There aren’t many colours that spell ‘elegant Frenchness’ in quite the same way as grey. And there probably isn’t any other couture house as closely linked with grey as Christian Dior
. So it wasn’t surprising to see the colour in evidence at a specially constructed Dior exhibition space in London’s Selfridges on the morning of the 20th April.
In addition to the grey carpet and the obligatory grey, Dior chairs, the room was decorated with faux-Greek pillars, dozens of white roses in round silver vases and several bottles from the firm’s new Collection Privée. All these had been brought together to mark the opening of Dior’s first Maison De Parfums in the world, a space designed to showcase the Collection, the ‘mainstream’ fragrances and a range of services, including complimentary perfume consultations.
The guest of honour at the event was François Demachy
, Dior’s Director Of Olfactory Development since 2006. A Grasse-born perfumer with over 40 years of experience in the industry, he explained that although not all of the Collection Privée scents were created at the same time, the decision was taken to release them as a set in order to make a statement about Dior’s heritage and its importance on the international perfume scene. However, he stated that he does not refer to the new perfumes as ‘exclusives’: “I don’t like the word,” he said, speaking through a translator, “its overuse leads to banality.” The scents simply reflect his desire to source high quality raw materials from all over the world: “It’s romantic to find ingredients that are no longer used because they’re expensive, or because they’re difficult to find, such as oud or ambergris or tuberose.
Perfumery is comparable to cooking, in the sense that if you start with great ingredients, it’s easier to make a great dish.”
After trying his hand at medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy, Demachy began his perfumery career at the age of 22 and his first “olfactory composition” was used in “a perfume for a certain type of fodder to give to horses to improve their appetite. It was based on licorice.”
He has clear memories of Grasse in the 50s, 60s and 70s, animatedly recalling trucks carrying lavender back and forth,Rose de Mai and jasmine filling the air, as well as more unusual scents – such as anchovies – wafting from the factories. His earliest perfume-related experiences were smelling his mother’s fragrances: “She wore two perfumes: No. 5
and Miss Dior
. And that’s not just a story for journalists.”
When asked about the direction in which the industry is heading at the moment, he said, “Perfumery is cyclical, like fashion. At the moment, there’s a trend for musky, woody and ambery notes.” And he was very clear in his views about synthetic ingredients in relation to naturals: “Synthetic products are very important for us. Synthetics help natural ingredients; they give them a boost and lend them character.”
When I asked him if there have been any developments in his attempts to rework the current renditions of some of Dior's classics in order to bring them closer to their original versions – as reported in a recent edition of Russian GQ magazine – he took a deep breath and smiled. “That’s a big subject! EU regulation is amongst the strictest in the world, and it applies not just to perfumery, but to other industries as well. These regulations are based on precautionary principles, but they’re too much. Sometimes, they result in an aberration. For example, it’s no longer possible to use significant amounts of tree moss and oakmoss, because they may cause a problem to a few users out of a million, which is ridiculous. Unfortunately, many of the old formulations – not just at Dior – have had to be changed so that they conform with the law. Some of these reformulations are less successful than others, but we’re doing our best to maintain the essence of the original fragrance. With the emblematic fragrances, changing the formulae can be quite tricky."
I asked if the house’s iconic lily of the valley scent was hard to keep alive in the 21st century. “Diorissimo
wasn’t the most difficult to bring into line with regulations,” he said. “Dioressence
was more difficult.”
He concluded the public interview by stating that his two favourite perfumery materials are “jasmine, because it’s carnal and forbidden, and rose, because it’s a perfect symbol of a woman.”
After the public presentation, I managed to have a brief chat with Monsieur Demachy, during which he informed me that Guerlain
’s in-house nose, Thierry Wasser
– with whom he works in the same LVMH
lab – is still pursuing his campaign
to obtain some sort of special status for 'heritage perfumes' – such as L’Heure Bleue
– which would make them exempt from certain fragrance regulations. Monsieur Demachy stated that increasingly tight restrictions on certain materials were the direct cause of the decision to discontinue the extrait of Apres L’Ondee
; it was felt that it would be better not to have an extrait at all rather than sell an inferior formulation. When I asked him if the eau de toilette is safe for the foreseeable future, he raised his eyebrows and said, “It is here now… but be careful.”
The Christian Dior Maison De Parfums is on the ground floor of Selfridges, London. The ten perfumes in the Collection Privée are: Leather Oud; Mitzah; Granville; Milly-La-Forêt; New Look 1947; Cologne Royale; Vétiver; Eau Noire; Ambre Nuit; Bois D’Argent. The last three were previously available as colognes. They have now been re-bottled as eaux de parfum, in keeping with the rest of the collection. For Persolaise's own reviews of some of the perfumes, please click here.
About the author
Persolaise is a Jasmine Award shortlisted writer and amateur perfumer who has had a strong interest in the world of fine fragrance for over 25 years. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com
or by emailing him at persolaise at gmail dot com.