For its temporary immersive exhibit "The Grey Zone," Dior commissioned five international creatives to reimagine the house’s iconic fragrance, Gris Dior, through paint, light and sound. The result? A multi-sensory journey that offered Angelenos a transportive olfactory experience.

Step Inside ‘The Grey Zone,’ Gris Dior’s Immersive Pop-Up Exhibition in LA

For its temporary immersive exhibit "The Grey Zone," Dior commissioned five international creatives to reimagine the house’s iconic fragrance, Gris Dior, through paint, light and sound. The result? A multi-sensory journey that offered Angelenos a transportive olfactory experience.
April 16, 2023
article by Mari Alexander/

photography by Mari Alexander

What does the perfect color smell like? Pause. Let’s take a step back. Does the perfect color even exist? The answer: Yes, and it’s gray — a sophisticated color, an immaculate color, the most perfect of all colors.

At least according to Christian Dior. To Dior, gray was home. Growing up in Granville, Normandy, Dior was surrounded by the color: rainy skies, silvery gravel, rocky promontories thrust out into the sea. “My childhood home was rendered in a very soft pink, combined with gray gravel, and these two shades have remained my favorite colors in couture,” Dior wrote in his 1958 autobiography. He loved gray so much, it became the iconic house’s signature hue. So yes, to Dior, the perfect color definitely existed.

Now, back to my first question: What does the perfect color smell like? That’s the hefty assignment François Demachy, Dior’s perfumer-slash-creator, was tasked with back in 2017. And that’s how Gris Dior was born. Previously called “Gris Montaigne,” the perfume has been around for several years, but it’s never been available like this — within the context of an multi-sensory, immersive experience. Dubbed “The Grey Zone,” the Los Angeles-based pop-up art gallery was designed to bring renewed focus to the relaunched fragrance, which is part of Dior’s La Collection Privée.

The Grey Zone sits on Melrose Avenue; the building’s awash in gray-violet and is impossible to miss. If you’re driving by, you’ll likely turn your head or raise an eyebrow at the number of well-dressed visitors lined up to see the exhibit. Today, I’m one of them. (Yes, I’m even wearing lilac to match the oh-so-obvious theme.) Just a few minutes of standing under the (finally) warm Los Angeles sun, and I’m in.

Inside, everything is flooded in a derivative of lavender. (Should Gris Dior really be Lavender Dior?) “Gris” here is really a loose adaptation of gray. “This emphatic gray is not merely a mix of black and white, but the result of a chromatic blend,” Demachy is quoted saying. “This profusion of colors inspired a composition that melds Jasmine and Bergamot with notes of humid undergrowth. The color is transformed into an emblematic fragrance. Its lively scent is multifaceted and effortlessly elegant.”

The color is beautiful. It’s sophisticated yet approachable. It’s delicate yet powerful. It’s lively yet subdued. It’s many things (just not really gray). But enough about the color; let’s take a whiff! First on the nose is bergamot, refreshing and deep in equal measure. Next come rose and jasmine — a little patchouli? — galloping in. So far, so floral. The scent is officially described as “woody” and unisex, true to its gray color, but I don’t catch that until the citrus notes fade into the background and make way for the base notes — amber, cedar, sandalwood, woody moss — to shine through at the end.

Now that I’ve answered the first two questions, a third one pops up: What does the perfect scent look like when reimagined into art? For the pop-up, Dior tapped five international artists to capture the essence of the house’s iconic scent through paint, light and sound. Creatives from Canada, England, France, Argentina, and the Netherlands each drew inspiration from Gris Dior’s iconic notes to dream up immersive installations. Let’s take a look at each of these oeuvres.

Ben Johnston’s ‘Gris’

Canadian multi-disciplinary artist Ben Johnston is known for creating murals with funky, custom typography. For the pop-up, he dreamed up a massive photocall wall that spells out “Gris Dior” in interlocking, twisting letters that feel as though they’re mid-movement. The artwork practically begs for a photo op. Johnston also designed special edition, custom-painted packaging for the perfume — with only 200 for sale in Los Angeles!

Thomas Trum’s ‘Colourchanging Looping Line’

Thomas Trum, who hails from the Netherlands, took a deep dive into Gris Dior’s color range with his installation. Arranging customized white bottles in neat rows on a wall, Trum sprayed a palette of grays and lavenders with a road-marking machine retrofitted for the occasion. The idea? Allowing the paint to drip freely, melting into one another. The end result is fascinating; it’s interesting to see what happens when you give art custody of itself!

Mileece’s ‘Avant Jardin — the Essence of Fragrance Is Nature’

Mileece, an American-British biophilic technology designer, tapped into Dior’s affection toward nature to dream up an immersive installation. Transcribing the fragrance into sound, Mileece filled the garden-like space with natural rocks, an explosion of plants, and a cacophony of natural sound — the drip-drop of water, the flicker of fireflies, a gentle breeze. Walking along the moss-covered pathway feels a lot like forest bathing — in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles!

Andrés Reisinger’s Gris Dior Digital Gallery

You might have already seen Andrés Reisinger’s digital artworks on social media — surrealistic images of iconic landmarks draped in pink fuzz. And if you have, you must know that his imagination knows no bounds. For The Grey Zone, the Barcelona-based, Argentinian designer and 3D artist created a set of virtual artwork that blossoms, blooms, and shape-shifts in front of my very eyes. That Dior didn’t set up a bench right there is a missed opportunity; I could sit and stare at Reisinger’s work all day.

Collectif Scale’s ‘Flux’

Specializing in dynamic light installations, Parisian Collectif Scale knows how to put on a show. Inside the dark, inky room, beams of light twist and turn, forming a synchronized choreography that’s absolutely astonishing to watch! Along with the undulating lights, we also listen to a gripping soundtrack whil taking in the unmistakable chypre notes of Gris Dior. It’s a “multi-sensory” experience in the fullest meaning of the word.