Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dior-Dior by Christian Dior: fragrance review

Launched by Christian Dior in 1976, four years after the triumph of Diorella and composed by the same nose, the legendary Edmond Roudnitska, Dior-Dior was an astounding commercial flop resulting in its subsequent discontinuation and its firm positioning in the Pantheon of rarities.

It's hard to speculate après le deluge what exactly went wrong. Perhaps it was due to a discrepancy between zeitgeist and the character of the fragrance. By 1976 the advent of emancipated strident chypres as well as the progression from the hippy oils of the late 60s was not simpatico to a woody floral that had pared down the aromatic chypré piquancy of Diorella. And only fairly recently have woody florals for women known a slow resurgence with L'instant Magic, Bond no.9 Andy Warhol Silver Factory, Flower Oriental by Kenzo or the new Sensuous by Lauder and Magnifique by Lancôme.

However, it might also be attributed to the emerging ethos of the fledging perfume marketing: the importance of packaging and bottle being brought to focus much more assertively, the trade aspect getting seriously revved up, perfume being more of a lifestyle object than an objet d'art and copies of copies of things getting produced at a faster rate (although nothing like the alarming avalanche of more recent launches!).
According to Edmond Roudnitska, this resulted in a «olfactive cacophony», lowering of quality and debasement of creativity:
The choice of a perfume can only rest on the competence acquired by education of olfactive taste, by intelligent curiosity and by a desire to understand the WHY and the HOW of perfume. Instead, the public was given inexactitudes and banalities. The proper role of publicity is to assist in the formation of connoisseurs, who are the only worthwhile propagandists for perfume, and it is up to the perfumers to enlighten, orient and direct the publicity agents.
~L'Intimité du Parfum (En collaboration) Olivier PERRIN Editeur, 1974 (availaible at "Sephora" on Champs-Elysées, Paris)

My small, houndstooth-patterned, vintage bottle has a very slightly bruised top note that is neverthless heavy on the indolic, intense aroma of narcissus and white florals, adding the patina of a well-worn, waxed floor with the remnants of cat pee in its cracks . Narcissus naturally extols this aspect, giving a distinctly feral impression which I personally love: from the leathery-laced Fleur de Narcisse by L'Artisan to the paperwhites note in Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker. Mohammud called its scent "bread for the soul" and I can see why: taking in its heady emanation is on the border of pain, it's so intense!

Dior-Dior also serves as a commemorative recapitualtion of a perfumer's artistic path, a simile of olfactory soliloquy: A melon note which Roudnitska put in several of his perfumes (Le Parfum de Thérèse, Diorella) is discernible, although not in the context of the aquatic fragrances of the 90s: melon in a Roudnitska composition seems to serve as a memento of summery laughs in the autumnal mistiness that the chypre base juxtaposes.
And the fresh jasmine odour of hedione/dihydrojasmonate, first copiously used by him in Eau Sauvage, leaps through, with its verdant, metallic cling-clang, puffing out small breathless sighs everytime I move my arms around; the sort of thing that would naturally mingle with the surroundings of white-washed windows and stucco-ed walls in places where iron rust feeds potted gardenias and people eat feta cheese alongside their watermelon.
The last familiar touch comes from the lily of the valley accord that Roudnitska so intently masterminded for his soliflore apotheosis, Diorissimo. (Arguably the only hommage missing is the Prunol base of Femme and the peachy core of Diorama).
Although all the above "notes" sound "clean", in Dior Dior they are neither freshly showered, nor vacuum-sealed. They breathe and deepen into a very feminine and quite urbane fragrance, far removed from Laura Ashley summer dresses, which persists on skin for hours.

For all its charm however Dior-Dior doesn't talk to me the way Roudnitska's more luminiscent creations, such as Diorella or Eau Sauvage, do. Perhaps it's just as well. Still, my bottle is poised alongside its sibling houndstoothed gems with its regal brow highly arched.

Notes: narcissus, muguet (lily of the valley), woods

Please state your interest if you want to be included in a draw for a sample of this rare fragrance.

Ad pic illustration by Rene Gruau courtesy of Fragrantica. Houndstooth bottle pic courtesy of Musée del Perfum.


  1. Hi E., nice to see you back!
    I have also finally tracked down and bought a 10 ml bottle of Dior-Dior and as you state, it is extremely reminiscent of the later Roudnitska manner. I suppose, again as you say, that customers were ready for something completely different: Opium was only a year away! Dioressence would succeed Dior-Dior as the last of the feminine fragrances named after a variation of the name, but by then, the historical collaboration with M. Roudnitska had ceased.

  2. I have never smelt it but being a young woman in 1976 I think what "killed it " was the fact that we would have seen it as a "old ladies" scent and it was the Young Generation and we were saying and doing what we thought - hence the stinky hippy oils. I admitt to wearing Strawberry of all things! Yik.
    These days I would be wearing Dior Dior for it sounds like it would be right up my alley and I don't give a dam about "image" these days - I wear what I like . Guess thats Old Age speaking! LOL

  3. I'm enjoying your 'movement of your arms ', lol !
    [I'm not recalling this one- though I MUST have smelled it; I was as curious then as I am now]

    I'd be delighted to try it- please put me in the draw ...

    Hope your respite was a delight-

  4. It's good to see you back.

    That ad is so beautiful, I'd almost have bought it if I could have been convinced I could become that woman. Your commendation of Fleur de Narcisse is tempting, especially since I seem to like it in such varying compositions as Vol de Nuit and Le Temps d'Une Fete, and now there's this one.

    Aw, what the heck. Please consider me for the draw as well, much appreciated. So nice to hear from you again.

  5. Sure! I don't remember this one at all. I agree, the advertisement is enough to make me curious.

  6. Anonymous13:54

    I can't imagine how I missed this one. But somehow I did. I'd love to be included in the draw!

  7. Anonymous13:56

    Sorry, somehow the comment module or whatever it is picked me up as "anonymous" which I didn't intend. My comment:

    Can't imagine how I missed this one but I did! I'd love to be included in the drawing.

  8. Mmmm narcissus. My love for it was kindled by Fleur de Narcisse, and I find myself quite without other peers of similar quality or resonance. Please enter me in the drawing!

  9. Well there is a reason I have never heard of this one, it was made way before I was born. Still you definately have me intrigued by the narcissus note. Please enter me in the drawing.

  10. Marvelous review! I hardly ever ask to be put in the draw, but this time I will. Who could resist a chance to sniff "the patina of a well-worn, waxed floor with the remnants of cat pee in its cracks?" (That is brilliant, E. :-)

  11. Dear D,

    good to be among friends :-))

    Your pointing out the succession of Opium and Dioressence is well-said!
    If I am not much mistaken, I seem to recall that Roudnitska also supervised Eau Sauvage Extremefor Dior, although it doesn't bear his usual style. It came out in 1982 and is much underappreciated, although still circulating (I quite like it FWIW, it has a solid heft and medicinal touch though as opposed to the clarity of the original, very different scent).

  12. Dear M,

    one of the perks of growing up: one pays less attention to peer pressure! You can't knock that!
    I would be curious to see if Dior Dior would suit you.

  13. Dear I,

    thank you darling, yes, it was a blast and very educational as well ;-)
    You're of course included and hope your arms get to experience the same sensations, LOL

    (ps. hope you got my little surprise?)

  14. Dear D,

    thank you honey for the welcoming, it's great to see you again :-)
    Fleur de Narcisse is amazing, I love it, although the price...eh, not so much! (why do I have to fall for those expensive things???)
    You're in!

  15. Dear Karin (and Dain),

    I LOVE that advertisement! I think the black brushstroke that both delineates the edge of the dress and is the Gruau signature is what is making me drool: in fact, I know that's it, who am I kidding? I just have a highly visualistic take on these things.

    You're in!

  16. Dear P,

    thank you for your comment and of course you're included! Best of luck!

  17. Dear Billy,

    I also LOVE Fleur de Narcisse which is probably the nicest floral leather I have sampled (scratching my head to think of another that rivals it): Dior Dior is different, very urban and cosmopolitan, different aesthetic, totally.
    You're included in the draw!

  18. Dear J,

    of course you're included. Best of luck, it's one of those old things that are not talked about due to scarcity.

  19. Dear M,

    awww, thank you for the compliment! It does give that sort of feeling and I am not saying that in a derogatory manner at all. (guess I just find smells INTERESTING, not bad, you know?)

    Glad you have broken your rule about draws and best of luck!

  20. I'd like to be included in the draw, too, please. I've heard of Dior-Dior but never smelled it; it's one of those things that just kind of vanished, a victim of changing tastes.

  21. Cat's pee is such an interesting note. It is often used in descriptions of sauvignon blanc. I wish I knew what the molecular structure of it was and where else it occurred. It's not pleasant, but like every form of "complexity," it vaults us into the ken of the connoisseur.
    Great review, E. Please enter me in the drawing.

  22. Having spent a terrible summer during a historic heat wave in an attic apartment where the remnants of cat pee were more than wisps...well...I am trying to be adventurous, but sometimes, I just dip my toe in the water first. :)

    For me, your discussion offers two strong lures: the mention of Fleur de Narcisse, a huge favorite of mine; and the relation to Le Parfum de Therese, which has haunted me since I sampled it a month ago. (I can still smell it on the card, which takes me clearly to the memory of how fabulous it smelled on my skin...)

    ...okay, I'm in! I'd love to try the Dior-Dior if I have win and a chance. Meanwhile, I have enjoyed another vicarious flight with a fragrance, thanks to your wonderful writings.

  23. Does Roudnitska place the success or failure on the shoulders of the publicist? Styles in fashion are fleeting, and I would think that he, as an artist, would recognize that he's designing for his muse, and not waver in faith. However, it seems the corporate machine he was in didn't pave the way, in his eyes, for his perfume to be successful. I am a bit puzzled.

    The cat pee is most probably blackcurrant bud. OK, I'm in for the draw. Roudnitska never lets me down, no matter what decade.

  24. Pyramus,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting!
    Lots of people haven't smelled it, so you're not alone. I have of course included you!

  25. Dear C,

    thank you for your kind words.

    Indeed what an interesting question!

    To try to reply as best as I can, I know that the odour is due to thiol, a compound that contains the functional group composed of a sulfur atom and a hydrogen atom (also termed mercaptan). These groups have a garlic odour or gas-like(sulfurous) or rotten-egg vibe and are considered the stinkiest
    In some wines due to sulfur and yeast interaction, that is the impression you get (I am thinking of a New Zealand SB, Dog Point).
    Now felinine is the main component in cat urine that transmits signals to other cats, per what I know: odourless normally, but becomes "stinky" in room temperature. Cauxin, an enzyme, splits a molecule in urine into felinine and glycine.

    In perfumery, I believe blackcurrant (also ref.cassis) has the tart, juicy odor that can verge on cat pee, quite acrid, especially blackcurrant buds.

  26. Dear Scentscelf,

    you're included, so best of luck! Thank you for your wonderful compliment and sorry you had to brace a hot summer, I get those too... (*shrugs*)
    Fleur de Narcisse has a way of growing on you, doesn't it?

  27. Dear Anya,

    thanks for commenting and corroborating my amateur suggestion on what it might be that makes this cat pee odour.
    I know Roudnitska liked the raspberry touch too (not always immediately evident) and he was quite innovative, so I can well see him using the blackcurrants before their dominance in the 80s frags.

    Now, as to the commercial failure of Dior-Dior, I am not saying that Roudnitska puts the blaim on the publicists' shoulders, because that would only be a hypothesis. It could be, but I have not been able to cross-check it, so I am not taking a position on that.
    Indeed changing tastes play a big part in commercial success, while most artists are intent on a personal vision and conviction instead. I respect Roudnitska for that.

    I have included you!

  28. This one sounds like a real gem!

    I am constantly looking for great narcissus scents, it doesn't seem to be a popular note.

  29. It's very interesting to be sure! Good luck! :-) Narcissus is rather difficult to work with, I fathom.

  30. Could you elaborate a bit more on why narcissus is difficult to work with?

  31. Hello, E! So nice to see you back on your blog. Your description of Dior-Dior is enticing, cat pee and all. L'Artisan's Fleur de Narcisse is certainly one of my favourites. I hope it's not too late to be entered into the draw.

  32. L,

    I meant because it has an overwhelming effect, being so intense.

  33. J,

    no, not too late! :-)
    Thank you for the warm welcoming back.

  34. Anonymous20:02

    Came back from the last trip this summer today, and are overwhelmed by all the interesting entries there are to read, not at least yours! (some days at home a week ago did not give time enough for reading them all). My family will not return until Saturday, so this evening I have all the time there is to just immerse myself in reading! :) What a joy, it really is among the precious small pleasures in life..
    I would very much like to be in the draw, since I both love narcissus, and many of the Dior´s. (diorissimo the only I own, but I enjoy smelling others when in perfumeries, especialy the pre-posion ones). Thank you for earlier directing my attention to Annette Neuffer; her Narcissus Poeticus is lovely!
    And I hope you have enjoyed the summer so far!

  35. Dear S,

    so glad you're back and thank you for your compliment; it's so good to have you here again!! Missed your warm comments :-)
    I am very glad your summer has been good and indeed mine was nice and educational as well ;-)
    Annette makes great fragrances, doesn't she? She's artistically gifted in many ways.

    You're of course included in the draw and best of luck!

  36. Anonymous01:54

    Thank you for the review of Dior-Dior. It must have been a big flop, because I don't read much about it.
    All the attention goes to Diorella and others.
    I am very curious. I hope you can include me in the drawing.

  37. Anonymous03:39

    I can hardly imagine that any Dior would be such a gasp ...failure and disappointment,
    Please include me in the draw - if it is not too late. I love what's not on the regular menbu.
    How I long for the original Miss Dior, Diorissimo, Dioressence and even Diorama.
    The cool crisp verdancy of Miss Dior tempered with rose, labdanum and other ingredients just set me up to always adore and embrace nesrly any Dior of tge 40, 50, 60,'s and 70's even Dolce Vita !

  38. Arwen,

    thank you for stopping by and commenting! Sorry for the late reply....
    Of course I included you and best of luck!

  39. Madelyn,

    it was quite inexplicable, I agree. The Roudnitska collaboration with Dior in those decades was a string of successes, so this was surprising, to say the least.
    You're in! I dearly wish they're revert their exquisite line to its previous grandeur (Dioressence especially hurt me...)

  40. "wish they'd revert"....duh...

  41. Draw is officially closed and winner announced (go to 22 August)

  42. Anonymous20:25

    I was a young woman at the time. and I lived in Poland. My friend has brought Dior Dior from France (a pour bottle). I have bought a bottle of the same fragrance immediately! It was expensive but....I have done monkey see - monkey do sort of thing but I cannot forget the unusual scent and great memories associated with it! I realize that you have finished the drawing but I would like to write anyway. They say that scent is the oldest memory! I am middle aged now, I still teach my students to be always very optimistic!
    Best wishes, Danuta


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