What we understand when we smell the new release by Maison Kurkdjian, Acqua Vitae Forte, is twofold: First we realize that urban, contemporary, clean, perfumery can still smell lovely; (as this really does: like angel’s breath, and pink-lemon meringues; laundry musks and the modern sublime): and second, that to achieve this, to have an even half decent, fashionable and futuristic release, it must cost the earth.

In a way it is quite a poignant thing to realize. When I was growing up, perfumes were affordable but still high quality. I am talking about the high street, big name releases. They literally contained essential oils. And artistry. And genuine will power. They had character. And poise. And something memorable; indelible; and even if you hated them, which you quite often did (because why wouldn’t you? They were take me or leave me, love me or leave me, fuck you or love me, and that’s why you were taken); you plonked down your money and went with the show; you took the scent on board and gave her a run for her money; there were less of them but enough to go round; enough for some of them to still remain unidentifiable, at least to that bloke in the bar who had no clue about such things but still liked how you smelled, and that was kind of what it was all about , in the first place, anyway.

Acqua Vitae Forte is a new release from Francis Kurkdijian that is possibly my favourite from this line so far. I will admit that I find the perfumes in the range quite difficult: they are so straight and unconsensual and unforgiving in a way, in their rigid, almost android-like, robotic, perfections, yet they are also, as I wrote in my review of APOM, possessed of a kind of strange genius. Like Mozart or Salieri tossing off sonatas or fugues, there is a kind of inconsolable airlocked immaculateness in the Kurkdijian universive that leaves no stone unturned. Not for this perfumer jagged edges and extraneous puffs of hideous aromachemicals (that cheap, and nasty, pink-bitch shit that wrecks your day and makes you wish you had never even picked up the bottle), no: even if your tastes lie in the more classical, verbatim constructions or along the lines of the shaggy and the aromatherapeutical, you can’t quite deny, upon smelling one of this perfumer’s creations, that there is an exquisite efficacy there, a deal that is nailed, with no airholes; and no compunction.

You have to pay almost three hundred dollars though, now, for a twenty first century creation that smells current, and new, and in the moment. And to be honest, I did consider this one today on my way to work in Yokohama as I do quite like, sometimes, my laundry musk angelics, when worn in the correct contextual situation (like teaching in a suit in front of seventeen year olds, and eighteen year olds); this is exactly the kind of smell that I would like to evince: a CK One redux: expensive, embellished, cast beautifully and peachily and stratospherically into the future, but more soulfful than Acqua Universalis (which struck me as even more of a CK One contender-rejoinder), or the pristine, if in some ways disturbingly piercing, work that the perfumer did for his Absolue Pour Le Matin.

Acqua Vitae Forte, a ‘meeting between sun, and the sea’, takes these quality, almost movingly and ice-hearted citrics, and fuses them, ingeniously, with more sensual, floral notes of ylang ylang and orange blossom (and even cinnamon, and ‘Guatemalan cardamom). The effect, for me at least, as I went up the escalator into the department store while wasting some time before I had to be at school for the beginning of my evening lessons, was a kind of fateful mmm, or perhaps an ooh, or maybe just a vague sigh of pleasure to myself that a new release wasn’t utterly vile (like Sauvage; JESUS, things are getting rough out there, people), or the lamentably mediocre Miu Miu, which isn’t entirely bad, when it kind of gets going, but doesn’t exactly blow your socks off either, and you know now that perfumers are working with quite ludicrously limited budgets so you can’t entirely blame them, as all the money is getting spent on crafting trendily coloured plastic flacons, and cats, and the girl from Lars Von Triers’ brilliant Nymphomaniac, but again, I digress: given the flotsam and jetsam levels of plasticky, mind-bending shit, when something has a charge that even vaguely hits the olfactory button and has been released in the years of 20I5; you somehow can’t quite help having a smile to yourself. This one might not quite be a modern masterpiece, but I do know that I will be going back to smell it again in Takashimaya Yokohama with a view to a potential work-buy; and in the context of the holocausts of dross that we currently find ourselves in, you know that really does not amount to nothing.


Filed under Flowers


  1. veritas

    “they literally contained essential oils”….love!!!!

  2. veritas

    and I think that kind of explains why lately some of my current juices are making me a bit queasy…this is another reason I have been sticking with my essential oils…today I added one spray of Ineke’s “Field Notes from Paris” to my vest…Normally love this one but as the scent was wafting up towards my nose I was getting a bit of nausea…wonder if it is indeed the lack of real essential oils and all of those chemicals I have exposed myself to over the years…My body might very well be on chemical overload at this point!

    • Well even though I was grateful for those Inekes that you sent me, I also found them way too chemical, to be honest. Cocktails of lab coats in San Francisco.

      • veritas

        Honestly, Neil, this applies to some of the natural stuff I have sampled (Aftelier, for example, smells off and chemical to my nose…might be because she uses natural fruit isolates in some of her blends…I know this for I have bought several isolates which she sells on her website and, by the way, really angered me because she charges triple the price that is charged at the essential oil company that she purchases from…only found that out from another perfumer who knows her AFTER I spent a ridiculous amount of money purchasing samples and e.os directly from Aftelier…if I may speak the truth, her work does not impress me…. I rather like my own stuff much better and it is much more affordable!!!)

      • incidentally I still haven’t smelled my namesake scent .

      • veritas

        I am hoarding it as I love it so much! Actually I made another blend with you in mind with the opponnax I purchased at Aftelier but knowing that you no longer have a “sweet tooth” I don’t think you would like it (tons of bourbon vanilla, styrax, orange blossom, beeswax, etc and I turned it into a solid perfume with even more beeswax !)

      • No no no now winter is approaching….

        In fact I am wearing my first Bal A Versailles extrait of the season as we speak….

  3. KimB

    agree with so much of what you wrote today – I sure pine for those 80’s scents that had “character and poise”, even if they were over-the-top or in-your-face. So much of what I have tested lately has been so chemically and wholely lacking in characer or refinement, with a few exceptions, the house of Balenciaga being one of them in mainline designer perfumes. I love your take MFK – “exquisite efficacy”. I have been exploring the line and keep coming back to it, especially Lumiere Noire and Absoloue pour le Soire as well as Oud and Satin Oud. There is just something about the smoothness and immaculate. I think you nailed it when you say the MFK line lacks “extraneous puffs of hideous aromachemicals ” – I think that is what I find so wonderful about the line and keep coming back to it again and again, despite not being sure if the initial simplicity is worth $300 a bottle. In the end, I think it is. Thanks for a great column (and blog!)

  4. ninakane1

    One of my favourites of his range too. I wore it in Paris last year when presenting a paper at the Sorbonne and it conjures the little attic room in Pernety I stopped in with its views of roof tiles and pigeons, dusky interiors with lace curtains and the sounds of children playing in the street at sundown. Haven’t worn any of his recently but was thinking about Absolue yesterday morning. I love his work as you know, but they are very driven, absolutist, secents. Definitely out there on their own in some ways. They are very aloof, almost cold, scents -delicate and silky like the touch of fur when worn in Winter sun – but warm and soften almost imperceptibly after a few hours on the skin.

    • ninakane1

      Oh, missed a bit! I’m talking about Acqua Universalis Forte btw. I haven’t had time to process this new one, though when i tested it i felt it had the energy and quality of lime somehow.

      • Yes. I really liked it actually. Will try it again next week. One spritz on a shirt cuff could present quite a mesmerizing Thursday’s teaching, me thinks.

      • ninakane1

        Yes, some of his scents are ‘clean’ enough for those environments where measured, cerebral, unyielding, dilligent subtelty are required! But they have a remote, underlying, charisma too – a je ne sais quoi. It sounds like it’d be a good one for subverting the scent restrictions of your school. I must try it again too. I think i even got a sample of it at some point in the spring. Will check it out some more.

      • ninakane1

        Ooh no, just retried it yesterday! Sandalwood and Mandarin! It’s his most commercial one yet – has a hint of Creed about it. Ooh no no no. You would possibly get away with it at school but only if you were wearing that Japanese besuty mask to go with it! Hahaha.

  5. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Less is more? Never was a fan and never thought I could read about a perfume and think: hm, I can skip that one. And to be Intrigued by the same reasons for not going to get it, apart from the cost (very Dutch). Definitely going to try it out in the posh perfumery of our capital.
    Curiouser, that’s what you make me! You must be an excellent teacher, by the way.

  6. Dross Holocausts??? Lol,

  7. Because you have taught me a lot and because I love your sense of humor. Humor is the Salt of the Earth to me.
    And you strike me as a teacher I would have liked a lot to have had in class.
    I only speak for myself that is true.

    • Nancysg

      I agree about your thoughts about teachers. The most memorable teachers I had were not part of the conformist educational system. They walked on the edge while also giving and demanding so much from their students.

  8. Love and agree with what you said about fragrances from back in the days when they were truly made well AND affordable. Too much dreck out there these days, far too much.
    I do enjoy MFK fragrances quite a bit. I am actually wearing Absolue Pour le Soir this evening as I type. It is such a glorious fragrance and one which makes bedtime so much more enjoyable. I will most definitely need to try this one, it sounds rather interesting.
    I agree that you must be quite a wonderful teacher. You have a wonderful way of engaging your readers and drawing us in. You must be phenomenal in front of a class.

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