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.