Q&A: Maison Francis Kurkdjian's Marc Chaya on His Priorities as CEO, Favorite Scents, and More
In 2009, Francis Kurkdjian and Marc Chaya launched Maison Francis Kurkdjian. It's been 13 years since then and the fragrance house has revolutionized the perfume industry with its collection of striking scents. As the CEO and co-creator of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Chaya works hand in hand with Kurkdjian on product aesthetics and the overall creative direction for the Maison.
We spoke to the CEO about Maison Francis Kurkdjian's expansion in the Philippines, his scent preferences, and what the future looks like for the fragrance house.
Esquire Philippines: What was your top priority for Maison Francis Kurkdjian when it started?
Marc Chaya: That was a long time ago—it's still my top priority today. It's to make sure that at the heart of Maison Francis Kurkdjian creativity has the seat of the kings. Creativity is king in our company. Everything we do is at the service of creativity. Our marketing, for example, is there to amplify a creative message and since day one, I was working very hard, almost like an activist, to reinstall the legitimacy that the perfumer deserves. Remember when we started the market was full of niche concepts, marketing-driven concepts, and we were just coming with an eponymous fragrance house that carries the name of one of the most celebrated perfumers of our time and his generation. So my number one priority was to make sure that our creative vision was at the heart of everything so that our message is genuine and inspirational.
What kind of CEO are you?
I believe that you can only be recognized as a leader. Otherwise, you're a dictator. If your team doesn't recognize your leadership, if you do not inspire them, if you do not lead by example, if you do not live by the values that you foster and that you promote, then I don't think that you can achieve success as a leader. So my leadership style is inclusive. My leadership style is all about empowering my team. I am successful when they succeed. If the company fails, I'm the only [one] responsible but when the company wins, they're at the forefront and I'm behind them. So this is in a nutshell, my leadership style.
What has changed since Maison Francis Kurkdjian joined LVMH?
We've grown a lot and I think LVMH was the best decision that we've taken with Maison Francis Kurkdjian to join the group that runs the Maisons… we are about 78 companies within the LVMH group. We are run independently by CEOs and creative minds. Inside LVMH, you had, you have, and you will have some of the greatest creative figures in the world. The group celebrates entrepreneurship. So we're very happy in the group. Since we joined the company, [Maison Francis Kurkdjian] was able to continue its natural path of success. We've grown dramatically and we've multiplied sales by 14. We haven't expanded dramatically our international footprint because we do believe in measured expansion.
However, thanks to the group, we were able to conquer China and we started our China operations last year. So the group was an amazing support in this venture. We attract top-tier talent, as I told you as a leader, my role is to attract great talent and to make them successful. Thanks to LVMH we are able today to have what I consider to be a top-tier best-in-class team that helps us with all areas of the business from business development, to creation, to logistics, and to manufacturing. We've matured a lot. So what happened since we joined LVMH is that we've grown a lot and we've matured a lot but there's still a lot to accomplish. We're still a young company, despite the success and despite the key milestone that we have already achieved, we are still a young company and there's still a lot to accomplish, and we feel much stronger facing the future that is ahead within LVMH.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian is expanding in the Philippines. How would you describe this market?
This is one of the very first markets that we opened. I remember Adora. Our historic partner was Adora. Today we have expanded, generally, with the beautiful stores of the Rustan's Group. Initially, it was an encounter between Eman Pineda, the founder of Adora, and myself in Paris. He was staying at a hotel nearby our boutique and he went into the boutique and fell in love and asked to meet me and we clicked and we were already launching the Maison in Hong Kong. And, a lot of people think you know why would you open at such an early stage in the Philippines and I like visiting markets before taking a decision and you know, Manila is a stone's throw from Hong Kong. It's a very short flight. I came to visit and I was very impressed with Greenbelt 5, I was very impressed with Adora, with the curating you know all of the brands that were here, and we were amongst the early stage of luxury high-end fragrance players in the Philippines.
Since then, I know a lot of our competitors followed and the panorama has changed a lot but what I remember is that people had a lot of desire to wear beautiful scents and our role as a Maison is to bring joy to our customers, to offer our customers this beautiful wardrobe of emotion that allows you to freely select the scent that you want to wear on a given day. So, for us, it was a natural decision. It was back in 2009 when we met Eman Pineda. I think we opened the Philippines as early as 2010. So that's already 13 years. And, so in 13 years, of course, and I would say thank God, we were able to expand and the sky's the limit. Of course, our aim is not to be everywhere. So we only believe in very, very selective and very qualitative expansion, which Rustan's is able to offer and which Adora has offered originally. So you will probably see bigger and better execution for our customers to fully enjoy the Maison Francis Kurkdjian experience in the Philippines.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian just released 724. Tell us more about it.
724—as in seven days a week, 24 hours a day—is the scent that Francis envisioned as a beautiful shield that you put on your skin when you live in a city that never sleeps—in a mega city like Manila, like Paris like London, like New York, where you can feel the city rhythm, where there is action around the clock. Francis wanted to scent that would be extremely uplifting, protective, fresh, and floral at the same time that could be a shift between you and the city rhythm so that you can enjoy fully the city rhythm. It's a very urban creation but even in the aesthetics of 724 you'll see this very beautiful blue color that's a reference also to the blue jeans that people wear a lot in the city to this on-the-go lifestyle. So it's a scent that we released last year, globally, and it has already demonstrated a beautiful response from our customers so we're very pleased with it.
For fragrances that found a second life, have you and Francis ever found yourself wanting to tweak some elements in some scents? How do you work together on that?
Everything we do is a conversation between [Francis Kurkdjian] and I. We are co-founders and we've been working together since way before we started Maison Francis Kurkdjian. We started the Maison in 2009, we met in 2003—so six years before. It's a conversation. When you talk about revisiting scents, I believe that creating scents is the reflection of the genius of creativity of an artist. Of course, scents are an expression of art that is only joyful because you cannot express 360 or the dimension of art. In art, you are able to express sadness [and] misery in fragments. You express something that is very joyful and uplifting, but it is a form of artistic expression. When a perfumer creates a scent, it's all about seeing the scent in his mind or her mind and executing the vision, the same way a painter will see a drawing in his mind and use colors and techniques to execute his vision.
Once you acknowledge that, you acknowledge also that sometimes artists want to revisit the painting maybe a retouched sheet or repainted and interpreted in different dimensions because they are human beings and human beings are never-ending, evolving, and learning. So, there are some times when Francis wants to revisit for many reasons. It could be a very basic reason or a regulatory reason, because we live in a very regulated industry where sometimes there are changes in terms of new allergens that have to be eliminated or essential oils that are no longer suitable to be used so we have to re-write the formula, expression, or more artistically there are some times where he feels that he can express better what he has in his mind so he decides to retouch it. This is what we have done several times in the past and I wouldn't be surprised if we would continue to do it in the future. So the way it happens, it's a conversation between us. It starts with the dialogue with bouncing back ideas. Until you know we take it to the team and then with the team we make it happen.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian 724 Eau de Parfum
What kind of scents do you prefer?
I'm a very diverse person and I live by the values of our Maison. A lot of customers come to us and say 'I still haven't found my signature scent.' There was this idea that you would be incomplete if you don't have this very unique scent that will totally reflect all aspects of your personality, and I believe this is impossible. Sometimes, we want to be dramatically loud and outspoken because we're going to a gala or a wedding, sometimes we want to be business-driven, sometimes we want to be fashionable and discreet, sometimes we want to be airy and fresh. We consider perfume to be an invisible accessory that is there to work with every aspect of your life, to reflect your persona, to enhance your emotion, and to leave a part of yourself with others. So, our wardrobe is, philosophically, a collection of fragrances that you can go to in order to own every single day, express how you are feeling, and the look that you want to have. For people who still believe that they have to be a one-person scent all their life. I have a question for them. Would you have the same haircut and the same makeup or wear the same dress skirt or suit or tie? Just because you want to have your signature tie or yours? No, it doesn't work this way. You have a wardrobe of clothing because you know that you want to express yourself differently.
I'm the same. There are many go-tos in our fragrance collection for me. I love Amyris Homme. I like it because it's woodsy with a little bit of freshness due to the mandarin. It's floral. It's a beautiful scent that is sparkling and elegant. It's one of my go-tos when I want to feel easygoing. I wear Grand Soir when I want to feel a little bit dressed up. I want to feel chic. I want to feel comfortable because Grand Soir is intoxicating. It's one of my favorites in the collection, but it's not my favorite favorite. Baccarat Rouge. Every time I smell [Baccarat Rouge 540] on myself and on other people, it is uplifting, it is magical, it takes me to places where I feel sexiness where I feel elegance, where I feel sophistication. I wear Aqua Universalis because it's fresh and airy. I love the citrusy notes of it. I love Oud Satin Mood every now and then. I love Oud Satin Mood whenever I want to feel a little bit mysterious. As you can see, I have a collection of scents that I go to. Perfume to me is this invisible accessory that allows me to express my personality and to be free. This is all about freedom of truth and choosing the scent that you want on every given day.
What does the future look like for Maison Francis Kurkdjian?
We're already in the future. In our industry, you are always one or two years ahead. We have already finalized Christmas for next year, we're already working on ideas for Christmas of 2025, and our marketing plans are designed at least 24 months in advance. So we are currently executing things that were designed 18 months ago. More generally, the future for us is hopefully the same and better which is to remain true to our fundamentals and to remain true to our message that for us luxury stands in the extraordinary. For Maison Francis Kurkdjian, luxury stands in the extraordinary. The extraordinary genius of creative creativity of Francis Kurkdjian. We believe that the genius of creativity is at the center stage and everything should evolve around that genius of creativity. Luxury as in craftsmanship.
We have passion for beautiful products, we have passion for products that are well done, where details are not details, where details create the emotion that creates surprise. This is something that we will continue to allocate a lot of passion for creating the most desirable products and the most beautiful scents. Finally, last but not least, we believe that our customers want to come to Maison Francis Kurkdjian because they want to live joyful moments because they want to live uplifting, very beautiful journeys through fragments. That journey can be inside the bottle or outside the bottle with artistic installations that Francis can, every now and then, perform with masterclasses and conferences that we can give or any event that can provide them with a little bit more than what they have in the button. So the future for us is going to be a lot of passion, a lot of hard work for hopefully continuing to nurture the story that is all about [genuineness], creativity, craftsmanship, and a joyful experience.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.