PARIS — Dior’s blockbuster J’Adore women’s fragrance is the star of a new sweeping exhibition that mines the brand’s heritage. The show opens to the public at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris on Wednesday.
“Dior J’Adore!” is a celebration of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned house’s bestselling women’s scent, which was launched in 1999, and a look at its centricity at Dior — not least due to its link to the color gold and to artists, mainstays for the brand still today.
The fragrance’s name came from the expression of adoration — “j’adore” — that Christian Dior himself frequently used, as did John Galliano, the designer, more recently in the house’s history.
The exhibition tells the story of J’Adore in an immersive, multisensory manner, pulling together Dior’s history, which began with both fashion and fragrance in 1947. It is a tale of many parts – spanning decades and connected by a golden thread. This includes the founding designer’s love of flowers and the latest creation in J’Adore’s portfolio, called L’Or de J’Adore, which was conceived by Francis Kurkdjian, Dior’s perfume creation director.
“L’Or de J’Adore is all about the idea of gold,” Kurkdjian said, explaining he was interested in the process of obtaining pure gold.
The exhibit begins at the Beaux-Arts’ 13 Quai Malaquais entrance, after which visitors climb stairs awash with the color gold. They then walk through a golden corridor, reminiscent of the necklace encircling J’Adore’s bottle, over which the word “Dior” is emblazoned.
“This is the first time that we explore in depth, in detail, one of the most important facets of our heritage — gold,” explained a Dior spokesperson, adding that gold links Dior’s entire story, from J’Adore to the house’s fashion, leather goods and jewelry. “Gold is not a color, it’s really a signature style element of Dior. And, of course, J’Adore is a perfect symbol of that.”
Jean Cocteau famously said Dior’s “magic name includes ‘God’ and ‘gold.’”
The exhibit also features the relationship of Dior and artists through the prism of J’Adore, Kurkdjian said.
“People very often forget that before Dior was a couturier, he was a gallerist,” said the perfumer, highlighting Dior was only a couturier during his last decade. “Before that, Christian Dior had basically three lives: One as a student who wanted to be an architect, the second as a gallerist. And the third one is Christian Dior as a gardener.
“Basically, with the couture brand, it’s a bit of everything,” said Kurkdjian.
At the exhibit’s start is a portrait of Dior, by Yan Pei-Ming, from 2009. The spokesman homed in on the designer’s gaze in the painting, describing it as “kind” and “avant garde.”
Next is a room called “Création d’une icône,” or “Creation of an Icon,” containing Belle-Époque inspirations on the right-hand side. Among them is a photo of Madeleine Dior, Christian Dior’s mother, in her 20s wearing layers of pearls, as well as a long, gold-colored necklace that appeared in Galliano’s first fashion show for the house. Both pieces of jewelry helped inspire J’Adore’s original bottle design by Hervé Van der Straeten. It includes a baudruchage technique, involving wrapped golden threads, reminiscent of a necklace.
There are a number of preliminary sketches and mock-ups of J’Adore. Miniatures of archival Dior dresses stand here.
The left-hand side has more objects linked to Dior’s New Look. There are numerous Dior amphora-shaped bottles, which were close to the heart of Christian Dior, who used that flacon form for Miss Dior, and which ultimately inspired J’Adore’s bottle.
“It’s always the same line — fluid, very feminine — nothing square,” said the spokesman, adding the shape of J’Adore’s bottle is more like a drop of fragrance.
There are more miniature fashion looks, as well as golden jewelry, leather goods and shoes. Dior’s talismans, such as a golden star, lily of the valley and a little owl charm, are among the 153 items on display in the room.
After, one of Katerina Jebb’s pieces can be viewed — a video showing her scanning Dior dresses and perfume bottles.
There’s then a room where white paper cutout flowers serve as a screen for photos and videos recounting some key parts of Christian Dior’s life.
“It’s a three-minute travel through time,” said the spokesman, referring to images like that of Villa Les Rhumbs, in Granville, France, Dior’s childhood home, and of his mother’s flower catalog.
“Step by step, we are traveling in the different gardens of Dior,” the spokesman said. That includes the south of France, to the garden of La Colle Noire, Dior’s country retreat, and elsewhere in the region, where his namesake brand now works with producers to grow fragrance flowers, which are central to J’Adore.
In the center of this room guests can smell four accords of J’Adore. Over the years the scent has been reinterpreted by various perfumers, including Calice Becker, François Demachy and Kurkdjian.
At Dior, gold is used in either a simple way, like as a detail, or in a more opulent and extravagant manner.
A room with 108 screens shows the most emblematic J’Adore campaigns with Charlize Theron (remember the Château de Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors spot) and Carmen Kass (think wading in liquid gold). Many were lensed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, but also Jean-Jacques Annaud, Romain Gavras, Craig McDean and Peter Lindbergh.
Next door is a gold-drenched room — literally, with liquid cascading down the walls — and a huge L’Or de J’Adore bottle on a pedestal in the middle. The scent of the new fragrance wafts around here.
The exhibit continues one flight up — past a Fred Eerdekens sculpture featuring anagrams, lights and shadows — where there is a huge wall spangled with 213 miniatures of Dior dresses, leather goods, accessories and J’Adore bottles in various shades of gold.
Gracing the center of this space is a giant sculpture by Jean-Michel Othoniel, which looks like an open flower made of beads.
“What I like about this project is being able to reduce a monumental sculpture down to an intimate level,” he said. “When I find myself alone, drawing around watercolors, it’s a moment when I put my emotions down on paper. Ultimately, the materials I used in this project are very classic: bronze, gold, crystal… materials that also need to be reinvented.
“I believe that art and fragrance complement each other,” he continued. “Firstly, I think that a perfumer’s approach is both sensitive and artistic. They create universes where you can project yourself, see yourself, marvel at. I draw inspiration from the perfumer’s vision, it’s an artist-to-artist relationship, how two people create a work of art. It’s rather difficult to characterize this sculpture in just one word because it is full of facets. It’s full of surprises, like a fragrance.”
Another room features three limited-edition bottles, which are reinterpretations of the J’Adore flacon by Othoniel, Victoire de Castellane and India Mahdavi.
There are photographs by Yuriko Takagi featuring a fragrance and flowers.
Highlighting Dior’s savoir-faire is the room with walls decorated with images of the brand’s fragrance bottles, such as Jules, Poison, Eau Fraîche, Eau Sauvage, Dior Homme, Dune and Fahrenheit, in white, within white frames. Here, Dior artisans will show visitors the baudruchage technique.
Nearby is an undulating, immersive video installation by artist Refik Anadol, who consulted with Kurkdjian.
“For this collaboration, the process starts with imagination. Inspired from the bottle design, finding a new language, but without losing the heritage. It’s a beautiful challenge, which is the fundamental of a scent and then shape-shifting them into a new sculpture,” said Anadol.
He and Kurkdjian thought about how the L’Or de J’Adore fragrance formula could be turned into digital artwork.
“Something real,” said Kurkdjian. “I wanted that to be meaningful.”
He shared with Anadol data related to components, ingredients numbers and weights that translated into numbers.
“I fed him all of that, and then he started to play with those numbers, with his computers to create the digital piece of art,” said Kurkdjian. “The rest is about his magic.”
“When I met Francis, it was an incredible, inspiring dialog,” Anadol continued. “It was so powerful to imagine that his art is actually represented by numbers. The formula, the scent, I mean those numbers, they have a meaning when they come together.”
The last room of the exhibit, called “Rêve Couture,” or “Couture Dream,” is an exhibition of 23 Dior dresses throughout the ages — including golden couture creations by Dior the designer, Galliano, Gianfranco Ferré, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Marc Bohan, as well as the J’Adore campaign dresses.
“There’s a party spirit — a golden party by Dior,” said the spokesman. “It’s a Dior ball.”
“Dior J’Adore!” will run through Oct. 8. It is to be open daily, from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. CET. Reservations for the exhibition can be made through dior.com.