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PARIS — Dior has appointed Francis Kurkdjian as its perfume creation director.
He is succeeding François Demachy, among the world’s most famous perfumers, who was Parfums Christian Dior’s first in-house perfumer and is retiring.
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Kurkdjian rocketed onto the fragrance scene in 1995 at age 24, after creating the blockbuster Le Mâle for Jean Paul Gaultier.
Kurkdjian then conceived scents for brands such as Narciso Rodriguez, Giorgio Armani and Lancôme before cofounding his eponymous label in 2009. Eight years later, Dior’s parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton purchased a majority stake in Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
In an exclusive interview, Laurent Kleitman, president and chief executive officer of Parfums Christian Dior, paid tribute to Demachy, the creator of a myriad of fragrances, including Sauvage Eau de Toilette, and the man who reinvented iconic Dior scents, such as J’Adore Eau de Toilette and Miss Dior.
“He’s been with us for 15 years and is leaving behind a massive heritage and legacy,” said Kleitman. “He has been one of the most creative and prolific perfumers of the industry.
“[François] has very respectfully nurtured the heritage of the maison,” continued the executive. “He has managed at the same time to be the respectful heir of the legacy and the long history of Dior, [which] is as much a fragrance house as a fashion house since 1947.”
Christian Dior simultaneously launched fashion and perfume that year, the latter with Miss Dior. Demachy’s most recent launch, of the Miss Dior Eau de Parfum, essentially closes that circle.
“He has also moved the maison forward,” said Kleitman. “And he has brought modernity and creativity. For example, what he’s done with Sauvage is simply phenomenal.”
Sauvage today is close to becoming the bestselling perfume franchise worldwide. Demachy grew Dior’s private collection, too.
“Now, we have 21 editions of Collection Privée, and each of them really taps into the DNA of the brand and an insight about François’ attachment to the south and to the heritage of [Dior],” said Kleitman. “From a perfume standpoint, no one can argue that he is one of the most — if not the most — talented perfumers of the last 15 years, and we are so proud to have had him working on Dior.”
Demachy has been a keen proponent of supply-chain excellence, especially linked to sourcing ingredients globally, from Indian jasmine to bergamot from Calabria or sandalwood from Sri Lanka.
“That is important to creating ultimately the best fragrances,” said Kleitman, who also lauded Demachy for having been a visionary 15 years ago in spearheading the revival of Grasse, France, the perfumer’s birthplace and also that of modern perfumery.
“The Grasse terroir was almost dying, was about to disappear completely,” said Kleitman, who credited Demachy with restoring the production of exceptional fragrance flowers, working closely with growers and producers “really as if [Dior] was his own maison.”
Kleitman likened Demachy’s connection to the land and cultivation to that of Christian Dior himself, who had his last home, the Château de La Colle Noire, near Grasse, which includes a massive garden.
Demachy for the past decade and a half has developed strong partnerships with local flower producers, which was documented in the feature-length documentary, “Nose,” which came out earlier this year.
“This is probably his greatest pride and also our greatest pride,” said Kleitman, referring also to the impact that’s had on people’s lives and communities. “I can say from a human standpoint that he’s always been very humble, very generous, passionate and, of course, very determined to really fight against all odds — the regeneration of the Grasse terroir, for example.”
“We love François, we love him forever. He’s one of a kind, and no one can replace him doing the same thing,” said Kleitman.
So the arrival of Kurkdjian marks a new era for Parfums Christian Dior. The perfumer keeps pushing boundaries with his brand that include, alongside perfumes fashioned to make a fragrance “wardrobe,” scented detergents and hair mist, among other out-of-the-box endeavors meant to express and use perfume as an art form.
These include dreaming up The Smell of Money for artist Sophie Calle in 2003, magically scenting the Château de Versailles’ fountains with metallic rose in 2007 and 2008, and filling Paris’ Grand Palais museum with fragranced bubbles for a musical happening in 2011.
Kurkdjian also concocted fragrances in the past for Dior, including Eau Noire in 2004, which is one of the foundations for the Collection Privée, plus perfumes for other LVMH-owned houses, such as Kenzo, Guerlain and Acqua di Parma.
“He has a universe I like, full of contrasts,” said Kleitman. “What I like in Francis is the freedom with which he is creating. I liked the way he described his work and his art. He said: ‘I want freedom, but not for freedom’s sake. I want freedom to serve the purpose of perfume.’”
Like Demachy, Kurkdjian is demanding about the quality of raw materials, is inspired by words and concepts, and is a remarkable storyteller, continued Kleitman.
The executive sees Kurkdjian blending well into Dior since he’s an aesthete, too. “He is very much into all kinds of arts — music, dance, sculptures and paintings. What he says, as well, is: ‘I want to get perfume out of the bottle.’
“He will help us explore new territories based on arts, ideas, concepts, names, evocation,” said Kleitman.
Kurkdjian is to continue heading up his eponymous fragrance house after he takes up his role at Dior on Oct. 18. Kleitman welcomes the dual responsibilities.
For his part, Kurkdjian is brimming with excitement over his new post at Dior. “It’s a brand that even at 52 makes me dream,” he said during an interview during which he extolled Demachy for his extraordinary career.
Kurkdjian has had links with Dior spanning his entire life. The Armenian church his parents attended and grandparents married in is on a street parallel to Avenue Montaigne, the site of Dior’s flagship in Paris.
“Even in my mother’s womb, I passed in front of the Dior windows,” said the perfumer, who also has an in-depth knowledge of Avenue Montaigne, recalling the time when it was lined with couture boutiques for the likes of Celine, Nina Ricci, Emanuel Ungaro and Guy Laroche.
Kurkdjian’s mother’s best friend worked with founder Christian Dior.
“So I knew, therefore, the tales from when I was little,” Kurkdjian explained, also recalling being told about how Christian Dior was extremely superstitious and counted lily of the valley among his talismans. That became a symbol of Dior, and the floral note is at the heart of the perfume Diorissimo, which the designer spritzed in abundance through his office’s hallways.
Kurkdjian’s father sported Eau Sauvage, and ditto for the perfumer himself, who even once owned the ancillary bath range. He reminisced about Dior’s launch of Poison in 1985. “It was the perfume that one recognized on the street,” said Kurkdjian. “There was the advertising I adored by Dominique Issermann for Dune.”
He also remembered the first campaign for J’Adore, with Carmen Kass in a golden bath.
“It’s true that I carry part of that [Dior] story with me in a fairly direct way, and then I’ve always loved clothing, haute couture — these are things that speak to me,” continued Kurkdjian. “I became a perfumer because I couldn’t become a fashion designer, and at Dior there is this idea that fragrance is linked to fashion in an intrinsic way. At Christian Dior there is a global vision, a modernity. The elasticity of the name Dior is extraordinary.”
He noted that within the brand there are many contrasts: that Dior references the 18th century, Versailles and from the outset reflected on l’art du vivre. “That’s the manner in which I live,” said Kurkdjian.
Starting at Dior is to him like embarking on a journey. “I will certainly discover a lot of things,” he said. “I will ask to go through the archives. Names are very important to me, and I will see if in the patrimony there is something — even if it’s not definitive — [that] could serve as a code name. I start from the principle that where there is a perfume there is a story.
“Dior had a quotation that I adore: ‘Respect tradition and dare to be insolent. One can’t go without the other,’” said Kurkdjian.
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