Tucked away in the quiet Provencal countryside, a tree lined estate is the unexpected spirit of the House of Dior. It was here that the designer Christian Dior became immersed in the world of fragrances. Located close to Grasse, he bought the 124-acre estate during the Occupation, and it soon became his haven away from Paris. He spent the last few years of his life in this beautiful home surrounded by gardens that he had designed to look like his childhood home Les Rhumbs in Northern France. Here, Christian Dior dedicated his days to his flowers, cultivating May rose and jasmine that were bottled for his perfumes like Miss Dior and Diorissimo.
An archival image of Christian Dior in the flower fields surrounding La Colle Noire
Restored by Dior Maison de Parfum, the chateau speaks volumes of the couturier’s flair. From his choice in opulent 18th century interiors, the five point star above his bed that’s believed to have been chosen for superstitious reasons, and his narrow closet that seems modest for a couturier.
During a virtual tour of La Colle Noire this spring, we caught up with Dior’s master perfumer, Francois Demachy. He talks about the couturier’s love affair with flowers and how the chateau is a reserve of endless inspiration.
Francois Demachy, Dior’s master perfumer
ELLE: La Colle Noire has always been a source of inspiration for Dior. How has it inspired the fragrances?
FD: What I find fascinating about Monsieur Dior, is that he launched his first perfume, Miss Dior, at the same time as his first couture collection in 1947—he’s the only grand couturier to have done that. He used to say that Miss Dior was born during an evening in Provence, crossed by fireflies where green jasmine converses with the melody of the night and the earth. La Colle Noire was for him this dream of tranquillity, of being himself away from busy Paris, where he could grow fragrant flowers and be as much a perfumer as a couturier. Knowing how he felt about this place is an endless source of inspiration for me. I feel like it is our mission to continue in his footsteps and carry his ambition.
ELLE: What makes the May Rose so unique?
Francois Demachy: The rose in Grasse is a marvellous thing, and it’s special to me because it smells like home. I grew up in Grasse and the smell takes me back to my younger years, especially when the flowers bloomed in May. What I love about it is also that it is different almost every time you smell it. From one season to another it could have spicier pepper notes, sweeter honey notes, or greener notes… it never ceases to surprise you. I’ve been dreaming of a perfume that can encapsulate all of its diverse facets and reproduce it exactly. But it’s a dream, you know, maybe it’s supposed to stay unattainable.
ELLE: Flowers have always been an integral part of Dior’s storytelling. If you were to describe the spirit Dior as a bouquet, which flowers would make it up?
FD: That’s a very hard one to answer for me. I don’t like choosing because you have no choice but to leave some flowers aside, and I feel like I love all of them. Lily of the Valley, for sure, must be included in the Dior bouquet, as it was Monsieur Dior’s favourite flower. That’s why he used to sew one in the lining of some of his dresses, for good luck. I tried reproducing that with a perfume called Lucky (it’s part of the Maison Christian Dior collection), it is a “muguet” as we say in French, that is almost hidden, and reveals itself to you in a subtle manner. The other flowers in the bouquet will include, the May Rose and the Grasse Jasmine. They are very iconic in the world of Dior as well, and present in Miss Dior and J’adore, two of our most iconic fragrances that represent the house of Dior around the world.
Photographs courtesy Dior