When your name is attached to a fragrance that sells a bottle every 6 seconds, it’s safe to say that you’re kind of a big deal. Such an occurrence is true for Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic men’s fragrance, Le Male. With over 80 million bottles sold since it’s launch in 1995 and over 23,000 retailers carrying the product, it’s one of the most successful fragrances of all time.


With that fact, matched with an incredible history of fashion design for men and women, it’s not hard to surmise why the Barbican, London, has launched a new exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, a retrospect of the man’s groundbreaking work.

As part of the new exhibition, The Barbican held a perfume symposium, hosted by Harper’s Jo Glynn-Smith, with special guests perfumer Francis Kurkdijan, the creator of Le Male, and Thierry-Maxime Loriot, the exhibitions curator. It was a lively discussion that delved into the world of Jean Paul Gaultier, discussing the fragrances that have become as famous as his clothes.

A former classical ballet dancer and pianist, Francis Kurkdijan shifted gear when realizing his life wasn’t destined for the stage and attended the International Perfumery School in 1990 aged 20. Through luck, hard work and being in the right place at the right time, Francis ended up at Gaultier and signed off his first fragrance, Le Male, in 1995 and just 25 years old.

Francis is an incredibly interesting man to listen to, his knowledge and perception of fragrance is truly unique. He discussed the reasons behind Le Male’s unprecedented success, including its blend of masculinity and feminine sensuality. He says he took inspiration from the female fragrance, Classique, and went from there. An interesting point he raised was that the words we use to describe the fragrance today, like timeless, or legendary, were not in the original brief. In the beginning it was all about sexuality. He was told, “Think about wanting to eat a man. Think of him lying on a beach sunbathing, sweating and you want to lick him. Lick the salt of the muscles.” (Mops brow).

Francis also mentioned, to shock and amusement of the room, that he himself does not wear fragrance and would go as far as saying he hates fragrances. Not unreasonable when he spends his day with his nose in aromas. He likes to keep himself clean and fragrance free.

Le Male is an invigorating scent, a complex bouquet of mint, bergamot, lavender, orange blossom, cinnamon, vanilla and sandalwood. This melee of seductive aromas, feminine florals and masculine scents is potent and intoxicating. Part 90’s gay club, part eternal bachelor, it’s a scent that resonates with a wide scope of men with it’s demanding prowess.

It is more than a clichéd young, club-going fragrance; Le Male can be used for more formal affairs as well. It’s an accessible fragrance for all that’s ideal for evening use, with its complexities developing over time.

You can watch the whole conversation, and see the surprise visit from the man himself below.

Le Male is available from Selfridges.com

Neil Thornton

Written by Neil Thornton
London-based coffee drinker. Editor by day, blogger by whatever time he finds spare.