Monday, April 20, 2009

Christian Dior Escale a Pondichery: fragrance review

If the idea of travelling to far away, sweaty places full of the pungency of warm bodies, overripe fruit at the marketplace, mud and animals' dung appeals to you more than the actual travelling, there is the escapism of travelogue fragrance snippets meant to ignite your olfactory nerve in stictly non-offensive ways. Escale à Pondichéry is the latest release from parfums Christian Dior following Escale à Portofino from 2008. The new cologne is a tribute to the erstwhile ex-French Colony in India and is the second instalment in the series "les escales de Dior" (Dior's ports-of-call), initiated and composed by François Demachy, Senior vice president of olfactive development of perfumes for the LVMH group(he created Fahrenheit 32 for Dior as well). And is appropriately accompanied by a make-up follow-up in a Rose Pondichery nude-rose gloss to go with it (don't ever let anyone tell you you're not matchy-matchy, huh?)

According to the Hindu Business Line, Dior scheduled the official fragrance launch at The Dune Eco Beach Hotel in Puduchery in a move of almost parochial emphasis. The celebration took 3 days and 40 journalists from around the world staying at the popular 36-acre eco-friendly resort.

The Eau-de-Cologne-with-a-twist interpretation of the Escales de Dior series blossomed into pleasantly appealing local folklore in last year's Escale à Portofino with its Italian accents of bergamot, citron, petitgrain, glorious orange blossoms and bitter almonds, all part of the local flora. The pneuma of those colognes is expressed by the link between the raw materials and the chosen destinations, lands of culture and fragant history. François Demachy next chose India, inspired by the fragrances from Pondicherry and Kerala, to unravel the exotic fragrances of India and the raw materials we have come associate with the peninsula: Jasmine, sandalwood and tea. According to the press release "The perfumer has selected a black tea enwrapped in a fresh and light signature that harmonizes with a spirit of happy insouciance".

The idea of a light cologne in an Indian setting has been previously explored in the perplexing yet astute Un Jardin après la Mousson by Jean Claude Ellena for Hermès. Boucheron created Jaipur, a different beast, a fruity oriental inspired by the legendary city of jewels; Patou featured the banana note of ylang- ylang and jasmine in the floriental Sira des Indes; while Kenzo Amour Indian Holi even has "holi hai" written on the red bottle in Hindi! Even Cabochard was inspired by memories of a soujourn of Madame Grès at the exotic peninsula. And of course there's always Shalimar... India has never been short of pefumes dedicated to its olfactory traditions!

It seems however that travel destinations are very popular right now with big companies (judging by the travelogue of the Guerlain scents which we were the first to reveal back in August last year or the travel exclusives of Lauder and Lancôme) as are Eaux de Cologne in general (from the new Hermès Cologne collection including Eau de Pamplemousse Rose and Eau de Gentiane Blanche to the Chanel Exclusif Eau de Cologne which pre-emptied the trend).

India however has not been unknown to the Christian Dior fashion house: Chandernagore/Chandannagar, another Indian town of French colonisation, was referenced as early as in Dior's Fall-Winter 1947 collection! In 1962, Dior held two shows in Delhi and Mumbai and the last creation presented was ‘Voyage en Inde’ (Voyage to India). And of course the Dune hotel nicely references the now classic Dune fragance by Dior, a non-ozone "marine" for the 90s. However Goa, the ulta-popular destination for the new generation of India-travellers was eschewed in favour of Pondichéry, “a distant and exotic destination, an ideal of escapism and travel”, according to Demachy.

In Dior's Escale à Pondichry the diaphanous, almost colourless juice ~in the matelassé glass bottle that is meant to transcend the collection~ delivers a shot of refreshing and nicely bittersweet aroma meant to act as a journey carnet in very simple strokes. Four major Indian ingredients went into the making of this perfume and they're mingled into the composition with delicate mannerisms that should please without aspirations of symphonic cadenzas. Demachy lists them as Cardamom Essence in the top; Jasmine Sambac Absolute in the heart; Sandalwood Essence in the bottom; and Black Tea Extract as a "fil rouge" (common thread). Although one almost expects by default some spice in a composition inspired by India, the graceful weaving through of cardamom, used to aromatize both coffee and tea, is the protagonist in the delicate and contemporary take on a refreshing cologne of citrus opening with a pleasingly dry base and very transparent floral accents. The composition doesn't especially smell of the tannic facets of stong brews of black tea (and aren't there enough tea fragrances on the market already?), but more of an abstract idea of ambery woodiness and lightly smoky powder (probably due to synthetic musks). Will it prove as popular as Escale à Portofino did? It remains to be seen. The demographic is the same, but I predict that this one might attract more men without being too masculine in scent.

From a visual point of view the advertisements with the big-straw hat blonde Edita , all decked in white bat-sleeves and pop sunglasses bring to mind more of Estée Lauder or Elizabeth Arden cruise-style collections for WASP ladies than the exotic locales of India or the boho-chic tourists that pilgrimage. And it leaves one in aporia as to why Kalyani Chawla (the indian face of Dior) wasn't appropriate for this project of all projects! But the marketing angle is thus apparent and who can blame them? The modern consumer of globalised galivanting is far removed from the Ravi Shankar apprentices who followed en route to the spiritual. Perhaps taking that last observartion in mind might ellucidate the facets that surface in the latest fragrance.

Escale à Pondichéry launched in India on Saturday March 21st, launches in European boutiques on May 28th and is expected to arrive on the US shores in July 2009. It will be available in 75ml bottles of Eau de Toilette for 64,95€ .

Oh and if Dior is taking ideas, might I suggest the next escale is inspired by Assos in Cephalonia, Greece? (click for pic here)

Pics via Dune hotel blog and


  1. Anonymous22:34

    I've been to Pondicherry, & it's nothing like your description at the beginning of your review (everywhere else I traveled to there was, though). Rather, it's a sleepy beach town with French touches & an ashram; It's a very odd inspiration for Dior.

  2. Anonymous22:51

    Jasmine and sandalwood, is it anywhere near Samsara by any chance? I'm looking forward to have a spritz of this some time soon!!

  3. E, I am surprised at how much I'm looking forward to the arrival of this Dior, although I have been hardly aware of Portofino and certainly never sought that one out for sampling (though the more I read about it, it certainly sounds nice).

    I'm aware of the inherent contradictions of marketing, "globalized galavanting," and fragrance travelogues (I'm an anthropologist at heart and by training, and very interested in tourism anthropology and issues of orientalism) -- however, I'm still not immune to the same kinds of fantasies as everyone else once in awhile. I love the way you weave all that into your review. And indeed, the history of perfumery has so much of that type of crass "exoticism" and orientalization wrapped up in it, hasn't it?

    In any case, yes, I'm excited to try this. However, since you mention that we don't need more tea scents, can you recommend some other good black tea scents to me? I feel I'm fairly familiar with the green tea scents, but haven't experience many that evoke black tea, other than Dzongkha (and that perhaps only vaguely?).

    Also, do you find the sandalwood and cardamom to have any warming effect in this scent, or does the overall composition remain very cooling in the eau de cologne manner, but painted in an unusual palette of notes? And regarding jasmine, I have to say as a man I found the recent PG Drama Nuui to be really delightful and easy to wear, and absolutely perfect for springtime here in California (and we are, in fact, at the height of "jasmine season").

    Thanks for this review. It's nice to have anticipation building for something.

  4. Anon,

    thanks for commenting!

    I haven't been to Pondichery specifically (nor did I say I have). My opening quoted here was meant in general in regards to exotic places (several of those I have visited and they are like that): "If the idea of travelling to far away, sweaty places full of the pungency of warm bodies, overripe fruit at the marketplace, mud and animals' dung appeals to you more than the actual travelling, there is the escapism of travelogue fragrance snippets meant to ignite your olfactory nerve in stictly non-offensive ways."

    Somehow I believe the India reference isn't too weird, rather it's pretty standard, as I explain in the body of the review (even for Dior), although as you point out the specific locale might be odd indeed. Judging by the previous Portofino project (a place "ruined" by tourists in essence, losing all its individuality) I believe they're going after chi-chi places with a past, the colonisation "grandeur" angle (which is of course questionable, if we think about it) etc. Pretty much things that appeal to the average luxuy consumer, I'd wager...
    But that's my point of view; I'd like to hear more of yours or others' if there are more opinions on this.

  5. Anon 2,

    nah...I wouldn't say it smells like Samsara, no by a long shot. The jasmine is too delicate and there is not enough sandalwood really. The whole is a refreshing spicy-powdery composition, a twist on the traditional colognes. Not for the "serious" escapades in fragrance, but quite pleasant.

  6. My assumption was that Dior chose Pondichery precisely because it blends Indian and French, just as the scent does. (I have both French and Indian ancestry myself, including a Pondichery connection, and really had high hopes of this, although all the reviews I've read so far are suggesting it's nothing special.)

    Or, cynically, India has one of the more stable economies right now and its consumer base, already massive, is growing, so it's a good market for Dior to be flattering...

  7. Joe,

    thanks for chimming in!
    I think the Portofino was a nice addition, it certainly was well made and makes for a nice splash in summer although Portofino doesn't bring along any travel associations for me really (might as well drop to Mykonos, that sort of thing and it's so close by!).
    But that's just me! The fragrance was good.

    How fascinating that you are an anthropologist, that's a subject that I am very interested in! (although my own studies encompass archaeology, history and classical music, which are not that related but I digress). There is definitely a touch of what you say in all of this: The desire to see other cultures and to assess commonalities and differences; nevertheless, yes, there is an element of fantasy in all that which often makes travelling go astray due to expectations raised so highly.

    To me this Dior seemed like an interplay between warm and cool, at least going by my sample; I often find that spraying with abandon makes for a slightly different experience (more diffusive ~and often more "cooling" when the frag is so inclined).
    But it has a nice touch of grounding which makes it less "sharp" than a traditional cologne.

    Regarding tea scents, indeed there are many and I will devote more time to them in the near future. Black tea can be experienced in Declaration somewhat as it can be in Bulgari Black beneath the rubbery vanilla (it reminds me strongly of lapsang souchong). I like it very much!
    Do try CDG Leaves series Tea (tarry though), Gucci Homme II, Kiton Black too. Hope that helps a bit!

  8. Mim,

    welcome and very interesting comment, thank you!

    I can't say I am overenthusiastic either, although it's a nice idea and certainly an improvement IMO over some of their latest feminine launches.
    Having said that, I am not surprised they want to target a market that is indeed as you say growing. The technology department is one of the most dynamic worldwide in fact; the are between Taiwan, Hong Kong and India should be termed the "tech triangle", as almost everything gets made there, no? LOL

    It could very well be that they are flattering the market, you have a valid point thee.
    I still think they want to ace both sides and caress the eyes and ears of the western consumer too! The advertisements look very non-Indian (and personally that repels me a bit....I mean, geez, isn't Kalyani Chawla gorgeous enough to appeal internationally???!)

  9. I can't wait to try this, E! I love cardamom, tea and sandalwood notes, especially cardamom.


  10. I think you might like it, dear R! ~How are you by the way? Hope everything is peachy and weather is fine :-)

  11. I'm the first to get it the 28th - well, if it doesn't stink since I can't stand Portofino whose citruses just kill my nose.
    As for the perceived exoticism.... eeek. I had enough in my art history classes and I tend to avoid modern art ever since - the perception of faraway lands and romanticizing them could make several nice doctoral works (all the Noble Savage crap or 'ancient Oriental wisdom' crap or whatever else crap). I sort of understand that cliches, prejudices and stable mental images keep the cultural continuity working but... at least those most idiotic ones could be dropped, puh-leeze.

    Speaking of travelling impressions, I'm just wearing Hyle by Farmacia SS. Annunziata (hey, folks, shout out loud so that the place gets an online store and a decent website, their stuff deserves it), with oranges and lavender and myrtle and juniper wood and ozone and whatever else and it totally smells like my childhood holidays in today's Croatia:D

  12. L,

    I think you might like it, as it's not like Portofino which is a traditional hesperidic cologne, sharp and bracing. This is different.

    You do have a very valid point there about exoticism and of course preconceptions and prejudices make for a rather "beads for the natives" mentality which I personally abhor (who told us our own western culture is superior??).

    I am testing the Farmacia stuff myself (well, two things of theirs, one of which you know) and I do agree they're quite good!

  13. I didn't care for it.

  14. Mmm... I must say I wasn't at all keen on Portofino, unusual because I do like citrusy fragrances and had high hopes for it.

    I am intrigued by the Indian-French blending this fragrance supposedly depicts. What an exotic idea! I will definitely give it a sniff when it hits Aussie shores.

    Wonder if there will be an Oriental escale? Maybe something Korean? That's pretty exotic to me, but perhaps a bit difficult to market. Japan would be easier but could then also be the 'lazy' option. Another cherry blossom fragrance anyone?

  15. Intersting one, here! India. Exoticism, interesting discussion going on here on the blog-comments! I fully agree on different views (the "noble wilde" clichés that annoy me deeply and the wondering about the model chosen for the ad campaign, that was my first thought when i saw it?! why not chose an indian model?) and still i get captured by the nostalgia and escapism of certain perfume-images. They transport me much faster than any Gaugin, Ingres or Puccini could. And i am intrigued by the written notes. So i'll surely try this one out, while the Portofino was nice, but not full-bottle-worthy for me, though. Completely agree on the Greek island stopover, idea helg! Still dreaming of Samos.. ;-)

  16. It's quite different N and as you say there is a lot to be said about the approach from a marketing and business point of view, above the mere matter of the composition. It's all intriguing to watcyh unfold.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine