Sunday, September 16, 2012

Miss Dior le Parfum: One of Those Things That's Not Like the Other

Dior has never been one for leaving a good thing unbroken. Fahrenheit, while nowhere near what it used to be, remains within the company's inventory, but has spawned something like seven flankers - and counting. J'Adore, a bit of a ghost of its former self as well, has been parlayed into its own cottage industry, with about fourteen related "versions", including limited editions, seasonal variations, anniversary distillations, and one extrait and absolute after another. Since launching in 1999, J'Adore has been subjected to these updates or additions annually.  Addict and Dior Homme have been handled similarly.

At the same time, Dior has shown some superficial sensitivity to the preservation of its antiques, housing them, however renovated, within the collection called "Les Creations de Monsieur Dior", a funny name maybe, considering the monsieur in question would presumably be Christian himself, whose name has been removed from the brand for some years, which is simply now referred to as "Dior." It's questionable at this point just who Monsieur is meant to mean: Christian, or François Demachy, the man responsible for overseeing these various "collections" and for re-orchestrating (i.e. reformulating) their constituent fragrances.

Diorling, Diorella, Diorama, and Dioressence bear little resemblance to the scents they once were. Demachy has argued that the auteur theories about perfumers are overstatements, if not misleading simplifications. A fragrance like Ungaro Diva, commonly regarded as an early composition by Jacques Polge, was in fact, Demachy has asserted, more collaborative, representing the work of several well known perfumers, among them Demachy himself. I don't doubt it; nor do I believe that our romance about perfumers and the sanctity of their work properly accounts for the bigger picture reality of business as usual at a large aroma-chemical corporate entity like Givaudin or Symrise.

Demachy has something more at stake in this line of argument promoting the devaluation of single authorship in mass market perfumery.  Dior's parent company, LVMH (of which Demachy is "super creative director"), has moved to take over Dior's fragrances, previously owned as we knew them by chemical corporations (such as Givaudin and Symrise, et al) which copyrighted the original in-house formulas. By creating these variations, Dior and LVMH seek to restore their ownership and control; slightly different names, slightly different formulas, made with materials other than those owned by the companies who patented them. The fact the resulting fragrances bear little resemblance to their namesakes is I guess apparently neither here nor there, unless you are a consumer who fell in love with the originals. Still, you have to ask yourself what Dior doesn't seem to be asking itself - is it worth holding onto these names if they gradually move so far astray of recognizability that what's in a name means next to nothing? Demachy says yes indeedy, by contesting, however justifiably, issues of authorship.

Miss Dior Cherie and Miss Dior are the first real indication of what all this means for those of us with our fingers on the atomizer. Created by perfumer Christine Nagel for Givaudin, the original Miss Dior Cherie was maybe one of the best iterations of what we now know as the category fruity patchouli. It had an interesting tension to it, part strawberry, part caramel, part buttered popcorn. It bore some relation to Angel, but was brighter somehow, its contrasts, though bold, not quite as confrontational. Some loved it, some hated it. In the last several years, Dior and LVMH seem to have used Miss Dior Cherie as a litmus for how far they can take Dior's fragrances away from their vocabulary, and as a barometer for the usefulness of that vocabulary in the first place.

Miss Dior Cherie is now, for all intents and purposes, Miss Dior, and Miss Dior is something no one talks about. We all know it existed. We all know this Miss Dior is not that one. That Miss Dior, I imagine Demachy would be the first to point out, was already very little who she'd once been. She'd been, as we say, gutted. Though still recognizable, facelifts had rendered her indefinably altered. We lamented the changes, however hard they were to pinpoint. Demachy seems to be saying that nothing remains the same, so laboring over a name is a pointless endeavor. But trying to pinpoint the changes, I'd argue, with an existing reference point - i.e a name - was useful in some way. What happens when the reference point is evacuated entirely? The reference points are arguably essential, if only to attempt to qualify how over time things inevitably change, and what change means as an ongoing reality.

The conversation generated by those kinds of ongoing comparisons (between original and reformulation, for instance) is killed as far as Miss Dior is concerned. Before long, it will be as if the conversation never happened. The conversation will live on in our minds, vague over time, the way the original Miss Dior, or its facsimiles, will. Imagine the dialogue at your local department store now, where the Dior sales associate will look at you foggy eyed when you assert that there was once a Miss Dior of a different stripe, that Miss Dior is not in fact simply Miss Dior Cherie renamed and rebottled. Try to imagine a conversation of this kind, dealing in nuance and subtle distinction, with associates who still actively contend there is no difference between an eau de parfum and an eau de toilette. These are, typically, people who, as it stands, treat anything they don't stock as fictitious. I have to question Dior's game plan, after my experience buying Miss Dior le Parfum. The Dior associate who helped me spent twenty minutes trying to track down just what I was looking for, with all the boxes (Miss Dior eau de Parfum, Miss Dior Cherie EDT, Miss Dior Cherie EDP, Miss Dior Eau Fraiche, etc.) lined up right under her nose. Try cultivating brand loyalty when determining what exactly the brand is involves an afternoon-long excavation.

Miss Dior le Parfum smells lovely. There are remnants or echoes of original Miss Dior Cherie in it, though nothing I can discern remotely connected to the original Miss Dior. Like much of what Demachy has done, there is an abiding amber creaminess to Miss Dior le Parfum. It's rich, if not particularly expansive. There's something like strawberry in it, marinated in an abundance of vanilla, amber, and refined patchouli. One wonders, smelling it on cloth or paper, whether anyone involved in its creation ever actually smelled it on skin, because on skin that richness becomes a bit self-absorbed - rarefied and stingy like the girl at the party who knows everyone will eventually come to her. Like J'Adore L'Or and Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle, both also by Demachy, Miss Dior le Parfum approaches embarrassment of riches, in the sense that it is almost too refined to bother with pleasing anyone but itself, let alone you. It makes the most sense on a paper strip, where it plays out slowly.

It's one of the more exciting things at the department store counter right now, and that makes it seem very exciting indeed. How exciting is that, when the barometer is lower than the final stages of a drunken game of limbo, where the bar is down where only the truly inebriated would dare to crouch? I love it, with some kind of qualification I can't put my finger on, but who can spot much with a moving target? What exactly am I comparing it to, and why bother? It's a great fragrance: something old, something new, a department store fragrance done well. It invites a series of fantasies. It lasts reasonably well. And it has no relationship to anything I can attach emotional significance to.

It has nothing at all to do with its namesake, and hardly needs to, so I suppose the problem for me lies with Demachy, Dior, and LMVH. While I sympathize with their position, I find their tactics dishonest and offensive. It's a small thing, ultimately. They're telling me that the name means nothing. And yet they're fighting hard to keep it, which indicates otherwise. We all know, as consumers, that these names do in fact mean many things, many infinitely personal things. These creations live with us and become parts of our narratives. I trust Demachy, at least, knows this. It's one thing to be told that things change and that, for instance, the fragrance your mother or your grandmother wore as an integral part of her identity and your understanding of her will go the way of all relics. It's quite another to assert that you might as well play fast and loose with these cultural signifiers, insisting on the one hand that they mean very little, even as you work hard to capitalize on their mystique.


Susan said...

I rather liked the Christine Nagel Miss Dior Cherie. I posted something to this affect on Natalie's Another Perfume Blog, but when I worked fragrance retail, Miss Dior Cherie and Coco Mademoiselle were positioned right beside one another on the counter. I always thought it was scandalous, and a bit depressing, that Coco Mademoiselle was the runaway sales leader instead of Miss Dior Cherie, which I found far more interesting.

I've not wanted to try Miss Dior Le Parfum in mourning of the Nagel version, but I may have to give it a try.

The whole thing is so confusing.

Brian said...

I loved the Nagel version too. And like a fool gave it away to a friend who really liked it. I had no idea it would be gone in sixty seconds.

I've tried to appreciate Coco Mademoiselle. It's never done anything for me. I wonder what would happen if they tried all this silliness with that one.

MD le Parfum is really nice. I'm not sure it will steal anyone's heart, but maybe that's a lot to ask of a decent perfume. A lot of Demachy's fragrances smell the same to me. I prefer Hypnotic Poison to Miss Dior. Somehow it feels like a better bargain.

Elisa said...

I only sniffed the parfum briefly but was definitely pleasantly surprised. It felt a bit like a cross between Badgley Mischka and Alahine.

Elisa said...

I meant to add: The original MDC totally sounds like my kind of thing but I never liked it. Every time I tried it, it smelled like cheap beer in a can to me. I can't explain this! Some weird fruity aldehyde effect I guess. I always wonder if the supposed buttered popcorn accord has any relationship to Jelly Belly's...

Brian said...

Did you ever smell Hypnotic Poison eau Sensuelle, Elisa? I wonder if you'd like that.

I bought MD le Parfum. It's far better than anything else in the mall right now, I think.

Elisa said...

Nope, but I've tried the Elixir version. How is the "Eau Sensuelle" version different?

Brian said...

elixir is closer to the original. Sensuelle is an entirely different thing, next to no relation. Slightly anisic, floral, vanilla. Rich. It has some of the almond but treated very differently.

Elisa said...

Sounds yummy. I love anisic notes in perfume. I did think the Elixir was almost indistinguishable from the original.

Marko said...

"I find their tactics dishonest and offensive. It's a small thing, ultimately. They're telling me that the name means nothing. And yet they're fighting hard to keep it, which indicates otherwise. We all know, as consumers, that these names do in fact mean many things, many infinitely personal things. These creations live with us and become parts of our narratives.".....I love what you wrote here, but the cynic in me KNOWS that the stockholders at LVMH could care less about our "personal emotions" regarding fragrance - the only thing that matters, of course, is making money.

I have stayed away from this whole Miss Dior/Miss Dior Cherie thing for a while, so I'm not 100% sure what I'm missing, but I AM intrigued about this Miss Dior le Parfum - I will seek it out for a test-drive.....but do I really have to invest a whole afternoon in dealing with a sales-driven associate? ;-)

Brian said...

Oh I don't think they care a smidge - in theory. These are not sentimental bean counters. It's all about business sense and a bottom line.

However, the bottom line in branding is absolutely about personal attachment, right? Coke means a lot of things to a lot of people. Years of weird little memory threads there. Does Coke "care" about those memories - and make every corporate decision based on preserving that sentimental bond?

I say yes. That IS branding. Coke will make any number of different versions of its iconic soda, but the "Coke" we "remember" must remain the same for those to mean anything at all.

I was there quite a while waiting for an SA to track down the "correct" Miss Dior. I was brought no less than three boxes, all wrong.

debra said...

You've put your finger on it - my exact beef with Dior/LVMH is their utter disrespect for their customers. The tactics of identity swap presume that none of us has a memory longer than last season, or that we know so little about what we're sniffing that we won't be able to tell the difference. I too was charmed by Miss Dior Cherie, though I didn't expect to be as I detest Coco Mlle. I still enjoy my bottle and have been dismayed to watch the gradual re-branding and accompanying tweaking of the juice. The new MDC version and the new Miss Dior iterations are crap, IMHO. But like you I fell in love with MD le parfum. I'm debating, though, whether to buy a bottle - it seems a little negotiating with terrorists.

Brian said...

Negotiating with terrorists. Just a bit, yeah?

I wonder if the "respect", even when purportedly there, ever really is, or sincerely is. They're running businesses. But again, you can only run a business effectively if you're delivering, and for me Dior is missing much more than hitting these days.

Anonymous said...


I liked Miss Dior once upon a time, though its not the same I also like the reformulation (though not as much).

I was in doubt whether to buy the le parfum or the eau de parfum. they of course smell differently, but le parfum (while better imo) also gave me headaches. this was something it was repeated every time i sampled it. the ladies at the dior counter i go to have a soft spot for me, so they gave me a lot of samples for me. i ended up getting eau de parfum because of the headaches.

unfortunetly, eau de parfum doesn't stay much on my skin (bizarrely, the samples did). i'm disappointed and now i'm leaning to try out le parfum, regardless of the headaches.

i was looking for a review on both, to seee other people's opinion on the matter (yes, perfume is a individual choice and taste, but i like reading what others have to say about it) and i found your blog. i had fun reading it, because it's obvious you know what you're talking about (in comparison, i'm just a normal person who has leaned for dior since as far as i remember).

i know this was done... one and year ago, but could you give one small comparison between the two please? i see that you like le parfum, even if its nothing special, but what is your opinion in comparison to the eau de parfum? i'd like the opinion of an expert.

LetThemEatCake said...

I don't understand, you are saying that Dior did not own the formulas for Miss Dior Cherie?? And that's why it was reformulated? Someone explain please.

Brian said...

The formulas were patented by the aromachemical company which created the fragrances, as I understand it. This means that in order to take control and ownership over them the formulas were changed or "updated". This way, LVMH, which owns Dior, also has ownership of its fragrances.