Last month, Thailand Tatler had the chance to sit down with the CEO and co-creator of world-class Parisian fragrance label Maison Francis Kurkdjian for an interview as the brand held its official launch in Thailand at the pristine Central Embassy.
The passionate co-founder came with a lot of enthusiasm but also candid insight into what he describes as a sort of misguided market for luxury products like perfumes and the change he would like to drive in the industry through the maison.
As Maison Francis Kurkdjian turns 10 next year, Marc Chaya met his business and creative partner Francis Kurkdjian by chance 15 years ago when Marc was still working as a bigtime financier at the prestigious Ernst & Young.
“I asked him very casually ‘what do you do’ and this is when I learned that he was the person behind some of the most groundbreak creations, bestsellers in the fragrance industry.”
And yet Marc says, despite Francis’ accomplishments, he did not know the man. Despite even owning several of the perfumer’s works, he did not know his name.
“I was in shock.”
The encounter made Marc realise that the fragrance industry was the only creative industry in which the talent can be unnamed and unheard of. Because in the world of fashion, for instance, the designer behind every luxury fashion house is well known to the public. When it comes to perfumes however, “the perfumer tends to be hidden.” The CEO adds, “sometimes I’m shocked to read that some people would claim to be perfumers. They are really makeup artists, celebrities or marketeers. This doesn’t happen in any other form of creativity. This isn’t allowed. You cannot write a book and pretend someone else wrote it.”
Thus sparked a total life and career change for Marc (and most likely Francis as well).
“When I met Francis I was completely seduced by him and his talent and his know-how. And over time we became close friends and we decided to start working on putting the framework to create a luxury fragrance house that carries his name and that would enable him, as one of the greatest living perfumers of all time, to express his vision freely.”
Besides the mission of putting the artist at the forefront of the brand, the two also identified a decline in luxury that they wanted to repair.
“Luxury was being overused. You could buy luxury watch for five dollars, rent a luxury condominium for 200 dollars. You can even go to the supermarket and buy luxury soap for one dollar. Luxury doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
He goes on to describe the scenario of burly bodyguards sitting intimidatingly at the doors of luxury stores, watching you as if you’re going to do something wrong. At some stage, luxury has become a “very ostentatious and very intimidating” experience, says Marc.
What is Maison Francis Kurkdjian vision for luxury then?
“One day, Francis showed me a party of a very beautiful movie—Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn. They go into Tiffany’s and for five dollar she wanted to buy something. This is a store where you can buy a diamond necklace for 10 million dollars, but she still manages to get something, like a small engraving on her ring, for five dollars.”
For Marc and Francis, the vision is for the maison to be true to the perfumer’s craft and creativity, to build the business aspect of the brand around the creativity and to attract and invite those who share the same passion and taste.
“I never think who is my targeted audience. What I think is ‘what is it that I want to say? What is it that I want to express?’ And what I want to express is a total freedom of creativity for Francis, who to me is genius perfumer, and a total form of non-ambiguous luxury. I think our customers are people who are tired of mass market perfumes, who want to experience quality, who want to experience creativity and who are attracted to the talent of the perfumer, as opposed to the talent of marketing.”
Besides this creativity comes first and marketing second policy, customer experience, says Marc, is also at the heart of the brand--which explains why the maison keeps a considerably low or fashionably quiet profile with limited, though not invisible, online presence.
“I think when you come to our store, you can spend five minutes or you can spend one hour if you have time and want to learn about every scent, the inspiration behind them, where the idea came to Francis, why that name, what are the ingredients and the origins of the ingredients.”
The work dynamic between the two founders seems to be one of trust and integrity towards the art. Marc explains that Francis freely comes up with the ideas, names and scents while Marc helps with testing the scent and giving him feedback that he is free to take or not. “It happens that he listens to me,” say Marc with a smile.
Once Francis settles on the scent, it’s then Marc’s turn to develop the strategy of marketing—under Francis’ influence—and in the middle they meet to design the packaging together.
As the brand is now working on its 2020 line (the maison has already wrapped 2019), as well as a coffee table book to celebrate Francis’ 25th year as a perfumer in 2019 and a few other projects, when asked about what the maison’s long term goals are, Marc says,
“I like, in the very humble way, to see ourselves as trendsetters...and I like to be number one.”
Find Maison Francis Kurkdjian at the Atelier De Prestige in The EmQuartier and at Siam Paragon. franciskurkdjian.com