We are standing in Francis Kurkdjian’s lovely, tiny Parisian boutique on the rue d’Alger; a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is running in the background. He reaches for a glass of champagne: he’s kicking off his second presentation for the Amyris duo, and no wonder he’s thirsty. The wiry, combustible FK is not only outspoken, but easily sidetracked and given to the occasional outburst, which makes him a “good client”, as French journalists say. Thus, when I mention something I hear constantly in big composition houses – perfumers can’t do what they want, clients don’t know what they want – FK bristles. Clients are like kids lost in a labyrinth, he explains: you’ve got to put your foot down. What if perfumers refused to let themselves get pushed around? By breaking off to found his own perfume house, FK has walked his talk, though he still works for brands (his Elie Saab Le Parfum nabbed all the awards for a feminine fragrance at the French Fifis).
If Kurkdjian already got his own way when he was working for supplier houses, it might partly explain why some of the MaisonFrancis Kurkdjian scents feel like the revisiting of some his signature accords with richer materials. And it makes sense to think that he’d want to re-appropriate his work, put his name to it, and order it around a simple, overarching, concept: a fragrance wardrobe, with scents for every moment of the day, complemented by home fragrances. Hence Amyris Femme and Amyris Homme, the third his’n’hers duo in his collection, conceived as chic but easy daywear fragrances requiring less of a commitment than the APOM and Lumière Noire sets. Something you can feel good in immediately, and wear every day of the week, says FK.
The initial idea came to him while revisiting his raw materials collection with a trainee, he explains. He’d forgotten amyris, also known as West Indies rosewood or sandalwood. The word itself, which comes from the Greek amyron, “intensely fragrant”, seduced him. It also suggested the other main note, iris (which also makes etymological sense since myristic acid, an important compound of orris butter, springs from the same Greek root as amyris).
FK hadn’t explored iris since Acqua di Parma’s Iris Nobile in 2004: in fact, it’s a note he’s not nuts about. He calls it “morbid” and “unlikeable”, like a very beautiful but dull woman, even if it doesn’t upset it as much as his three nemeses, lily, geranium and sage. “But if you only worked on stuff you liked you’d be bored to death”. The challenge, he says, was to add something to iris that would “make it get off its ass”. He wanted his Amyris Femme to be like a perky young Parisian woman, using the lovely adjective primesautière to describe her – this would translate as “impulsive, spontaneous”, but in French you also hear saut, “leap” which inspires the image of a big-eyed, bounding gazelle, which brings us back to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly…
The iris he sourced for Amyris Femme after making the rounds of suppliers is well aged, he explains, which means it’s lost the carroty-rooty facets. To tickle it into a smile, he added a lemon blossom accord along with powdery musk and sparkling citrus notes. If you judge a fragrance by what its author has set out to achieve, Amyris Femme ticks the right boxes: impeccably cut out of stealth-chic materials, with a Chanel-like – and therefore very Parisian – sense of understatement and dégagé charm.
This is what mainstream ought to be like if better budgets were given for materials. And indeed, though it is “niche” by its distribution and price points, Maison Francis Kurkdjian might be thought of as an alternative-universe version of mainstream where perfumers were still at the helm of their houses. In fact, its underlying concept of a fragrance wardrobe, and the textural quality of the perfumes themselves, suggest a virtual fashion line – from the fresh white cotton of Aqua Universalis to the wine-red rose petal velvet of Lumière Noire, all the way down to the sexy leather of Absolue pour le Soir…
P.S. Since Amyris Homme features what I’ve dubbed “spiky woods”, a family of powerful ambery-woody molecules I am hyperosmic to like many women, it is impossible for me to form an opinion of it: if you’ve tried it, please weigh in!
Illustration: Françoise Dorléac in François Truffaut's La Peau Douce (because Audrey Hepburn would've been too obvious).