In the time-honored tradition of being appointed to an important role within a hallowed design house, Francis Kurkdjian has been reading a lot of books. Before being announced as perfume creation director at Parfums Christian Dior in 2021, he set off for Grasse with a suitcase full of coffee-table tomes and Post-its. Back in Paris, he headed to the archives to dig out old recordings of Christian Dior talking. He was looking for “commonalities between what he said and me”. Was he at all anxious? Kurkdjian recalls a bon mot of Karl Lagerfeld’s. “He said, ‘If you’re not meant for it, don’t do it. You have to be made for it.’”
Kurkdjian is very much made for it. As well as the full-on nature of the role, there is also the not-inconsiderable pressure of creating the eagerly awaited new version of J’Adore, a bestselling scent for more than 20 years—and one that needs to prove itself in terms of “quality, signature, strength and, in the end, business.” The crux of the update, L’Or de J’Adore, is rooted in its “gold” name. “I thought that 24-carat gold was pure, but no, to get the purest quality of gold you have to basically heat the metal until it’s liquid and then keep heating it until the impurities go away.”
This made Kurkdjian ask, what would happen if J’Adore itself was heated? “If what is unnecessary goes away, then you’re left with… what exactly? Gold doesn’t smell. So I had to turn it into something tangible—translate that vision into a feeling, into a smell.”
The result—from $170 for 50ml, and available from August 14 at Dior.com—is a rounded, softer version of the original. All the pointedness has been pruned, and a glorious bouquet of jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, and violet shines out in one rich, smooth concentration. As Kurkdjian puts it, it’s like sunshine hitting the curve of a shoulder. It is a masterpiece of olfactory design, true to the original J’Adore, yet markedly different.
Kurkdjian’s trademark, his magic, if you like, is that he can create perfumes that feel unique to the wearer while somehow also being commercial blockbusters. It’s a skill he has mastered in his 30 years or so of perfumery (six years of which have been with the LVMH Group, with his eponymous fragrance house Maison Francis Kurkdjian), though it’s likely in some ways he was always destined for Dior. After all, at the start of his career, he happened to work at Givaudan with Calice Becker, the master perfumer behind the very first J’Adore, launched in 1999. He was, he recalls, “next to her laptop, like, face-to-face in an office, you know?” Coincidence?