Mr Francis Kurdjian narrates the genesis of Aqua Celestia. «I wished to reconnect with the tradition of the Eau de Cologne which, in its original form, was also drinkable. I wanted to use this idea to create an inside-outside effect»
In the latest edition of the French fragrance house Maison Francis Kurkdjian, comes the story of Cologne forte. A collection of three gender neutral fragrances that are a continuation of the perfumer’s original Aqua Universalis catalogue. Launched in May, the fragrances, Aqua Universalis, Aqua Vitae and Aqua Celestia are a modern retelling of a traditional classic. They extend an invitation to travel to three new landscapes of light, color and emotion.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian’ Aqua collection
Kurkdjian’s launched the original Aqua collection in 2009 together with his eponymous fragrance house. A desire to modernise and reinterpret the original eau de cologne influenced the fragrance. A scent that has had an enduring legacy for well over three-hundred years.
Eau de cologne was created at the end of the seventeenth century. Citrus orange blossom and other aromatic notes like lavender, thyme, and rosemary originally characterized it. It was a lightly dosed formula with a fresh sillage. In the time that it was created, it was an all-natural product that offered many therapeutic qualities beyond just its scent. It was, in fact, ingested and used for several ailments.
Commonly used in bathing rituals, eau de cologne also came to be associated with the idea of cleanliness in the nineteenth century. As the years progressed, the cologne evolved to give birth to a family of fresh fragrances. The sophistication of their sillages defined them.
For perfumer Kukrdjian, it is the multiple facets and varied olfactory expressions of this scent that have led him to further play with this ideal of freshness. He created a series of fragrances that not only bring pleasure because they smell good, but also make one feel good.
«The Latin quote mens sana in corpore sano summerizes the main inspiration behind this collection. A healthy body in a healthy mind. I wished to reconnect with the tradition of the Eau de Cologne which, in its original form, was also drinkable. So freshness was emotionally and physically linked to cleanness. It makes you feel good, spiritually and physically. On top of smelling good, I wanted to use this idea to create a visible inside-outside effect».
To achieve this effect Kurkdjian uses bergamot from the southern Italian region of Calabria as the basis for all three scents. It also plays with different ingredients and accords without distorting the original inspiration to deliver a range of fragrances that embody the inspiration behind the collection.
The Forte collection by Francis Kurkdjian
While rooted in the same simplicity and lightness of Aqua Universalis, it comes with an added intensity and strength of sillage. And it is not just the intensity, but also the reharmonization of the formula for 2021. Something the perfumer likens to a musical harmony. Once imagined on a piano, it produces a totally different experience when played by a symphony orchestra.
«The melody remains the same. But you hear the composition more intensely. It becomes more exciting because it fills more space. The same principle applies to these fragrances. Their concentration has been increased, so as to find the right balance between freshness and a lasting trail. I think the result is more refined and confirms the olfactory signature of each inspiration».
The first cologne in the collection, Aqua Universalis cologne forte explores the notion of «whiteness pushed to the extreme». A projection of radiance and happiness enveloping the air. It achieves with its blend of Calibrian bergamot, white musk, Damascus rose and a bouquet of white flowers – reconstituted syringa, freesia and lily of the valley – as imagined by Kurkdjian.
Even the bottle design maintains the whiteness and transparency that the scent conveys. «I had a very determined vision for each of the fragrances. I wanted to explore the idea of power and strength for cologne scents. Each scent plays a special role in bringing that idea to life. Like in the case of Aqua Universalis, I wanted it to convey a breath of fresh air and the feeling, and not the smell, of cleanliness».
Aqua Vitae cologne forte
The second scent in the collection, Aqua Vitae cologne forte symbolizes «the sun at its peak with a floral blaze crossed by a surge of hot air» for the perfumer. This golden-hued fragrance is the story of the sunshine and Kurkdjian’s personal experience of feeling freshness at the peak of summer while riding his motorcycle.
In it, Sicilian mandarin brings a zesty freshness to the bergamot to create a citrus floral scent that when enriched with notes of Indian sandalwood evokes warmth. This feeling of summer light is further told through the bottle with its yellow shaded glass.
Aqua Celestia forte
The final fragrance, Aqua Celestia forte is about «the encounter between the blue hues of the sea, the sky, and the horizon beckoning you to escape» says Kukrdjian. The story of Celestia comes through as bergamot takes on the fruity notes blackcurrant, mimosa (with its raspberry and blackberry notes), jasmine, subtle hints of strawberry, apricot and peach.
Before slowly merging with a sweet musky accord. In its translucent blue gradation, the bottle symbolises the sea and a flight towards the horizon. True to the house’s style the Cologne forte collection is very much defined by minimalism. «Minimalism is like a motto. Simplicity is key to convey a message at its peak».
It is why Kurkdjian takes care not to load the fragrances with too many ingredients. He chooses instead to communicate the feeling of the fragrance through a subtlety that has come to define his olfactory catalogue through the years.
Furthermore, for each of the bottles, the rare color coding aside – the house is never known to do colored bottles – the design elements come together to complete the story through «the cases that are soberly underlined with a stroke of color which are meant to symbolise the architecture of each note. The shade mirrored in the upper interior part of the case. And lastly, the cap. With its transparency, it conveys a feeling of lightness and letting light seep through» notes Kurkdjian.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian gender neutral scents
A prescient question in perfumery seems to be the gender of a perfume. For the Cologne forte collection, Kurkdjian answers that by offering the scents as gender neutral, individuals embody and envision the gender of the scent for themselves. More so, Kukrdjian insisted on keeping it neutral as the original formula was always intended for men and women. It is a tribute to the original cologne waters, in fact.
Always one to push the boundaries and challenge existing ideas, the perfumer is of the belief that raw materials have no gender. The perfumer’s know-how on how to use the various olfactory facets of certain materials in different combinations to reveal their true personality shapes them.
For Kurkdjian, the process of creation is a tedious one. It could take up to eighteen months to create a scent. There is a period of reflection during which the perfumer thinks and imagines different fragrance accords. Then the perfumer names the fragrance, as he likes to work with the name in mind. It helps, in fact, to give him a clear idea on how to channel his emotions.
After the ground work, Kurkdjian begins composing and creating the formula in his laboratory. «I don’t have any rules and never restrain myself from having any. The only thing I need is an emotion, a feeling or wonderment». And in this case Kurkdjian’s feelings have taken us on a journey that offers an escape to three different worlds.
The need to journey to far away places at a time when actual travel has come to a stand still is a universal sentiment by people across continents. And while Kurkdjian insists that the inspiration of his collection and the escape it provides is coincidental to the pandemic, it is an idea that is relatable. Wanting to find sanctuary in a scent to be temporarily transported to an unfamiliar yet very welcome landscape.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian was born in 2009 from the encounter between Francis Kurkdjian, a renowned perfumer with scores of successful creations to his name, and Marc Chaya, Co-Founder and President of the fragrance house.