Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumière Noire, 2009

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Maison Francis Kurkdjian provides a number of entry points to the brand. It offers traditional products (perfume, papier d’Armenie, candles, body creams) and less expected ones (fabric softener, soap bubbles.) There is a deliberateness to much of the line that challenges the trend-chasing and slot-filling approach of many brands. His vision of a contemporary sensibility derives from an understanding of traditional methods and principles. The design of the brand is like Kurkdjian’s perfumes themselves: modern and classical, composed yet stylish, lavish but concise.

Kurkdjian has mentioned Guerlain as a model for his house but the line’s day-to-evening approach brings Hermès to mind. Hermès offers a fashionable cocoon from an unstylish world. My level skepticism of ‘lifestyle’ branding is stratospheric, but I’m persuaded by MFK.

MFK offers the daydream of a pleasantly scented life but manages to avoid Hermès’s pose of bored affluence. Laundry soap alludes to soap operas and the fiction of the bored housewife. Scented bubbles suggest designer-dressed children and an infusion of finery into the most remote corners of one’s life. The perfumes, though, hint at something more. Most perfume marketing matches a fantasy of inventiveness and distinction to tame, predictable perfumes, but MFK does the reverse. MFK’s subtle subversiveness is in the perfume, not the image. Absolue pour le Soir and Cologne pour le Soir are wolves in sheep’s marketing. The Amyrises satirize mainstream designer perfumes by creating idealized versions of them. The Lumières Noires poke at our nostalgia for the good-old days of the chypre. I might be able to resist the Maison’s sensibility but I fall for the perfumes.

Rose and patchouli aren’t an unexpected combination by any means and their pairing is a motif Kurkdjian has explored over the years, both in his own line and in commission work such as Rose Barbare for Guerlain and Lady Vengeance for Juliette Has a Gun. Coaxing something new out of well-worn materials is one of Kurkdjian’s strengths and Lumière Noire pour Femme demonstrates his knack for reshaping traditional forms and classical techniques to find a novel idea. He shifts the picture and rearranges olfactory clues. Pairing the refined floral and earthy patchouli is a well-understood method for adding richness to perfumes. Kurkdjian recreates the tone in an unexpected way with a clean patchouli and a dirty flower: narcissus. The dynamics are recognizable, but the reframing shifts the perspective and creates a new view.

Lumière Noire pour Femme highlights Kurkdjian’s ability to make perfumes that balance composure and abandon. Grain de Musc called Lumière Noire pour Femme a “bodice-ripper” yet it is also mink-smooth and lusciously lipsticky. It is composed at a glance but uninhibited on closer inspection. It hints at indecency but is never indelicate.

Kurkdjian’s style of subversion is highly mannered. He covers new ideas under a blanket of propriety. The precision of Lumière Noire pour Femme’s composition leaves no seems showing and reveals Kurkdjian’s strategy for subversion. No disruption, no distortion. More a seduction.

 

(Image, Loretta Lux.)

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