History and Review: Miss Dior Originale (1947) — 4.0 points

I find the reflection on the classics of perfumery just as difficult as an analysis of the literary classics. These perfumes are, for most cases, complex; they are filled with ingredients of distinctive qualities that, by modern standards, are either restricted due to safety concerns or unattainable due to social and environmental changes. The state of these perfumes is, therefore, often a pale shade of their former glory. Miss Dior Originale (1947) is a case in point. But before we smell our vintage sample, let us examine the trends and ideas surrounding the inaugural launch of Miss Dior Originale — which I shall refer to in its original name ‘Miss Dior’ in this article — to understand why it would become a smashing success of its time.

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It was 12th February 1947 at 10:30 am when those who had gathered in the salons of 30 avenue Montaigne heard the first announcement: ‘numéro un, number one’. Then, ninety silhouettes filed past the astounded crowd as Christian Dior debuted his collections: En Huit and Corolle.  They captured the feminine aesthetics of hourglass figure and of full skirts resembling a bloom with its open corolla — hence, the names ‘In Eight’ and ‘Corolla’. Amongst the silhouettes, the ‘Bar Suit’ — the cream shantung coat and rounded tails following the curves of the bust as well as the calf-length, full-pleated, black wool skirt — epitomised the aesthetics with the sloping shoulders, cinched waist, articulated bust, and padded hips. At the end of the show, the then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Camel Snow exclaimed, clearly impressed, ‘It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have created such a new look!’ The collections have since been dubbed ‘New Look’, which softened the shoulders, accentuated the waist, volumised the hip, and emphasised the bust. It was a repudiation of the 1920s and 1930s fashion. Dior tore off the pages of sartorial restriction, gloom, gravity, rationing, and uniforms, and revived a long-forgotten tradition of the corseted silhouette and opulence in the late nineteenth century. He opened a new chapter. A new outlook.

This thrilling sense of atavism pervaded right down to his final touch: perfume. Above all, it must translate his retrospective sense of aesthetics. Christian Dior worked with Serge Heftler Louiche, perfumer Jean Carles, and perhaps, perfumer Paul Vacher in the creation of Miss Dior, named after his sister Catherine Dior, to ensure that the creation reflects the quintessence of his couture. And rightly so, Jean Carles took to the structure of Chypre de Coty (Coty, 1917), hearkening to the heyday of the classical chypre. But he also wove into Miss Dior the green galbanum of Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1945) by perfumer and colleague Germaine Cellier that he admired and the bold accords of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) that he created a year earlier — both were popular elements of their time.

From the first spritz, Miss Dior is unmistakably a chypre. The structure alone is foretelling, with the main chypre accord of bergamot, jasmine, patchouli, vetiveryl acetate, oakmoss, labdanum, and animalic notes comprising 60% of the composition. Yet, Miss Dior is wondrously original.

In the opening, Miss Dior sports the green citation similar to Vent Vert. It combines galbanum with a green accord based on styrallyl acetate, styrax, and aldehyde C-10 (decanal) and C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde). It feels like a fresh opening buds of gardenia. This is balanced by the spicy brightness of pepper and coriander. The sharp green top is also bridged to the floral heart by lavender and neroli.

The rich floral notes come into full-bloom with mainly a jasmine complex. Rose and confit-like tuberose also vie for attention. The green aromatic note of celery seed oil also enriches the tuberose. And, soon the warm base notes emerge.

Amber, animalic notes, and the powdery sweet combination of orris and vanillin provide the much-needed softness to contrast the sharp top notes. Much of the woody aspect in the chypre structure of Miss Dior also comes from 9.2% patchouli oil. And, what remains on skin is a combination of rich animalic musks, sweet floral powder, and warm damp-woody oakmoss.

Miss Dior harked back to the glorious chypres, but was also well-attuned to its time. The ingenious composition successfully demonstrated the versatility of the chypre structure in accommodating themes as different as leather, green, and floral. Jean Carles, though anosmic by that time, effectively placed the galbanum green of Vent Vert and the bold green accords of Ma Griffe into the classical chypre accord to take advantage of the remarkably versatile structural materials. He, then, gave Miss Dior the richness and complexity of natural ingredients such as jasmine absolute, tuberose derived from enfleurage, and even with traces of celery seed oil. The result provided such originality.

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Miss Dior is a grand parfum so inventive and idiosyncratic. But, it is also reminiscent of the sensorial richness of good old Lux soaps in the 1960s. This is also a compliment to its brilliance. That the accords of Miss Dior have trickled down to the functional scents of everyday life proves its trend-setting capability. Miss Dior is phenomenal.

Nevertheless, the fate of this classic perfume is lamentable. The current formulation of Miss Dior Originale in the eau de toilette is sorely lacking. Its verve has been lost due, perhaps, to the unattainable ingredients. For instance, oakmoss is restricted to a minimal concentration; the popularity of galbanum has waned; and the tuberose absolute of today is of a different profile than, back in 1947, when its confit-like richness was procured through costly and laborious enfleurage in India, using the now-restricted animal fats. What is left of Miss Dior Originale is a whisper of galbanum, a murky floral heart that lacks the richness and opulence befitting a classical chypre, and a fond of lukewarm oakmoss. It is now a hollow chypre, devoid of striking character and dramatic richness.

Sources: dior.com, hpprints.com, Perfumery Practice and Principles, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, vogue.ru

Review: Aramis — 4.0 points

From the first sniff of Aramis (1965), it struck me immediately as dated. It was from a time when the grand chypre structure was in vogue. Had it been my first experience in choosing a perfume, I would have recoiled from the intensity and the tenacity of Aramis. It is a powerful idea.

But such strength alone is not what makes Aramis so memorable. It is, in fact, the way perfumer Bernard Chant creatively reworked strong ideas of his contemporaries to offer and firmly establish leather chypre amongst the families of masculine perfumes. As I smell Aramis, I am jolted by the ideas: the ferocity of leather chypre in Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), the verdancy of overdosed galbanum in Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1947), and Bernard Chant’s very own green floral and leather chypre in Cabochard (Grès, 1959).

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Aramis (in gold) and Aramis Adventurer (in azure)

The opening features some aldehydic sparkles, aromatic herbs, spicy coriander, and green galbanum. The latter feels like a creative citation of Vent Vert. The funky, sweaty cumin that follows, admittedly, startles me. Aramis is bold, indeed.

Soon, I notice a subdued floral accord, mainly of jasmine note, that seems to blend in smoothly with a lot of sandalwood. It creates a kind of bracing softness that contrasts with the strong debut and the imminent pungency of leather. This is where Aramis reminds me of the softness in Cabochard.

But this is also where it diverges: Aramis might embrace the same kind of floral softness and sandalwood, but it does not wrap its leather with flowers and verdancy. Instead, the leather accord based on isobutyl quinoline that was also used in Bandit takes centre stage. Oakmoss, patchouli, and vetiver provide a dramatic woody backdrop. Gentle puffs of castoreum add much of the animalic note. And, musks mellow the sharp leather accord.

One can think of sturdy leathery Aramis as the masculine counterpart of the more floral leather of Cabochard. Both are just as memorable and polished in different tones. For Aramis, the uncompromising nature of its mossy leather against a backdrop of rich chypre is the reason why it has since become an icon, and is amongst the most recognisable leather chypre for men. But then again, the galbanum-infused leather chypre of Aramis would find itself softened by florals, ionones, and orris, and given radiance by the first overdose of Hedione in Chanel N°19 (1970), another classic.

Sources: fashionista.com

Review: Grès Cabochard — 5.0 points

Inspired by the ferocious whip of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), perfumer Bernard Chant took to the leathery character and created Cabochard (Grès, 1959). The leather accord was softened and balanced with verdancy and florals. Cabochard itself would become a legacy amongst the family of leather chypres and inspire a number of perfumery’s classics such as Aramis (1965) and Chanel N°19 (1970).

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From the start, the green combination of galbanum, armoise, and basil contrasts nicely with the earthy character. Styrallyl acetate in combination with aldehyde C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde) contribute to the green floral aspect. To complement the green, there is the freshness of mandarin and bergamot with linalool and linalyl acetate. The opening is certainly reminiscent of another era: bitter green with sharp freshness. It is bright and sparkling.

The composition reveals the floral heart as expected of a classical chypre. It is dominated by a bright jasmine accord different from those of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior (1947), a fresh rose note, and hyacinth. Its radiance is imparted by a muguet note. Also, the relatively high content of sandalwood compared to other chypres provides the apparent softness to Cabochard. Such pairing of the jasmine accord and sandalwood would later be found in the masculine leather chypre territory of Aramis.

Then, glimpses of leather appear. Along with isobutyl quinoline, balsamic benzoin, a castoreum note, and a costus note give Cabochard its leather character. Interestingly, there is a similarity between Cabochard and Aramis in their use of isobutyl quinoline with the floral-powdery musk ambrette, which is now banned due to safety concerns.

The warmth of its chypre accord is built around patchouli, oakmoss, animalic notes, woody notes of vetiveryl acetate and cedryl acetate, and the amber note of Dynamone, which is a base derived from cistus. The accord is sweetened by methyl ionone. The use of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone) to lend a soft creamy touch emulates the use of peachy aldehyde C-14 (γ-undecalactone) in earlier chypres like that of Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919). Spicy notes of cinnamon, clove, and a carnation accord provide a bright contrast to the dusky leathery character. The vegetal musk character of ambrettolide finally echoes the verdant top.

Cabochard is one of the few surviving leather chypre amongst feminine fragrances. Thanks to the brilliance of perfumer Bernard Chant, he extrapolated the iconic leather of Bandit. He softened the leather and gave it verdant florals. The interesting use of materials also gave Cabochard its creative twist and character. It stands on its own as another classic in the family. Although the reformulations may have rendered Cabochard more docile now, but one can still see a glimpse of its complex transformation.

Sources: fragrancex.com, Perfumery Practices and Principles

Review: James Heeley Chypre 21 — 3.5 points

Often, I have had to brace myself when smelling a perfume with the description of ‘chypre’ attached to it. The very idea of this fragrance family dates back to Roman times, but the characteristics of ‘chypre’ or ‘Cyprus’ only took shape due to the famed perfumery materials of the nineteenth-century Cyprus. A chypre comes with the key notes of bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, but is often combined with notes of rose, jasmine, patchouli, amber, and/or musks. It can be seen as a grand and dramatic perfume. It has been almost a century since this structurally defined chypre was popularised by the success of Chypre de Coty (Coty, 1917). I should think it safe, therefore, to say that chypre is not the kind of olfactory conception millennials like me are familiar and can readily appreciate.

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As I have learned to understand the complex aesthetics of a chypre perfume, I am of the opinion that such a complex fragrance is not a grab-and-go perfume for every day. The rich complexity and, often, intensity of a chypre can be glorious, but the very same combination can also be brutal. With Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919) in the eau de toilette and eau de parfum, for example, I teeter between aversion and admiration whenever someone douses himself or herself liberally at the Guerlain counter. Only the peachy warmth and sensual Guerlinade in the extrait de parfum firmly establish it in my realm of admiration.

But thanks to the clever updates and spin-offs, there have been a fair share of chypres that I can access, like, or love. For instance, in Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), the zesty lemon and agrestic herbs keep the composition bright amidst the dark mood of oakmoss. In Chanel N°19 (1970), the galbanum and iris give it the idiosyncratic green and buttery softness to the otherwise rough-hewn structure. In 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel, 2007) and Cuir de Russie (Chanel, 1924), the addition of plush iris significantly softens the harshness. Similarly, Chypre 21 (Heeley, 2015) by James Heeley takes advantage of the rich, honeyed rose to not only give opulence to the composition, but also render a headstrong chypre more obliging.

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A very fine bergamot introduces the bright top. The citrus is brief and would escape if one does not sniff within a few seconds of spraying. It is bright and refreshing, and the floral nuance brings us seamlessly to the heart.

It is a rose in its prime — rich, floral, and honeyed. A Provençal accent of rosemary provides a minty touch. Now its peachy glow and richness remind me of a sip of whisky that warms the body. As time passes, patchouli dominates with a warm tone setting stage for the emerging woody warmth.

Velvety sandalwood and musks lend much softness to the woods. And its oakmoss note is subdued, but persists there with a brooding accent to reassure you of its signature chypre. The final stage radiates the warmth of musky oakmoss. The overall result is understated and balanced. It has a nostalgic ring of the classical chypre, and it smells like money. It is certainly polished.

If you ever decide to make a foray into the chypre terrain, Chypre 21 would be akin to a modern gateway to get an idea of the chypre structure like Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior Originale (1947).

source: jamesheeley.com, fragrantica.com

Review: Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte — 5.0 points

The classical eau de cologne revolves around essences of citrus and herbs. It is a popular style of perfume because it is bright, fresh, and vivacious. Its ebullience is imminently attractive, and I would be hard-pressed to find one who dislikes such a jovial personality. But when the next perfume of this style is just another happy citrus, it is somewhat anti-climactic. It may smell good, but the excitement or the unexpected is no longer there because the character of its classical citrusy blend has been diluted.

Therefore, it is a challenge to execute an original composition of this genre. It must possess the simplicity of freshness, but also be compelling. Such combination is what gives Eau d’Orange Verte (Hermès, 1979) a strong character.

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Created by perfumer Françoise Caron, it had been known as ‘Eau de Cologne d’Hermès’ before being re-named in 1997. Its classical freshness is a well-blended mélange of citrus: bergamot, lemon, and petitgrain. Its verdant accent recalls citrus leaves and twigs. The cooling touch of crushed mint and the fruity blackcurrant buds give a chic twist to what would otherwise be an astringent eau de cologne.

Towards the dry down, Eau d’Orange Verte is still fresh with lasting green and fruity notes. It leaves a fresh trace on skin, keeping me entertained throughout. And when set against the dusky notes of oakmoss and slightly powdery musk, the composition acquires a vivid contrast. Such bold pairing of citrus and woods is reminiscent of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), another classic citrus chypre, but the character here is marked by a crisp green accent.

With such a distinctive personality, Eau d’Orange Verte stands out amongst the brethren of citrus blends. Its marriage of green citrus and mossy woods creates a fresh and vibrant original composition. A citrus cologne par excellence, it is simple, yet memorable.

A note on reformulation: The current version, which is a re-formulation by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, also preserves the green citrus, but softens the contrast by tuning down the mossy notes. The result is more rounded but still excellent. It feels spontaneous and elegant.

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A note on the deodorant and shower gel: For a more prolonged experience, there is the shower gel and deodorant stick. Both have the same bitter-green impression that leaves residual freshness, but without the mossy chypre. I think they would make a nice gift together with the eau de cologne.

Source: usa.hermes.com