Long before we know ourselves, we know how to create: doodles on the fridge, mud pie in the yard, a mess in mom’s closet. Creation is the bridge between man and eternity, and it establishes the name of the Creator from time to time in eternity. For Christian Dior, beauty was a concept that could be worn, admired, smelled, and remain inexplicable. Today, Dior’s namesake label continues to be launched, and is honored by those dedicated to reigniting the visionary’s fire of authenticity.
This fall, the house celebrates those dedicated to this renewal by launching L’Or de J’adore, the first fragrance created by its new fragrance creative director, Francis Kurkdjian. Respecting the traditions Dior has historically placed on floral scents, Kurkdjian strove for purity, reducing the essence of the fragrance to notes of absolute necessity – jasmine, rose and ylang-ylang extend throughout, dancing alongside memories of lily and violet.
To celebrate the launch and the beginning of a new era for J’adore, the Maison launches an exclusive art collaboration with Jean-Michel Othonel, a contemporary installation artist best known for his architectural pieces, which can be found in gardens, historic sites, and cities all over the world. In a wooden box is a bronze and gold statuette of Lourdes, which includes a bottle of L’Or de J’adore. The perfume bottle is topped with a crystal pearl and accompanied by a pendant in bronze dipped in gold, surrounded by a skeletal corolla, making it impossible for the perfume bottle to stand on its own without the sculpture.
L’Or de J’adore will be unveiled in New York City at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where Othoniel’s new exhibition of site-specific sculptures will take place. Hypnosis flowers, Being. Three pieces of different sizes make up the Gold Lotus series in the Hill-and-Pond Japanese Garden, giving the illusion of real lotus flowers floating in a pond, reflecting light from above and below. Located in the Fragrance Garden, the Mirror Lotus structure is located on the Lily Pool Terrace and consists of two towering stainless steel roses.
Othonel and Kurkdjian have come together to continue Dior’s tradition of bringing beauty into the world, and to reinvent the fragrance experience. In a limited edition of which only 100 copies will be made, Othoniel’s body in the shape of a lotus flower holds the bottle in which the Kurkdjian fragrance lives. Together they keep that flame of creativity burning, and Dior lives on.
How do you balance individuality and universality in the perfumes you create?
When you create a fragrance, you first start with an idea, perhaps a personal one, that you can share with the creative team around you. Then, at some point, you have to think about an audience larger than yourself. First of all, what you create should satisfy you. I am always the first customer. It’s impossible to smell something you don’t like. In the same way, it is impossible to cook something that you do not like. This is impossible. If you cook something, I’d say you should at least love what you’re cooking. The fragrance is the same, because you don’t just smell it, you put it on the skin. Therefore, you should enjoy what you are working on.
At some point, throughout the creative process, you have to think bigger than yourself, just bigger than your team, you have to think more intellectually than your audience. It’s more of a feeling you get. It’s about getting out of the technical part of the creative process and moving more into the emotional part. A wonderful fragrance that transcends the raw materials. A great fragrance goes beyond the olfactory pyramid, and a great perfume goes beyond just mentioning names. A great fragrance becomes a great fragrance once you feel it. At some point, perfume becomes just an emotion and not a layer of ingredients.
What is the process of creating L’Or de J’adore?
Very very simple. So, within the name Dior, within the name J’adore, there is the word orWhich means gold in French. Gold is very important to the House of Dior. Jean Cocteau stated—essentially what Jean Cocteau was to France what Andy Warhol was to the United States—that Dior is a contraction of duet And or, God and gold. So the idea of gold for Dior is very important. It’s one of our pillars. L’Or de J’adore, meaning the gold inside the J’adore; The idea was a search for pure gold. What gold is inside J’adore? When we started thinking about it, we thought it would be appropriate to first understand how pure gold is made. Pure gold is made by heating gold to a certain temperature until the impurities evaporate.
My thought was that if I had to use the Eau de Parfum formula, the original J’adore from 1999, and if I intuitively evaporated the formula until the more volatile ingredients evaporated, what would be left? It was the idea of using a magnifying glass, digging into the fragrance, picking out what’s important within the fragrance, and zooming in to get the full picture. This was my interpretation of the project. When you do this, you mainly focus on the important part of the fragrance, and the flowers are the real gold for J’adore.
How does Dior relate to the natural world through its work?
Dior’s perfumer, Edmond Rudnitska, was the first perfumer ever to create an actual lily bell. Before that time it was impossible not only to extract scent from a flower, but it was essentially impossible to replicate the scent.
In the world of perfumes, some flowers smell so strong, we can’t extract the smell from them. We call it, among perfumers, “silent flowers,” which means it is almost like a silent flower. The reason we call them silent flowers is because until now there is no way to extract the scent from these flowers. The peony, for perfumers, is a muted flower. Sweet pea is a muted flower. Lilacs, Hyacinths, Madonna’s Big Lilies. Although they exist in nature, it is completely impossible to extract scent from them.
The house of Dior was the first to be able to reproduce and replicate the scent (lily of the valley) in Diorissimo. Since 1947, we’ve been using natural extracts from flowers, woods and spices. It is part of our identity, part of our heritage and DNA.
Christian Dior was very inspired by flowers. His first collection is known in the United States as New Look, but in France as Corolle. The corolla is basically the shape of the flower. We have tulip dresses, and we have many connections with nature because since his childhood with his mother, Christian Dior loved gardening. He loved gardens. La Colle Noire, in the south of France, is a stunning garden that is almost an exact replica. It is inspired by the house he had in his childhood home. So nature, gardens and flowers are a big part of us in a way. This is also what I’m trying to revive as an internal person right now. I think this is important to me because there are modern ways to activate those memories.
All the partnerships with Othoniel, the one we had at Versailles, last fall, and the one we had in Paris at the Petit Palace. The one in the New York City Botanical Garden, created by Othoniel, has a strong connection with nature. There is something very organic in a way.
Why are you drawn to gardens? What draws you to them, and how have they helped inspire you? Hypnosis flowers?
I had the opportunity to have my grandmother who had a garden, and when I was four years old, I would help her water the plants and vegetables. It was a food garden, not really flowers. After that, I started to travel a lot with my father, and every time we went to different countries, we visited parks. When she started taking art history classes, she studied gardens at school. I really love it, this is my passion. I really like stories about gardens, the different kinds of gardens, the architecture, the secret meanings of the pavilions and the follies, as we say in French, in the middle of the garden. So it’s really something that inspired me.
Since I always thought about trying to show my work in parks, the first show was at the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice in 1997. It’s the place where I had my first park show. And then I wrote a book about the story of flowers because I’ve collected them since I was a teenager. So, it’s really something that, you know, sometimes you ask an artist, “What’s your hobby?” My hobby is gardening.
What is your experience working with Dior? How was the work compared to what you previously created in the past?
I worked with Dior ten years ago on this very small edition of J’adore. While I was working on the bottle itself, I had brought in all of the Murano glass experts to work on the first edition. Here, my idea was to make a real sculpture to support the amphora in which the fragrance is located. It really is giving everyone a small bronze statue that you can handle, play with, and even have at home. This, for me, is something completely new. It reaches a new audience, people who don’t know my work, but who will discover it through this collaboration.
The bottom of the bottle is completely round, so you can’t take it out and use it as a normal bottle. You need to get back to sculpting. So this kind of dialogue between the bottle and the statue, they are interconnected. In fact, they need to communicate, they need to talk to each other. So this conversation is about making the bottle something that you need to play with, that you need to care about. It is also something that will bring you energy. It’s not a fixed thing. You put it in this infinity necklace that will rotate into a rose shape. For me, this collaboration was about creating something really special because it was a new edition of the fragrance. It wasn’t like I had it worked the first time, I was just working on its content. He wasn’t working on the story for that.
How did you go about creating a multi-sensory experience through your work at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden? Do you have a special relationship with the flowers you represented? Hypnosis flowers?
The park itself is made up of several gardens, so I chose three gardens close to each other. One of BBG’s most popular gardens is the Japanese Garden, which is the oldest Japanese garden in the state. It’s so magical because the trees are so big and they all come from Japan. In this garden, I wanted to pay tribute to the lotus flower because it is an important flower in Japanese culture, and I use gold because gold is also very important in Japanese culture. (The statue) reflects all the landscape – you can see in the golden leaves a subtle reflection of what is around you. I’m sure the color change during the show, which ends in autumn, will reflect yellows, pinks and reds, so the atmosphere will be completely different. This is reflected in the piece itself.
What’s great about parks, is that you have to come back. It’s not a place you see once, it’s always changing, it changes of course with the light, with the season, but it also changes because you move through the gardens. In the Japanese garden, you have a path around the pond, so when you turn around the sculptures, they change shape. You have this feeling that it actually thrives, because sometimes it can be closed and from another point of view it’s completely open. So it is the idea of the lotus, the lotus is made up of many steps, and all representations of the lotus are linked to spirituality. And in the Japanese Garden, it’s great because you have this pavilion on the water, so you can really relax and take the time to look at the piece as a kind of – I don’t know – spiritual portal.
Still life photographed by Ugo Cesare
Still Life Creations directed by Mui Hai Chu
Francis Kurkdjian photographed by Claudio Fleitas
Jean-Michel Photography by Zach Gross