Friday, 26 July 2013

Persolaise Review: Aqua Vitae from Maison Francis Kurkdjian (Francis Kurkdjian; 2013)

Get Lippie said it best. She and I were amongst several other writers at the press launch of Aqua Vitae and as she breathed in the scent, she closed her eyes and declared, "This smells like a hug in the 70s." At first, I wasn't entirely sure what she meant. But now, after having worn the fragrance a few times, I'm beginning to appreciate the notion which occurred to her as soon as she encountered this latest release from Francis Kurkdjian.

In prosaic terms, Aqua Vitae is an extremely light, almost-but-not-quite invisible woody floral, with a sweet citrus opening (Calabrian lemon linked to Sicilian mandarin in a particularly tantalising accord) and a gentle musk base. According to Kurkdjian, more than 50% of the juice contains Hedione - that most radiant, luminous of synthetics - and a fair proportion is made up of Iso E Super, an equally ubiquitous material, redolent of minerals and sun-warmed bodies. So, at least on paper, AV is nothing mould-breaking.

But of course, a mere list of notes rarely conveys the summative effect of a careful, cohesive balance of disparate ingredients. And in this case, the effect is particularly difficult to describe, because its over-riding quality seems to be elusiveness. Throughout its development, AV suggests the presence of older classics, although not for one second does it become a copy of any specific creation. Perhaps this is partly due to the presence of the Hedione: as the material has been used so heavily by perfumers for decades, it's reasonable to suppose that a hefty overdose of it would call to mind echoes of fragrances from yesteryear. So as the scent develops, it appears to skirt around the edges of various creations from the past. Is there a hint of Eau Sauvage? Could there be an allusion to Chanel's Pour Monsieur? Is that Cool Water making its presence felt, or is it Minotaure? The answers to these questions are never quite clear, because the scent doesn't allow itself to be pinned down. What's more, even though it seems to make reference only to masculine creations, it never comes across as overtly 'male' itself. 

Upon approaching its quiet, subtle drydown, its lapsang souchong-like guaiac wood element becomes stronger, taking on a skin-like, physicalised intimacy whilst simultaneously suggesting a distance between the wearer and the rest of the world. And it is at this most silent stage that Aqua Vitae makes its most poignant statement. Like a recollection that's perpetually on the verge of snapping into focus, flitting in and out of the edge of consciousness, it casts a strange, incomprehensible spell without appearing to make much effort at all.

Kurkdjian says he was inspired to create it by a single phrase - "the space between us" - which struck him as poetic and evocative on a very personal level. I'd assert that he's created an olfactory representation of those words with commendable accuracy. Aqua Vitae is bright and life-affirming, but it's also haunting and soulfully retrospective. I still maintain that Get Lippie said it best - this really does feel like a hug in (or should that be 'from'?) the past - but if I were pushed to come up with my own pithy one-liner, I think it would go something like this. Aqua Vitae is Kurkdjian's deceptively simple story about that most powerful of subjects: the memory of perfume. 

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2013.]



  1. Dearest Persolaise
    How post modern this perfume sounds... 'skiting' around the hems of such great scents.
    These allusions alone make me keen to try this...what a shame summer seems to have departed, it seems designed for sunshine.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    1. Dandy, yes, this one is probably geared towards warmer weather... but I'm looking forward to trying it in winter too. I think it might prove to be very interesting.


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