Maison Francis Kurkdjian 101- Five to Get You Started

Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the elite perfumers working currently. He burst upon the perfume scene in 1995 as one of the perfumers behind Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. His career would only trend upwards from there. M. Kurkdjian has made a large number of perfumes I think rank among the very best. In 2009 he started his own line, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. From the initial seven releases to a collection which now numbers twenty-seven fragrances it is one which has always had my attention. I have realized over the last couple of years that it is with this brand where I will start somebody off who is dipping their toe into the niche perfume sector. The perfumes which make up the collection carry a baseline classicism which I think is why they are such appropriate entry level choices into niche. These are the five perfumes I usually take someone through when introducing them to this brand.

One of the first seven releases Aqua Universalis lives up to its tag line of a “A scent for all things”. This is the best clean musk perfume I own. M. Kurkdjian uses a selection of citrus matched to lily of the valley as his come-on. The base has a few sheer woods along with a blend of white musks that M. Kurkdjian has become known for. In Aqua Universalis it all comes together. When I am showing this brand to someone new to niche this is the bottle that most often is purchased.

The masterpiece within the Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection is Absolue pour Le Soir. That is not where someone new to the brand should start. Instead the precursor release Cologne pour Le Soir is a great introduction to themes which will be intensified in the later release. Absolue pour Le Soir is an animalic feral beast with honey. Cologne pour Le Soir is a domesticated feline with honey. From a spicy opening into a lilting incense heart down to cedar sweetened with vanilla. In the original seven this was the one which captured my attention the most.

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Francis Kurkdjian

In 2012 the oud craze had reached its heights. Every time I saw oud in a new release I inwardly said, “Please no more”. The problem was the early oud fragrances were using oud as something to represent exoticism. 2012 would see the end of that as some of the best perfumers began to use oud in constructs which showed its versatility. The simply named Oud was one of those. M. Kurkdjian has a way of tweaking something classic and making it seem contemporary. With Oud he was able to take a note which had usually been used as a wrecking ball, transforming it in to something less pulverizing. By using saffron, cedar, and patchouli along with a Laotian oud which imparts a more delicate profile; containing interesting grace notes which M. Kurkdjian teases out. Oud will make you believe the wrecking ball has become a brilliant fragile crystal ball.

Masculin Pluriel is the best example of M. Kurkdjian’s way of re-interpreting classical styles. Here he takes the fougere and makes it his own. It starts with a single source of lavender that is herbal and green as well as floral. It is so good M. Kurkdjian keeps the rest of the development simple. Cedar, patchouli, and vetiver are the usual fougere components. The fabulous leather accord also present is not. It is that which contemporizes Masculin Pluriel.

When I tried the original 2013 release Aqua Vitae I wanted it to have more heft. Two years later M. Kurkdjian granted that desire with Aqua Vitae Forte. A fabulous mixture of spices, citrus, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vetiver. It is as easy to wear as an old pair of jeans. As I have only had a year to introduce this to people when I take them through Maison Francis Kurkdjian it seems like Aqua Vitae Forte is finding as many admirers from the novice niche users as Aqua Universalis.

These five are where I think you should start but this brand has many more advanced delights once you delve deeper. It is one of the stronger collections currently on the market.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Vitae Forte- Francis Fortissimo

There are perfumers who I enjoy them most when they compose in transparencies and whispers. There are others where the converse is true. It usually takes a particular perfume to reach out and hit me between the eyes for me to realize it. For Francis Kurkdjian that realization came when my favorite perfume of his initial Maison Francis Kurkdjian releases in 2009 was Cologne pour Le Soir. A year later he would release Absolue pour Le Soir the more feral cousin to the original. When M. Kurkdjian decides to add more to a previous construction there is no mistaking the power behind it. The newest release Aqua Vitae Forte is another example of this.

Aqua Vitae was released in 2013 as a pleasant Hedione-focused fragrance with citrus on top and the very light woodiness of Gaiac on the bottom. It was a perfume for the hot days of summer with the Hedione giving off shimmers like a heat mirage at the center. For this new version M. Kurkdjian has again put on his loud speaking voice as a composer of Aqua Vitae Forte. The follow-ups he has done within Maison Francis Kurkdjian should not be thought of as flankers because the notes he uses transforms them completely. I can detect a few bits and pieces of Aqua Vitae but Aqua Vitae Forte really stands on its own despite the similarity in name.

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Francis Kurkdjian (Photo via

The place where the two perfumes come closest to being similar is in the very early moments as both open on a tart mix of lemon and mandarin. In the original the Hedione takes over from there. In Aqua Vitae Forte M. Kurkdjian throws three spice notes into the mix. Cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cardamom intersperse themselves within the bright citrus shading the sunniness and providing contrast. A lot of times the spices overwhelm the citrus but here they stand their ground and it really makes the opening purr with energy. The Hedione remains in the heart but for Aqua Vitae Forte M. Kurkdjian uses orange blossom and ylang ylang as running mates. The florals provide the same effect as the spices did in the top notes by curtailing the expansiveness of the Hedione and keeping it more compact in its effect. This time the Hedione simmers instead of shimmers. All pretense at mimicking the original is tossed aside in the base as a rich sandalwood and a sturdy vetiver form the foundation. There is no lightness of being anymore just a two-footed stance of assuredness.

Aqua Vitae Forte has 10-12 hours longevity and above average sillage.

If Aqua Vitae was perfect for the heat of summer; Aqua Vitae Forte is going to be perfect for the upcoming chilly days of fall. This is a perfume which will go extremely well with sweaters and scarves on a crisp autumnal sojourn. When M. Kurkdjian raises his tone it usually leaves me saying Bravo Francis!

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample from Maison Francis Kurkdjian,

Mark Behnke