Thursday, November 5, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 7 (Miss Dior)

'Winter Birch'. Rose Strang 2014

This is Part 7 of a series in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Miss Dior.

 The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Miss Dior, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and Part 5 Chanel No. 19 .

This is getting a bit confusing perhaps, but in Part 6 I introduced Miss Dior and the chypre accord in perfumery, so if you want to know more about chypre and the making of Miss Dior have a look at Part 6.

Today's post though, is all about perfumes that might appeal to those who love Miss Dior and would like to try something slightly similar. It's impossible to go into all the nuances of chypre and the hundreds of perfumes to try, but this article is hopefully a good startign point.

'Wild Chamomile'. 2015
(I've illustrated this post with some of my own paintings that have a chypre-ish feel! More can be viewed here on my - arts website  )

Because chypre contains oakmoss which has been restricted, and is due to be banned in 2015, perfumes nowadays rarely contain the classic chypre notes.

Instead, what the perfume industry normally does is to simply class patchouli as the chypre note, sometimes alongside vetiver.

Patchouli is often included as part of the classic chypre accord but is far more heavy than oakmoss, and to my nose has nowhere near the sense of mystery and intrigue of chypre. I do love vetiver a lot, but again it's distinctive - more smoky and astringent than oakmoss.

They can't fool the perfumistas with their patchouli nouveau chypres! What the lover of Miss Dior is looking for is an elegant, classic perfume that's ladylike in feel, yet pretty. The fact is you won't find a classic Miss Dior these days unless you seek a vintage. (more info on that below). Or try the following perfumes...

Contemporary Perfumes similar in style to Miss Dior

As with all the classic perfumes in this series, Miss Dior is available in a series of different flankers which vary on the original. Last time I looked there were about 20!

As mentioned though, most of these new formulations contain patchouli in place of oakmoss and chypre, so if you'd like to explore vintage chypres, I recommend you log on to or (see 'hard to find perfumes' list on right). Both these websites specialise in vintages and are reliable as far as I know. I've not heard complaints about them on perfume forums, except delays in sending on rare occassions. They're both based in America, so you're going to pay around £8 for p+p if you're in the UK and Europe (I'm not sure about other countries).

'Spring Sycamore'. 2013
At this point I normally make mention of other iconic perfumes from the same era, so other famous chypres are Ma Griffe by Carven, and Sous le Vent by Guerlain. Earlier than these though, was one of the first chypres in western pefumery - Coty's Chypre (as mentioned in the Raymond Chandler novels and worn by his femme fatales!) Again you can find this on Surrender to, but all of these vintage perfumes can also be found on Ebay. Just be aware you're taking a risk, and do your homework on bottles/batches etc before buying. There were earlier chypre perfumes in western perfumery, but they weren't as well known as Coty's chypre.

Through a perfume swap recently, I received a miniature of vintage Miss Balmain which was an absolute classic. I enjoy chypres, but I don't wear them often, so I offered Miss Balmain to my mum who's a definite chypre afficionado and she was delighted with it. I've included many more fruity chypres, such as Mitsouko, in Part 3 - Femme

A great alternative to exploring vintages is to explore niche or independent perfume companies, who for various reasons can get away with adding oakmoss to perfume despite it being restricted.

*These perfumes can usually only be found online on the manufacturer's website...

'Glentress Mist'. 2015
Mousse de Chine by Ava Luxe and Green Oakmoss by Soivohle are niche chypres that are fairly green/woody and earthy, so if you'd like a more old school abstract and French style floral chypre, try Chypre Palatin by MDCI Parfums (it'll cost you mind!)

The best niche indy perfumer when it comes to original chypre though, is DSH Perfumes, which is owned by 'nose' Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (I wrote a blog post about her which you can read Here)

'River'. 2013
There are so many oakmoss or chypre perfumes here it's best if you just have an explore of her website - DSH Perfumes - to see what appeals to you. I ordered several pure oil parfum samples a year or so ago and recommend Vert Pour Madame -  a very fresh, green, springlike chypre with the distinct smoky/salty green notes of oakmoss.

If your love of chypres includes Rochas Femme, you might love DSH's fruity/spicy/chypre Mirabella.

In the UK you can't order full bottles overseas from the US where DSH is based, but I promise you the wax or pure oil samples go a long way, they're affordable, and you can have fun testing many more than just buying one bottle.

For an air of indulgent luxury, if you have the money to spare, try some of the perfumes by French/Arabian company Amouage. They commission some of the best 'noses' worldwide to compose their perfumes, and use high quality ingredients.  

'Black'. 2013
Memoir Woman is immediately recognisable as a luxuriant chypre (though far more dark and sultry than Miss Dior) with notes of leather, herbs, labdanum, oakmoss, civet, spices and white florals. It smells hyper posh (too posh for a somewhat casual dresser such as myself truth be told!) and it costs about £200 for 50mls. For another spicy, warm chypre, try Fate for Women by Amouage

For more reading on chypre, log on  to this excellent article by perfume expert Elena Vosnaki at Perfume Shrine - Chypre for newbies

'Oakmoss'. 2013

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 6 (Miss Dior)

I did say I'd only do a five part series, but after chatting on the Fragrantica forum, realised that I'd missed out the noble chypre, in particular Miss Dior, which was very remiss of me!

So this is Part 6 of a series of six posts in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Miss Dior by Christian Dior.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and Part 5 Chanel No. 19 

Because Chypre perfumes have such a fascinating history, and the story of Miss Dior's inspiration is so moving, I'll write about that in this post, then in part 7 I'll recommend contemporary perfumes that may appeal to lovers of Miss Dior

I hope you're in the mood for a good read, because a post about chypre comes with quite a bit of baggage attached these days, since perfumes rarely contain a significant amount of oakmoss (the central note of traditional chypre) because its use is now restricted and is due to be banned in 2015.

This seems nonsensical to say the least, when we can buy sugar drenched drinks and pre-prepared food with additives, stuff our faces with that, wash it down with a gallon or so of alcohol, then smoke ourselves senseless, but from 2015 we're not allowed to wear perfumes with oakmoss.

Why? Because it may cause an allergic reaction. So why not just put a warning on the label? Considering all the illnesses caused by sugar, processed fats, nicotene and alcohol, or the fact that we don't ban, for example,  nuts - despite the fact they can cause an allergic reaction in some people, it seems to me utterly pointless.

Two of oakmoss's molecules – atranol and chloroatranol – are to be banned on the grounds that they could cause up to 3 per cent of the population to suffer an allergic reaction. But there are also 83 other potentially allergenic notes in perfumery, so where would it stop? The offending molecules in oakmoss can in fact be removed, though this may cause some difference in scent, also it's an expensive process which means probably only the most high end perfumes would use this technique.

If you think I seem a bit exercised about the whole subject, you should hear what the perfumers and 'noses' have to say. For many of them, it's like telling a painter they can no longer use their favourite mediums, or a musician their favourite notes. (If you'd like to know more, have a read of this feature in the Independent: 'Will a Ban on Oakmoss Kill the French Perfume Industry?')

Chypre is actually one of the world's most ancient perfumery blends and we know this because remains were found in perfume vats during an archeological dig in Cyprus (hence the name chypre, which means cyprus in French).

The blend always contains oakmoss and cistus labdanum (resin from a Meditteranean shrub), also bergamot.

Once it's been extracted and made into a thick green sticky sludge, the scent of oakmoss is complex: woody, musky, lingering and very slightly salty or smoky. I've smelled it in vintage perfumes (it's one of the notes that can last perfectly if the perfume has been kept well).

My way of describing it would be - twiggy, smoky, like someone has thrown a handful of sap-filled twigs onto a fire where they smoulder gently - slightly salty like driftwood. It's also haunting, not just a literally earthy scent. Sometimes certain facets evoke distant wood smoke. It smells intriguing and the musky quality (not an animalic musk, more a 'haze' for want of a better description) means that on skin it exudes its scent in a way that enhances a perfume's sillage, somehow it has an aura of sophistication. The large musk molecules act as a fixative, hence its popularity as a perfume note over thousands of years.

Nowadays a perfume heavy on chypre smells classic, or you might say 'old school', or old fashioned. But certain perfumes are very enhanced with even a small addition. Those smoky/woody/salty/musk notes, in combination with, say, vanilla or amber can take a perfume into new realms.

Miss Dior was indeed in those realms (finally I get on to the actual perfume!) I say 'was' because it was reformulated when oakmoss began to be restricted. A new version was brought out, and shunned by experienced wearers of Miss Dior.

Then more recently, due to the massive increase of interest in perfume (thanks largely to the internet and perfume forums) it was re-reformulated to smell somewhat more similar to the original.

Annoyingly however, they've replaced oakmoss with notes of patchouli, which we're expected to accept as the new 'chypre'. It's true that a chypre blend may include patchouli, but anyone familiar with patchouli knows that it has almost zero in common with oakmoss.

Patchouli is more earth-bound, dark, heavy, soily, with notes that are enhanced depending on its age. Aged patchouli can smell almost like unsweetened dark chocolate - a dusty, rich note. Less high quality patchouli smells like hippies did in the 70s. If you walk into a vintage clothes shop you can smell the whiff of it still.

The fact that patchouli lasts so long means that for anyone sensitive to patchouli (me included) large amounts can ruin a perfume because that's all that can be smelled after an hour. It's not oakmoss by any stretch of the imagination, so no wonder so many niche, indy perfume companies offer authentic chypre perfumes.

Miss Dior in original formulation is a complex blend that includes most florals except ylang and tuberose (which would make it far more exotic and rich, less soapy). Iris (orris bulb) adds the additional haze of classic perfumery - those haunting notes that exude a sophisticated perfumy aura. Galbanum and leather offer cool green astringency, and 'bite'. It's not a playful or flirty fragrance, hence why it's an icon of its time.

Dior 'the look'
Like almost all the classics, it was designed as an addition or extra note to a fashion house - a signature perfume that echoed the aesthetic of the house style. Dior commissioned two of the perfume industry's most talented 'noses', Paul Vacher and Jean Carles to create the perfume. (Their other creations include Arpege, by Vacher for Lanvin and  Ma Griffe by Carles for Carven). I definitely sense the family resemblance to Arpege and Ma Griffe - both cool, elegant classic in themselves.

Miss Dior also features aldehydic top notes - aroma chemicals first introduced by Chanel in the 30s to lift and enhance a perfume. All of these notes combine to create a perfume with the distinct and umistakable sillage of expensive classic perfume.

Dior himself was originally interested in art, and owned a gallery where he sold work by the likes of Picasso. His clothes designs seem to echo those monochrome, cubist lines and shapes of Picaso's early work. The mood is elegant, poised, stand-offish, avant garde - aesthetics very much echoed in Miss Dior!

Christian Dior
Miss Dior was more than a fashion statement however. In 1947 Dior commissioned this first perfume with the instruction to Carles and Vache to create a fragrance that is like love.

In the post war years Dior's sister Catherine (who had been captured by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbrück were she was treated brutally) was finally released.

On her return, Christian cooked her favourite dish to welcome her home, but she was exhausted and traumatised by her experience and unable to eat properly. It was many months before she managed to eat rich food again. He was deeply affected by this, and so he created something she could enjoy - a beautiful perfume made especially for her - Miss Dior. 

As a member of the French resistance, Catherine Dior's bravery was recognised with the Croix de Guerre; the Combatant Volunteer Cross of the Resistance; the Combatant Cross; the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom (from Britain); and she was named a chevalière of the Légion d’Honneur. She lived until 2008.

Catherine Dior