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Francis Kurkdjian L'OR DE JADORE Dior Perfume

Dior Perfume Creation Director Francis Kurkdjian Reimagines an Icon with L’Or de J’adore

In dialogue with both the 25-year-old fragrance J’adore and Mr. Dior himself, Francis Kurkdjian created L’Or de J’adore, a concentrated perfume that expands on the olfactory nuances of the original powerhouse floral bouquet. Whitewall spoke with the perfume creation director of Dior and the visionary behind his own eponymous fragrance house.

Katy Donoghue

1 February 2024

Scent has been a passion of Francis Kurkdjian since the age of 14. The perfume creation director for Dior, and the visionary behind his own eponymous fragrance house, can still recall the first time he caught a dizzying whiff of Poison on the Champs-Élysées in 1985. Buoyed by the romance and fantasy of Yves Montand playing a perfumer in the seventies flick Le Sauvage, his future vocation became crystal clear.

Clarity is certainly a way to describe the characteristics of a Kurkdjian scent. Using cinematic descriptors to tell the story of his vision, he creates streamlined fragrances that we, too, may feel compelled to follow in the street. A reason, no doubt, he was recently named the perfumer for the House of Dior, where he was first asked to reimagine their signature scent, J’adore. 

In dialogue with both the 25-year-old fragrance and Mr. Dior himself, Kurkdjian created L’Or de J’adore. It is a concentrated, super-expressive perfume that expands on the olfactory nuances of the original powerhouse floral bouquet. To celebrate, Dior also collaborated with artist Jean-Michel Othoniel on a small sculpture to encase the bottle. 

Discussing its origins and essence with Whitewall, Kurkdjian compared his reimagining of the icon of J’adore as similar to the way in which the fashion house’s creative directors have reimagined the icon of the Bar Suit. The perfumer shared with us what it was like to dive headfirst into the heady notes of La Colle Noire and to reemerge with a new standard for the future of fragrance.

DIOR_L'OR DE JADORE

Photo by Valentin Hennequin, courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums.

WHITEWALL: L’Or de J’adore is a fresh reinterpretation of Dior’s iconic J’adore. How did you want to update it for the present moment?

FRANCIS KURKDJIAN: L’Or de J’adore is a deeper and more concentrated version of J’adore, Eau de Parfum from 1999. My signature resides in the dialogue between flowers and the fact that they are treated differently, as I envisaged them streamlined and concentrated, in an ultra-expressive style. There are 25 years between the two compositions. The ingredients have since evolved, and the palette of possibilities has grown considerably wider with olfactory nuances that didn’t exist at the time. That is the magic of my profession! But the principle of the dialogue between the flowers is maintained, and it provides the very beauty of J’adore.

WW: Was that any different from where you started with L’Or de J’adore?

FK: J’adore itself was the basis for my inspiration. My entire reflection process came from the genesis of the Eau de Parfum version. J’adore is an abstract floral bouquet. You smell flowers but can’t tell which they are. Its composition requires an enormous number of raw materials. If flowers are the gold of J’adore, to get the purest quality of gold you have to heat it up to so the impurities evaporate. So I mentally envision doing the same for the scent and the formula.  

I dived into the extensive list—immersing myself in its richness. Then I trimmed down the profusion. I wanted to define the J’adore flowers and maximize them. I simplified the formula to express its quintessence in an unprecedented concentration. This radically streamlined form corresponds to my identity and my style.  

DIOR_L'OR DE JADORE

Photo by Valentin Hennequin, courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums.

Francis Kurkdjian Hones in on the True Gold of Dior’s J’adore

WW: How did you turn your focus to gold? What does it symbolize for you? How does it relate to scent? And specifically in this fragrance?

FK: The metaphor for gold appeared immediately and suited my approach perfectly. It was like looking for gold, and I “mined” until I found the quintessence of this iconic house composition. Then, in the same way that metal is heated to retain only its purest parts, I imagined “warming” the Eau de Parfum formula to retain only its most noble aspects and obtain a perfume that was like pure, fluid gold. Flowers are the true gold in J’adore!

WW: L’Or de J’adore also accentuates the color, the hue of flowers. What made you want to engage with color as well?

FK: My understanding of J’adore (the original bouquet) is that it possesses a composition that can easily be compared to pictorial art: In some ways, it is like an Impressionist masterpiece, composed of a myriad of floral touches layered upon each other. Rather like a kaleidoscope, or a Pointillist painting. 

In my interpretation for L’Or de J’adore, I gave it new, rounder, and smoother colors, and I emphasized the pinks and whites, adding a new, more solar light. The minuscule dots have been transformed into pixels and into flowers that are present in overdosed proportions.

WW: When J’adore was first created, floral scents were not in fashion. J’adore brought something more luminous and cleaner. How does L’Or de J’adore push that even further?

FK: The floral bouquet of J’adore is profuse and rich. Its unique signature comes from the dialogue within the complexity of the floral bouquet in a clean yet voluptuous way. That’s to me the magic of J’adore. The dialogue it opens between the flowers is what gives it its unique signature. It is as though J’adore had invented an imaginary flower, or rather the very idea of a floral scent. 

DIOR_L'OR DE JADORE

Photo by Valentin Hennequin, courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums.

An Olfactory Dialogue with Christian Dior Ensues

WW: L’Or de J’adore strikes that balance between the contemporary and timeless. Would you say that that is key for any new fragrance? How do you arrive there?

FK: I wanted to capture the “aura of J’adore” and turned it into the “gold of J’adore.” I dived into the dizzying and heady stylistic exercise of appropriating a flamboyant and contemporary legacy that was nevertheless already timeless. I added my own signature by exploring its quintessence, like a seeker of gold on a quest for the purest, shiniest, and most beautiful form. Here, too, I saw the legacy of the legendary floral bouquet as a field of ultimate expression, a precious bequest that I made mine, with equal parts audacity and humility.

WW: Where do you typically begin when working on a new fragrance?

FK: I always need a name for the perfume (or a code name that is close) to start working, as without that I can’t begin to imagine and envisage the olfactory shape that I have to compose. The name encapsulates the entire story. I’ve worked like that since I started out, 25 years ago! However, sources of inspiration will be completely different as I am the perfumer for the House of Dior, where I engage a dialogue with Christian Dior, his values, and the values of the House of Dior. Whereas at Maison Francis Kurkdjian, it is more of a monologue. I am me, at my own company!

WW: In visiting Grasse and going into Mr. Dior’s archives, what were you looking for? What did you find?

FK: Those moments at La Colle Noire, in M. Dior’s archives, allowed me to understand more about the man, to feel his presence and unprecedented talent. I wanted to catch the soul of the maison, its core values.

DIOR_L'OR DE JADORE

Photo by Valentin Hennequin, courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums.

“I wanted a radical approach and an immediate floral sensation,” —Francis Kurkdjian

WW: We read that you found a seed catalog of Mr. Dior’s mother’s that was of particular interest. How so?

FK: This gardening catalog offers seeds for sale. It is in the archives of the House of Dior. Kim Jones was inspired by it for one of his shows. I demonstrated the love for plants and flowers from Christian Dior, how knowledgeable he was about nature and gardening, and how his love for flowers was sincere and real.

WW: How did Mr. Dior’s love and deep knowledge of flowers inspire you to create a rounder expression of the floral notes in J’adore?

FK: I am deeply touched by his genuine and sincere love for flowers and nature, which resonates with me. I would like to explain the floral notes of J’adore by using the language of film: I tracked forward, then zoomed in. I zoomed in on the flowers, in the sense that I amplified them, maximizing and celebrating them. In my vision, they became hyperbolic, played in a major key. Exaggerating the flowers and making their contours prominent infuses the fragrance with unprecedented opulence and concentration. I wanted a radical approach and an immediate floral sensation. The J’adore flowers grab you straight away, without waiting.

WW: You also spent time listening to archival recordings of Mr. Dior. What did you find there?

FK: We have lots of pictures of M. Dior and some recordings. Adding his voice gives a more intimate touch and brings his soul in a different way, in a more tangible way, maybe.

DIOR_L'OR DE JADORE

Photo by Valentin Hennequin, courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums.

A Symphony of Music, Fashion, and Film Further Evolves the Fantasy of Fragrance

WW: Do sound and scent ever create a connection for you?

FK: Of course! We can say an odor is high-pitched, or strident, or dull. There are lots of connections between perfume and music. 

WW: You’ve described fragrances as the opposite of fashion—instead of a new silhouette every season, fragrances are meant to be loved and worn for years, decades, even. There’s a real loyalty to fragrance. How does that impact your creative process, knowing something will be worn for years, becoming a part of the way a person moves through their everyday?

FK: Perfume can give you strength and confidence because it interacts with your emotions. This is the magic of the scents, and it takes about 18 months to compose, create, and prepare a perfume launch. For L’Or de J’adore, it took about a year, and leaving my signature on it seemed to me to be an introduction that was characteristic of the House of Dior. Indeed, you can see that every artistic director delivers their own, revisited version of the Bar Suit, and I did the same by taking up the great classic of J’adore to make my mark on it—with respect, but also with a lot of audacity, as recommended by Christian Dior!

WW: You knew since you were 14 that you wanted to create perfumes. What made you so sure then? And what keeps you so sure of that now?

FK: I still remember the launch of Poison in 1985: the scent trail in the streets of Paris. My adolescence seems to be bottled inside that perfume. I remember it particularly on the Champs-Élysées. At that very moment, I decided to become a perfumer. It was a true revelation I had at the age of 14, by reading an article about perfumery and perfumers in a magazine. 

I also watched the movie Le Sauvage (1975) with French actors Yves Montand and Catherine Deneuve, where Montand plays the role of a perfumer in a remote Venezuelan island. After that, I fell in love with it and told my parents I wanted to become a perfumer. I knew deep inside that it was my vocation!

DIOR_L'OR DE JADORE

Photo by Valentin Hennequin, courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums.

WW: You’ve spoken at length about the future of fragrance. What excites you about the possibilities we’ll engage with fragrance in the next 10 to 20 years?

FK: Dior has already embraced the future of fragrance with J’adore Parfum d’eau, the very first highly concentrated Eau de Parfum in a water-based solution. It’s a technological breakthrough that has great perspectives. 

As we live in a digital world, I believe we will have some innovations that will allow us to finally build a bridge between perfume and IT. Last, the future is also about sustainability and how we are transforming, reshaping, the olfactive world based on the new challenges we all are facing.

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During Paris Haute Couture Week, Dior presented an enthralling High Jewelry collection designed by Artistic Director Victoire de Castellane.
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