Dioressence: a vintage barbarian


I have to be honest right from the start here: I’m about to write about some of that juice that breaks IScent’s heart. The stuff I let her sniff and fall in love with and then break the news ‘they don’t make this anymore’. Sorry.

The good news is that you CAN buy a facsimile at a Dior counter near you, reformulated by François Demachy in the Creations de Monsieur Dior series to conform to the IFRA regulations that reduce the quantities of potential allergens in perfumes. (Those regulations that make me cry and have led to the death of so many beautiful old fragrances.) The better news is that I bought the stuff I’m writing about on eBay recently and at reasonable prices. I have two bottles of Dioressence Eau de Toilette, a ribbed glass one dating to the 1980s and a square flask-shaped one from the mid 90s when Dior was sold to LMVH and all the bottles were brought into line. (It’s amazing what you can find out when you google.)

Dioressence was created in 1969 by the famous perfume nose Guy Robert, who also created Madame Rochas, Hermès Calèche and the stunning Amouage Gold. It is a rich, spicy, animalic oriental chypre that is as sensuous as a set of satin sheets and as classically slinky as a haughty 1970s French model wearing a fluid little silk shirt dress to strut down the catwalk. It is elegantly sinful, but not a blatant come-on, more a challenge. If you would like to read the story of how M.Robert came to create it, you should visit the fabulous Perfume Shrine blog, which is a fund of information of all kinds and a wonderful resource. Helg has included the tale M.Robert told Luca Turin about a million-dollar lump of ambergris and some cheap soap, which Chandler Burr mentions in the book that started me off on this obsession… But I digress.

The first time I smelled Dioressence on my skin from a tester in a store, I yelped with shock. It’s mucky. It smells of warm human, but it has a powdery element that keeps it from being mistaken for unwashedness. There’s an opening trill of citrus to give a bow to the classic oriental formula, but after that it’s all kinds of spicefest. There’s a slight tang of salt, a green vein of oakmoss and a barrel load of animalic scents that are like a dozen different kinds of leather, fur and skin. Of course I love it.

I’m comparison testing the 1980s against the 1990s versions and they are very similar. I have been lucky to get bottles in which the top notes haven’t been damaged and there’s no ‘hairspray’ smell, but that’s a risk with buying vintage. The base notes are the last to go, so don’t give up hope if you’ve got a burnt bottle, just power through the icky bit. I find the 1980s version is more powdery and rounded, while the 90s Dioressence is more green and a little more carnation-spicy. There’s not a lot in it though and I’ll cheerfully wear either of them, though I might keep the 1980s version for more special occasions.

This perfume is voluptuous, sensual and womanly, but it has the grace and self-worth to be elegant, never slutty. Think of Charlotte Rampling in fur. That little frisson you just got: that’s Dioressence.


7 thoughts on “Dioressence: a vintage barbarian”

  1. You’re so right about perfumes disappearing – and just to see a mention of Madame Rochas perfume (not the nasty, doctored edt) brings tears to the eyes. I’m no perfume buff, but Pomegranate Noir comes close. But I can’t get hold of any MR to compare, more’s the pity. What do you think?

  2. You conjure all the twists and turns of Dioressence beautifully – I love the “opening trill” of citrus! I used to be unkind and liken Dioressence to embalming fluid, but I don’t feel that now – I have a much greater tolerance for animalic notes and can appreciate this for the classic it is, even if it still isn’t really my thing.

  3. I love your blog and please don’t ask how I got to your write-up about Dioressence today! Probably the sheer enjoyment of reading article after article and clicking on the related tags.
    Dioressence was actually created (or launched) in 1979 not in 1969. I know this sounds as if I’m trying to make a point and be contradictory only.
    But I’m not (innocent!)
    The reason I wanted you to know this is that a decade can really make a difference in perfume tastes as you well know (the unisex 70s, the bombastic 80s etc.)
    Dioressence is truly a masterpiece actually and the animal in it roars and roars. I am a proud owner of a splash bottle of Eau De Toilette from the early 80s where the mere running of my finger on its opening leaves my skin with a scent that is stronger than the strongest extrait nowadays!
    Cheers (From the US)

  4. Eric, I’ve come across an excellent blog post by the brilliant Bois de Jasmin that explains this misunderstanding. Dioressence was released in 1969, but was re-orchestrated in 1979 and then later versions thinned and degraded the formula. However, Francois Demachy is looking into creating a new version that will do honour to the original Dior barbarian.

    As for Madame Rochas, Madeline, I have been lucky enough to find it on ebay and also in discounters. It is still out there, but you do have to rattle around a bit to find it. However, if you are very well-off, you might try Amouage Gold for women, which is Guy Robert’s swan song and is very similar to MR, allegedly. (Viktoria explains all this in the blog post above, very handily.)

    I hope that’s helpful. 🙂

  5. It breaks my heart too when much loved perfumes disappear. My all-time favourite, Diorella, is only available in namby-pamby EDT and the formulation has changed. It lost a lot of its attitude. I long to see it in EDP. I Google it constantly! Meanwhile my mum loved Elizabeth Arden’s Memoire Cherie, which is also a ghost scent.

    1. Hello Gail, Thanks for dropping by. I know exactly what you mean. There are so many favourites I would revive! Gucci Envy is one I scratch my head over, and many old Avon perfumes too. Old Opium was fabulous too- what on earth is this Black Opium nonsense they are feeding us?? There are many more, but sadly I fear we are outnumbered and many perfumes are aimed at the 14-27 year olds with a sweet tooth. *sigh*

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