PARIS — The new “Inside the Dream” documentary takes viewers behind the scenes of how Dior’s L’Or de J’Adore fragrance was created — from a fledgling idea to the final product being sampled by Charlize Theron.
The perfume marks a milestone for the house as it is the first major Dior scent developed by its perfume creation director Francis Kurkdjian, who started there in October 2021.
The scent riffs on Dior’s J’Adore fragrance, the brand’s bestselling women’s perfume that was launched in 1999.
The documentary, produced by Terminal 9 Studios, is not a Dior-created film. Following its launch in France on Canal+ starting Wednesday, “Inside the Dream” will go live in the rest of the world, excluding China, through Prime Video beginning Friday.
Journalists and friends of the house viewed it on the giant screen at Paris’ Grand Rex theater on Nov. 23.
Covering the 18 months it took to create L’Or de J’Adore, the documentary globe-trots as far afield as India and Japan to the fields of the South of France, where Dior fragrance flowers are grown.
There’s a peek into the brand’s perfume archives and the founding designer’s house, the Château de La Colle Noire, as well as fashion show clips, Dior’s atelier and the “Dior J’Adore!” exhibition that recently took place in Paris.
Alongside Theron, J’Adore’s long-standing face, the documentary features Dior artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri; Parfums Christian Dior president and chief executive officer Véronique Courtois; perfumer Calice Becker, who conceived the first J’Adore; photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino; bottle designer Hervé Van der Straeten, and Frédéric Bourdelier, heritage and brand culture director at Parfums Christian Dior.
This is the second installment of the “Inside the Dream” documentary series. The first one, which came out in September 2022, was about high jewelry at Bulgari which, like Dior, is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
The idea is to “understand how a house like Dior creates a perfume,” said director Matthieu Menu, who came up with the idea after speaking with Olivier Bialobos, Dior deputy managing director in charge of global communication and image. “It is to understand how many people, how much time it takes to build [a perfume]. Each time we shot, I understood something [new].”
Menu was interviewed with Kurkdjian by WWD Thursday evening, just before the premiere at the Grand Rex, where spectators were provided with six scent strips to sniff at specific moments during the hour-long film.
Kurkdjian met the documentary’s producer Claude Lacaze, who is founder and CEO of Terminal 9 Studios, and Menu at La Colle Noire, when the perfumer explained how the production team would have to fit filming into his already packed schedule.
“Japan was planned, the May rose was planned — you can’t move that,” Kurkdjian said with a laugh, referring to the rose variety which blooms that specific month. “The film was an add-on to my real job at Dior.”
He explained another condition. “I don’t want to act — I’m a perfumer,” said Kurkdjian, who did not intend to reshoot scenes too many times. He added with a grin: “Of course we did sometimes, because I speak very fast.”
“But not so much, because the idea was exactly this — to fit into how Francis works,” added Menu.
“We cleaned up my office a bit, because it was already a mess,” said Kurkdjian, with a chuckle. “I told them I go to work early.”
Indeed, at 6 a.m. he often sets off for the Parfums Christian Dior headquarters in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.
The documentary follows Kurkdjian to Kyoto, where he takes part in a Kōdō incense-appreciation ceremony. That happens with a very formal protocol.
“The movements, the gestures we were making were 500 years old,” said Kurkdjian. “That was impressive.”
To film in the temple, the documentary crew had to be reduced to one camera and a gaffer.
That was the inverse to filming in Los Angeles, where Theron met Kurkdjian for the first time. As imagined, there a Hollywood-size crew, with dozens of people, was present.
Earlier in the documentary, Kurkdjian travels to southwest India with Frédérique Lecoeur, Parfums Christian Dior’s perfumer sustainability, ingredients and formulas management, to meet with a local jasmine producer. After filming there, he offered people small bottles of fragrance.
“We told them that in this tiny Dior bottle, there is a part of you inside,” said Kurkdjian.
A few unforeseen scenes include the appearance of Liu Yu Xin, Dior brand ambassador in China, who was visiting France. In his office, Kurkdjian explained to her some steps involved in fragrance composition.
The documentary overall is infused with emotion.
“We were shooting with Francis and one moment I remember — you got really emotional,” said Menu, addressing Kurkdjian. The director was referring to a scene in a Dior production factory, once L’Or de J’Adore was boxed up.
“It doesn’t belong to you,” said Kurkdjian of the perfume.
“It’s not yours anymore,” agreed Menu. “It belongs to everyone.”
Upon his arrival at Dior, Kurkdjian promised colleagues in the factory that he would see them again once they worked on his first creation.
For Dior, the documentary is important for internal teams to get to share the making-of a perfume, according to Kurkdjian. He described his 2,100-square-foot office as “one of the hearts of Dior.”
Another aim is to more broadly impart what it’s like to birth a fragrance. “It’s this idea of showing the craftsmanship and also artisanship behind the scenes,” said Kurkdjian.
Menu said his goal is for people to understand all that is poured into a perfume.
“It’s not just perfume. It’s an idea, a point of view and so many people working for this — all around the world,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Kurkdjian at the outset was concerned about how his work would translate on film, as he spends much time at his desk putting pencil to paper, meticulously recording formulation trials, and scent blotters to his nose. Perfume has neither an audio nor visual component.
“When it’s about putting raw materials altogether, the numbers and all the techniques behind the perfume-making, it is very difficult,” he said. “The idea of conveying the emotion that you have when you smell through an image — I was very worried about how you translate that and how you can communicate it to the audience.
“It’s a wide audience because the movie is going to go to China, to the U.S.,” continued Kurkdjian. “The distribution is to the world basically.”
Another challenge was — while maintaining Dior’s luxury DNA — having people learn that its fragrances are not elitist, he added.
Menu lauded the perfumer for being crystal clear in his explanations. “It’s very difficult to explain how [jasmine] Sambac smells,” said Menu, adding Kurkdjian makes people want to smell it.
“It’s like a smell-good movie,” said Menu of “Inside the Dream.” He frequently zoomed in on Kurkdjian testing out different scents, with the paper blotters fanning from his fingers like an expert poker player.
“If you want to convey the real feeling to the audience, you can’t fake it,” said Kurkdjian.
He has no artifice.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” said Kurkdjian, who was earlier in the day at the Grand Rex for an internal presentation. “I was on stage where as a kid I [watched] ‘Pinocchio.’ I was only 10 years old, with my mother and my cousin, up left [in the balcony],” he said. “It was almost 45 years ago.”
That was during exactly in the same season, pre-Christmas, making for a serendipitous full circle.