Can Francis Kurkdjian Bring Some Insolence Back to Dior?

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Last Friday saw another big changing of the guard in perfumery. It was announced that Francois Demachy was retiring from his post as in-house perfumer at Christian Dior. His replacement as of October 18 will be Francis Kurkdjian. Of all the great designer perfume brands what has gone on at Dior over the recent years has seemed like they were taking a wrecking ball to their perfume reputation.

Francois Demachy

Starting in 2018 Dior fragrance under M. Demachy’s guidance had turned into something unrecognizable. They were releasing fragrances which had no soul. They were crass exercises in pandering to the least common denominator. All perfume brands do this. While Dior Sauvage plays on every current masculine trope it undeniably sells because it is the greatest hits of accords. Bleu de Chanel does the same for that venerable designer. The difference is for every Bleu de Chanel there is also Les Eaux de Chanel. Creativity is balanced with commercialism. Dior for the last three years has been only commercialism.

Francis Kurkdjian

They have diluted one of the great exclusive designer collections as they released more Maison Christian Dior fragrances over three years than they did in the previous 14. All of them are easily forgettable. That Vanilla Diorama will likely be the last perfume from him is a tragedy. What is most confounding about all of this is the recent documentary “The Nose” which told M. Demachy’s story. That film showed an artist excited about perfumery. Based on the perfumes it feels like it must have been recorded years ago. As much as the film belies the reality, having M. Demachy step down seems like a good choice.

Which brings us to the new in-house perfumer. M. Kurkdjian might be the best perfumer who effectively straddles mainstream and niche. He has one of the all-time greats in Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. He has balanced the crowd-pleasing qualities of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis and Baccarat Rouge 450 with some of the best oud-centric perfumes in the niche sector.

More importantly he has a connection to the beginning of the Maison Christian Dior exclusive line. Back in 2004 creative director Hedi Slimane wanted to position Dior in the high-end niche market. He oversaw the creation of a three-perfume debut collection. Two of them, Cologne Blanche and Eau Noire were composed by M. Kurkdjian. Both were subsequently discontinued years later. Eau Noire has become a unicorn. Cologne Blanche was a warm take on orange blossom that I feel was one of the earliest entries in the Nouveau Cologne trend.

One of the things I enjoy about M. Kurkdjian is he seems to design in a focused way. He is willing to create trends instead of following them. Just think of all the descendants of Le Male if you need an example. It is that which makes me hopeful that he can restore some of the lost creativity at Dior.

What makes me believe this might be the case is the last line of the WWD article announcing the change. M. Kurkdjian is quoted as saying, “Dior had a quotation that I adore: ‘Respect tradition and dare to be insolent. One can’t go without the other.’” It is that insolence which has been missing at Dior in recent times. If M. Kurkdjian can bring that back, he can wake the echoes of the glorious past.

Mark Behnke

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