Next week Parfums Christian Dior begins a new era, farewelling the house’s Creator – Perfumer for the past 15 years, François Demachy, and welcoming Francis Kurkdjian to the role of Perfume Creation Director. Mirroring LVMH fashion houses where a creative director designs under their own label in addition to a leading role for a brand within the conglomerate, Kurkdjian continues as Artistic Director and Perfumer-Creator for the brand he co-founded in 2009, Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian joined the LVMH Group in 2017 so news of Kurkdjian’s succession at Dior should not come as a shock. Perhaps the biggest surprise in this week's announcement from Dior was the departure of Demachy, an industry legend who shepherded the house's perfume legacy into the 21st century with phenomenons like Sauvage and the reinvention of Miss Dior.
Laurent Kleitman, President and CEO of Parfums Christian Dior reflected on Demachy’s contribution in an article for Women’s Wear Daily. “He has also moved the maison forward, and he has brought modernity and creativity. Now, we have 21 [I now count 30] 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. From a perfume standpoint, no one can argue that he is one of the most talented perfumers of the last 15 years, and we are so proud to have had him working on Dior.”
Most luxury fashion brands that have a fragrance division operate independently. Demachy’s work didn’t necessarily create dialogue with the work of designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Kim Jones. Demachy’s dialogue was primarily with the exquisite ingredients used in his fragrances, like rose and jasmine from Grasse, Sambac jasmine from Southern India, Vanilla from Madagascar, citrus oils from Southern Italy. I met the perfumer in his studio in Grasse a couple of years ago and his passion and enthusiasm for the materials of his work was evident. Grasse is both the cradle of French perfumery and Demachy’s birthplace and workplace.
I'm curious to see if Grasse continues to be the centre for Dior's fragrances since Kurkdjian is more connected to Paris than the country's south. Kurkdjian is a true Parisien and has always had a close relationship with fashion. It would not surprise me to see Dior’s fragrance division collaborate more closely with the house's fashion designers under Kurkdjian's creative leadership.
It’s not the first time Kurkdjian has worked with Dior. The seeds of Demachy’s Collection Privée were sewn by Kurkdjian who created two of three fragrances with designer Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme. Demachy rechristened them under the Maison Christian Dior brand to become the Collection Privée we know today.
With Slimane, Kurkdjian created two contrasting colognes, one white, one black. Cologne Blanche and Eau Noire were launched in 2004 with Bois d’Argent and sold exclusively with the Dior Homme ready-to-wear collections. Through Dior Homme, Slimane revolutionised men’s fashion. Remnants of his influence at Dior can still be felt in men’s fashion today. Kurkdjian’s fragrances were as avante garde as Slimane’s designs, which is why his new role at Dior is exciting. Unfortunately, Cologne Blanche was discontinued some years ago and Eau Noire is increasingly hard to find.
Perfume historian Élisabeth de Feydeau described Eau Noire best in her book La Collection Privée Christian Dior. She called it “An intense evening fragrance swathed in mystery. Eau Noire exudes an elegant gala spirit. The title refers to the colour that occupied a special place in Christian Dior’s work: Black played an essential part in the Dior haute couture shows, not merely as a counterpoint to white, but as a colour in its own right.”
In the same way Dior’s haute couture offers a counterpoint between traditional craftsmanship and creative vision for the future, Kurkdjian’s Eau Noire cologne used lavender, a common ingredient in traditional colognes, with an unexpected pairing of bourbon vanilla and black liquorice. The result is a truly hypnotic fragrance that polarised as much as attracted with aromatic notes grounded by a gourmand sweetness. Luca Turin wrote in Perfumes: The Guide "Eau Noire is the first fragrance since Annick Goutal's amazing Sables to make overt use of helichrysum (immortelle), an odd, fenugreek-like smell halfway between curry and burnt sugar... a very good neoclassical fragrance and much more than a cologne."
The large bottle of Eau Noire I bought over 10 years ago is still one of the most prized fragrances in my collection. I have no doubt more of Kurkdjian’s work for Dior will join my collection in the years to come. I am excited to see what follows.