Recently, Luxeplace.com conducted an exclusive interview with Marc Chaya, the CEO and co-founder of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, a high-end fragrance brand under the LVMH Group from France.
The high-end fragrance industry is rapidly expanding its presence in key global markets, and there’s no doubt that China has become a focal point for their efforts. In China, consumer enthusiasm for fragrances is being rapidly ignited. A series of top-tier commercial entities have also formed, featuring “fragrance” as a unique label, and the high-end brand portfolio continues to diversify.
Founded in 2009 by Marc Chaya and French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, Maison Francis Kurkdjian officially entered the Chinese market in August 2022. Their first store was located in Nanjing’s Deji Plaza, and they also launched a flagship store on Tmall. In February of this year, the brand unveiled its first department store location in Beijing’s SKP. Since July, the brand has successively opened two pop-up stores in Shanghai’s IFC Center and Hangzhou’s Vientiane City, lasting for over three months.
“(Francis Kurkdjian) is one of the greatest living perfumers of our time,” Chaya unabashedly praised his partner during the interview. Unlike most fragrance brands, Francis Kurkdjian, as a perfumer, has moved from behind the scenes to center stage, breaking the traditional notion that perfumers can only be “unsung heroes.”
Marc Chaya’s career began at Ernst & Young (E&Y). In less than ten years, he became a partner at E&Y, breaking the company’s historical records. By the age of 32, he had already become the global head of telecommunications at E&Y.
Through this interview, we will learn: How does CEO Marc Chaya balance his role with Francis Kurkdjian, who is in charge of creativity? What development strategy has the brand set for the Chinese market?
- Creativity is at the Core of Everything
- Maison Francis Kurkdjian is Not a Niche Brand; it’s a Luxury Fragrance House
- As Chinese Consumers Mature, Marketing-Driven Trends will Quickly Fade
- In the Next 5 Years, We Plan to Open 30 Stores in China
- LVMH is a Great Partner Who Values Creative Talent and Entrepreneurial Freedom
Creativity is at the Core of Everything
Luxeplace.com: How did you meet Francis Kurkdjian, and why did you decide to launch Maison Francis Kurkdjian?
Marc Chaya: I met Francis Kurkdjian twenty years ago in 2023. It was a time in our lives when we were both seeking a change in our lives.
I was a management consultant at a big international company. I was very successful at what I was doing, yet I felt I was missing the spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity and the touch of beauty and something exciting and beautiful.
Francis Kurkdjian was creating fragrances for many beauty brands at the time. He’s incredibly talented but was always hidden behind the curtain. People couldn’t truly appreciate his talent. He was looking to move from behind the curtain to the center of the stage to expand the horizon of his work as a perfumer.
We met at a dinner party and soon became close friends. We started traveling together. I remember we went on a world tour where we went from Paris to Tokyo, then New Caledonia, which is French territory, then back to San Francisco, LA, New York, then back to Paris.
During our travels, we talked about many things. Francis Kurkdjian constantly shared his many dreams. But those dreams could not come true in the world that we lived in—a world where the perfumer did not exist and where marketing was king. The focus was put mainly on design, celebrity, packaging, bottles, and storytelling that would be in fashion. Storytelling that would be, as we say in French, ‘à la mode.’ No one was really looking at genuineness, creativity, authenticity, craftsmanship, harmony, and beauty.
And with time, we decided together that we wanted to do something different, which was as simple as allowing one of the greatest living perfumers of our time to put his name on the bottle and to express his creative vision freely.
Luxeplace.com: Once you had your own brand, how did you focus on creativity?
Marc Chaya: When we started the Maison and the company, we had no marketing department for nearly 7 to 8 years. We are creative by essence.
The process in our company is that all of the stories come to us from Francis. He’s the one who finds inspiration in meeting someone, in traveling somewhere, or in a vision, like an artist would see.
Many people think perfumers are chemists who sit in labs, mixing different essential oils, trying to make something smell good. But in reality, a perfumer is going beyond the raw material into the emotion to create something that he wants to share, and that evokes meaning.
So, in our company, marketing did not exist for a very long time because creativity is at the center of everything. It influences everything. For example, the Baccarat Rouge 540 fragrance series created by Francis Kurkdjian is unique and is now one of our best-selling perfumes.
We are creative, by essence, which makes us, in a way, trendsetters. We’ve always believed that giving you what you want is not true luxury; giving you the unexpected, uplifting you, surprising you, and making you feel confident and beautiful is the result of creativity.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian is Not a Niche Brand; it’s a Luxury Fragrance House
Luxeplace.com: Is Maison Francis Kurkdjian a niche brand?
Marc Chaya: Maison Francis Kurkdjian is not a niche brand. In fact, when we founded the brand, my first statement emphasized that we do not belong to the niche category. We are a luxury fragrance house, named after one of the greatest perfumers of our era.
Luxeplace.com: What qualities are needed to become a luxury fragrance house?
Marc Chaya: Luxury brands in the leather goods sector attract consumers because of their craftsmanship and design, which are the results of creativity, historical heritage, elegance, beauty, and intricate craftsmanship. The same applies to the fragrance industry. The cacophony of external voices has made people forget that the essence and most important aspect of perfume is what’s inside the bottle.
Luxeplace.com: How do you help consumers understand the story behind each fragrance?
Marc Chaya: We put a lot of focus on the customer journey and the experience. To that end, we spend considerable effort on training and recruiting very talented people who can truly relay the story to our customers, creating enchantment and building an uplifting experience.
Thanks to our creative drive, we’ve achieved unprecedented performances in the fragrance world. In just 15 years, we’ve reached market leadership, for example, in the USA, which is the most mature luxury market in the world. We are number one in every door where we are.
Now, we are selective in our strategy. We are not a mass-marketing brand. We only distribute the maison in the most beautiful department store chains. In every door where we are, we are by far the number one, outperforming even three-axis brands, and we don’t do advertising.
We don’t rely on mass media and celebrity. We create intimate, direct relationships with our customers and offer them the freedom to choose perfumes from our collection that would enhance and complement their personality on a given day.
You have to understand that there are two ways to look at fragrance. One way is to see fragrance as a lifestyle, almost like choosing your outfit. It’s an invisible outfit. So, will you wear any outfit just because someone told you that this is the style, or would you wear an outfit because it looks beautiful on you and makes you feel empowered?
We specialize in creating beautiful, luxurious, crafted scents that stay on your skin and are extraordinary to smell, transporting you into worlds you haven’t imagined before. We start by sharing the inspiration. Then, as technicians and perfumers, we talk about the ingredients that make it so citrusy and floral. We give customers the opportunity to learn about the creation. The best way to live with it is to put it on your skin and experience it.
We also invite customers to learn about the creation of perfumes and have held masterclasses multiple times before.
As Chinese Consumers Mature, Marketing-Driven Trends will Quickly Fade
Luxeplace.com: How do you view China’s perfume market? What is the brand’s development strategy in China?
Marc Chaya: We understand that today in China, everything moves at a rapid pace, and there’s an expectation for things to happen overnight. Social media has certainly fueled the urgency for instant reward and instant gratification.
However, China didn’t become what it is overnight, and humanity didn’t reach this point of evolution instantly. The unfortunate news is that doing beautiful things takes time. Creating a marketing concept and rolling it out with a $200 budget is easy; it’s just a concept, and you execute it. But creating something genuinely beautiful wasn’t achieved in just two years.
We are taking our time to truly anchor our uniqueness in the market and ensure that Chinese consumers are ready to understand who we are. We are not willing to change our identity to become marketing-driven, especially since the current trend in China leans more towards marketing-driven perfumes than creatively-driven ones.
However, I know for sure that due to the sophistication and level of education of the Chinese consumer, this trend of marketing-driven focus will quickly fade and disappear. This is exactly what happened in Europe when we started the Maison. Back in 2010, in Europe and the US, you would see a new brand, a new concept, new packaging, a new architect, and a new celebrity every day. It was overwhelming. Maybe 20, 30, or 50 brands were launched, but only five survived. We are the number one among those five. So, in China, we’re going to take our time and do things, as always, with passion and determination.
Luxeplace.com: When do you think China’s high-end fragrance market will reach this turning point?
Marc Chaya: I think it will still take a few more years. We will remain patient, stay true to ourselves, build a good artistic ecosystem, and guide our team to ensure that members truly fall in love with this brand. Then, through them, educate consumers who want to learn more about perfumes, sharing their love for the products. In the United States, it took us about 3-4 years from 2009 to establish our growth momentum.
In the Next 5 Years, We Plan to Open 30 Stores in China
Luxeplace.com: Which of your fragrances sells best in China?
Marc Chaya: So far, we’ve noticed that in our fragrance portfolio, Baccarat Rouge 540 has been extremely well-received by the Chinese consumers.
What I see is that the sense of smell is also linked to the richness of the culture and the consumer’s ability to differentiate between various scents. Unlike perhaps other Asian cultures, the Chinese consumer is extremely sophisticated and has the ability to appreciate various scents.
In fact, many trends we observe in China are very similar to those in Europe. Therefore, we believe that our newly launched 724 Eau de Parfum will be a big success in China, as it has been very popular in Europe. We will soon introduce one of our best-selling series in Europe—the Oud series—to the Chinese market.
Luxeplace.com: How would you describe the profile of Chinese consumers? What do you think is the key to winning their favor?
Marc Chaya: As far as I’m concerned, I don’t focus on customer data.; I look at what customers are looking for. What I do focus on is what customers are seeking. And I can tell you that our customers are looking for something that is very distinctive, very elegant, and something that will make them feel unique and special. The key is not to be distracted by the noise around you, to identify and steadily execute your strategy, and not to be swayed by trends.
Luxeplace.com: What are the brand’s development goals in the Chinese market? In which cities will you open stores?
Marc Chaya: We are already leaders in global markets outside of China, and our goal is to become leaders in the Chinese market as well.
What’s considered a second or third-tier city in China is almost as big as France. So when I look at this market, I don’t view it in terms of first, second, or third-tier cities. I look at it in terms of the sophistication of the environment. We will continue to do what we’ve always done, which is to follow a very selective approach to our market growth. This involves going into the most beautiful malls and retail locations where customers can fully enjoy the experience.
In September or October of this year, we will open a store in Hainan. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in five years, we have 30 stores in China. This is one of my objectives.
Currently, the U.S. market accounts for half of our business share. We hope that the business distribution can be more balanced in the future, with the Chinese market and travel retail being the two main pillars of our future growth.
LVMH is a Great Partner Who Values Creative Talent and Entrepreneurial Freedom
Luxeplace.com: What changes has the brand undergone since joining the LVMH Group in 2017?
Marc Chaya: When we decided to join LVMH, Maison Francis Kurkdjian was already growing rapidly and was very successful. Many of our competitors were seeking the support of larger groups, and many got acquired by these bigger entities. We were one of the last independents on the market.
Francis and I believed that LVMH would be an incredible partner for us for two main reasons. First, LVMH values creativity. If LVMH is as successful as it is today, it’s because they have always had, and will continue to have, some of the brightest creators on the planet in all fields.
Second, LVMH values the freedom of entrepreneurship. Both Francis and I are creators and entrepreneurs. We saw in LVMH an opportunity for our brand to thrive and grow over time, while maintaining its authenticity.
The group has contributed significantly in terms of talent. They have very smart people, which has made the company even more attractive and enabled us to build a strong team. When we decided to enter the Chinese market, the support from LVMH and its extremely talented team was invaluable.
Luxeplace.com: How do you maintain a balance between the brand’s tone and commercial development?
Marc Chaya: One of the advantages of Maison Francis Kurkdjian is that we have two co-founders, Francis Kurkdjian and myself, who often converse with each other. Our creativity and business complement each other.
We often discuss in our conversations that if an idea is too sharp and the market is not yet ready to understand it, pushing it too early will lead to failure. On the other hand, if your commercial ambitions are too strong, it will destroy creativity. Therefore, our existence is to balance the needs between creativity and business.
About Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Founded in 2009 by Marc Chaya and perfumer and artistic director Francis Kurkdjian, Maison Francis Kurkdjian has been a leading name in the fragrance industry. Francis Kurkdjian’s childhood dream was to become a ballet dancer, but after failing to enter the Paris Opera Ballet School at the age of 13, he turned to his second interest—perfume making. His career began in 1995 when, at just 24, he created the globally best-selling perfume “Le Mâle” for designer brand Jean Paul Gaultier, earning him the reputation of a “genius perfumer.”
Over the past two decades, Francis Kurkdjian has created 40 best-selling perfumes for major brands including Dior, Guerlain, and Giorgio Armani. “Francis Kurkdjian is one of the greatest living perfumers of our time,” Marc Chaya said in an interview, not hiding his admiration for him.
Unlike most perfumers, Francis Kurkdjian first determines the concept, scene, and emotions he wants to create, then goes to Grasse to select the corresponding raw materials. For him, perfume is like daily clothing, which can be chosen and matched according to different moods and occasions. This concept of a “fragrance wardrobe” has become the brand philosophy of Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
In 2017, the LVMH Group announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
| Image Credit:Maison Francis Kurkdjian
| Editor: Zhu Ruoyu