Friday, 1 August 2014 | MYT 8:00 AM

Maison Francis Kurkdjian: Bottling the scent of true luxury

Marc Chaya, CEO and co-founder of luxury perfumery Maison Francis Kurkdjian, talks about being committed to authenticity, celebrating creativity and the brand’s vision.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian CEO and co-founder Marc Chaya is between interviews when he invites passers-by to sample the perfumes at the new boutique in Pavilion KL, answering their questions about the scents as he does. It's their way of ensuring they know what’s happening on the ground, says Chaya. Then he goes back to talking to us about his passion for MFK and the true meaning of luxury.

Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, the Nose that breathed life into more than 40 fragrances for Lanvin, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier, had worked in the scene for decades before creating Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2009 with Chaya. The two have since then travelled internationally as messengers of a perfume house, something that hadn't been done for a hundred years. 

“More than a century ago, perfume was only supplied at perfume houses,” says Chaya, who met Kurkdjian in 2003 and then fell in love with the fragrance industry. “We are not inventing anything new. We are simply going back to the roots of perfumery which had past perfumers with eponymous brands."

“MFK is a luxury fragrance house that carries the name of one of the most celebrated perfumers of our time, in the same way the big perfumeries of the past used to. It started with Coco Chanel meeting a perfumer, Ernest Beaux, who created Chanel No. 5 as a gift (to her customers). But then it started to be sold and the whole industry changed.”

After that, fragrances were supplied to fashion design brands instead of going to perfumers. So although Kurkdjian and other Noses created the scents that lingered on millions of people all over the world, credit and recognition were rarely given. 

“For the past 80 to 100 years, it has been based on a model whereby perfumers work based on a marketing brief; they interpret the brand’s DNA and create scents for them,” Chaya says. “This will continue, but the premium segment of the industry is becoming like the fashion world which has creative minds, who instead of working for marketing, get marketing to work for them."

“Our brand story is about being genuine, craftsmanship and the beauty of essential oils. We use them in quantities that no other brands can afford. Jasmine, for example, in this industry you can claim to have jasmine but put only 0.0001%. Francis has no limit, and having no boundaries or constraint lets him unleash his creativity.”

Chaya (top) with MFK's bestsellers; Kurkdjian (bottom) with his travelling lab.

Sold in 265 premium locations worldwide – including the Grand Hyatt, Pavilion KL and Isetan KLCC in KUala Lumpur – distribution may seem limited (in relative terms), but it is “limited to the most beautiful high-end shopping” says Chaya. 

At a time when mass culture is diluting exclusivity and "affordable luxury" is a catchphrase used by many high-end brands, Chaya says people are looking for something more. “People are asking for genuineness, for authentic things. Most people, including myself, are tired of pure marketing stories, stories that are invented for the sake of selling." 

"In MFK, everything is authentic. When we say it’s made in France, it’s made in France. Lots of things claim to be handmade; in MFK they are actually handmade. It’s not a marketing ploy. It’s the DNA of the brand.”

With a philosophy that perfumers are artists who should be celebrated, and the aim of bringing perfumery back to its origin, Chaya says MFK puts a strong emphasis on the "true meaning" of luxury. “Many people think that luxury is only the price. Price is only a reflection of what goes into something," he says. 

"Ask yourself – are you paying a high price because you are dealing with something unique, that is very hard to achieve, that is very rare, very sophisticated with hundreds of hours behind it? True luxury is about the genius. It’s about prestige. This is our luxury at MFK.”

With one scent taking up to two years to complete – from conception through its period of discovery with up to 800 essential oils to its final testing – bulk isn't only undesirable for MFK, it's an impossibility. “We are everything but mass," Chaya says. "We’re luxury in the sense that luxury cannot be mass because you cannot do it on a mass scale. It’s impossible to produce our perfumes in millions of units.” 

Meanwhile, both founders have skills that crown each other – Kurkdjian is the inventor, Chaya takes care of the inventory. “We are very complementary. He’s the artist, I’m the businessman. I understand art, he understands the business. What comes out is always for the best of the company,” Chaya says.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian's Aqua Universalis, Amyris, APOM (A Part Of Me), Globe Trotter and the OUD range are among the more popular perfumes. MFK also has creams, perfumed candles, scented leather bracelets, incense paper, detergents and fabric softeners. 

> Originally published in Life Inspired, out every second and fourth Sunday of the month, and distributed exclusively with The Sunday Star to selected households.

Tags / Keywords: Marc Chaya , Maison Francis Kurkdjian , Francis Kurkdjian , luxury fragrance , luxury perfume , perfumer , made in France , Aqua Universalis , Amyris , APOM A Part Of Me , Globe Trotter , OUD , Life Inspired


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