For about three weeks in the middle of last year, the entrance to Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art was awash in a pretty, painterly pink hue. On the first floor inside, guests were greeted by the likes of Urs Fischer’s modelling clay remake of Rodin’s The Kiss; a mesmerising, pro-women video art piece by the Egyptian-Lebanese photographer Lara Baladi; as well as dozens of couture outfits, perfume bottles and other memorabilia from the storied archives of Dior.
Exhibitions tracing the relationship between fashion, art, history and culture have become commonplace. Those doing the same for a beauty product (what’s more, one of the most famous designer fragrances in the world)? Far fewer. Yet Miss Dior: Love N’ Roses marked the fourth time one had been held to celebrate the artistic significance of the first perfume created by Dior, following editions in Paris, Beijing and Tokyo since 2013.
One could argue that heritage alone warrants such presentations – Miss Dior was introduced in 1947, alongside the French maison’s historical debut haute couture show in which Christian Dior unveiled his New Look silhouette that would redefine feminine dressing for good. But as with every new formulation of the scent itself, the exhibitions are as radical as they are heartwarmingly retrospective and help cast a conceptual lens on Miss Dior as a perfume that’s meant simply to – in the words of Monsieur Dior – “smell of love”.
Cue the latest iteration of Miss Dior dubbed Rose N’ Roses, which hits shelves this month and blends four varieties of roses – Grasse, Damascus, Bulgarian and Turkish – then accents it with spicy, sprightly notes of mandarin, bergamot and geranium essence. The resulting scent – a powerful, sensual floral with a pleasing kick – is meant to conjure up the uplifting rush of being greeted by a field of dew-covered roses.
As Francois Demachy, its creator and Dior’s perfumer since 2006, puts it: “I often question how sustainable a fragrance like Miss Dior is? I try to address this by always working within the chypre family (what the original perfume is based on). Yet as every version is an interpretation of love, I vary it depending on mood and the times. I don’t think there is one single fragrance that represents love.”
Here, more excerpts from our conversations with the people behind Miss Dior: Love N’ Roses to show how a commercially successful designer perfume can also be a cultural provocateur.
Francois Demachy: “The launch of Miss Dior marked the first time that a perfume was being launched at the same time as a brand’s couture collection. This in itself was a disruption of the industry. There have been couturiers with perfumes before, but these were launched after the clothes. Launching both at the same time reflected Mr Dior’s philosophy that perfume was the final touch to what a woman was wearing, and was what prompted me to join Dior because it shows that the perfume counts as much as the clothes.”
Frederic Bourdelier, Dior’s heritage and patrimony director: “Miss Dior is like the Bar jacket. It’s a timeless archetype key to understanding Dior and its globality, and our history is an endless source of inspiration. Like how Maria Grazia Chiuri, Raf Simons and John Galliano have worked on the Bar suit, Francois Demachy is doing the same with Miss Dior. Heritage is never fixed and done.”
Vincent Leret, Parfums Christian Dior’s brand culture project manager: “Miss Dior is not only a fragrance. Its bottle tells the story of a couturier. When Mr Dior launched the perfume in 1947, he chose an oval bottle because he wanted to mimic the curves of the female body when dressed in the Bar jacket and a hat. When he launched the Verticale and Oblique collections years later, he introduced a square bottle to reflect those silhouettes and included a bow as a symbol of seduction. Meanwhile the houndstooth pattern that’s engraved onto the bottles expresses one of his favourite fabrics – and it was a very modern choice as it was worn only by men then.” (Rose N’ Roses comes in an elegant rectangular bottle with the houndstooth pattern on its sides, and a chic metal bow around the glass cap.)
Laurence Benaim, curator of Miss Dior: Love N’ Roses: “The biggest challenge in creating an exhibition like Love N’ Roses is to not have it be patrimonial. How do we celebrate the inspiration of Miss Dior in a contemporary way? The answer lies in art as it has no age and date… And what I like about Frederic and co is that when they talk about Miss Dior, they talk about feelings. They consider the fragrance as a form of expression and not something corporate or from the past. I think this is because Miss Dior is Mr Dior’s ultimate signature. He put his heart into it.”
Lara Baladi, artist behind the video art piece Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes & Chachacha, commissioned for the first Miss Dior exhibition in Paris in 2013 and reprised at Love N’ Roses: “Before the commission, I was not familiar with the fragrance. What touched me most about it was the woman who inspired it, Mr Dior’s sister Catherine, and their relationship. She had been a French resistance fighter during World War II, held and tortured in a concentration camp, and it was her return home that sparked Mr Dior to design for women. This story, coupled with the Egyptian crisis that was happening when I was commissioned (and that saw a rise in the violence against women), prompted me to create a work that pays tribute to women who changed the world.”
Natalie Portman, face of Miss Dior since 2010: “Like many, I love the concept of love and Miss Dior is a celebration of love every time I put it on. Her character is also emotional yet free, which is what I aspire to be. In the campaigns, she always seems to be falling in love, but ultimately, she’s exploring her own independence and freedom, enjoying life and appreciating the beauty around her.”