Monday, July 22, 2013

Looking Beyond - Francis Kurkdjian At The Launch Of Aqua Vitae


I realise I may be sticking my neck out on the line by typing the following words, but I do honestly think that Francis Kurkdjian is being unfairly maligned by some sectors of the scented blogosphere. I don't know him as a friend, so I won't pretend to have a strong sense of what he's like as a person - I suspect he's as complex a mix of flaws and attributes as we all are - but I always appreciate his candour when I meet him in a professional setting and I admire the way in which he expresses his views without worrying about whether they're going to make him popular.

My last opportunity to spend some time with him was the London launch of his Aqua Vitae, an occasion during which he referred to a comment he once made to me about the wide-ranging quality of online perfume criticism. Those of you who remember his words may also recall the reaction they sparked. Naturally, everyone's entitled to their own opinions - and I was pleased that so many people took the time to share them and generate a debate - but I also think it's very telling that most of the people who disagreed with Kurkdjian chose to do so publicly, whilst most of the people who felt he was making a valid point decided to convey their thoughts in private emails.

I'm pleased to say that Captain Kurk hasn't relaxed his position. He still believes - and I'm with him on this - that not all perfume critics are the same as each other, in the same way that not all journalists, novelists, waiters, surgeons and sales assistants are the same as each other. "You have bloggers with knowledge and you have bloggers with no knowledge," he insists. "I will keep saying that. Some people have knowledge, some people don't. It's like perfumers. Some know the history of perfumes, they know what they're talking about. Some others don't. And bloggers are the same. Some bloggers take for granted whatever brands say to them and they don't look beyond what they are told."

He claims that he can now predict the commercial success of his scents according to how they are received by the blogosphere: those which earn high praise sell poorly, and vice versa. "That's why I say that what bloggers like is different from the rest of the world. Aqua Universalis is the best seller of my line worldwide. I sell fifteen thousand times more bottles of it than I sell other stuff. I sell maybe fifty bottles of Absolue Pour Le Soir per year and two bottles of Cologne Pour Le Matin and one bottle of Cologne Pour Le Soir. Sadly, the perfume I sell the most is the one which almost no-one talked about."

However, this disparity won't stop him from attending launch events with writers and critics. "I prefer to explain things myself. Then you'll do whatever you want with what I say, or you'll have your own opinion. But I do believe that the blogosphere and my customers are two different things. And the people in the blogosphere don't live in the real world. You can talk to both sets of people, knowing that no-one is right.

"I'm the perfumer of my brand, but I'm also the owner. So I have to look at my figures. If I want to launch a new product, I need to make sure the company will be able to pay my salary. I need to think globally and not just about the 'art' thing. I have to put my eggs in different baskets. I have to be careful about not working just for a fringe of people who celebrate perfume the way I'd love perfume to be celebrated."

His love of his craft has prompted him to teach more classes at ISIPCA than he ever has before, but he wonders if his students are as hungry for knowledge as he was. "I think now they have better facilities, but I think they might be a little less curious. I asked the class which just finished this year whether they went to see the Chanel No 5 exhibition in Paris. Okay, if you're a student, you don't make money and life is expensive, but this was a free exhibition. It was about Chanel No 5! The exhibition lasted a month. Six days before it was supposed to end, none of the students had gone to see it. I had 18 students, and none of them went. I got so angry with them!"

He feels ISIPCA may be entering a phase of change. "I do believe that I'm a good teacher, but I think that, during my time there, there were more good teachers. And the reason why I'm sad about the school is because education and training are very important to me. I'll always be dedicated to saving the school. I love what I do over there. A new perfumery school is opening in Paris, and I'm very happy about that, because when you have a monopoly, then you don't move your arse."

As he puts away his blotters and vials of raw materials - he's on a tight schedule and has to head off for a photo shoot - he's asked what's the first thing he'd change at ISIPCA, given the chance. His response is immediate. "Chemistry," he says, with a rueful expression. "We don't need chemistry. It's useless. A waste of time."

Persolaise

10 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I love it when people are bold enough to speak their minds.

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    1. Austenfan, yes, it's certainly refreshing to meet someone who doesn't churn out the same cliches.

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  2. Persolaise , Captain Kurk has valid points about the blogosphere and as it's his life and his craft, he's entitled to them as everyone else is as well. Nice article ! I love to read about Francis Kurkdjian - he follows his own path and that is to be respected.

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    1. Mimi G, I agree. And I think it's important to acknowledge that he's extremely passionate about his work and about his teaching post at ISIPCA.

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  3. I have to say I like Mr. Kurkdjian !Too much political correctness can be so boring

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    1. Ana, I always enjoy listening to what Kurkdjian has to say.

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  4. I actually have to say that Kurkdjian's candid remarks have actually quite endeared him to me! I find it frustrating when the perfume community just kind of wants to wave away the business aspects of the industry. Anyway. Kurkdjian is a treasure!

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    1. Susan, I know what you mean. I think it's admirable that Kurkdjian is open and honest about the financial imperatives he has to take into account.

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  5. Hi Persolaise

    I admire FK. He is talented, intelligent and goes out of his way to teach others. However, it's unfortunate that he does not treat all perfume bloggers with the basic manners that he shows to you.

    After a recent talk I was pointed out to him as being a perfume blogger. I thought he looked displeased but didn't think too much of it. I met him face to face and was looking forward to telling him about the perfume of his I most admired. I greeted him with "It's a pleasure to meet you", at which he looked at me as if I was something he'd just stepped in, turned on his heel and walked away.

    Of course, he doesn't have to speak to people he doesn't want to, but I doubt he knew a thing about me including my level of knowledge, apart from the fact I'm a perfume blogger. Sadly, I learnt that the contemptuous attitude he appears to have towards some (though not all) of us is quite real.

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    1. Hi Tara,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I realise this is stating the obvious, but I can't offer any insights as to why he treated you in the way you describe. From statements made in various other places on the Net, I can see that he does seem to have put quite a few people's backs up.

      As you yourself imply, I guess the best thing for us to do is to focus on his work.

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