Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Dior Chypres series ~Miss Dior: fragrance review

“I will tell you of a perfume which my mistress has from the graces and the gods of love; when you smell it, you will ask of the deities to make of you only a nose”. It is in those words that the Roman writer Catullus speaks of the seductive guiles of feminine fragrance. Miss Dior is such a seductive scent, compelling you to ask the deities for favors they ~alas!~ cannot grant you.
Almost everything has been said about this classic of classics that saw the light of day in 1947, so I won’t bore you with the same old, same old about the New Look and how it came about. Instead I will tentatively try to give you the feel I get from this scent and the associations I get in my mind.

Technically a floral leathery chypre, Miss Dior is a soigné miss only in exterior appearances, all prim and proper, because once inside the beast takes over and you smell the animal in its peak of copulating frenzy. There is some element of appocrine in the fragrance and I am not talking about sweat or urine. Although there is the clean overlay of aldehydic waxiness and soft flowers you catch a whiff of more feral, impolite essences. Under the clean exterior there is the carnal cat-call and you feel as if it is perhaps too scrubbed clean to be without ulterior motive. I suspect this is due to civet or civetone, because there is also a pronounced warmth in the background, despite the cooler opening.

The effect is more evident in extrait de parfum especially, which bears a marked difference to the eau de toilette. The latter is more powdery with the slightly bitter, cottony feel of coumarin and has an exuberant, bright green start due to the inclusion of galbanum and aromatic clary sage. Those two ingredients, along with styralyl acetate (naturally found in gardenia buds), is what makes me think of the original Ma Griffe by Carven to which it professes kinship in its initial stages. The galbanum touch might also recall the verdancy of Balmain’s Vent Vert (which came out the same year), although the latter is stridently green in the vintage edition which might seem jarring compared to Miss Dior. The latter also has a soft peachiness to it, characteristic of the Roudnitska touch presumely, which must be derived from some aldehydic compound or other molecular combination, different though from the C14 of Mitsouko. It is a peachiness that I have encountered in hair products, hence my assumption that it is chemically constructed.
The base is smothered in troubling patchouli, moss and earthy vetiver. However this is not the pared down patchouli of modern fragrances that is so ubiquitous in everything churned out at a frantic pace in the last couple of years. There is shady vibrancy in this that defies the clean aspect of the modern patchouli interpretations and a roundness in which notes do not compete with each other for stage space.

As I first inhale whiffs of Miss Dior sprayed into the air, I am transported into a mirage that entails majestic mountains surrounding meadows of lavender and narcissi in bloom, where ultra prim damsels wade through. Their long flaxen hair down, their eyes bright with anticipation in their precious moments of freedom as they turn past oak trees into a little slice of heaven; a pond filled with crystalline waters. And there, out of the blue emerges the catalyst: the object of fantasy and secret longing of who knows what exactly. Acres of moist skin, droplets shinning in the morning sun and wet hair that smells like it hadn’t been washed in a while; that fatty, waxy smell of familiarity, yet for them uncharted territory still. The pungency of horse and saddle distantly echoed in the background.

Here it is:

(Levis commercial uploaded by ladynea)
{The song is "Inside" by one-hit wonder Stiltskin (from 1994)}.

Christian Dior confided that
"...I created this perfume to dress every woman with a trail of desire, and to see emerging from her small bottle all my dresses...”.
Based on a formula by Jean Carles, it was composed by Paul Vacher and later re-arranged in 1992 by Edmond Roudnitska in extrait de parfum. It hoped to open new vistas of optimism after the privations of the war and in a way it did.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with older creations, there has been some re-orchestration of Miss Dior’s symphony since. Very recent batches do not smell as oily and precise as they did, due to a mollifying of the top notes that deducted the sharp peppery greeness of galbanum giving way to a citrus leaf aroma, not unlike the one in O de Lancome. Also an attenuation of the chypre accord with more vetiver makes the new version less assertive and murky than it used to, rendering it less erotic in effect. At least Evernia Prunastri (oakmoss) and Evernia Furfurea (tree moss) are still listed, although to what ratio it is unknown (hypothesized to a lesser one).
If you happen upon Eau de Cologne bottles, those are surely vintage and they are a pretty good acquisition in lieu of extrait de parfum, if you can’t afford or find it.

It is interesting to note that by today’s standards Miss Dior smells “old-fashioned”, even though it was conceived as a young fragrance aimed at debutantes. Less polite souls would baptize it “old lady”, a blanket term so lacking in qualitative nuance that renders it completely useless. Indeed I was able to witness its effect personally. I happened to spritz a vintage (circa 1985) emerging from a ladies’ restroom, washing in front of two teenager girls who were watching me through the mirror while glossing their puckered lips. Aren’t those times tittilating for budding womanhood? Of course I volunteered to scent them, ever eager to introduce young girls into proper perfumes. One of them staggered back in what seemed like abject horror (judging by the look in her eye) professing the opinion it was “too heavy for her”, the other was more cooperative and allowed me two spritzes on her woolen scarf. Although at first she too seemed a little overwhelmed, after a minute, when alcohol had evaporated, she took the scarf close to her nose and nuzzled deeply. Yeah, there was a look of mischief in her eye as she thanked me. And there you have it: Miss Dior has this double effect; it will make some think it’s heavy and old, it will entrance others on second sniff. I am sure that girl went off to venture into romantic escapades with ackward beaux that could not appreciate the raw power of its labdanum and moss base; beaux whose fathers will be much more receptive to her nubile charms, American-Beauty-style.

Miss Dior is the scent of sexual awakening. A trully naughty perfume under the prim and proper exterior of houndstooth. But hounds do discover the best prey, don’t they?

Official notes: galbanum, bergamot, clary sage, gardenia, jasmine, narcissus, neroli, rose, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum, sandalwood

NOTA BENE: The above review pertains to the 1947 fragrance formula and the reformulations happening till the early 2000s. As of 2011, the classic Miss Dior is renamed Miss Dior EDT Originale and Miss Dior Cherie from 2005 has become simply... Miss Dior. Please read this article with pics on how to spot which Miss Dior fragrance version you're buying.

For our French-speaking readers there is a nice clip about the 1947 introduction of the New Look with a confessionary voiceover by Fanny Ardant.
Click here:

(uploaded by vodeotv)

We have more surprises on the Shrine for you later on...

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  1. Anonymous15:37

    thank you for this beautiful review!! I just love Miss Dior. It's my holy grail. I even found a fresh and sealed pure perfume of it but i do also love the vintage EdT and the soap. The body lotion of the new formula is also a pure pleasure.
    Mhhh... have to wear some tonight... ;-)

  2. Wonderful review, Helg. I always love your take on the classics, and I always learn something.

    Help me solve a mystery. I've got an oversized mini of Miss Dior (looks like 20 ml, or thereabouts) that I bought in an antique store in New Orleans. It's got the houndstooth pattern on the cap and label, with lettering in gold that says "Christian Dior, Eau de Cologne, Miss Dior, Paris." The bottle and juice are in excellent condition, but it's clearly not recent. Any idea of its age? When did they do an EDC of Miss Dior?

  3. Dear Nina,

    you're very welcome. Lovelier holy grail I couldn't imagine for you.
    You are very lucky to find the pure parfum! It is getting scarcer and scarcer to come by.

    The soap I haven't tried ever; is it true to scent or are there any other elements to it?

  4. Thanks so much dear M for your compliments. I am flattered.

    Re: your question. I put the bottle you mention in late 60s or thereabouts. EDC circulated all through the 60s (and I think 70s) in the characteristic houndstooth pattern for all Diors.

  5. Thank you, Helg--it looks about that age. I've never sniffed the extrait, but this edc is quite potent--sometimes a little too much kitty-cat for me. BTW, I am loving this series. Digging out my Miss Dior mini led me to discover a Dioressence mini I had completely forgotten I owned! I hope you're going to do that one, too.

  6. The newer, tweaked Miss Dior makes me so sad-
    I can't wear it.
    It feels very astringent, bitter, and thin to me-
    Unlike the one of yore.
    Sad, and sour.
    Boo-hoo !

    I just don't tire of chypres.
    Thanks !

  7. You're very welcome, M :-)
    You are lucky to own some EdC, it is quite potent, perhaps comparable to today's EDT or even EDP! (quite good value for money, to tell you the truth).

    Dioressence was FABULOUS, but completely ruined now :-((
    I will cover it some time later on, though.

  8. Yes, I dear. It's sad that they had to "thin" the EdT. Some people find it more wearable though, but I am sadly not one of them :-(
    Still, it is a good perfume nonetheless. Perhaps Dior might reconsider at some point?

  9. freegracer18:37

    I'm so pleased to see your quote from Catullus 13. Years ago (I mean, decades ago!) I translated it into a rhyming poem (true "nugae" in good Catullan fashion) which I shared with my students when I was teaching Latin lyric. You are the first perfume reviewer I've seen to reference Catullus 13. Good for you!

    Miss Dior---I have a newer bottle of Miss Dior; it dates probably from '05 or so. And I admit that I like it very much. The back note reminds me of the back note in Arpege, on which Paul Vacher worked before Fraysse took over. That doesn't mean I embrace re-orchs. I often find them frustrating and usually avoidable. But on occasion, as here, I like the original as well as the new.

    Anyway, just stopping in to say thanks for another great post, helg.

  10. Thank you for your most kind words Freegracer. I am so glad that the originality of the work here at the Shrine is getting across :-)
    Teaching Latin lyric must have been great! We had a professor who talked to us in Latin in the university (of course he taught the Aenead and we had absolutely no idea what he was talking about half of the time, LOL!)

    Interesting what you say about the new Miss Dior. Then indeed people do find it wearable. The perfume I do prefer the newer to the old myself is Femme ;-)

  11. Anonymous05:01

    Great! thank you.. I have a vinage miniture botton of miss dior. I am trying to find a value for it, any help I would be very greatful! :D hannigan986@btinternet.com

  12. Hi Hannigan!

    Is it the "peeble" style perhaps and you're calling it "button"? (flat, small, oval-ish?). If so, these are highly collectible. Searching ompleted auctions on Ebay should point you in the direction of what the market can bear, money-wise.
    If it's another style, those are less covetable (even though the juice inside is just the same), so less $$$ to acquire/sell.
    If you have extrait de parfum, shoot me an email directly ;-)

  13. Anonymous23:45

    Thank you for your reply. It is Miss Dior EAU DE TOILETTE. I have searched ebay for the same item and only found one nearly the same, its seems newer than mine and the price is high. It's a 10ml bottle and it is the flat small oval-ish square-ish one :D It has a white lid, the one on ebay had a checked lid. I have it boxed and never used :)

  14. In that case, you might try Parfumsflacons.de (a retailer who carries the miniatures) to see comparative prices.

  15. Ashley20:40

    Hi there! I was hoping you would answer a question about Miss Dior if you have a moment. I have just sampled the vintage pure parfum and I love it! (There are only two other perfumes that I truly love, Mitsouko and Femme - and I've sampled a LOT of perfume.) However I don't really want to go down the path of trying to chase down a vintage bottle - I've been burned before on auction sites getting perfume that is so deteriorated it is almost unrecognizable. Have you smelled the most recent batches, the ones that are labeled "Originale"? Do you know if there is any noticeable change from that to before it had the "Originale" notation? I have two immediate options for purchasing - direct from the Dior website which will obviously be the most recent formulation, or one from a local perfume shop that is evidently older because it lacks the "Originale" distinction (but it's definitely not Cherie). I have seen on other forums some people compare the newer formulations to a Designer Impostor aerosol spray - harsh criticism! But I wondered if this is your personal experience. In short I would really like to obtain some great quality Miss Dior (Original) pure parfum, any suggestions? Thank you in advance for your time! - Ashley

  16. Ashley,

    thanks for commenting and for the interesting question!

    In short, the Originale is in my personal opinion not bad at all, but it is an eau de toilette (hence the "e" in the Originale moniker). It goes to reason that it cannot compare to parfum concentration and never could. It is lovely though for the thing it is, considering.
    The vintage eau de toilette produces a denser effect compared to the newer due to the passage of time that destroys the freshness of the gardenia heart and the green top note a bit; therefore it appears much more animalic that it really is. Try the vintage eau de cologne if you must and you'll see; it's designed to be less animalic and therefore gives an impression of the way the older eau de toilette must have smelled fresh from the factory.

    As you say, the auction sites, especially for really sought after fragrances, are a risk. I advise caution and the illingness to get burned from time to time.
    The current Originale isn't a bad investment. For the moment. ;-)

  17. Ashley15:09

    Thank you for your response! Interesting your take on the aging of perfume. I've often wondered if, like wine, perfume evolves over time (regardless of storage conditions - though that clearly also has an important effect). So that a vintage version will have innate differences regardless of formula changes over the years. It is impossible to know exactly what a 1970s era perfume smelled like in its own time other than from memory, and memories of sensations are highly influenced by ones circumstances at the time. So although some reformulations clearly bastardize fragrances, sickeningly so, I don't think changes are always as tragic as they can be made out to be. Maybe sometimes a vintage version of a perfume smells so different just because it has aged?

    Anyhow, my question was specifically regarding the extrait de parfum, which is the formulation I am particularly interested in. Have you smelled the most current version, and is it a good quality version of the fragrance? If you think the current EDT is not bad, then surely the current parfum is also a good version of this classic. I would like to get some while it is still available.


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