Franšis Kurkdjian on Baccarat 540

05th February, 2016

At the end of last year, perfumer Francis Kurkdjian was in London for the UK press launch of his collaboration with Baccarat, Rouge 540.

The fragrance was originally launched in 2014, under Baccarat’s name, and is being relaunched as part of Kurkdjian’s line.

Kurkdjian says, “The project started two years ago when Baccarat asked me to create a scent that would capture the signature and spirit of the crystal house. It was their 250th anniversary, and I was honoured as a six year old company to work with them."

Un Certain ╔tÚ Ó Livadia, created for
Baccarat in 1999 by Christine Nagel
Baccarat has a long history of working with fragrance houses. They have worked with Guerlain, Caron, Lubin and many more. Kurkdjian says that “every single house dreams about having a Baccarat bottle at least once! And they have also had their own fragrances in the past in the eighties, and then in the late nineties there was a trio of scents [Les Contes d’Ailleurs] created by Christine Nagel - Once about Ancient Egypt, Russia and India.”

“I paid a visit to the factory, on the east side of France, to find out what would be the iconic values of Baccarat, what could I grab my inspiration from. Of course crystal was at the heart of my inspiration. To make crystal, you need three pieces: you have the ingredients – sand, lead; secondly, the action of the fire to melt them together; and the third, is the artisan, and the technique of the artisan, who uses airflow to create.”

Baccarat 540
The name of the fragrance is inspired by Baccarat’s signature red crystal. Kurkdjian explained that “The crystal is in the oven with pure gold powder. You take a piece of crystal and shape your object. Once it is shaped you put it down, and you re-heat it to a specific temperature – 540 degrees celsius, for 6–7 hours – and during that period it turns from clear, to a red colour. This gave me the idea of creating the scent.”

Normally when when a brand launches an anniversary fragrance, people go back to the past, I wanted this fragrance to talk about the future, and I wanted a modern fragrance
“What is interesting about the red colour,” adds Kurkjdian, “is that since 1997, each Baccarat chandelier has a little red piece of crystal hanging somewhere in the chandelier. And since then, if an older one is repaired, they add the red crystal.”

“I wanted to translate the idea of heaviness – crystal is much heavier than glass – and transparency.”

“Normally when when a brand launches an anniversary fragrance, people go back to the past, I wanted this fragrance to talk about the future, and I wanted a modern fragrance – something not too stuffy in terms of notes, something graphic, something very simple – not necessarily a short formula – but simple, in the way people smell it. When I started to think how I should start, I went back to the three elements : minerals, fire and the craftmanship and airflow.”

Kurkdjian was keen to share how he creates perfume using a method developed by perfumer Jean Carles, which is used to as the basis for many perfumery courses.

Jean Carles - is a perfumer, known for Canoe by the house of Dana, which was very popular in the forties and fifties. He trained many other perfumers at Roure Bertrand – now absorbed by Givaudan – he defined a method of creating perfume, which was taught to Jean-Louis Sieuzac, Michel Almairac, Pierre Bourdon, Dominique Ropion - who all studied at Roure.”

“First you study your notes: Aldehydes,Green, etc. The you study each family.

Each scent has a colour and a shape, so fragrance is like Lego – It’s like learning the alphabet!

To start a fragrance, start from the dry down and basically build your fragrance by blocks, then add the heart notes, and then you finish the scent with the top notes.

If you think of a castle of cards, if you shake the bottom card it falls down. You need to be sure about the base, if you change the top it doesn’t affect the bottom.”

The three accords which make up Baccarat 540
“So which note should I start with to create the scent? the heart and base define what the fragrance is about. I started with ‘the mineral’. How could I translate this into notes? It’s super subtle, I relied on the idea of ambergris — not the natural product — instead, ambroxan — a dry, woody scent, You don’t really smell it, but you can feel the vibe. Also, Evernyl – which is a synthetic oak moss – we can still use natural oak moss as we can remove the ‘unsafe’ part of the oak moss, but the synthetic moss was more closer in my mind to the mineral, like the lichen, mossy part, to create the mineral aspect of the fragrance.”

“With the Jean Carles method you have each product at the same strength. You adjust the formula ratio in small parts until you find the right balance.”

“The second accord is inspired by fire and heat, I used Fir Balsam, which is sweet burnt, candy-like... it smells like when you burn strawberry jam – and tied it up with with saffron, so it doesn’t go too much on the sweet side.”

"The know-how of the artisan is to create a shape. I needed to give a burst to the first two accords, which are very long-lasting. I needed a molecule that will lift my perfume up, molecules evaporate one after the other, the top notes are the most volatile – if you don’t have enough boost, your fragrance won’t lift as much — its like a rocketship — otherwise it stays flat. So I used a fresh Jasmine accord – in addition there is a touch of orange, with marigold, to avoid the alcohol scent.”

The idea of a story behind a fragrance is important to how Kurkdjian creates his work.

If you have nothing to say, you have nothing to create.
“With the brief from Baccarat, we never mentioned gender, the story was strong enough not to think about male, female. The hardest part of my work is to find a story, because once you have the story you have the perfume. It’s like much creative work.

After 20 years of work, and this is what I try to teach to my students. If you have nothing to say, you have nothing to create. Don’t rush to the lab. If you don’t know what to create how can you even think about mixing things together.”

Baccarat 540 is available now from LuckyScent. If you have £3,000 you can still buy the limited edition from 2014 in the Baccarat bottle from Harrods. From next week the fragrance will also be available from Liberty.

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About the author: Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes. Grant has two children, and a dependence on tea, haribo and bacon.



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      • LearnToSwim | 5th February 2016 22:30

        Interesting read.

        I'm a fan of some of his creations. Curious to see his work with Mr. Burberry this year.

      • hednic | 5th February 2016 22:53

        Very interesting read.

      • CapriDog | 5th February 2016 23:01

        Thanks for the article. He seems to be a down-to-earth person as he walked us through his creative process. Cannot wait for my bottle to arrive.

      • Blackcat76 | 9th February 2016 19:40

        Really nice interview! Love the info on Jean Carles...the Beethoven of fragrance.

        Francis Kurkdjin's work really speaks to me and has even when I didn't know that a composition belonged to him. Absolue Pour le Soir and Ciel de Gum are my favorites from MFK. I spent some quality time at his store on Rue d'Alger in Paris this past December where I bought Ciel de Gum. The SA's at the store could not have been more helpful, open and knowledgable, which I think must be representative of Monsieur Kurkdjin's ethic. I am salivating at the thought of Baccarat 540!

        Thanks Again!