Monday, 13 October 2014
A Floral for All Seasons -‘My Burberry’ by Francis Kurkdjian for Burberry
The Fox loves his florals, ivory, snow white and blinding, veiled, gauzy and dazzling. It feels like the wearing of light, my skin adores gardenia, ylang ylang, orange blossom, lily, jasmine, sweet pea and tuberose. It is the inhalation of carnality and innocence both glittering and corrupted. As a man too, there is subversion in the lavish embrace of florals. It is unexpected and sly with a nod to transgression and bygone dandyism. I think boys smell beautiful in blooms but then I am biased. Wrap a guy in roses, Madonna lily and rubbered fleshy ylang I can lose my scented mind.
Floral notes dominate both high street and niche main themes or frameworks for other formulations. In niche the flower is often diva driven signature…my gardenia… my rose... my multifarious jasmines. Perfumers like to imagine their shadowed violet, filthy rose or resinous mulchy muguet is the definitive version. The high street has its fair share of soliflores but they err on the side of feeble or just plain poisonous. Sometimes it’s a budget thing or the lack of a coherent brief or perhaps just olfactory fatigue setting in.
Sometimes I feel though an opportunity to really explode the diversity of white florals is missed. I like the concept of bouquets. In real life they can of course be dull and generic mixes of standard blooms but in the hands of talented green-fingered artists like my friends Fee and Tal who run the ridiculously gorgeous Pyrus Flowers from a walled garden outside of Edinburgh they become shimmering, emotional gatherings of leaf, petals, tone, shade and scent. The same applies to fragrance; it is not enough just to gather together floral motifs such as rose, jasmine, gardenia, wrap them in green and lay them on wood and earth with perhaps a dash of ozonics and white musks to suggest sky and rain. The Pyrus gals assemble with sensual intent, every stamen, pod, stalk, leaf, bud and fruit has its role to play in the overall composition of what the girls are trying to achieve. Combining this attention to detail with quirky containers and presentation allows the floral work to be interpreted in a joyous and interactive way.
I am intrigued by the occasional appearance of oddities in mainstream scent that question one’s perception of accessible fragrances. Some of these scents approach floral perfumery in a similar way to the Pyrus gals, creating bouquets of flowers in fragrances, challenging the general conception that the high street is a wasteland of innovation.
I always sample new releases across the board, but there is immense satisfaction and joy to be had in finding something beautifully crafted and just a little leftfield from big name houses and designer labels. Who can forget how extraordinary Michel Almairac’s delicious leather and iris eau de parfum was for Bottega Veneta in 2011? It was one of the best new fragrances, niche or mainstream for years. Almairic was also responsible for the delicate Chloe L’Eau De Chloe that he drenched through with rosewater and rose petals and seductive vintage lemonade effect of soft dewy citrus notes.
Balenciaga’s Florabotanica was another interesting example of mainstream oddity. Launched in 2012 and created by Olivier Polge and Jean-Christophe Hérault, it was a scent that really rattled me on first sniff and compelled me to purchase. I go through bottles of it, imagining a sci-fi garden scent, created by colonists on a distant planet. There was a lot of PR and press nonsense about carnivorous blooms and the darkness of Florabotanica’s allure, but it was the subversive flattening out of the floral accords with very unusual metallic minty pressure that made the scent so distinctive and glorious to wear with abandonment.
Francis Kurkdjian is one of the most well known names in the fragrance world, one of the perfumed elite. Born in Paris to Armenian-French heritage he originally thought to dance, but fate led him to perfume instead and a career creating thoughtful quiet fragrances that err on the luxurious silken side.
He is probably best known as the creator of the iconic juggernaut lavender that is Le Mâle for Jean Paul Gaultier back in 1995. Despite the enormous global success of this scent, Kurkdjian has managed to combine a unique position in the perfume world of producing shimmering chic niche for his own stand-alone eponymous house while still remaining one of the most stylish scented guns for hire in the business.
Now, first off, I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, blasphemous as that may sound. There was tremendous excitement when FK announced his intention to deliver his own collection of scents after years of collaborating with other designers and big name houses. I know the FK line is much-beloved and I’ll admit there are petals and curves that are very beautiful. His original Oud is dexterous and creamily moreish and I am partial to the plummy depths of Lumière Noire Pour Femme, a powerhouse rose/patchouli executed with subtle force. Would I buy them? Probably not. It is undoubtedly an elegant and covetable brand with a luxury price tag but it leaves me rather cold. The look of his maison is cool Margiela-like white, everything has the feel of luxury wedding stationary. White, cream, gold, embossing etc. The bottles are very cool though, with their heavyweight metal tops, très tactile and desirable.
I think Kurkdjian does some of his most interesting work for other people, held captive as it were within a brief, looking at a brand, examining parameters, counting costs. This is certainly true of Carven Le Parfum, Parfum Elie Saab and Rumeur for Lanvin back in 2006, three fragrances I tend to always have in my Foxy wardrobe. These bright, sharp florals are sources of light and sensuous cheer in moments of darkness and shadowed days. I cant quite put my finger on why I like them so much if I’m really honest, I just know that in the last 6-8 years my senses have craved white flowers at certain times. Searching for the perfect ivory scented blooms it seemed the majority of the ones I have loved were been signed by one man: Francis Kurkdjian.
The Carven, Lanvin and Elie Saab fragrances all bear his hallmark glamour and and sense of glittering simplicity. They may be considered mainstream or high street fragrances but sit amongst my all time favourite florals. The gentle, circumspect bouquet of Carven Le Parfum’s sweet pea, white hyacinth and jasmine was an enchanting release from Carven, the first new fragrance release under the artistic directorship of Guillaume Henry.
Kurkdjian’s jasmine and orange blossom soaked debut scent for Lebanese designer Elie Saab was just thrilling to smell after so many mediocre feminine launches. It appeared at the same time as Almairac’s Bottega Veneta scent. He used sambac and grandiflorum jasmine and glazed them with a rose honey accord. This is divine perfumery; each time I wear it I marvel at the way the floral notes are seamlessly assembled over a shimmering raft of woods and patchouli. Elie Saab Le Parfum is bolder and warmer in tone than the Carven, which perhaps fades a little too quickly from its truly lovely apricotty breezy top.
Lanvin’s Rumeur… sigh. How much do I love this damn scent? Nine empty 100ml bottles much.. Launched in 2006 and obviously sharing a name with an original and very different Lanvin scent from 1934 created by André Fraysse. Re-using this name annoyed a lot of scent-nerds who felt it was disingenuous and misleading. But I think Alber Elbaz wanted to reference the house’s important heritage, while playing with the notion of rumours, whispers and the fickle nature of couture in general. My god it’s strong too, it just lasts and lasts, radiating its huge crystalline magnolia shimmer for hours. It’s my scented drug… there are times when I just drown in it and fall into to clean sheets, almost dizzy and blind on the fountain of aldehydes and icy petals.
Kurkdjian said of Rumeur:
‘Being a perfumer is a bit like being a magician, it’s about realising your vision of someone else’s emotions. It took all my energy for six months to come up with the right formula for Rumeur because for me, it was not just about mixing raw materials, it’s about creating a memory that will last.’
(Francis Kurkdjian, ‘Fragrance Focus – Cosmetics International’ 18/08/2006.)
To this favoured trio must now be added the shockingly good new release from Christopher Bailey’s iconic Burberry. I say shocking because despite the enormous revenue Burberry (and Burberry Prorsum) generates as a successful global brand, they have seemed forever incapable of producing a scent of any distinction. Everything has been oddly naff and off-centre, unable to truly capture the undeniably stylish spirit that lies under the avalanche of mackintoshes, ubiquitous check and perversely tacky memorabilia created for Burberry’s overseas clientele.
There has been a relentless attempt to woo the youth market, overseas Asian, US and hip London scenesters with London, Brit, Rhythm, Beat and the vaguely improved reach of Body created by the surprising choice of Michel Almairic. Body’s silky take on the neo-chypré pointed to a potential development in quality in the Burberry scent department. Mind you this was all but destroyed by the utterly heinous flankers…. The Intense version was loud enough to flatten houses. One of my boutique clients, a man with wonderful taste in scent, a devotee of Serge Lutens, singles out Burberry Brit Rhythm, by the all star triumvirate of Anne Flipo, Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion as his worst scent of all time.
Now, on an enormous (and very gorgeous) wave of Testino-lensed publicity we have My Burberry, a truly ravishing and juicy floral scent encapsulating the charm, eccentricity and reserve of British Burberry and more specifically the iconic charm of the classic Sandringham mac. The hype built up on this mega-launch for quite some time, particularly around the pairing of Kate Moss and Cara Delevigne working together in Mario’s undeniably lavish and sexy campaign. The carefree teaser pics of the models laughing on set, under artificial rain, naked under tightly belted trenchcoats made the imminent release of the perfume much more desirable.
There is genuinely lovely chemistry in the Cara/Kate shoot, both women, unconventionally alluring, rebellious and unpredictable. I’ve adored Kate for as long as I can remember, since I first saw her in The Face Magazine all those years shot by her friend the late Corinne Day, waiflike and disturbingly knowing. Cara I’ve taken my time to warm to, her face-pulling, sexed up street antics, the bi-sexuality, pretention and privilege were hard to take for a while. But in the last year she has become a spectacular model, walking runways with coltish, raw sexual energy and her face adapts to so many campaigns with seeming ease and chameleon charm. Testino seems to adore them both, (he has shot Kate for years) and has managed to capture a moment of perfect poise and status as befits the Burberry brand. But if you look a little closer, you will glimpse the polished thigh, the glint of sex under the carefully styled trench. The shoes catch my eyes, the girls’ ankles bound in leather straps, a counterpoint to the folds and gloss of hair and gabardine. It is a knowing campaign, pitch perfect in its calm, persuasive intent. But the awareness of these maverick women, held still in a monochrome momentarily is deceptive. It is a statement of surface versus the glory of juicy reality.
I have wondered for years why, with so much money to play with, Burberry have not produced better scents. I think the answer is, it is easier not to. Now however, with the luxury market becoming ever more cutthroat and demanding, it is not enough anymore for brand with the global status of Burberry to throw out duty-free style perfumery and hope the money comes rolling in. My Burberry is a HUGE advance in style and execution. The ownership implied in the name relates to the iconic Burberry trench, made in gabardine, a form of densely woven worsted twill with more warp to weft, invented by Thomas Burberry back in 1879 and patented in 1888. It is a staple item of any fashionista’s wardrobe, belted, loose, over the shoulders; the Burberry trench seriously never goes out of style.
Even when the brand was brought to the brink of extinction by chav-tastic celebs and thugs decked out in fake Burberry checks, it was the classic beige trench, belted with discreet flashes of check that stood the test of time. Vintage ones are highly sought after. You have them for life, they mature and mould to you as you shift and move through life. The basic design has been tweaked endlessly over the decades; cut, colour, length, collar, all have succumbed to the vagaries of trends and the demands of foreign markets. But the original, as wrapped around Kate and Cara, is a timeless masterpiece of design, instantly recognisable in silhouette, tone and cut.
Paying homage to this icon is something I’m surprised Burberry haven’t attempted earlier. But in Francis Kurkdjian they have exactly the right perfumer for the brief. This scent had to smell as close to classic as possible, grand, bright and capable of huge generosity of spirit. A little touch of eccentricity and naughtiness would be nice of course. Being a British floral, it couldn’t be too reserved though. Rather like Cara and Kate; sublime and knowing in the campaign, but you know that booze, fags and dirty laughter aren’t too far away.
The heavy-weight bottle is a delight, the oversize faux-horn top a witty homage to the trench buttons and I particularly like the cute gabardine bow, integrated into the neck; this is a delightful and proper reference to Thomas Burberry’s original trench fabric. A lot of effort has gone into making the flacon this effortlessly chic. The trademark Burberry check is limited to a discreet knocked back ochre & olive rendition on the inside of the grosgrain textured box.
I really like this gorgeous rain soaked floral, it smells pretty damn perfect to me. The concept of having a fave old trench you can pick up, throw on and wear with just about anything is very alluring. It speaks volumes about iconic clothing. Burberry, Christopher Bailey and Kurkdjian have approached the creation of the scent in a similar way I think, attempting to formulate a perfume that can be worn with anything, bestowing an instant sense of timelessness. The principal floral motif is sweet pea, slightly creamier and less flounced than the one Kurkdjian used in his Carven Le Parfum. The bergamot is delicate and winsome with the effect of raindrops on urban trellises groaning with blooms. A dusting of peppered freesia heralds a geranium and quince effect which rolls off my skin like unripe Mackintosh (appropriately enough…) apples. Above all, this is reassuringly luxurious fragrance, air-after-rain clean, the notes sparkling as they open, making me smile.
I can’t smell much patchouli to be honest, despite its inclusion in the list of notes, although in many of today’s glassy, glossy launches a patchouli note can really anything from a hint of spice to smoke in your eyes. It very rarely actually smells of the dense, leathery, oily shrub that to me smells of dirty machines and bitter cocoa. It perhaps lays down the odd, rubbed linen effect I pick up in the later stages of the scent, something I find a little out of place amid the honeyed floral ambiance, but no matter, it fades quickly enough.
It took me a few wearings to focus on the roses, but they are present and correct (damask and Centifolia) and they matter, adding a discernable romantic hue and slo-mo transparency to the beauty of the overall composition. It is an agile scent, despite the languor and elegance of the notes. There is briskness, laughter and defiance in the beauty of Kurkdjian’s masterly manipulation of classic white notes, musks and the concept of a skin bouquet. It’s all about balance. Few perfumers really understand the technicalities or indeed complexities of intricate simplicity quite like Francis Kurkdjian.
The scent returns to the concept of the trench, in the wearing and the settling, the notes like the trench itself, become familiar and mould to the body. The crispness and oddly uptight cluttered sweet pea and freesia duo soften up and become beautifully malleable with time. Everything breathes and flows with the body, My Burberry, your Burberry, my body, your body. I like the idea built into the whole scenyted concept of being asked…
‘You smell beautiful… what are you wearing…?
Trench or scent. Simple. Classic. Timeless.
For more information on Burberry, including My Burberry, please follow the link below: