“There’s a fountain with perfume in it?” asked the English actor Leo Woodall, his eyebrows raised in disbelief. One might think the star of HBO’s second season of “White Lotus” would be unfazed by extravagant decoration, but this he’d never seen.
To celebrate the release of Dior’s new L’Or de J’adore fragrance and the house’s most recent collaboration with the French sculptor Jean-Michel Othoniel, the brand hosted a 100-person dinner at the Palm House inside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the night before New York Fashion Week began. Spaced out across two long banquet tables were, indeed, 14 miniature Murano glass fountains — made for the occasion by Othoniel, the event’s co-host — which bubbled quietly with a watered-down version of Dior’s scent all night.
“Oh yeah, I got a whiff,” said Woodall, after inhaling deeply while standing over one. It was about two feet tall and made of golden glass orbs stacked on top of one another —a nod to the perfume bottle’s design. Now curious, the actress Meghann Fahy, one of Woodall’s “White Lotus” co-stars, did the same, pronouncing the scent “gorgeous — and subtle, too.” Developed by the perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, it has notes of orange blossom, jasmine and centifolia rose.
The cool, fragrant air inside the Victorian-style building offered much-needed respite from the sweaty, 80-degree weather outside, where six new pieces by Othoniel were on display as part of his latest exhibition, “The Flowers of Hypnosis,” sponsored by Dior’s Cultural Gardens Initiative. The brand began working with the artist, whose pieces often resemble looping configurations of giant jewelry beads, in 2012, and for the L’Or de J’adore release, the house commissioned 100 miniature versions of his “Golden Rose” (2023) sculpture to accompany a limited-edition version of the perfume’s bottle.
“In the house of Dior, gardens have always been so important,” said Véronique Courtois, the president and C.E.O. of Parfums Christian Dior, in a toast. “Mr. Dior cultivated them as places of memory and rebirth. Of course, flowers inspired so many of his couture creations and so many of his fragrances, which were considered the finishing touch of the dress.”
Today, Othoniel believes gardens are just as significant to everyone’s well-being, if not more so. “People need places like that to relax and leave the stress of the city,” he said. With this dinner, his hope was to activate all the guests’ senses — sight, sound, touch, smell and taste — at once, forming lasting memories. “Working for the souvenir is what I love,” he added. “It’s not like a museum, where you can come back. This is so spectacular. It’s just something you remember as a crazy night.”
The attendees: In addition to Woodall, 27, and Fahy, 33, guests included the actresses Charlize Theron, 48 — who has been the face of Dior’s J’adore perfume since its launch in 1999 — Alexandra Daddario, 37, Rachel Brosnahan, 33, Natalia Dyer, 28, Anna Diop, 35, and Stephanie Hsu, 32; the artist Mickalene Thomas, 52, who has collaborated with the brand a number of times, most recently for the spring 2023 couture collection; the art dealer Mariane Ibrahim; the gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin, 55, who represents Othoniel; the photographers Brigitte Lacombe, 72, and Maripol, 76; and the model Maye Musk, 75.
The table: This was Othoniel’s first time hosting a dinner with the fashion house, something he’d long dreamed of doing. “It’s really like a fairy-tale presentation,” he said. “My sculptures are quite abstract and minimal, but the dinner was totally baroque, which is what I love.” For the event, he and his team made 14 fountains (seven for each table); 50 vases, filled for the meal with pink and white roses; and 50 lamps that glowed with a golden hue from within — all produced in Murano, Italy. They were placed on a long centerpiece made of Murano glass, as well, which Othoniel described as a “gold brick road.” He also designed the dinner plates featuring watercolor versions of his gold L’Or de J’adore sculpture design.
The food: The meal began with a salad of beets, white strawberries, gem lettuce, buckwheat and goat cheese, plated in the form of a blossoming flower. Next came striped bass served atop a pillow of yellow jeweled rice — a nod to L’Or de J’adore’s gold-hued bottle — as well as carrots and snap peas mixed in. For dessert: a dark chocolate tart topped with salted caramel and Cara Cara orange slices, followed by bite-size fruit-flavored gummies and chocolate and caramel bonbons for guests to enjoy on their way out the door.
The drinks: A Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc and a Newton Vineyard unfiltered cabernet sauvignon, plus Ruinart Champagne with dessert.
The music: During cocktail hour in the garden before dinner, the Harlem Chamber Players performed Mozart’s “Spring” quartet, as well as pieces by Franz Joseph Haydn, Joseph Bologne and Ludwig van Beethoven.
The conversation: The Palm House naturally inspired talk of nuptials. One guest noted that she’d gotten married in the same building years earlier and had attended another wedding at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this summer. Is it all booked up? The garden’s president and C.E.O., Adrian Benepe, nodded emphatically. In fact, after dinner, the space had to be cleared for a wedding the next day at 4 p.m. (Benepe hoped to keep some of the Dior set decorations intact.) That said, it’s a relatively well-kept secret that two small ceremonies are permitted per day on Saturdays and Sundays in the garden for the low cost of $600. The only catch is that they must be held from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Tips: Of course, Othoniel loves to put flowers on his table at home. “But not in this very grand way,” he said with a laugh. Fahy’s entertaining rule: “You can’t run out of wine; that’s a big no-no.” (She prefers a cold sauvignon blanc.) Woodall added that you might also want to have a little yourself before guests arrive. “As host, you’ve got to set the tone, so you’ve got to be as chilled out as you possibly can be,” he said. “It can be stressful, and if you put that energy out, people are going to think, ‘Oh, this isn’t going well.’”