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.