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
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?')
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.
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.
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'|
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.
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.