Francis Kurkdjian has a half-dozen of us squeezed into his tiny, sparely chic Maison Francis Kurkdjian Parisian boutique on the rue d’Alger.Today, he is presenting his brand-new scent. An oud. Now, he knows that we know that oud isn't a trend so much as a geyser. So why has he, an independent with his very own perfume house, chosen to work on it?
He was asked to, plain and simple, he finally admits -- even an independent perfume house has got its financial backers, and the Middle-East is still the market to court. The tricky bit for Francis K. wasn't so much that he was asked to work on a specific product, since that's what perfumers do throughout their career. It's that he never uses a raw material to spark off his inspiration: he starts off with a story or a person. So that his Oud had to be reverse-engineered into a story – visions of Lawrence of Arabia; of a “gold and marble palace” in the dunes; of pyramids in sandstorms. As a nod to the the fact that he was deliberately indulging in a Oriental fantasy, he gave his perfume-in-progress the tongue in cheek working title “Hollywoud”.
He finally opted for just plain “Oud”, he explains, because he wanted to claim oud both as part of the perfumer’s palette – he calls it “the ambergris of the 21st century” – and as a genre, just as Guerlain or Carven claimed vetiver in the 1950s. Which meant extracting oud from the French-Arabian family designed to court the Middle-Eastern market – since he’d already done rose-patchouli in the his-and-hers Lumière Noire, the classic oud-rose accord wasn’t an option anyway. Taming it. Reinventing it in his own idiom. Teaching it to speak French.
As a result, Kurkdjian admits his Oud isn’t quite hairy-chested enough to appeal to the Middle-East though, unlike most Western fragrances built around the theme, it does contains the real stuff. He says he wanted to treat it in watercolour tones, so he’s shorn it of the smelly-shoe, badly cured goatskin rug facets oud can sometimes give off. His palace-in-the-dunes vision suggested golden, silky textures, which he achieved by stretching out his oud on a wooden frame. The “strawberry jam and warm wood jam” effects of Atlas cedar wood act horizontally, while patchouli forms the vertical axis. The zesty, peppery elemi resin adds shimmer to the top notes – the vibrancy of minute sand grains blowing in the wind. The spicy shimmer is picked up by saffron, which bolsters the leathery facet of oud with its own. A drop of vanilla adds comfort and blends with oud’s naturally honeyed tinge, reminiscent of civet…
Maison Francis Kurddjian Oud achieves what its author intended, with leathery, animalic nuances that bring out the more elegant facets of its core material – more of a desert wind blowing into a fine-spun veil than hardcore olfactory exotica, and considerably tamer than the after-hours Absolue pour le Soir. In fact, this may well be an oud for the oud-averse, or for people with a yen for delicate, oriental leather scents.