I assume) perfume criticism as a whole, which suggested that even those who love his perfumes have nothing interesting to say about them. The implication, to me, was that he would prefer not to be reviewed at all. I found that surprising.

    Elisa

    P.S. I miss being able to subscribe to comments on your blog! If you go into Blogger and change your comment settings (under Settings > Posts and comments) to "Embedded," the subscribe option should be available again...

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  57. Elisa, thanks for explaining. I see what you mean now.

    Thanks for the Blogger tip. I hadn't realised that the 'subscribe' function had been removed. Sadly, it doesn't re-appear when I switch to "Embedded" commenting. It looks like Blogger's deleted it completely, which is most annoying, as I liked subscribing to comments on other blogs myself.

    Perhaps they'll re-instate it if we ask them politely.

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  58. I have managed to get the subscription feature back on my blog, but I had to switch to the new Blogger interface. Hope that helps you!

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  59. Oh, but I really don't like that new interface :-( It doesn't seem to be aware of the existence of any time zones outside the USA.

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    1. I think I've got it sorted now. Thanks again for letting me know that the 'subscribe' option had vanished.

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  60. So much food for thought in this interview! I'm still digesting ...

    It isn't clear to me if FK is talking about "Joe the perfumista" ( that would be me), or professional reviewers--however we want to define that--or both.

    Kurkdjian's comment on perfume being more than a scent certainly rings true to me (and a lot of perfumistas out there). It's all about the name, the concept, the story it tells and the stories it recalls--and a lot of reviewers (professional and amateur) take that approach.

    I do think there is a place, too, for reviews that attempt to describe the notes (mentioning ingredients when possible), and convey smell in order to help others decide if it is the type of scent they'd like to sample, or the one they've been searching for all these years.

    And most reviews seem to be a hybrid of the two above.

    Hmm. My comment is too long. I may need to develop these thoughts further elsewhere.

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  61. Cheryl, your comment definitely wasn't too long for me. FK's replies were certainly thought provoking, weren't they? And I must say that, personally, I'm inclined to agree that a perfume is more than *just* its smell.

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  62. Hmmm...on re-reading the post, I'm wondering if the kind of "critics" FK is referring to when he says we need perfume critics is the amateur-publicist-who-works-for-free kind.

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  63. Olfacta, I'm not sure. Perhaps I'll ask him if I ever get the chance to interview him again.

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  64. I agree with so many things that people wrote above (Ines, Elisa, Kev, Olfacta) that I don't want to try repeating it in my own words. So I want to sign under what they said.

    What I want to add: I am NOT a perfume critic. Am I a perfumista? Maybe in making. But I feel slightly offended by Mr.Kurkdjian's attitude. Though, there is something I agree with him on: people who do not have THE KNOWLEDGE shouldn't just "drop ingredient names". They should rather say straight forward: Mr. Kurkdjian, your Absolue Pour le Soir smells like stale urine. Definitely better than trying to explain how cumin might smell for some people. Definitely.

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    1. Undina, so many aspects of this debate come down to the 'problem' (?) of subjectivity.

      And as for Absolue Pour Le Soir... here we go... I couldn't disagree with you more ;-) I absolutely love it... although I concede that it's pretty filthy!

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  65. I originally posted this over at BN, but feel it should be posted here as well as I'm not afraid to say what I'm sure many people are thinking.

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    It's funny that Kurkdjian wants us to consider the "frame" - which is nigh impossible since we have no access to this information and the industry surely does all it can to keep all of this secret so that they can keep selling their illusions. Of course, the kicker is, he has his own company now, and he could disclose tons of behind the scenes info on the creation of his scents and really allow us to see and consider this frame which is - according to him - so important for the consumer to keep in mind. But does he do this? No.

    I understand his feelings towards the egocentrism inherent in many of the blogs, along with the chemical name dropping and other posturing to inflate the perception of the reviewer by their audience (and I admit, I'm prone to doing these things, too), but I don't see how responding in an equally egocentric manner is furthering his cause any.

    It's funny how he talks about reviewers attempting to "prove their legitimacy" by dropping chemical names and such, when he's essentially doing the same thing in parallel by now (finally) jumping on the oud bandwagon. Next up, MFK Vetiver?

    Also, he contradicts himself left and right. We, the consumers, don't know what it is to compromise for a brand? Ok - perhaps true (but I think we all have an idea of the compromises, budgets, etc that go on in the business.) Then he arrogantly dismisses the question he gets asked "over and over" about if he's free to create what he wants, and states that he's entirely free to do so during the early stages of a brief. And then, in the next sentence talks about knowing what the brand wants, and working within that frame. Working within the frame of the brand, whether you are choosing to do so or being forced to do so, is not the definition of 'entire freedom.'

    Honestly, his responses really piss me off. He's biting the hand of the people who at least try, within the confines of their knowledge and the knowledge available to them (and again I reiterate that the world of perfume is one of the most secretive around), to treat his creations as art worthy of a deeper-than-surface analysis and exploration. Maybe he really does prefer those who just treat it as a product - it is those same people that made him "famous" by buying up Le Male in droves, after all.

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    1. SculptureOfSoul, thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment.

      I suspect it wasn't FK's intention to p*** anybody off (although, if I'm wrong about this, I'm happy for his PR team to correct me!). I think he was genuinely trying to grapple with what is a very difficult subject to pin down. The subjects of freedom vs constraints, expertise vs fandom, perfume-as-product vs perfume-as-artwork are riddled with contradictions.

      Personally, I think FK deserves credit for speaking his mind (and by saying this, I am in no way trying to belittle the comments you and other readers have left). So often, we complain about perfumers giving us bland responses to interview questions. Well, FK said exactly what he wanted to say, and by doing so, he generated a tremendous debate and gave us all an opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas.

      That doesn't happen very often in the industry.

      Delete
  66. Uff... what a storm in the perfumery teacup.
    I am quite sure he is amused by such vehement reactions.

    If anyone here has ever met well known perfumers, they would agree that if there is one real "Illuminati" in this world, it's them. Getting them to talk about their trade is 'difficult'.
    Monsieur Ellena is quite outspoken but then he always laughs in the end and says, it's all about mathematics... fractions enfante', fractions.
    Monsiuer Kerleo is the soul of a perfumer personified and if you were to watch him introducing someone to a scent/perfume, he would neither lead but nor would he mislead you. He'll see your reaction and say, hmm.... with a world of meaning lurking in that hmm. C. Laudimier does something similar, the more vocal your reaction to the perfume, the scent, more closely he watches you with an odd bird-like intensity... and lastly, with all of them, there's silence.
    And maximum is this: hmm, so... you can detect that... I see.(I'm talking about interactions with non-perfumery folks)

    F. Kurkdjian is entitled to his opinions....: do I care, nou!

    How Pollock created organized chaos on a canvas is a marvel, but since I am not a painter, I can never delve to it's true technical depth but what matters is "my reaction to it". That is what the artist is looking for... why else would you bring your creation forward, why else would you bother.
    Just like a writer, if it's published work and criticism (constructive esp) will be painful since you can't do anything but next time around, you can incorporate it in your future work. It's your creation, so yes, criticism is going to hurt; anyone who says it doesn't, it's hogwash.

    And no, I don't own anything by FK. But I do admire Enlevement au Serail a lot.
    And he made me chuckle with his contrariness, so there.... how can you not like that.

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    1. Ash, many thanks for leaving such a detailed comment.

      Are perfumers like the Illuminati?? In some senses, maybe that's true. But surely, we must also admit that nowadays we know infinitely more about the creation of fragrances than we did 20 or 30 years ago.

      And as for criticism... well, that's a whole can of worms in itself.

      Delete
    2. This I agree with that there should be no coming together of artists and critics (and I mean 'real critics', people who do have know-how of perfumery oils, synthetics, the whole interaction which begins even before a frame is given to the perfumer to create a scent) and there are only a rare few. And trust me, they will never acknowledge it; it's part of being an insider.
      Say enough but never too much.

      And the rest are the masses... from a true connoisseur to an engaged, educated perfume lover to a the common Joe/Jane on the street; degrees of know-how but without concise technical, scientific, dynamic knowledge of this industry. The best film critics are not directors, and the films don't top the charts because a critic paid it a compliment.
      Same rules apply in any art form whether painting, sculpture, music, etc and making it any more than that is arguing the semantics.
      I don't need to know Beethoven's moral and physical anguish to understand his Symphonies. The art form shall do it's own talking.
      The question is does FK's creations can stand the test? Talking is easy, in delivering, lies the key.
      In a way, I liked perfumers who maintained that reticence about their work and avoided tussling with the public as well: Jean Kerleo a prime example.
      That polite indifference (to me) is what makes a great artist... even more of an artist.

      Delete
    3. I like your phrase 'polite indifference'. I agree that artists need to fight hard to distance themselves from certain aspects of criticism, in the same way that critics should always remember to keep the boundary between themselves and the artists very clear.

      Delete
  67. My problem is not so much that he dislikes things the way they are, but that he contradicts himself rather often and most disappointingly of all, has no suggestions on how things can be improved; how perfumes should be reviewed. He simply thinks we should keep the frame in mind, while giving us no opportunity to see said frame. In fact, he (along w/ the rest of the industry) is essentially covering our eyes, and then he chastises us for not being able to see and consider the frame.

    Further, I don't understand his "you can't say Monet is crap, because many people like Monet." That's simply a case of argumentum ad populum - an appeal to the numbers. By that thinking, you can't say any number of Hugo Boss scents are crap, or Chrome, or Acqua di Gio, etc (not that I dislike all of them, but the point stands).



    Why doesn't he let us take a peak behind the smoke and mirrors? He could do so with his MFK creations.

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    1. Hi again SculptureOfSoul,

      It is a difficult topic, no question about it. And we know very well that no perfumer is going to tell us *exactly* how they make their fragrances.

      But I think another reader has already commented earlier that critics and artists *shouldn't* mix with each other too much: it can be dangerous to know too much about how a work of art is made. Both the art and the criticism might suffer from excessive intimacy.

      Delete
  68. Yes, interesting take on the word "frame." As far as contemporary art is concerned, the "art" occurs in the mind of the viewer. And very few 2-D contemporary paintings are framed, btw.

    Andy Tauer beloved among perfumistas because he's a nice guy, and perhaps more importantly for purposes of this discussion, he freely reveals his process to those who might be interested in it, everything from molecules to marketing. In other words, he shows respect for his audience.

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    1. Olfacta, thanks for writing. It goes without saying that FK didn't mean a literal frame, right?

      I know what you're saying about Andy, but I would be surprised if even he were to reveal every single thing about how he creates his scents. Agreed, he reveals a great deal, but the fine details will always remains concealed. And that's how it should be, in my view.

      Delete
  69. I want to take a stand in defense of Francis Kurkdjian. He's one of the VERY FEW that wouldn't mind full-scale perfume criticism. I actually owe him my nomination and win of my 2009 Jasmine award. He's definitely not an enemy of perfumistas and perfume talk, far from it.

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    1. Er... he just told perfumistas he doesn't like anything they write but he can't be bothered to talk about how he composes his own perfumes or share knowledge. He might have helped you with your nomination but he's not a particularly generous personality, is he?

      Delete
    2. LCDP, thanks for writing. I'd say that in the few times I've met him, he's always been very interesting in talking and tackling a wide range of questions. He may not always say what some people would like to hear, but at least he appears to speak his mind.

      Delete
  70. he is right about some things that you have to know something about perfumes before considering yourself an effective critic...i also agree with him that perfume analysis should be subjective and not objective...there is just no criteria out there which establishes what is a good perfume and what is not..

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    1. FMC, as you imply, I think we need to acknowledge the validity and importance of 'educated subjectivity'.

      Delete
  71. From the comments above I'm left thinking are perfumers worth interviewing? They seem an INCREDIBLY boring bunch. They're either unwilling or unable to share knowledge. Let's face it, they don't really want to talk.

    At least they're happy to pose for a moody B&W photo in a black polo neck with a smelling strip.

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    1. Kev, I hope you don't mind, but I beg to differ. I find many perfumers very interesting to chat with. They may not want to reveal every last detail of their craft - which is fair enough - but I've found that most of them are more than happy to talk.

      Delete
  72. Ah, Kev... have some compassion.
    I think it comes with the territory; history is full of such details, e. g. Catherine de Medici's perfumer whom she brought along as part of her dowry was her biggest secret weapon. Some of the historical information, (Octavian C. is a very good source since he cites with references) is unbelievable; it is literally like perfume wars.
    Perfumers are not boring, it's just that there are a lot of restrictions (can't divulge the formula, can't say which technique, etc) which are part of their contracts with companies requesting perfumes. If a perfumer trusts you and is willing to talk, the discussion is unlike any I’ve encountered.
    M. Lutens can speak about what he is doing, because he commissions them, Sheldrake can't. Pierre G. can since PG is his brainchild and he's the 'nose' behind it. I've seen Sophia Grojsman go absolutely silent while a minute ago she was detailing another perfume’s construction.... reason being that particular scent had involved another perfumer (she wouldn't say a single word without him being aware of it).
    I think making perfumes is a lonely pursuit and comes with a lot of innate secrecy.
    It has been thus for years, ask any perfume history writer.

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    1. Thanks for these points, Ash. It's wonderful that this post has stimulated such an interesting discussion.

      Delete
  73. Be assured that I'm saying this "with a twinkle in my eye"-but how silly to say that perfume isn't about the smell. If it's not about the smell, then nevermind selling that stuff in the bottles, try just selling the "experience". OK.

    And I will always revere the perfumes of the past. For one thing, they were able to use ingredients which perfumers these days won't be able to use, and often those ingredients add a fullness and richess which can't be replaced by the use of synthetics.

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    1. Melanie, thanks for writing. I revere many older perfumes too, but I sometimes find it helpful to be reminded that I must approach the future with as much open-mindedness as I can muster.

      Delete
  74. He says L'Heure Bleue smells like burnt latex.

    Makes you wonder how Francis Kurkdjian has ever made good perfumes.

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    1. Anon, all I can say is that I know quite a few people who get a weird, chemical edge from L'Heure Bleue ;-)

      Delete

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