A MARK OF LOVE. Francis Kurkdjian, Dior’s Perfume Creation Director since 2021 is now launching his new signature fragrance L’OR de J’adore.

Francis Kurkdjian, what did you want to become when you were a young boy? 

I was born and raised in a family where art was very important. I wanted to become a ballet dancer. It didn’t work out. Then I wanted to become a couturier. It didn’t work out. And then, at 14 years old, I wanted to be a perfumer.

Your grandparents were Armenian, immigrants to Paris? 

Yes. My grandmother was raised in Turkey and educated at the American college. She spoke 5 or 6 different languages. She had to leave everything at the time of the genocide in 1915. Part of the family from my father side was already in France. My great uncle was a pianist, an organist, a conductor and a music composer and his wife was a violinist.

What about your parents?

When you step down from everything to nothing you go back to the bottom. You must start all over again. My father had a very troubled life. Raised as an illiterate farmer on a farm two hours outside of Paris, he only went to school and learned how to write at age 13 when he got a scholarship into an Armenian Catholic school. There he learned to write and read French properly, also Italian and English, but he had to start working at age 16. He was an electrical cable boy at French National radio and television, and then he saw in the newspaper that there was a scholarship to learn about computer systems. It was the early stage of IT arriving in France, and he was accepted as a trainee. To make a long story short, my father ended up being a partner at Price Waterhouse in France.

“L’OR de J’adore is the first perfume I’m launching for Dior.”


Francis Kurkdjian, why did your youthful ambition develop from ballet to fashion and from fashion to perfume?

Ballet and fashion just didn’t work out for me, and even though I am very bad at chemistry, at 14 years old I felt that perfume would. I didn’t know anything about it, but my wish was to work alongside the couturiers. My maternal grandfather was a tailor and my grandmother used to help him, so I had always seen people in my family working with clothes, him and the women making dresses from nothing more than a roll of fabric. Remember, not so long ago it was common for middle class women to sew their own clothing, and women’s magazines included patterns. Fashion was very different; it was meaningful, and my mother and my grandmother were always thinking about the length of the skirt and the length of the sleeve. My mother had a fascination for Saint Laurent. Her best friend Françoise, who is still alive, worked with Dior. She is like an aunt to me and, even today, when she speaks about Christian Dior you think that he is going to pass by the door. Since I was a child Christian Dior was almost a member of my family.

And why perfume?

Ballet school did not work out for me, neither the Couture school. So, perfume became an obsession because back then, the world of fragrance was intimately linked to Couture. And Perfume fits me very well because I love fine tuning the perfume and taking the final steps when you try to reach perfection, but knowing that it’s impossible to be perfect. I’m always in a rush to do things, but I know one thing: to do something of quality you need time. I love doing multiple things at the same time and when I wake up, the more I have to do, the happier I am.

How do you decide what ingredients together make a perfume? 

It’s not about mixing ingredients. There is a mental construction. When you work on a perfume, you have a story to tell, just as Picasso, a painter who I really admire, has a story in mind when he paints Guernica. He wants to reflect the aura of the era and to tell the real story about Guernica, not just put colours on the canvas.

In 1995 you created Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier. How did you manage to create this perfume for men that was such a great success? 

It was a commission from when I was not even yet a perfumer, just a perfumer trainee fresh out of the perfumery school. During my training process, I followed a course in Marketing as an intern in a marketing school. There I had the opportunity to talk to the president of Gaultier perfume. I met her at her office, and all of a sudden she started talking about this special project for Jean Paul Gaultier and I felt I was able to smell the perfume. She said, because you want to become a perfumer, you and I are going to work as if you were a perfumer. I remember, this happened on my brother’s birthday, July 20th 1994, and she said, if you have some ideas come back in three weeks’ time. All the senior perfumers went away for the August vacation so I was alone in the lab, and in any case nobody took any account of me in the company I was working for. The marketing people from upstairs didn’t even look at me when we were in the same elevator. I was a nobody.

Whereas in fact you are what they call a nose?

No, I’m not a nose. I am a perfumer. A perfumer is someone who creates, imagines, thinks. He has a capability to envision perfume smells in his head and to translate that into something tangible.

After Le Male you created many new scents, for Burberry, for Nina Ricci, for Elizabeth Arden and others. How come you and Marc Chaya co-founded your perfume company Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2009?

Today I work for only two brands: Dior and my own brand. I don’t work for anyone else. I was 25 when I created Le Male, whereas normally you would be in your forties, and to me Gaultier was not a true luxury brand. When I was a teenager Dior, Saint Laurent and Chanel were the brands I wanted to work for. My point of reference is couture, and the business model of being a perfumer for those other companies doesn’t fit me at all. I am opinionated. I have a vision. I have a standard of quality. I want to shout about what I think is good or not, not just to be a random perfumer like a robot.

In short, you wanted to be your own man?

At 30 years old I told myself I don’t want to keep going and working here and there for everyone at once. I wanted to create things that environment would not allow me to do, as simple as that. I wanted to join a company like Hermes, Chanel or Guerlain as an in-house perfumer. Dior was not in the scope then, because in the early 2000s there wasn’t the idea of an in-house perfumer and in any case I was too young. You join as in-house perfumer when you’re in your fifties. I told myself I’m not going to wait 20 years for my turn, if my time comes. So I closed that door, and when one door closes another door opens.

And you created your own company?

Yes. And my best friend Marc Chaya became my business partner. We have so much in common: I am his left brain, he’s my right brain. It’s superfluid between us, and we decided to be crazy and to launch it.

How did you become so successful?

Success is not just one thing; it is a layer of so many things. I am the creator, and you have to have the product, but my brand is not about targeting the Middle East or China or India or wherever. It’s about creating beautiful things. Beauty is everywhere, and universal beauty reaches everyone. I learned that from the fashion designer Alber Elbaz. He told me, “Remember Francis, to reach the heart of people you have to get to universal beauty. Not global beauty. Universal beauty.”

In October 2021 you joined Parfums Christian Dior, which had a perfume called J’adore, and now you have created a new perfume which is called L’OR de J’adore. Will it touch everyone?

Yes, I believe everyone has an idea of gold, and everyone has a vision of what it can bring to your life. Whether you have a lot or not, everyone has a fascination for gold. The idea of the project with L’OR de J’adore is to find what makes J’adore so precious within both the history and the story of J’adore. This perfume from the late nineties, 1999, is still one of the bestsellers in the world and I asked myself why women still find J’adore appealing, and how I could create out of J’adore the idea of its quintessence. In other words, how could I extract from J’adore’s heart the idea of what J’adore could be.

“The idea of the project with L’OR de J’adore is to find what makes J’adore so precious within both the history and the story of J’adore.”


Francis Kurkdjian, will J’adore and L’OR de J’adore sell for the same price?

My job is to create the perfume and that’s already a lot to think about and to make sure it works. My job is not to put a price tag on the creation. My job is to make sure that we’ve got the right idea and that it smells good and that it’s in a new bottle inspired by the original.

In the past women had their own chosen perfume, one had Dior, another Chanel. Has this changed?

This is a misconception about the history of perfume. In the 17th and 18th centuries, at the beginning of composing perfumes, perfume had a very limited audience. It was for royalty, high aristocracy and very high bourgeoisie, but people had multiple perfumes. From the 1940s to the 90s marketing and the brands started to nail into women’s minds that they had to have only one perfume. The same way you had to have one lover, you had to find your perfume. “Tell me what perfume you wear and I will tell you who you are,” as the saying went. The idea was that you must find your fragrance signature, as if, if you don’t find it, you were only half a woman. But women are not like that and now women have freedom of choice, and they are liberating themselves from these imposed male tags. The idea of one perfume for one woman is totally wrong and historically it has never been the case.

But sometimes a woman will identify with the scent of tuberose, for instance?

Women now have the right to speak out and to find what is good for themselves. This is the difference.  Dictats that you should wear this or that outfit have gone. As I told you, in those fashion magazines that my mother had were fights about what length of the skirt was fashionable. Even with patterns I remember some years it was dots, others it was stripes; some others you had to wear black or violet. Nowadays in the street you have diversity, and I really encourage this freedom.

Freedom from the dictats of fashion?

Françoise my aunt who was working with Dior told me the story of how, the night before showing a new collection, Christian Dior changed the length of the skirt overnight for the entire collection. A collection at the time was more than 150 different looks. They shortened their length overnight to be different, because they knew that a competitor was doing the same length. Then it was about being different, about putting out dictats, about setting rules. Nowadays all this stuff is breaking down, because the world is diverse.

There is J’adore and now there is L’OR de J’adore. Why did you need to create another one?

There is never the need to do another one; there is the desire to do another one. My job at Dior as the Perfume Creation Director is to maintain the heritage and to watch over 75 years of history of fragrances at Dior. I take care that the formula remains true to what it was. I take care of the quality of the ingredients. I am the head of the studio, and I have a team of people that I supervise for sourcing quality sustainable materials.

Are these perfumes made in France?

Yes. Not the raw materials, but the perfumes are compounded two hours away from Paris in two factories. We have the historical factory that was built in the late 1960s, and not so long ago we increased our capacity and bought another factory.

Are you more successful in some countries than in others?

You do have some small differences between countries, because the olfactive taste in China is not the same as America or Europe. We think of Asia as only being only China or Japan, but Asia is a diversity of countries with different appreciations. There are local differences even within Europe. Northern Europe doesn’t have the same taste as the southern Europe, Sweden is not the same as Spain or Italy. There are even differences between the US East Coast and West Coast.

Do you know all the tastes they have?

More or less. But I try to embrace the diversity of the world globally and to find a thread, an inspiration that will speak to people. I tell a story. A book is a story with words; this is a story with liquid. That’s my way and that’s my job.

Do you know if your new perfume L’OR de J’adore will appeal to younger women or older women?

I don’t care, because I love women at large. Maybe it could be my niece who is 18 years old. Maybe it could be an older woman.


“I want the people who wear my perfume to feel empowered.”


Francis Kurkdjian, even when there is a great success, like Sauvage the world number one, are you always going to challenge it and try to create another one?

Yes, that’s important. The mission of someone creative is to challenge what has been done. Picasso did not have to stop because Ingres did something beautiful or because there was Matisse. We don’t think that Pierre Soulages should not work on black because someone else is working on black, or that Anish Kapoor should not be doing his own black because Soulages is doing black.

Are your own perfumes very different from the Dior ones?

Yes, whatever you smell from Dior you won’t find in my place. L’OR de J’adore is the first perfume I’m launching for Dior.

What makes a perfume last? 

The scent has to be relevant, and then marketing is important; the brand itself has to be desirable. There are so many great perfumes in the history of perfume that disappeared because the brand itself disappeared. Perfume is an ecosystem of the brand, the name of the perfume, and the smell. All that has to go together. A perfume is not just a scent. It’s more than that. The reason I believe Sauvage is still number one in the world, is because, as a brand, people want Dior. You have to be desirable.

Does Dior epitomise France?

Yes, totally, and I have a vision of what French perfume should be, because there is a school of French perfume. I worked for Burberry and for me British perfumes are very single note, outdoor perfumes. Take Floris for example, and you have sandalwood, lavender, lilac and roses. French perfume is much more intellectual, because we are the country which invented the art of crafting perfume, crafting the formula, composing. At the end of the 19th century the famous perfumer François Coty totally reshaped the vision of creating perfume with fragrances so iconic they created olfactive families, such as the Chypre family, the amber family, the floral family and the citrus family. Chypre is very intellectual because it’s abstract and Francois Coty invented that abstraction.

What pattern is J’adore?

J’adore is a floral pattern. What makes it even more French is the boldness of the sillage, which is how a perfume diffuses behind the wearer as they move through a room.  J’adore, the eau de parfum was created in the US in 1999. Dior had Eau Sauvage in France, Poison’s ranking was slowly declining and Dolce Vita did not meet the success it deserved notably in the US because the American school is what I call sniff and buy, meaning the top note is very sophisticated, eye catching. You spray and the top note catches your attention and seduces right away. It is like speed dating. So, Dior hired an American consultant called Ann Gottlieb and pitched perfumers mostly based in the US to bring that American twist. Finally, the team behind J’adore was French. Because boldness and depth were expected in J’adore. The French school has the ability to create a fragrance signature that lasts and fills the room.

And then there is the link with fashion which you recognised even as a boy?

Yes, and especially so at Dior. Chanel opened the path by putting her name on the bottle, but what is very unique with Christian Dior is that in 1947 he was the very first one, and so far the last, the only one, to put his name on a Collection and on a perfume the same year. It shows how much Christian Dior was into Perfume, into the complete attire.

We have talked mostly about Europe and America, but one finds bottles of perfume all over Egypt and the Middle East? 

In the souks most of them are inspired from French perfumes or international well-known perfumes. I went to Cairo and was in India recently, when you look at those markets you see that they are copycats.  Local traditional perfumes are very hard to find nowadays.

Why does one have the idea that somehow perfume is Oriental?

Because historically it does likely come from China and India. Perfumes now are a descendant of the perfumery of the 19th century. In France perfume is not sacred but profane. In India, at the flower market, if you dare to smell the flowers, the same ones that I put in my perfume, Indian people think you are stealing the soul of the flowers by just smelling them. They lost their value and their spiritual power. Those flowers are dedicated to temples, and they prefer to sell to temples than to sell to perfumers. They don’t care about us.

Do you also take account of different skin types?

No. I don’t care. A great perfume will work, no matter on what skin it is. As a comparison, a designer has an ideal body type – and the models are the ideal silhouette of that designer. But then you have to be in the commercial world, and it has to be from size 44 to size 52 let’s say. If the silhouette is relevant and you start to stretch it to no matter what the size it doesn’t look perfect, but nevertheless you will still recognize it. Perfume works the same way. If the perfume is relevant, if the perfume has boldness, if a perfume has a strong recognizable olfactive signature, it doesn’t really matter what type of skin you put it on.

Do you want the woman who wears L’OR de J’adore to be recognized whether she is wearing it in Paris or in London, in New York or in Bombay?

Not only do I want her to be recognized, I want people to like it. If the taxi driver tells her that she smells good… If her best friend asks what is the name of her perfume because she loves it herself… If one of her colleagues at work tells her, Oh, I love your perfume… If another one tells her, you were in the lift and I knew when you were here…. All these little details are the mark of recognition and the mark of love.  I want the people who wear my perfume to feel empowered.

At the end of the day, as a perfumer you are selling a dream to men and women? 

Yes. I believe that the best compliment someone can get is when you tell them how great they smell. To me it’s like a declaration of love, and I am 24/7 connected to that.

Thank you.

Leading cropped portrait of Francis Kurkdjian: PHOTO JULIA NONI POUR CHRISTIAN DIOR PARFUMS