An introduction to a new fragrance is a multisensory experience that transcends mere olfaction. Perhaps most important to the aroma is the audible journey you embark on upon unboxing a perfume. The pop of a lid. The whoosh dispensing its essence. Finally, the defining moment that separates the exceptional from the ordinary—an audible gasp of astonishment (or a discerning note of disdain). In the opening scene of Inside the Dream, a documentary crafted by Terminal 9 Studio that unravels the anatomy of the new J’adore L’Or fragrance, perfumer Francis Kurkdjian’s debut creation as Dior perfume creative director, Dior brand ambassador Charlize Theron is posed with the task of predicting the olfactory symphony Kurkdjian’s latest iteration would smell like. “I would say something very clean and simple,” she says just before her words escape her as she takes a waft of Kurkdjian’s J’adore. “Oh my gosh, it’s so—” she gasps. Not so simple, after all. The reimagined classic that forced Kurkdjian to traverse across the world is, in fact, way more complex than the golden vial shows. Inside the Dream shows viewers just how complex it is.
Kurkdjian joined the Dior family in October 2021 and was immediately put to work to recreate the J’Adore perfume, which debuted in 1999. The documentary offers a glimpse into the people and conversations over the 18-month process and, more importantly, the locations Kurkdjian visited to educate himself on Dior’s rich fragrance history. Paris, his own stomping grounds, was first. A student of the game, Kurkdjian’s J’Adore journey began with the woman who crafted the renowned fragrance in the first place: Calice Becker. Seated in her atelier, the two master perfumers pore over the composition of the OG J’Adore—three pages worth of notes.
“When I started combining the flowers—essentially white flowers—it came to me like an apparition,” Becker says, referring to jasmine sambac. The formula was punctuated with hints of lily of the valley and honeysuckle, but ultimately the potency derived from the jasmine sambac. So, Kurkdjian hopped on a plane to smell it up close and personal. Madurai, India was next.
For over a year, as Kurkdjian’s notepad brimmed with doodles and notes on the direction he envisioned for his creation, so did his passport as he trekked to several countries to deepen his J’Adore palette. The doc follows Kurdjian as he smells jasmine sambac from India, rose from Grasse, France, and engages in Kodo—the art of listening to Japanese incense rather than smelling. The result? A golden floral medley with sunkissed citruses that heat up as it settles on the skin. “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 told ELLE.com in a recent interview.
Stakes are high, and disappointment lurks at every corner for a perfectionist like Kurkdjian. True vulnerability and authenticity were what director Matthieu Menu set out to display. “The aim of this film was to reproduce a creative journey while capturing true sincerity. The doubts of the fragrance creator are revealed, as is his exacting, complex quest, and the myriad women and men who make the existence of such a perfume possible,” he said in a press release.
In addition to Charlize Theron, appearances also include fellow Dior ambassador Chinese singer Xin Liu, photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and more. Inside the Dream premieres today, December 1, on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the full documentary here.
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.