Fashion designer Aleks Kurkowski was surprisingly calm and relaxed when we visited her at her studio, just a couple of days before the presentation our new collection. Given the madness and survival skills necessary in the fashion business, her serenity is admirable as she forges ahead as an up-and-coming label. She finds herself preoccupied with geometry and architecture when gathering inspiration for her beautifully dark and almost brutalist designs that are made entirely from sustainably produced materials she sources from small European manufacturers. www.alekskurkowski.com
PORTRAITS: Rosa Merk
1. THE BLIND TASTING
Eau d’Ikar BY Sisley
We confronted Aleks Kurkowski with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Aleks on her journey into scent …
“The scent of pine and the sound of surf.”
Tangy, wonderfully tangy. It strongly reminds me of my father—because he too likes to wear very tangy scents. I was eight when my family moved to Germany from Poland. I have only vague memories of the time before that. But I do recall that he always wore perfume. My mother regularly wore perfume, too, but I liked the men’s fragrances more. They seemed to really get under my skin. Anyhow, this is a scent that would suit my father just fine.
Recently I was asked what the difference is between Polish and German women. I answered that the women in Poland are always very elegant, no matter where they are going or what they’re about to do. And make-up and perfume definitely play a part in that look.
There is a touch of lemon cake to this, too. Or of freshly made soda and limes. Whatever the case, it’s a very summery perfume and would be just the thing for a stylish summer evening.
After we settled in Germany, we used to spend time each summer on the Baltic Coast of Poland with our relatives who lived in Warsaw. The name of the resort is Jurata, a lovely place on the Hel Peninsula near Gdansk. My parents still go there and I do, too, whenever I get the chance.
Forests fringe the beaches of the Baltic Coast and there are great dunes, too. Every day one walks through the forest to the sea, drenched in the fantastic scent of pine. There is something dreamlike about my memory of the winding path and the sound of surf breaking in the distance. The mothers spend all day on the beach, working on their tan, whereas the dads retire now and then to the shade. And the kids swim, surf or fly their kites.
This fragrance suits that kind of summer sojourn down to the ground. It could be worn in the evening too, for dinner at one of the many restaurants there.
I’ve been to a lot of other places too, since I got older, to the south of France for example. Pine forests fringe the coast there too. But the climate is considerably hotter and much drier. I find the scent of pine trees on the Baltic much fresher and more intense, doubtless because it’s more humid there. The Mediterranean Coast smells predominantly of heat. That’s why this perfume is better suited to northern climes.
I wonder, how does heat smell? Stifling, above all, I think, because it dulls all one’s senses. I’m not a great fan of the heat, to be honest. I prefer the north to the south—at least in the summertime.
This fragrance would be right for a man in his prime, one who’s not in his office all day, but always on the move. I’m sure that if I bumped into him at an airport, his fragrance would make an instant impression on me. I’d wonder where he was headed …
2. THE INTERVIEW
“I liked the perfume more than I liked the man.”
SCENTURY: What is your earliest memory of scent?
Aleks Kurkowski: Coal! When I was a child in Poland we heated the house with coal briquettes. They have a very peculiar smell, very hard to describe. The whole basement used to be full of briquettes and we loved playing there, although it was forbidden of course. The most exciting time was when the winter delivery arrived and was shoveled in through the basement window. We always helped out and ended up completely covered in soot. I was a little devil and I did what I wanted and I was always in a lot of trouble.
SC: Was perfume worn in your family circle?
AK: Both my father and my mother used perfume. I preferred his perfumes to my mother’s. I simply loved that masculine scent. Nowadays he wears Fahrenheit 32 and Dior Homme—typical masculine fragrances.
SC: Do you pay much attention to how the men around you smell?
AK: Oh yes, indeed. I think it’s vital that a man smells good. Whether of perfume or his natural scent is not important … And generally, it’s a bit of both.
SC: Which perfumes does your mother wear?
AK: At the moment she adores Herba Fresca by Guerlain. That is a very fresh, tart, lemony scent that I too like very much.
SC: So the love of green, tangy scents runs in the family?
AK: I guess so!
SC: What was the first perfume you ever owned?
AK: Jil Sander’s Sun. I was 15 or so. Jil Sander, the designer, didn’t mean a thing to me back then but I’ve come to admire her work in the meantime. And now I wear Jil Sander’s Sun Men.
SC: So you simply switched sides?
AK: An ex of mine used to wear it and at some point the scales fell from my eyes: I liked the perfume more than I liked him.
SC: I’ve heard that mathematics plays a significant role in your design process.
AK: Geometry, rather than mathematics. Numbers, angles and geometric shapes are a great source of inspiration for me.
SC: Does geometry have a smell?
AK: Yes, it smells of concrete! Cool, slightly dusty and matt—wonderful. A few days ago I visited a workshop where concrete furniture is made and I saw the most amazing table there. I couldn’t, not even for a second, resist stroking and sniffing it!
SC: Is there anything romantic about geometry?
HS: Is your fashion romantic?
AK: No. Actually, I’m not the romantic kind of guy.
HS: Would you wear a perfume that smells of concrete?
AK: Well, I think it would need a few additional notes to really work. But it would no doubt be exciting to give it a try.
SC: You use only sustainable materials produced under fair working conditions. Can one smell the difference?
AK: One certainly can in the case of leather and wool. I use a woolen fabric manufactured by a family business in the south of Germany. The wool is cleaned organically and not dyed. It smells wonderful—of nothing but wool.
SC: So how would your signature scent smell? Of concrete?
AK: It would definitely have to be a very tangy, fresh and cool scent.
SC: Have you ever considered creating a fragrance for your label?
AK: It is still too soon for that. But it does make sense, in general. One designs an entire collection then the accessories to match and a fragrance would round things off perfectly. On the other hand, I’ve never bought a scent from a designer just because I like his line in clothes. I consider each on its own merits.
SC: Thank you, Aleks!
Making of: Aleks Kurkowski with SCENTURY’s Helder Suffenplan. Photo: Rosa Merk.
ABOUT ALEKS KURKOWSKI
Name: Aleks Kurkowski
Occupation: Fashion Designer
ABOUT THE PERFUME
Perfume: Eau d’Ikar by Sisley
Perfumer: Laurent Bruyere
Discover more perfume blindtastings here on SCENTURY!