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Inside the Dream With Dior Parfums

“Respect tradition and dare to be bold.” When Christian Dior said these words, his namesake label was only half a decade in the making. It was the early 1950s and, with wartime restrictions lifted and the stress of political turmoil slightly subsided, the luxury house’s New Look symbolised a shift not only in fashion but in the mindset of high society. Launched in 1947, the style featured a cinched waist and a full skirt, and became synonymous with a resurgence in the opulence and femininity of fashion. A reflection of what the contemporary woman craved and a powerful visual reference for the time, it set the stage for house’s future — one full of innovation, impeccable craftsmanship, and a consistent ability to capture the mindset and values of the zeitgeist.

Nearly 80 years later, Dior Parfums Creative Director Francis Kurkdjian carries this ethos with him everywhere he goes — from the Parisian headquarters to the flower fields of Grasse and India. As he sets off on composing his first fragrance in the prestigious position, he looks to reimagine the renowned J’adore for the contemporary client, modernising while never losing the deep respect for traditional craftsmanship that has made Dior Parfums what it is.

And director Matthieu Menu’s Inside the Dream brings us along for the ride.

All photography courtesy of Parfums Christian Dior.

“I met Francis at La Col Noire in Grasse, the second house of Christian Dior in the south of France,” Menu recalls as we connect over Zoom to discuss the film. “He explained to us how he was working and we knew we had to do something. Thinking about how the film could be with him and his vision…. It was perfect for us, because everything is real. He told us, ‘I’m not an actor at all. But I have so much to do this year, so come be part of the job.’”

Following the highly intricate journey of l’Or de J’adore from the initial research to the launch and all the bumps along the way, Inside the Dream shows viewers the emotion and technicalities behind perfumery, sheds a light on how many people it takes to craft such a composition, and manages to accomplish the impossible: visually translating a fragrance so clearly that you swear you can smell it through the screen.

Part of its genius comes from Menu’s own journey discovering the wondrous ins and outs of what it means to craft a fragrance at Dior. When I ask the director if he knew anything about the process before embarking on filming, he shakes his head. “Nothing. And that’s the thing. Because I’m doing a movie about this, I imagine all the time, if I, at the end of the film, understand everything, that means when the film is done, everybody who’s going to watch the film will understand everything.”

“One of the goals was that everyone who watches the film can imagine what Francis is smelling. That’s the point of the film. But that’s very difficult. We talked about this with Francis many times, because it could have just been someone writing formulas on the paper… but Francis had this way of explaining how we feel when we smell something.”

As the film unfolds, we spend a year travelling with the pair to explore the Dior perfume archives, “smell” Indian jasmine sambac, walk through roses in Grasse, and connect with muse Charlize Theron in Los Angeles. We meet a multitude of the multitudes of talents who play a part in the creation of l’Or de J’adore and learn about Dior’s remarkable history — how the label placed an early priority on fragrance as equal to couture. We truly go behind-the-scenes, inside the dream.

And with it, we get a look at Kurkdijan’s own dreams, many of which include embodying and honouring the legacy of Christian Dior. “I get emotional when I work,” he tells me. “Of course I have to be happy and proud of what I produce, and I want, of course, the House of Dior to be happy, but there is something beyond that. There is something a bit more spiritual in a way, it’s like the spirit of Mr. Dior.”

With the technical background of perfumery excellence and an emotional connection to the couturier that dates back to his childhood, there is nobody better suited to continue Christian Dior’s legacy. As he speaks, it is impossible not to feel the full weight of respect and commitment he has to the label, its namesake, and the first-hand accounts he heard from his mother’s friend Françoise. “There are very few people nowadays who have seen Christian Dior, who have lived with him and worked with him. There are very, very few people. Françoise is 84 and was 18 when she joined Dior in 1955,” he recalls fondly. “I grew up with behind-the-scenes stories about Christian Dior. Even nowadays, I saw Françoise this summer and she was still talking about Christian Dior. She never worked for any other brand after that. For her, it is the most beautiful brand in the world. So I have the feeling sometimes that Christian Dior was a kind of uncle that I’ve never met.”

So how does he honour and carry forth the spirit of Dior? At the centre is a balance of two core values. “To me, it’s what Christian Dior said: respect tradition, but dare audacity. I think what that means is respecting the tradition of craftsmanship and that if it’s well done, you can bring a sense of dream. When I listen to Maria Grazia speak about fashion, it’s not about creating for women the way Christian Dior was creating almost 80 years ago. I create perfume for people that are alive today, with the same quality and same kind of craftsmanship as then.”

And that level of technical excellence and care for quality takes an army. “When you look at the amount of work and the amount of flowers that you need to get a drum of flower oil, then you understand that you have to be careful on how you use it, where you use it, and how you can respect and amplify and magnify that work. And I think it’s very interesting as well — not to forget that behind the little bottle in my lab, there are so many hands, so many, so many, so many hands.”

“When you look at a piece of fabric covered in sequins, it looks beautiful, but sometimes you forget how many hours of work there was behind-the-scenes,” Kurkdijan remarks. With Inside the Dream, Menu sheds light on each sequin on its own, and the magic that happens when all pieces come together.

All photography courtesy of Parfums Christian Dior.

Before the film comes to a close, we get a look into what’s next for Kurkdijan. Standing in the archives, he reads an old letter which details one of Christian Dior’s visions for a perfume. As we wrap up our interview, I ask him about its significance. “I have been working for 30 years. I work with heritage brands, but I’ve never seen such a document. When you run into something tangible, factual, it’s like a piece of history. You enter the history of the house.”

“It says, ‘Mr. Dior tells me to remind you that he spoke to you about a perfume with these notes and less of those notes,’” he recites from memory. “The perfume has never been done. He’s not talking about Eau Sauvage. He’s not talking about Miss Dior. He’s talking about a perfume that has never been created before.”

As he teases his new dream to bring this forgotten scent to life, I ask if we’ll get another documentary to see the process. “We’ll work on it,” Menu tells me with a smile.

Source : Wonderland