Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christian Dior Dune: fragrance review

Originally thought out by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac* (of Opium fame), is it any wonder Dior's Dune smells more like the warmed up sand where lush Venus-like bodies have lain in sweet surrender rather than the athletic Artemis/Diana figures which aquatic/oceanic ("sports") fragrances ~the classification in which the house puts it~ would suggest? The French have been known to prefer Venus over Diana in their artistic depictions over the centuries anyway. It's perhaps unjust and a sign of the celebrity-obsessed times that this Aphrodite of a scent is recurring into the scene because word has leaked out recently that Kate Middleton wore it as a signature scent when she was a student.

But at least it might give newcomers into the cult of perfume a chance to experience one of the lesser known Dior fragrances: Curiously enough, for something that has stayed in the market for 19 years and belongs to the LVMH portfolio, Dune, apart from a men's version Dune for Men of course with its tonka beat backdrop, has no flankers...

*[Although Jean-Louis Sieuzac proposed the formula, his submission was rejected by the Christian Dior perfumes head of development at the time. It took a modification by perfumer Nejla Bsiri Barbir (working at Parfumania) which sealed the deal and got Dune on the shelves in the end...]

Dior's Dune is a case study not only in the house's illustrious stable (scroll our Dior Series), but in the perfume pantheon in general: The zeitgeist by 1991, when the fragrance was issued, demanded a break with the shoulder-pads and moussed-up hair of the 1980s which invaded personal space alongside bombastic scents announcing its wearer from the elevator across the hall...or -in some memorable cases- across the adjoining building three weeks after the wearer had passed through its halls! The advent of ozonic-marines was on as a form of air freshening (and a subliminal chastity belt to attack towards the AIDS advent) and L'Eau d'Issey, interestingly issued exactly one year after Dune, was paving the path that New West by Aramis had started a few years ago. Where the Japanese aesthetic for restraint put forth mental images of limpid water lillies by the drop of water on a sparse zen bottle of brushed aluminum & frosted glass, the French were continuing their seductive scenery: the model was all prostrate on a sandy beach, the colour of antique pink silk underwear hinting at fleshy contours, eyes closed, giagantic eyelashes batting slowly, reminiscent of broom stems, a world capsized into a sphere of tranquility... Interestingly it's also routinely fronted by blonde beauties, suggesting there is an oriental for them apart from the flamenco-strewn dark-haired territory other classic fragrances have mapped out so well. Lately advertising images for Dune sadly capitulated into the slicked, oiled-up bodies that infest other Dior fragrance advertisments, but I prefer to keep the original ones in my mind.

Perfume taxonomist Michael Edwards recounts how the heads at Christian Dior wanted to create a "marine type" of fragrance but without the harsh ozonic notes that were catapulting the market at the time. The original idea was a monastery's garden by the coast, herbal and aromatic.
To do the trick they relied on both a clever construction (which was more "smoky oriental" than "marine") and some ingenious, suggestive marketing to compliment it later.

The imagery was easier to devise, although not easy to pull off exactly as planned: The packaging was an inviting hue of peachy, as was the colour of the juice, to suggest femininity and soft flesh, while the star ingredient that suggested beachy slopes and wild growth, broom (what the French call genet) was featured on the advertising images in an effort to reinforce the suggestion of wild beaches of escapist delights. The seaside town of Biarritz, where the official launch was scheduled, gathering a huge amount of press professionals, was practically painted peach to echo the livery. A chic picnic on the beach was set to kickstart the festivities. But someone had forgotten a small detail in the mix (or was he/she nonchalant enough the European way not to check it out?). It was a nudist beach...

The composition is never too clever by half, it's intelligent: The dissonant opening impression of Dior's Dune relies on a bitterish interplay between the tarriness of lichen ~alongside the distinct bracken feel of broom (in reality deertongue goes into the formula)~ with the sweeter oriental elements of the base. It's almost harsh! The phenolic, after all, is never more aptly played than when juxtaposed with a sweetish note (such as in natural honey in the form of phenolic acids), as exhibited to great effect by Bvlgari's Black which was to follow at the end of the 1990s. The intelligence of Sieuzac nevertheless lied into injecting a "marine" fragrance with exactly the element that no one would expect from an oceanic-evoking landascape: warm oriental powder! If you lean closely, the top stage of Dune with its bitterish tendencies almost immediately gives way to a dry impression that almost recalls gusts of powder, but missing completely the candied violet-rose & makeup feel of the mainstays of feminine guiles, powder puffs. The official notes proclaim orris, but the effect is due to carrot seed (often used as a replication of the earthy, powdery undergrowth). This is a fragrance that is conceived as an extension of the boudoir into the outdoors, not an accoutrement out of it.
The warm amber (but not too sweet) and the musk base is there too under the other elements, almost like fig-filled biscuits rolled into floral tanning lotion. In fact I believe the Dior Bronze "summer fragrance" called Sweet Sun, was directly inspired by Dune. But the diaphanous interpretation of Dune allows it to pose as borderline "fresh". Almost "natural". Someone described it as "flesh-toned in the creepy way of artificial limps, not real ones", continuing into pronouncing it "marvellous" and "the bleakest beauty in all perfumery", and this Plastic Venus off the Waves stands indeed on a unique podium amidst the whole of modern perfumery: There's simply nothing quite like it.

Notes for Dior Dune:
Top:bergamot, mandarin, palisander, aldehyde, peony, rosewood and broom
Heart: jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower, lichen, orris.
Base: vanilla, patchouli, benzoin, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, and musk.

The Eau de Toilette is my preferred concentration in this scent, possessing in greater degree the jarring elements which make Dune so very interesting to begin with. There is also an alcohol-free version for use in the sun, called Dune Sun, but as usual with alcohol-less versions, it lacks much staying power.

pic of plastic venus by lo boots via deviant-art


  1. I used Dune for some time during the early 90s and I have to say in the beginning I really enjoyed it. But after some time I felt it was too much a scent that didn´t go with me, I don´t know exactly why. Now I would like to try it again but for some reason Dune is not right for me.

    What a great and exhaustive review!

    Thanks so much.

  2. Great review! Dune is part of my collection and is often the perfect choice for many occasions. Your description really captures the nuances of this amazing perfume.

  3. Another great and oh so aptly put review, dear!
    Dune is a classic (i love to wear it esp, on warmer days) and i am more than glad it did not suffer discontinuation through the years (although in most stores over here you find it down, near the floor boards, where Fidji, Eau de Rochas and Y can be found, too) and a little bit of VIP-promo cannot hurt Dune, imho! :-)

  4. J,

    thanks for your kind words.
    How interesting that you loved this and wore it! It's certainly a complex, intriguing perfume and one which either suits or not so much, there's no middle ground.
    For instance (and not to compare with your case naturally) I knew someone who wore it very badly; I don't know if her bottle had gone off somewhat or her own method of application was not entirely right for this one, she had other lovely perfumes which suited her much more I always felt.
    Then again, it's a good one to have around, especially as it can be had inexpensively and it's not to messed up with reformulations so far.

  5. Josephine,

    thanks, I'm glad you feel that way re: my writing on it. It's quite something, isn't it? I always felt pegging it as a marine was doing it a disservice.

  6. Lillie/N,

    happy new year!! So happy to see you here!!

    Yup, a classic is right. It has survived for 19 years, it's still easily found (relatively) and it's not too wrecked from the reformulations. I'm all for some celebrity endorsement if it means it won't get axed (I do feel it's rather popular with its audience though, I know of several women who wear it frequently).
    If you like it for summer (I put it on any season), by all means try Aquasun by Lancaster too: another light amber with some interesting touches (not bitter though, more Ambre Solaire)

  7. Thanks for paying homage to one of my favorite stand-bys.....this was one of my first purchases when I started collecting perfumes and it still continues to baffle me every time I put it on. It is like "catnip" for me - I simultaneously want to lick it and roll in it - and you are so right - no other perfume makes me feel this way when I wear it. Dune is a real gem of a fragrance, but I never think of it as a Dior fragrance, probably because I never think of Dune as being "elegant" or "classy" or "couture" or even "expensive-smelling". Although there is a familiarity to it, I don't really associate the fragrance with a person or a moment in time......it just "is".....if you know what I mean (that is what I love about Dune the most)......and now I think I'll go spray some on and "roll around in it" for awhile.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  8. I wore Dune for a time back in the early 90's, and for much the same reasons as I wore another "unusual" Dior - Dioressence (quite possibly my all-time favorite Dior). Simply because there was nothing else quite so...different? Compelling? Weird in a nice way?

    I still like it very much - it's one of the few Diors I do like these days - but I no longer wear it. I KNOW life is a beach...although now that I'm older, I'd spell it differently, of course! ;)

    And to any one I might have missed - a Happy New Year to you all!

  9. Mark,

    thank you very much and thanks for recounting what makes it tick for you. I admit I hadn't really given any thought to its Dior-ness or lack thereof, mainly because it stands apart in my mind as not messed up, not LVMHed enough. ;-)
    It's a lucky incident and I do wonder for how long that good fate will subsist. Let's wish for very long.
    It's indeed unique and I can perfectly see how a guy would wear it to great aplomb: I bet the slightly medicinal, tarry facets show up great on men's skin.

  10. T,

    beautifully recounted and thanks for saying so.
    Dioressence (the proper, old formula of course) was among my mother's top 3 scents and always had a special significance to me. It's so good to hear someone derives as much pleasure from it.
    Dune is more contemplative, less "barbaric" for sure, LOL, if one goes by what the company proclaims, but it's still a different animal than a put in the corner wallflower. It's got a subtle presence, even if it doesn't scream. I find it temperamental myself: it sometimes likes me a lot, some other times, not as madly. But I love having it around, just like you.

  11. I really should go smell this again, I haven't smelled it in years. Never wore it, though: my younger sister wore it in the early 90s, and I have been forbidden on pain of death to EVER wear any perfume she claims as "hers." Maybe she wouldn't notice if I sampled?

    I think when she was wearing Dune, I was wearing the drugstore special (Coty) Aspen for Women, which has been discontinued for years, and which I cannot find any notes for. I seem to remember a marine note, though, along with some woods and amber - it was much richer than my usual choices, and much louder too. I did pick up a miniature bottle of it on evilbay, but haven't worn it yet. You don't remember it, do you?

    Oops, hijacked the post... sorry.

  12. Anonymous21:19

    I like Dune, but it is a total rip off of Venice (Venise). I got a bottle of the latter many years ago from a friend in France. It wasn't until recently that I read L Turin's book and was intrigued by what he said about Dune so I got a sample. Indeed, the 2 could not be more alike. A shame really.

  13. Thanks for this review! I loved Dune when I was using it in my late teens - picked it up at Kuching airport. Even today, more than a decade later, it still turns my head when I smell it on someone else. I never buy any perfume more than once (a rule I put in place to try to satisfy my desire to own every perfume in the world - not achievable, I know LOL) but if I did, Dune would be one of them!

  14. Muse,

    LOL, I know the pain of not approaching something because someone has "taken" it. That's all right, go ahead and sample, it's very worthwhile.

    I love readers hijacking threads because so many things become ingrained in the conversation, so don't apologize. Can't say I remember the Aspen for Women, never circulated here and didn't remember sampling while in America, I do recall the advertisements though.
    So it was loud, you say, eh?

  15. Anon,

    you must mean the Yves Rocher Venise, not the Biagotti right? (to which I don't detect that much of an identity crisis). I recall Luca saying the two are alike but I'm afraid I don't have the YR to compare side by side.
    I would think that if they're so close (could it be that they're by the same nose and he took over the formula from one brief to the next? not unheard of), then someone can get their fix much more inexpensively, then!

  16. Audit,

    hi there, how are you?? Thanks for stopping by!

    Glad you liked the review and I can see how Dune has claimed its claim on you. I think you'd need to get a bottle again, it's so individual and it must have suited you well. You do have a conflict with your desire, now, what can one do? Just get Dune alongside anything else you would buy anyway. (when in doubt, buy both, that's the recipe for getting the economy to rise again! LOL)

    And it's my chance to thank you for nudging me to go try the Miss Dior Cherie Printemps some months ago: you were absolutely right, it's the best rendition and not sickly sweet. (Surprise!) Thanks again! :D

  17. I'm very well thanks! How are you? I haven't stopped by for ages and I've missed reading your posts - I had a grand time these past couple of nights getting reacquainted!

    I was so put off by MDC's uber sweetness that I wrote off the whole range, but then MDC Printemps came along and it was beautiful. Glad you like it!

  18. Anonymous21:22

    Yes, I do mean the YR not the Biagotti. I have a bottle of the now discontinued Venise, and Dune is indeed, a dead ringer for it. LT is right about that.

  19. Capucine19:53

    I must thank you -as many others- for your wonderful review! So many memories!

  20. Anonymous09:36

    ....hi....this is just amazing...just received my new bottle of edt, and reading this wonderful review seems to me that I've hit the right spot with this one...it is an old classic that we're all familiar with, but it is very interesting what makes a true classic in a perfume world....thank you for the Dior Bronze Sun comparision since that was the first thing that came to my mind when I was writting a review of Dune on MUA...

    amazing, wonderful and absolute FBW perfume....

  21. Anon, that's wonderful to know for sure! Thanks! I have missed that YR scent it seems, never smelled it.

  22. Capucine,

    you're very sweet, thank you! :-)

  23. Anon,

    that's a great pleasure knowing that the review has accomplished providing that confirmation that you have something lovely in your hands! Enjoy!!
    Yup, the Bronze Sun is something that they had done right and it's a pity they don't produce it any more. As long as there's Dune though... :-)

  24. Thanks for this excellent review. It's so much fun to read about scents without it being only an ad in disguise. Especially when it comes from people who know what they are talking about.

  25. Thank you Unknown, it's good to know that things like that are appreciated. :-)

  26. Anonymous16:05

    I love vintage Dune. As I cannot purchase the original, what scent on the market is the closest to this? thanks!

  27. Anon,

    a very difficult question as Dune is pretty unique.
    You could try one of the Ormonde Jayne in the woods section or something from Comme des Garcons maybe?
    In cases like these, sometimes the copies of famous designer perfumes continue to retain fidelity to the old scent for longer than the original. The French line Jeanne Arthes has one that smelled like Dune, I think it's Cobra (or is that a smell alike for Poison? I am not 100% sure, but worth a shot).


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