The once-faint murmurs of sirens wailing, clanging horns, and busy cars outside of Aman New York, the city’s swanky new Fifth Avenue luxury haven, are now reverberating through the penthouse suite master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is holed into. He’s in the hot seat—a plush, cream-colored couch, actually—and amid a long pause to carefully think about his next response to my question: What’s your all-time favorite scent outside of perfume? He’s drawing a blank. “I don’t have one favorite. I have favorites,” he states matter-of-factly. Hot sand is one. Sweet pea is another. He pauses for the last one. “The smell of flowers. I love roses,” he says.
While the Covid pandemic ignited a legion of sourdough breadmakers and Zoom mixologists, Kurkdjian found solace in horticulture. A balm for the soul during a period of uncertainty, Kurdijan realized he had a passion for gardening; at least, he wanted to have one. “It was not meant to be. I quit,” he jokes. The perfumer’s kind of gardening doesn’t happen in the fields, but in a lab. It’s the type that involves the pruning of ingredients down to their purest oils, an endless pursuit of smelling, touching, feeling, and smelling some more, that blooms absolute perfection—or, Baccarat 540, Kurkdjian’s most famous (and beloved) creation under his namesake perfume house.
A green thumb may not be in the cards, but gold seems to be his color anyway, from the motifs on his Maison Francis Kurkdjian vials to his newest contribution to Christian Dior’s J’Adore collection. Appointed as Christian Dior’s perfume creation director in October 2021, Kurkdjian’s first order of business was reimagining the house’s iconic fragrance, which was first introduced in 1999, for a 2023 audience. The floral composition of the fragrance is integral to J’Adore’s story, but so is the color, mainly the gold, curvy amphora with a towering neckline easily recognizable on vanities and shelves anywhere.
“Gold is one of the codes of J’adore Dior. When you try to get the purest quality of gold, you have to heat gold up to a point where it gets liquid and the impurities evaporate,” Kurkdjian explains. Out with the old, in with the new—that’s how the story of J’Adore L’Or, Kurkdjian’s newest Dior creation, begins. “L’Or is gold in French. I thought, What if I take the formula of J’adore and heat it up and remove what’s unnecessary,” he says. He likens his process to the zoom-in feature on an iPhone. “Or like basically taking a magnifying glass and zooming in so you see as many colors. My part was making J’Adore more concise, having a shorter formula in terms of technique, but bolder in terms of how it could shine. People expect a statement,” he adds.
J’Adore L’Or is a statement-making fragrance if I’ve ever smelled one. Available now on Dior.com, Kurkdjian’s iteration is a melange of honeyed white florals and warm citruses heating up under the sun, ready to rest into the sunset, and kisses the skin like salty beach water. Ahead, Kukdijan talks about joining Dior, creating J’Adore L’Or, and the state of the fragrance industry.
You have a very long history with Dior. I guess the question is why now?
You have to be called for it. Why now? Because I always believe, not in science, but in history. To me, it was the right moment because being a perfumer at Dior—even in my own house at Maison Francis Kurkdjian or even when I was working for big companies—has nothing to do with being a perfumer. You need to be someone with great expertise in the field. You can’t be a young perfumer because a role like this carries weight and responsibility so big that you need also to be very solid, not only as a perfumer in your technique but also mentally. The business is huge and of course, we do beauty and we create beauty, but the result of creating beauty is also the numbers behind it. It’s a global brand and you have to have the strength and the shoulder to hold it. Fortunately and luckily, I am old enough and young enough to do it. I am happy. I have no regrets.
What’s the story being told with J’Adore L’O’r?
When you create something new, you have to look to the DNA of the brand, like flowers for J’adore. Flowers are one of the biggest codes that we have within the perfume section. Flowers are very important for a perfumer at Dior because Mr. [Christian] Dior had a true and genuine love for flowers. What we have is a story about the flowers. In the perfume, the floral pattern is very abstract. You can’t tell which flower it is, but it’s still very precise and detailed, and crafted. Like pointillism paintings, the formula is very long, as far as I remember, it’s about 92 to 96 different ingredients within the original formula.
So I kept the flowers and wanted to make a statement. I have the same notes but not the same ingredients—it’s just a question of balance. We have the same families, white flowers, spices, etc. but it’s a 25-year-old fragrance. Luckily, we have ingredients today that did not exist 25 years ago.
How long in the making was J’Adore L’Or?
We started in November 2021 and ended around the end of June last year. It was about six months to eight months. Six to eight months is always good timing to create a perfume because then I won’t like it. Being on the deadline is good because you have to deliver. Otherwise, if you know that you have like two or three years ahead, it doesn’t work the same. And you need to have a routine. Otherwise, you would procrastinate.
How do you juggle both MFK and your new role at Dior?
It’s about being organized. You need routine. I designed these strips that are a little detailed so that I know when I’m testing for Dior or MFK. The lab samples from my fragrance house are square. For Dior, I changed them to small soft, round, chubby tubes. During my days at Dior, I wear a black shirt. At MFK, it’s a white shirt. It’s about having almost two brains in a way. I have great teams on both teams.
Lightening round: What does New York smells like?
Overcooked bagels and overcooked pretzels.
Gold smells like?
Home smells like?
France? Cheese. And right now on the terrace, roses.
Beauty Commerce Editor
Nerisha is the beauty commerce editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty (and fashion and music). She has a penchant for sneakers and nude lip glosses, and spends way too much time re-watching 90s sitcoms.