At Maison Francis Kurkdjian With The Master Perfumer Himself

At Maison Francis Kurkdjian With The Master Perfumer Himself

 

When I attended the Bal Magique du Maroc for the Woman’s Board of The Alliance Française de Chicago back in 2012, I had no idea that three years later I’d be chatting with award-winning perfumer Francis Kurkdjian at his Fragrance Maison in the Marais arrondissement in Paris. Not only was he in attendance at the ball, but he created an orange-filled tile fountain that permeated the dance floor with an exotic scent created especially for the fête. Such installations are part of what makes Kurkdjian such an olfactive genius. In fact, he was honored with the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 2008.

Perhaps even more familiar to the average consumer, however, would be Kurkdjian’s scented imprint on the mainstream fragrance world: Starting at the tender age of 25, the perfumer was responsible for formulating such iconic scents as Le Male for Jean-Paul Gaultier, My Burberry and Narciso Rodriguez For Her, among others.

In 2001, he also made a name for himself by becoming the first perfumer to open a bespoke custom fragrance workshop. Eight years later, he founded his eponymous House of Perfume, where this interview took place. I sat next to the Versace-clad Frenchman, among all of his ambrosial creations, thankful that I opted to spritz on a little perfume before I left the door that morning.

Photo courtesy of N. Baetens.

 

Just two years out of college you developed Le Male, one of the world’s most popular fragrances, with 40-plus to follow. Is it safe to say that you’re a natural perfumer? “No, it’s not natural. I always try to push my boundaries of the craft, but there is no secret. At the end of the day, you have to pretend it’s easy because no one wants to feel pain, to see pain. I’m not saying it’s painful to make a fragrance, but it’s all about work.”

What is your creation process like, and what steps do you take for each individual project? “Creating perfume is like writing a book. It’s storytelling. Whether I work for another brand, my brand, or on an installation, what is important is what you have to say and if there is a different way in which you want to say it. So, then when you have the story, making the fragrance is easy.”

“In a way, the inspiration for the story is the most difficult part, as it’s the most intangible part of the process. Otherwise it’s just technique, and technique is work. At some point, everyone can have a good technique, and that’s the difference between the artisan and the artist. You have to be above the technique. You have to master it in such a way that you forget the technique. The technique and the work of the perfumery is the base, and if you don’t have that in mind or if you don’t know how to handle [the technique] then you’ll go nowhere.”

 

Photo courtesy of N. Baetens.

 

Where do you seek your inspiration? What inspires you? “I would say the world we live in inspires me because we live in the 21st century, which is very important. I don’t like to be nostalgic. I don’t like to be historical about things from the past—even though you have to learn history to be able to understand today, as well as the future, because history is a cyclical process.”

“The idea of building the olfactif wardrobe became perfect in my mind because I felt the way women were wearing fragrance was not adapted to the modern woman. In my mind, modernity for a woman is about the diversity of each woman and being who they really want to be. I couldn’t see myself just thinking about a woman wearing one type of perfume forever. After all, you change your haircolor, makeup and wardrobe, so why not your perfume? In the past, people would have a different fragrance for different activities throughout the day. This is why you need to know the history, because you must think how it can be managed and twisted to our contemporary lives.”

It’s been said that we naturally gravitate toward essential oils that our body or psyche needs at the moment. Would you say that’s the same idea when it comes to choosing a perfume made with essential oils? “No, I think it goes beyond that because a good perfume is when you forget the ingredients. When you hear music, you don’t go to the notes. I play the piano, so I learned all about music for years. But when I listen to music, it’s not about the notes anymore—it’s about the melody. Perfume works exactly the same way.”

“Even though [perfume] can be somewhat straightforward, like my À la rose for example. Of course, you would expect it to have roses, but it’s put together in such in a way that you don’t smell the rose you were expecting. The ingredients have to disappear behind the emotion. This is when you reach the level of an artistic feeling. You forget the music, you forget the notes.” 

Photo courtesy of N. Baetens.

When was the moment that you decided you wanted to branch off on your own? “It took me 10 years to go forward. The first step was when I opened my bespoke fragrances atelier in 2001. The Maison opened in 2009, so it took several years. You have to find the right partner, and have the right people around you. (Editor’s note: Kurkdjian’s business partner is Marc Chaya, a former partner at Ernst & Young.) It’s a question of timing, in my mind. And you can’t rush—it’s never a good idea to rush. I like speed a lot, but sometimes you have to wait a little bit. It’s worth it.”

 

I know that you are involved in a lot of collaborations. How did you get involved in the installation on the Champs-Élysées in connection with your À la rose fragrance? “I created the perfume À la rose in 2014/2015 for the U.S. and Europe, and a year before in Japan, where it was awarded Best Fragrance at the 2015 Japan Fragrance Foundation awards. I was inspired by a painting called Marie-Antoinette dit à la Rose (Marie-Antoinette with the Rose), which you can see on display at the Champs-Elysées entrance of the Vigée Le Brun exhibition.”

“The portrait is of Antoinette holding a rose in her hand—the same type of rose that I use today in my perfumes. The story behind the painting is fascinating: The original was a scandal because Antoinette was not painted as a queen, but as a bourjois, nonchalant woman. This was done because she wanted to gain popularity with the people of France at the time, but they wound up being shocked instead.”

“So, they had to redo a second portrait in the same pose dressed in her proper attire, etc. I thought the subject behind the painting was very modern, and it showed me that if a subject was modern, the idea of playing around with the name rose—which seems a little bit old fashioned—was relevant at the time. Once the museum heard that my fragrance was inspired by that painting, they asked me to create an installation for the opening of the exhibit.”

 

Speaking of Marie-Antoinette, can you briefly explain what went into re-creating her original perfume? Who was the initial perfumer?“The name of the original perfumer at the time was Jean-Louis Fargeon. He was from a family of perfumers; his father was the producer for Louis XV. We found the original formulas in the archives from the castle at the National Library of France. With that, we were capable of recreating, recompounding one of the original formulas.”

I was curious to know a little bit more about the room deodorizing papers that you created. “It’s an old idea from the 19th century that was very popular. Before paper it was ribbon. It was called Ribbon des Bruges from Belgium—fabric was less expensive than paper at the time. My papers are more modern due to the packaging and the scent, which incorporates some of the fragrances in the House.”

What are you currently working on? “We are preparing a huge collaboration with Baccarat for early next year. Something rather huge is coming up at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in early February. We are also scent-designing a couple of hotels around the world—Cannes, the Caribbean…”

How long does scent development take? “I could write down a formula and create a fragrance in 20-minutes. Time doesn’t mean anything to me anymore because I’ve been formulating for 20 years. When I first started, it may have taken me eight months. People love timing things—numbers are important to people because it’s tangible. But creation is totally invisible.”

Photo courtesy of N. Baetens.

WTB Signature Questions:

What do you always have in your carry-on when you travel? “I always have a cashmere blanket, laptop, passport, maybe my two cellphones and a charger, keys to come home, and one of my scented leather cards, which scents my personally designed leather bag. We’re launching fragrance-enhanced leather accessories. It’s a technique that was used 800 years ago to scent the leather, but I modernized it by making a wallet, coin purses and things like that. The scent lasts two-to-three years.”

What is one of your favorite travel destinations, and what is on your bucket list? “Anywhere can be super-exciting. It just depends on what you do and who you are with. A journey can be boring if you are bored yourself. It’s more a question of your energy. I’ve seen many wonderful things, I’m very blessed, but what is on my list? As far as the United States isconcerned, I would love to see Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. Otherwise, I think it would be more like a journey in time. To go forward 100 years to see what we do with all the mess we are living with now, to see what all this is going to come to. To see how perfume would be. That would be amazing.”

In Paris With Julien Pruvost Of Cire Trudon

In Paris With Julien Pruvost Of Cire Trudon

If you’ve ever visited the Palace of Versailles, then you’re well aware of its magnitude in both size and stature. Even if you haven’t, the numbers speak for themselves: Imagine 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 chimneys, 67 staircases, and a capacity for 20,000 people. As long as we’re talking stats, equally astonishing is the 3,000-plus candles that illuminated the palace—out of necessity, not a craving for ambiance.

But indispensability is what ultimately laid the groundwork for the Trudon family legacy. In 1643, Claude Trudon opened a boutique on rue Saint-Honoré that specialized in candles, among other provisions. It wasn’t long before the court of Louis XV and the kingdom’s most commanding parishes were demanding the pristine white beeswax candles. In 1737, Claude Trudon’s descendant, Jérôme Trudon, purchased the Manufacture Royale des Cires (a.k.a. Royal Wax Manufacturer) in Antony, France from Péan Seigneur Saint-Gilles, expanding the firm’s capabilities.

To learn more about the rich history of this fascinating luxury candle company, I strolled over to the Cire Trudon offices at Place des Victoires to meet with Julien Pruvost, executive director for the brand. Among other things, we discussed how the Trudon family formula wound up in the French encyclopedia (encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers), his favorite Trudon company legend and how the brand survived into the modern-day world.

With a view of the Basilica of Notre-Dame des Victoires from the office window and the intoxicating aroma of Trudon candles in the air, it wasn’t hard to imagine a time when all the world was bathed in the incandescent glow of candle light.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

In your own words, describe the history of Cire Trudon. “The history of Cire Trudon is short. The brand [as you know it now] was born in 2005. We cannot speak of a notion of brand survival, nor of survival here. The point is about transmitting, protecting and developing know-how. Cire Trudon condenses all of this into one entity. Cire Trudon tells the true story of over 350 years of candle and wax knowledge. Through its art, Cire Trudon tells the story of a people, a country, while speaking to the modern world.”

“I think that the main focal point is that we’re speaking to the former Royal Wax Manufacturer. When the Trudon family purchased the company from the former manufacturer, it had only recently become a thriving business that catered to the royals. They also improved the quality of the product to the point that a whole section of the French encyclopedia on arts, sciences and crafts is based on Trudon know-how. The engineer who was in charge of that section went to the Royal Wax Manufacturer and wrote down everything you would ever need to know about candle manufacturing—you could literally relaunch a candle produced in the way that it was done in the 18th century.”

What has enabled the brand to survive—and thrive—for so many years? “We don’t really consider ourselves ‘survivors;’ rather, we consider ourselves carriers of  the heritage. We were able to reinvent ourselves. In a way, the Trudon family reinvented themselves when they improved the manufacturing from the previous [Royal Wax Manufacturer] owner. They were able to adapt the business to a time when gas and electricity were making their appearance. As for today, we’re not here to light a home—but we are in the decorative realm still producing candles, so that’s the important point.”

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Since the candles were originally a home necessity versus a decorative item, when was the fragrance introduced? “I found a late record of a lavender and citronella candle produced by the Trudon company—but later, in the early 19th century. We know for a fact that Paris was not the cleanest place on earth back then, and malaria was around, so you needed all sorts of propellants. Citronella candles—which we still use today—were used to keep the inside air purified. The homes were not that clean, so we assume that lavender candles were mainly around to purify—not scent—the room. It was a modern invention.”

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

When a company has been around for so long, there are generally a few great stories from its past—what is one of your favorite Cire Trudon legends? “My favorite legend is about the tunnel that might have existed between the Louvre and the Trudon store that used to be right behind the Louvre castle on Rue de l’Arbre Sec. Since Paris had an amazing tunnel grid beneath its surface that was exploited all through the Second World War, essentially for commercial purposes, it was very plausible that a tunnel existed between the Louvre and the Trudon store. The tunnel grid goes back to the Roman period when rocks were carved out of the Paris rock-bed. The grid served many purposes over the centuries, from simple rock source to catacombs to bomb shelters, etc. So legend has it that there was a horse carriage that brought the goods back and forth.”

What makes a Cire Trudon candle so special? “A candle is meant to melt. If the surface of your candle isn’t completely molten, then the scent won’t be released. It’s also important for the candle to overburn. You need to adapt the wick to the the fragrance. Some will encourage the burn, while others with larger fragrance molecules inhibit it. Each of our 100% cotton wicks is specifically calibrated for each scent. Other features include: Non-drip, don’t omit smoke, complex and highly sophisticated fragrance compositions, and unique natural beeswax formula.”

  

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

How do you go about creating the scents? “We have an in-house team that comes up with the types of notes we would like to associate with each theme. For example, from a historical theme like Josephine. We looked at a certain part of her life when she lived in the Château de Malmaison after divorcing Napoleon. She loved tending to her rose garden and was fascinated by birds and plants, so it was very easy to work with that in terms of developing notes. Next, we bring the idea/concept to one of our perfumers.”

How long does it take to develop a scent? “We were never able to develop anything in under six months. However, when a scent comes out of the lab, it will not smell the same weeks down the line. The more you let it settle, the closer it will be to what the end result is. You cannot rush this process. It needs to mature because we try to work with the maximum amount of natural ingredients. They’re rounder, deeper and more interesting—these types of raw materials need to mature.”

What are the essential oils/fragrances you use? “They come from around the world, including France, and are transformed in Grasse, France.”

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Tell me about a few of your favorite offerings, past and present. “I personally use these days Bartolomé, Madeleine and Positano. I also use a lot the Cire Trudon travel room sprays—especially in my car or when I am travelling extensively. Watching our wax busts being made is also fascinating. We have a partnership with the French National Museum Council to have the exclusive rights to reproduce in wax certain references in their catalogue.”

How did you get involved in this business and what do you love about it? “I joined the company as head of private label in 2009. I slowly got involved in the manufacturing part of the business, and that’s when I really fell in love with the company. For me, it’s very grounding to know that there’s a place where I can go and see the products that we’re offering while working on ways to constantly improve them. I also love the fact that we are selling an ancient product into our modern, high-speed world.”

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Photo courtesy of Cire Trudon.

Why do you think France has had so much success in creating luxury products over the years? “During the mid-17th century under Louis XIV, France made the market luxurious. Everything came from France and everyone wanted things from France, whether it was perfume, furniture, clothing—even architects, gardeners and scientists. Everything had been promoted so intensively under Louis XIV that there were thriving companies in France making all sorts of things. In a way, France is still living up to that, though it obviously had to adapt.”

WTB Signature Questions: 

What do you always have in your carry-on bag? “For the last year and a half I have been carrying around fragrance samples with me. I try to smell a single fragrance in a variety of environments and situations. The home and/or the office are not always the best places to evaluate a fragrance because you’re used to their scent/environment.”

What is one of your favorite travel destinations and what is a destination on your bucket list?

Favorite destination: Lanzarote Island “It’s part of the Canary Islands. One, there is fantastic surfing over there and two, it’s a very wild and untapped place. Even so, the mayor of the main town is a man called César Manrique; he is also an artist, so he built a variety of structures on the island that are simply amazing. They’re built in lava tunnels or fields, so there’s a combination of this really rough landscape and modernist architecture. It’s like nothing that I’ve seen elsewhere.”

Bucket list destination: The Roden Crater (Arizona) by James Turrell “James Turrell is an American land artist who bought a crater in Arizona and turned it into an experimental art piece that you can actually penetrate and walk around. It relates to the sky and the stars, and it’s a real experience, from what I heard.”

19 Hotel Openings To Watch In 2019

19 Hotel Openings To Watch In 2019

I recently became a contributor for TripExpert, a really cool resource for getting unbiased reviews from experts. I’ll be contributing pieces on Paris (and France in general), as well as other wonderful destinations around the globe. Here’s an excerpt from my piece on hotel openings to watch in 2019.  

Checking into a newly-opened hotel is a lot like moving into a new home. The paint is fresh, the sheets are crisp, the bed still has a bounce, you can see your face in the pristine tiled bathroom, and the space has a true fresh aroma. But unlike one’s residence, there’s an attentive staff to take your luggage,  prepare top-notch cuisine, and book those practically unattainable theater tickets. It is for these reasons — and more — that staying in a hotel is always a memorable experience. While you may have your favorites, here are some up-and-comers opening their doors in 2019. Get ready to pack your bags. Read the entire story on TripExpert

Leap Of Faith: Moving Abroad To Paris, France

Leap Of Faith: Moving Abroad To Paris, France

How It All Began 

The travel bug bit me at a very young age — not because I was a child jet-setter, rather, my dad would occasionally hang a large white sheet against the wall so he could project his slides (yes, slides) from his days living abroad in the sixties. But it wasn’t just his photographs that drew me in, it was his stories. I didn’t even fully understand what pâté was, yet I could taste it,thanks to his vivid description. From the the sound of the olive trees rustling in the wind to the road trips across Europe in his ‘62 Renault to the copious occasions where he was able to share a meal with a local-turned-friend, I officially had wanderlust. Forget Disney World. I want to see the Acropolis, dip bread into a pot of Swiss fondue, and gaze up at the Eiffel Tower like Madeline.  

The Big Move 

Flash forward several years later, a little over a year until my 40th birthday. A life change prompted me to offload unnecessary material possessions and spend some time in Paris. Why the City of Light? The answer is quite simple: I’m enamoured by it. The memories I’ve made over the past several years traveling there have become a part of my soul  —  and thanks to my career as a freelance journalist, this adventure was feasible.

First Impressions 

In terms of living quarters, I settled into a small — actually tiny — studio in the Le Marais. For the cost, a larger pad could have been an option had I decided to venture out into other arrondissements, but being in an area that was comfortable to me was far more important than space. By making a life change, my priorities changed as well. As long as I could stroll around the corner to Place des Vosges to work, take a lunch break on the Seine with a three Euro baguette sandwich, and head to the open air market for my groceries, life was good.

As Good As It Gets 

Even though I don’t speak the language (yet), I was surprised with how comfortable I felt. Actually, not just comfortable, downright giddy. It was the awakening that I was finally exactly where I should be after struggling to identify with that for many years. It wasn’t too long after being overseas that I met a fantastic French gentleman who is now my boyfriend. It’s been an exciting journey so far and our cultural differences have helped us form a strong bond — and make us laugh on occasion, too. 

Forget About Those Stereotypes

What was supposed to be a brief hiatus in Paris turned into yet another complete lifestyle change. Of course, when I first told friends and family about this newfound relationship, I was plagued stereotypical questions like “Is he married?” “Is he a lot older than you?” Response: NO. I’m the only American in his social circle, but I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I want to touch more upon how we as Americans perceive the French and vice versa in future posts, but I can tell you that I’ve had several wine-infused conversations with them about this and not to worry —  they don’t think we’re awful because of our president.

Reality Check 

While this may sound like a perfect fairytale, there are also some harsh realities to living abroad. For example, being away from family, the visa process (a post in itself), identifying true friendships, and mastering the language so you convert from tourist to local. Not to mention, maintaining a US-based job from abroad if you aren’t on a work visa — though I CAN say being here finally gave me the clarity I needed to continue my business venture. Of course, there’s always the fact that you have to  accept that you’ll likely always be the loudest person in the room. At a French fete or dinner party, I sometimes feel like a hybrid of Zelda Fitzgerald and the Unsinkable Molly Brown — but I’m okay with that.

Look for future posts about my life in France. Is there something particular you’d like to know? Email me at Rebecca@welltraveledbeauty.com.

Experiencing Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam: One Of Istanbul’s Oldest Bath Houses

Experiencing Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam: One Of Istanbul’s Oldest Bath Houses

If you’ve ever been to a fancy hotel or destination spa, then you’ve probably experienced some sort of treatment incorporating traditions and ingredients from a faraway land. Whether it was a Thai massage, Chinese acupressure, or an Indian Shirodhara ritual, it probably wasn’t too hard to feel temporarily transported to another destination—even if just for an hour. While I’ll never stop my endless quest for finding the most authentic and results-driven global services that delight the senses as well as the mind, I was almost about to call off the dogs after my recent experience at an authentic Turkish hammam (a.k.a. hamam) in Istanbul.

Dating back to 1556, the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam (located between the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque) is one of Istanbul’s most stunning representations of the time-honored Turkish bath culture. The historical structure was designed and built by Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect, upon the requisition of Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana), the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century (1556-1557 AD). Its location is particularly significant, as it was erected where the ancient public baths of Zeuxippus (100-200 AD) used to stand, which also happens to be where the Temple of Zeus once stood.

The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam was built in the classical period Ottoman bath style, yet it was an innovation in Turkish bath architecture because it was designed to have the sections for men and women constructed on the same axis as mirror images of each other. My journey began on a beautiful fall evening in Istanbul—which was much needed considering I had just completed a two train, plane and cab journey from Lake Como, Italy, starting at the ripe hour of 4:30 a.m.

There are a variety of individual services and packages to choose from, but having never experienced a hammam, I went for one of the more robust options, which only set me back about $100 for 90-minutes of bliss. Despite being there in off-season, note that you still have to make advanced reservations—though I only made mine the day before and was granted my preferred time slot.

From the moment I walked into the hammam, I knew I was in for something special. My first impressions were: It was as clean as a whistle, the architecture was even more drop-dead gorgeous in person than on the photos I saw online, it smelled like an exotic Garden of Eden, and the traditional Turkish music that was playing softly in the background was the perfect catalyst for transporting visitors into another time and place—including yours truly.

I was escorted to a small changing area where I was given disposable panties and a very small towel (the traditional bath wrap called a pestamal) to cover myself with—let’s just say that it didn’t quite cover everything. I was then taken to the main room of the bath house where all the magic happens. My therapist instructed me to drop my towel, which was a new experience for an American who has worked in spas where proper draping was non-negotiable. I quickly scanned the room and noticed that women of all shapes and sizes were sporting their birthday suits without any inhibitions, so I let that terrycloth hit the floor and got ready to hammam like a pro.

 

 

The therapist left me on a heated marble step near a gold faucet/marble basin, where I was instructed to ladle warm water over my hair and body with the use of a beautiful, gold-plated ottoman bath bowl. Next, we moved to the nucleus of the room—a heated, octagonal slab of marble—where I laid on my back while my therapist gave me a traditional body scrub and relaxing bubble wash scented with essential oil of Melissa, which smells very similar to lemongrass. After I turned over and the process was repeated, I moved to yet another “station” where my hair was washed and conditioned with Judas tree essential oil-infused products.

The next step left my skin as smooth as silk for days—even after showering a few times. My therapist slipped a traditional olive oil bar of soap (again, scented with Melissa E.O.) into a dampened bath glove and vigorously rubbed every extremity of my body in an effort to give my skin a thorough exfoliation. Next, I was rinsed and wrapped in a large towel and escorted to the main relaxation area, where I was served water, Turkish Delight and a local beverage called Ottoman sharbat, a cold beverage made from fruits, spices and flower petals.

After a few moments of of becoming entranced by the hypnotic music in my relaxed state, I was escorted up three flights of stairs to a private room for a Judas tree essential oil aromatherapy massage. The top floor rooms aren’t covered, so I was able to take in the glow of the dreamy blue light that filled the beautiful domed ceiling of the hammam itself.

 

My hammam tips and takeaways:

  • Get over being body conscious. Trust me when I say nobody is looking at you, and an experience like this is more about wellness than vanity. Refreshing, right?
  • Take the time to really soak in your surroundings. Chills ran down my spine when I  thought of how many people enjoyed this amazing ritual in the exact same spot over the past 400-plus years.
  • Go for one of the larger packages of services. You can receive a full hammam experience in less than it costs for one service at a traditional spa or resort; it’s completely worth it!
  • You’re going to love how you feel and smell when you leave, so take note of how silky smooth your hair and skin feels afterwards. As mentioned earlier, I still felt the results even after taking several showers. What won’t last, however, is the delectable aroma of essential oils that envelops your hair and skin from top-to-bottom.
  • Each guest receives their own “hammam kit,” which includes everything you need for your entire journey, so it’s extremely sanitary. You even get to take home body lotion, olive oil soap, your bath mitt and sandals. A perfect souvenir until you can make it back to paradise.