Francis Kurkdjian’s Postcard from Beirut
At 25 Francis Kurkdjian created his first perfume, Le Mâle, for Jean Paul Gaultier . Since then he has developed a string of fragrances for the likes of Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Lanvin and Dior. Launching his own fragrance house in 2009, Kurkdjian is known for producing bestsellers as well as bespoke fragrances, whose devoted fan base includes Catherine Deneuve. Recently back from Beirut, the olfactory wizard shares his impressions of the Levantine capital with D’NA.
When was your first trip to Beirut?
I was introduced to Beirut during my first visit to Lebanon in 2001. My good friend Marc Chaya, who is the co-founder and CEO of my perfume house, Maison Francis Kurkdjian , was born in Beirut where he lived until he was 16. Despite moving to France with his family, they maintained an apartment and would spend half of the year there.
That very first trip was an amazing experience. It was during Easter when the weather is mild and we visited Beirut as well as the historical sites of Byblos and Baalbek. We also traveled into the mountains and visited the Beiteddine Palace in the Chouf.
Is there a favorite place you return too in the city?
What struck me about Beirut is that you feel the imprint of history everywhere you go. It’s very much a city that’s been shaped by a successions of cultures and civilizations. The Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and the French all left their mark on Lebanon.
I was amazed by the artifacts on display at the Museum of Archeology. Although it’s a small museum, it’s beautifully proportioned and it was moving to hear about the building’s history, especially during the civil war of the late 70’s. Miraculously they managed to preserve all these exquisite artifacts. To me it’s a national treasure and carries the collective memory of Lebanon.
Where is a good place to experience Lebanese cuisine?
My restaurant of choice is Karam. It’s located right behind the new Le Gray Hotel on the main square. The interiors are elegant and its Lebanese dishes are superb.
When you think of the Orient which scents come to mind?
The Mediterranean region provides the perfume industry with its raw materials. The Orient is vast and it covers many different cultures. Is it the Orient of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, or the one of Elie Saab’s Le Parfum. Is it the depth of Shalimar by Guerlain, or my own version called APOM pour femme (which stands for A Piece of Me).
I’ve also been researching the resin from Agarwood known as oud, which is used in Oriental perfumes. But good quality oud is becoming harder to find. The secret to a great perfume isn’t only the raw materials, but how you combine them together to create an emotion. It’s the same feeling one gets when looking at a painting or listening to an opera.
What are you currently working on?
For the last couple of months I have been working closely with a fan maker to create two scented fans. They will be on display as part of a major exhibition at London’s Fan Museum this September. The first fan is made from scented strips, while the second is crafted from leather and carries the scent of my perfume, Lumière Noire.
I’ve always collaborated with different artists and craftsmen, such as the pastry chef Christophe Michalak; with whom I created a dessert for the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris.
Recently for my 10th anniversary I created a limited edition fragrance that includes hints of Egyptian jasmine, creamy Damascus Rose and Yemeni frankincense, housed in a crystal flacon by Saint-Louis. We produced a smaller version of the flacon that comes in a velvet pouch embroider by the house of Lesage. The idea came about after I met Francois Lesage through my friend, the designer Alexandre Vauthier.
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