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When the night calls for zebra

Fuck off.

Dioressence by Dior needs me to write a quick review of it, because I don’t know when, or if, I will ever wear this again. I do not have the sort of lifestyle that calls for Dioressence, nor do I enjoy wearing it as if I did.

In this case I will also immediately admit that I purchased some vintage Dioressence based on this review at Yesterday’s Perfume, which I enjoy reading for reviews of vintage perfume. Because I grew up influenced primarily by the 80s blockbusters around me, Love’s Baby Soft, and my grandmother’s perfume collection, I have a great interest in vintage perfumes and occasionally enjoy collecting them. (Gaia at The Non-Blonde has also pushed me a long way in this direction – and she also has a review of vintage Dioressence, with the same ad!) I enjoy learning to smell vintage perfumes, understanding them, and imagining what it must have been like to be a woman in the 20s, 40s, or 70s wearing some of these scents. Even the 1890s. Women’s lives have changed so much over the period of modern perfumery and there are so many of their stories in these bottles.

I have a massive attachment to Diorissimo so I wanted some others of the great classic Diors. Diorella will have to wait for another day because Dioressence caused so much more violent of a reaction.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to wear Dioressence. I don’t ever want to wear it again, at this moment. I didn’t enjoy wearing it and I was happy to wash it off.

But it is a stunning composition, a spicy floralish animal perfume that isn’t like anything else I’ve ever smelled, either. I will have to get my hands on some current Dioressence to smell how much like this vintage stuff it still is; I can’t imagine that they are very much alike, because I can’t imagine a modern American woman ever wearing this in public. Well, maybe a punk rock icon, aged mid-fifties, and with a raspy voice. That’s not a big demographic.

Dioressence is the most animalic classic floral I’ve ever smelled. Yesterday’s Perfume’s review spoke of cigarettes and booze, but I didn’t get any from this perfume. Perhaps that’s just the reviewer’s associations with this particular scent. I thought the classic ad itself spoke much more for the perfume. This is an idle white woman, an expensive idle woman, sleeping – and perhaps having sex – in the African jungle. (Not a South American jungle; that would smell different.) The colonialist aspect of the image from the ad comes through, for me, in the perfume as well: I can well imagine an expensive white American or European woman of the mid-twentieth century thinking that this scent is “exotic” – by which she means “from a place not primarily inhabited by white people”. She doesn’t have a zebra-striped pillow, not yet, but she flirts with the idea through “spectator” black-and-white striping.

The geranium note makes it reminiscent of other 60s or 70s perfume that you may have smelled, but the patchouli dirties it up considerably. As far from a clean green geranium as you can get, this geranium has had a lot of sex, probably outside, and is looking for some more. The story told by Yesterday’s Perfume about the conception of Dioressence seems plausible enough (according to Gaia, the story originates with Luca Turin). Yes, the floral aspect is more reminiscent of real ambergris than any bouquet; it’s a musky, almost civetty floral tinge such as you get from the sea-rotted lumps of whale vomit that ambergris really is, including that salt edge. Yes, it could well have been conceived of by mixing said ambergris with Miss Dior, a much more daytime floral (at least, in that classic Dior way). (Though, if the story reported is true, why would there have been Miss Dior knockoff soaps in the restrooms of the actual Dior headquarters?)

The result of the story is closer to the image of the woman in the ad than a the image of a boozed-up flamboyant cigarette-smoker at a party. Dioressence is a desultory beauty whom you will never catch standing up, a woman in colors of black, off-white and red who looks you straight in the eye as if she were just as likely to kill you as fuck you.

Do not mess with this woman.

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