Words by Emily Algar

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540

Francis Kurkdjian was only 24 when he composed his first ever perfume: Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier. The contradictory amber fougere scent launched his career, and cemented Kurkdjian as one of the most prominent perfumers (or noses!) of the era we’re living in. Passionate and incredibly skilled, Kurkdjian went on to collaborate with numerous influential figures in art and fashion before opening his namesake atelier in 2009 (co-founded with Marc Chaya). The sole intention of the maison was to, “fulfill a desire for a sensual, generous and multi-facetted landscape of olfactory free expression.” A dream that most would say has been 100 percent realised.

Since the maison’s inception, Kurkdjian has produced a plethora of male and female perfumes, all centered on the idea of fragrance as a wardrobe (scents to compliment a particular mood, season or occasion). Each and every launch has been significant, but few fragrances in the last decade have had impact quite like Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540.

First created in 2014, Baccarat Rouge 540 was dreamt up by the master perfumer as a means to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Baccarat, the purveyor of luxury crystal. Originally released in 250 numbered crystal bottles, the ‘540’ alludes to the temperature at which clear glass is combined with 24 karat gold powder to produce the glowing red colour Baccarat is known for.

Now a permanent offering (and housed in the signature Kurkdjian glass flacon) Baccarat Rouge 540 has long been an underground favourite of editors, olfactive buffs and those in the know. But during the pandemic, its popularity exploded, in part due to a handful of viral TikTok videos, resulting in it being dubbed 2021’s ‘most complimented perfume’ by New York Magazine.

The scent itself has been described by Kurkdjian as “an overdose of everything”, in spite of it’s curated list of ingredients. Interestingly, it’s an entirely synthetic scent, using extracts like Veltol (most commonly smelled in Thierry Mugler’s Angel) to produce the candied-fruit-meets-smoked-wood redolence. With representative notes like jasmine, saffron and freshly-cut cedar, Baccarat Rouge 540 is evocative, addictive and rich — the perfect distillation of the luxury and exclusivity from which it was inspired (and with a price tag to match).

In 2017, the scent was translated into Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum, an intensified elixir with hints of Grandiflorum jasmine, bitter almond and woody musk. Encased within a brilliant red vessel, the scent embodied all the deliciousness of the original with additional fire. And for purists, the original scent also comes in a candle, body oil, hair mist and body cream — all of which can either be layered with the eau de parfum or worn individually.

Now, Baccarat Rouge 540 is the unofficial Santal 33 of 2021; it’s on the skin of everyone who’s cool, and it occupies the airspace in every chic restaurant, bar or club. It’s a rumoured favourite of Rihanna’s, and the hashtag #baccaratrouge540 currently has 124 million views on TikTok — quite the cultural phenomenon for a fragrance that’s under 10 years old. For those who haven’t yet experienced it, TikTok star Tayla Maree’s description is pretty apt: “Imagine you’re in a penthouse apartment in New York City. You’ve just come from a black tie ball, wearing a backless dress and the love of your life starts kissing you on the neck. It smells like sex. It’s so incredibly sexy to me. I’d rather bankrupt myself than not smell like this.”

1995: Francis Kurkdjian creates Le Male for the house of Jean Paul Gaultier

2009: Maison Francis Kurkdjian is established

2014: Baccarat Rouge 540 is launched to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Baccarat

2017: Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum is launched

2021: Baccarat Rouge 540 dubbed the year’s most complimented fragrance