Christian Dior Dioressence : Perfume Review (Vintage and Modern)

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Gilded, raunchy, glamorous, voluptuous… Any of these words describe Christian Dior Dioressence, a fragrance that has been marketed by Dior as le parfum barbare, a barbaric perfume. Dioressence is still sold today, but the reason why it ended up among my Long Lost Favorite Perfume series is because the original version is gone. Marika, who asked me to add Dioressence to my list of discussions, said, “I recall it being a deliciously rich chypre, very powerful and tenacious. I liked its balance of earthy depth and elegance. It was my first perfume.”

Fans may complain about Christian Dior causing confusion with their game of renaming and reformulating Miss Dior and Miss Dior Chérie, but Dioressence has suffered the same fate through the years. When I smell the original perfume created by Guy Robert in 1969, the relaunch from the 1970s and the current version, I feel as if I’m wearing three different perfumes—an ambery animalic chypre, a full-bodied spicy oriental and a pale green chypre.

Dioressence : 1969

The story of the original 1969 Dioressence was famously told by Luca Turin, who shared that Guy Robert was commissioned by Dior to create an intensely animalic fragrance that ran counter to the luminous blends that made Dior famous. The new fragrance was to serve as a fragrant accessory to Dior’s collection featuring furs. Chandler Burr captured the story in his book The Emperor of Scent and described how Robert found his inspiration in a lump of ambergris and a bar of cheap soap scented with Miss Dior knock-off. You can see the entire story via Burr’s website, and it’s a fascinating read.

“Dioressence was created from a cheap Miss Dior soap knockoff base, chypric, fruity aldehydic, plus a giant cube of rancid whale vomit. And it is one of the greatest perfumes ever made,” says Turin. I would add that it was fascinating–Dioressence combined the fleshy ripeness of animalic notes with the autumnal warmth of patchouli and moss. Wrapped in rose and jasmine, it had a glamorous and exotic aura, but even as a timid lover of anything overly raunchy, I found it surprisingly easy to wear.

Dioressence : 1979

Now fast forward ten years to 1979, when Dior decided to reissue Dioressence. The new fragrance was created by Max Gavarry, and it followed the general outlines of the original Dioressence, but it was made plusher and sweeter. The rich glitter of warm spices was enriched, and the dense pungency of ambergris was substantially reduced. Most vintage Dioressence you can find today is from this reissue, and as much as I love the original perfume, this spicy beauty with a green rose top note is delightful. It teases with its spicy warmth, before enveloping its wearer in a cool veil of moss and vetiver.

top right: current packaging; bottom and top left: slightly older models

Dioressence : Today

Unfortunately, as Dior suffered financial hardships in the 1980s, the quality of the formula began to decline, and the version you can find in stores today is a legacy of that period. Little by little the barbaric perfume has morphed into a sheer green infusion of moss and soapy rose. It’s pleasant, but bland, as Angela put it in her review at Now Smell This. Even the current in-house perfumer Francois Demachy admitted in an interview that he also dislikes the current Dioressence, which bears little relationship to either Robert’s or Gavarry’s creations. Some people blame the changing fashions, others point to the severity of current fragrance regulations. Guy Robert only shrugged his shoulders and said, “the fashion now is to be afraid, we used these so-called dangerous ingredients for hundred years, and nothing has happened.”

Apparently, Demachy is currently working on a new version of Dioressence, and I hope that one day we might find this fragrance made with quality ingredients and with at least a hint of a barbaric streak. For now, however, I can only suggest a few fragrances that to me capture some aspects of Dioressence that I loved in its various incarnations. Those who wish to get an idea of Guy Robert’s original should smell Amouage Gold. In all fairness, it’s much closer to Madame Rochas than to Dioressence, but it has the elegant opulence that made his perfume so ravishing.

Lovers of the spicy Dioressence from the 1970s and 1980s would enjoy Guy Laroche J’ai Osé, a sultry blend of rose, iris and ylang-ylang folded into a sweet accord of vetiver, patchouli and incense. It was created by Max Gavarry, the same perfumer who reorchestrated Dioressence and who was known for his sensual compositions.  Chanel Coco is another fragrance that has a similar baroque feeling, but it’s much sweeter and more well-behaved than Dioressence. If I begin to miss the spicy flash of Dioressence particularly strongly, I reach for Kenzo Jungle L’Éléphant, which is in the same perfume family as Dioressence but feels modern and paired down next to this full-bodied perfume.   Still, its cardamom scented woods are alluring, and the drydown of amber blended into patchouli feels like a warm embrace.  My last suggestion is Estée Lauder Cinnabar which is far spicier than Dioressence, but it echoes Dior’s classic in its enveloping, entrance making character. The best part is that it’s readily available and still smells wonderful, reformulations notwithstanding.

Complex symphonies like Dioressence are hard to match exactly, because of their numerous layers and intricate accords. These are only a few personal favorites, and I look forward to your suggestions to help others who miss Dioressence in its former opulent glory.

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46 Comments

  • Suzanna: What a great idea to discuss all three formulations of Dioressence. I have tried the original and it is an amazing creature, especially in light of how perfume trends of that era were developing away from a classic Parisian model.

    The middle version is extremely dry on me; for reference it is drier than Mitsouko. I am going to go out on a limb here and toss Mitsouko EdT out for people who like the 1979 Dioressence for its dry, spicy quality (although notationally they are not terribly similar).

    Have not tried the new. I gave up.

    (That ad campaign was one of my favorites.) June 1, 2012 at 8:16am Reply

    • Victoria: The middle version is still wonderful, and I love the spicy flourishes. Luca Turin once said that it was meant as a contender to Opium, and I can see that. It definitely has plenty of oomph! June 2, 2012 at 9:28am Reply

  • Aimee L’Ondee: Hi Victoria, thanks so much for the review of multiple formulations of a much-loved perfume of mine. In the trio of bottle images you have up there in the review, do you know which formulation the bottle on the top left (with the greenest juice) is? I have the bottle, and I’ve always wondered. It’s probably the 1979…

    Love the vintage perfume reviews! Have a great weekend. June 1, 2012 at 9:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Aimee, you’re welcome! Sorry, I should have added this: the bottle in the top right corner is the current one. The bottom bottle was used before and the green bottle in the top left corner is a slightly older model. I will right away note that I’m not an expert on Dior bottles; this is just based on what I have been seeing in my local Dior boutique over the course of the past 10 years or so. June 2, 2012 at 9:30am Reply

      • Aimee L’Ondee: Yep, that sounds right to me, too. Thanks! June 5, 2012 at 11:36am Reply

  • Jillie: Thank you for this, Victoria, it has helped me make up my mind not to seek out any Dioressence, although I used to love the bath oil as a (very) young girl and would love to smell it again – perhaps I will try it if Dior do indeed re-issue.

    Coincidentally I have just had a sad experience with another of M Robert’s lovely creations – Caleche. It was another that I wore a lot as a teenager, and spookily was thinking about it a couple of weeks ago and ordered a sample. It arrived today, and I find it very unlike the old formula – just a ghost palely weaving its way through overdone aldehydes. It smells so much sweeter than I remember and much more like Madame Rochas (which I also loved and now mourn). Another purchase I won’t be making.

    What you say about EL’s Cinnabar is very interesting – it seems that EL is pretty good at not playing around too much with old favourites. Is that correct, do you think? June 1, 2012 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Jillie, I love all of the body products that Dior had at one point. I haven’t checked recently, but I remember that once Diorissimo had the most wonderful soap. It was so true to the scent of the perfume and it was a special luxury.

      Caleche also was changed considerably, but I have to say that once I got over that it was different, I started to enjoy it again. It’s still high-quality and distinctive, whereas Dioressence simply doesn’t even smell good (to me).

      I think that Lauder simply takes a good care of its fragrances. They change them carefully and gradually. If you compare the old and the new, you will see a difference, but the perfumes still have their original characters. I love Cinnabar and some other Lauder classics (Private Collection is one of my top favorites from that house). June 2, 2012 at 9:41am Reply

  • Austenfan: Thank you for this very informative review. I always feel kind of sad reading these Friday posts. The original sounds so lovely and I will just never smell it. June 1, 2012 at 10:36am Reply

    • Victoria: For a while I stopped writing about these discontinued perfumes, because I thought that why on earth write about something people can’t try anyway. But I get so many emails about similar fragrances to the ones that got discontinued or reformulated that I decided to create a separate column. We can’t always find something exactly the same, but at least we can use our favorites to figure out what else we might like trying. June 2, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

      • Austenfan: I am glad you do these posts. Even if it makes me aware of how much is lost perfume wise. Still it is good to be informed of scents now gone forever! June 2, 2012 at 3:40pm Reply

        • Victoria: People move on quite readily–the perfumers and the consumers too. With the ban of so many ingredients, one would think that the perfumers would be the first ones to complain, but they just adjust to the new trends quite easily. And the consumers are bombarded with too many new scents anyway! June 2, 2012 at 7:22pm Reply

  • Liz G.: Thanks for the wonderful comparison of all three versions of Dioressence. Dioressence is my favorite fragrance of all time. I have worn it since the mid-80’s. I have tried all three versions and definitely like the middle one the best and now actively seek out vintage bottles of the fragrance. The new version is just a pale comparison of the first two. It is good to know that a new verson is in the works. Hopefully it will capture the essence and spirit of either the first or second version. Thanks for a great review. June 1, 2012 at 10:42am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome, Liz! So great that you know all three main versions (I bet that there were lots of little reformulations in between) and can compare them. I have only a tiny vial of the original and enough of Dioresscence from the 1980s to wear it time to time. It feels so beautiful and dramatic, and it helped me discover that I love incense and spices in perfumes. June 2, 2012 at 9:48am Reply

    • Bernie Lazar: I have a hottle of the middle one th a t i am going to put on ebay. Found it in my mother’s things. If you would like to make me an offer i will see what i can do. January 18, 2016 at 9:49am Reply

  • Anna Minis: Thank you very much for this complete and helpful article: order in the chaos. There is, alas, no substitute for such a smell. I admire the laconic reaction of Guy Robert. Have a nice week-end! June 1, 2012 at 10:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Guy Robert wasn’t the one to gloss over things. I like his statement too–very much to the point.

      Enjoy your weekend, Anna! June 2, 2012 at 9:52am Reply

  • nikki: Hello!
    Such a beautiful review and especially the ad, just gorgeous! I think this was Princesse Caroline’s favorite (Monaco), but I have never tried the original one either. However, Cinnabar is always nice. I think Estee Lauder is doing a great job keeping their fragrances although I think Spellbound was slightly reformulated. June 1, 2012 at 2:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think that all of Lauders were reformulated, but they’ve done a good job. I know Spellbound, but not as well as I should, so I will be revisiting it. Thanks, Nikki. June 2, 2012 at 9:53am Reply

  • Undina: I should probably stop reading about discontinued or butchered perfumes: it makes me really sad even if I didn’t know the perfume in its glory.

    I have a mini bottle of, what I assume, is 1979 re-release of Dioressence and I don’t remember trying the current version. Though, I think, I might still like it (since I like both current versions of Diorella and Diorissimo – even though I knew them before the reformulation games). June 1, 2012 at 5:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: I should probably stop writing about them, because it makes me sad too, but I like the idea of exploring something similar.

      I like the current version of Diorella and Diorissimo too (and I loved them in their original formulations) but not Dioressence. Even Miss Dior while as good as the original is still interesting enough as a sheer green chypre. So, I would be curious what you think when you compare. June 2, 2012 at 9:56am Reply

  • annemariec: Yesterday I stopped by one of my local dept stores for a sniff of the current Dioressence on a blotter. It made no special impression on my except that it smelled dry and borderline masculine. Nice, but no real reason to exist. The scent is still going on the blotter this morning and it has warmed and fattened a bit with some oriental spices.

    I shall definitely keep an eye out for a Demachy version. I hope we will actually know it has been reformulated, ie that there will be a relaunch, not just a quiet slipping of the new juice into the current bottle.

    Thanks for the review! June 1, 2012 at 7:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Anne Marie, I agree! This is the case when I want a true relaunch. If they simple slipped a new version of Dioressence into the old bottle, I doubt I would even notice, since I don’t revisit it on regular basis. June 2, 2012 at 9:57am Reply

  • Moi: Fear ruins everything, it seems. Shame. June 1, 2012 at 8:35pm Reply

  • Marika: Thanks so much for this wonderful post. It helps me to contextualize my nostalgia for Dioressence to know more about its history. I hadn’t done any reading on it yet and as a relatively new (or resurrected, really) perfumista, I was baffled by the lack of conversation about Diorressence, at least as a reference touchstone. Now I know why.

    Thanks, too, for the recommended perfumes. I have been working through greens and chypres as I can, but so far nothing has hit that perfectly balanced pitch that Diorressence sang for me. Luckily I have widened my palette to accept other perfume families! June 1, 2012 at 8:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Marika, you’re welcome! And thank you very much for inspiring me to talk about Dioresscence. I kept putting it off and off, but once I got your email, I had such a good time researching what happened to this beautiful perfume.

      I hope that some of my recommendations work, so please let me know what you end up trying and what you like best. June 2, 2012 at 9:59am Reply

  • Kaori: Victoria,
    Thank you for a beautyful and informative review.
    I have just found a tiny bottle, about 5ml, of Dioressence at a flea market. It shows Dioressence 83 degree imported by Jardine Mathson and co.. It would be the middle one but not spicy…soapy..

    The one given from my mom was the oldest one (the date was before 1979) and with my faint memory, creamy and velvety. One of my sentimental one!

    Kaori June 3, 2012 at 11:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re lucky to have the original bottle. There are few of those left, and since it’s from your mom, it’s especially precious. Velvety is a good description, especially in the drydown when Dioressence becomes soft and languid. The animalic notes are there, but they are so luscious (not at all pungent or skanky). June 4, 2012 at 9:35am Reply

  • Anna Minis: I agree with Austenfan. Please, Victoria, don’t stop writing about discontinued/butchered perfumes; not only for the sake of simulars. When a perfume is gone, there is nothing left, and in that case a description is precious. I own a book about perfumebottles by Christie Mayer Leifkowith. Beautiful book, beautiful bottles, but not a word for the smells–what a pity! Of course it is very, very difficult to catch a smell in words. Most of the perfume reviews are about food, actresses, music. Perhaps it is inevitable to use comparisons. But your reviews are always to the point. They are real written portraits of the perfumes. That is a rare gift, and I think you shouldn’t spoil it. How I would like to have your comment on lost treasures like Scandal, Pretexte, My Sin and my favourite Crescendo (that was in the mood of Amouage Gold), Gin Fizz. June 4, 2012 at 4:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Anna, thank you very much! I promise to continue writing about them. Also, I love when others who know them share their own stories or the memories of their mom’s or grandmother’s wearing these fragrances. I talked about My Sin here before (http://boisdejasmin.com/2006/04/lanvin_my_sin.html), but not the others, so I will be happy to add them to the list. June 4, 2012 at 9:37am Reply

  • Anna Minis: Sorry, Victoria, I don’t mean to say ”spoil”– I mean: don’t keep it away from the discontinued perfumes! June 4, 2012 at 5:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your encouragement, Anna! 🙂 June 5, 2012 at 4:09am Reply

  • Marg F: I bought Dioressence the day before my wedding in 1981 – a reckless splurge on something luxurious. It matched my body chemistry superbly – as if it was blended for me alone. I have grown used to the latest version – it still suits me perfectly and I am so addicted to it I have now purchased next year’s supply – though if there is a re-launch I will be tempted to invest in the new version as well. My problem is that tomorrow I will have the last shake of my Dioressence talcum powder. Is it still made? Can I buy it on-line? Is there soap? If not why not? Don’t they care at Christian Dior? July 9, 2012 at 3:23am Reply

  • Helene O’Shaughnessy: Hi Victoria, Thank you for your invaluable information regarding this wonderful perfume. I was first introduced to it in 1973 and had to hock my soul to buy my first bottle that was torquise in colour (plastic coating on the bottle) then added soap (not as true to the scent) and the talc (perfect if you couldn’t afford the parfum.) The layering was scentsational. The next bottle changed to rippled glass with a solid plastic top extending above the bottle in the same shape. I am guessing that this was the second generation. As my husband is a traveller I managed to expand my collection of Dioressence thinking that I would never run out but found that it was going to be discontinued. I didn’t think this perfume would ever be lost to the world but decided to buy as much as I could as it is my “signature” perfume. The ‘lot’ I bought muse be the third generation going by the bottle. I just with they could be labelled with “new generation” so we are aware. I still love it but not as much as when I was younger. I thought it was me. I have not smelled the latest generation. Great work, by the way. Have you heard of Shocking by Sciapperelli? The original was startling ! My mother used to wear it and in my mind’s ‘nose’ I can still smell it from the 1950’s.
    Cheers, Helene. July 15, 2012 at 5:41am Reply

  • Maria: Hi Victoria!
    First time commenting on your blog and I enjoyed reading all the comments far too much! I discovered Dioressence only a few months ago (the current version) and it was love at first wiff. After doing some research and reading your comments, I went on the hunt for a vintage. A gentleman was selling a 112 ml vintage edt (blue wavy box and squarish bottle splash) for $55 US. No one put a bid in…… What the???.
    It arrived in perfect condition, but nothing prepared me for the heavenly smell. It was perfectly fresh, and the layers and depth is something to behold. I really appreciate your great knowledge and insight, and, except for Chanel No 19, (vintage) this would now have to be no. 2 on my sublime list. I am not sure if this was the first batch of dioressence to come out though. Could you clarify?
    Keep up the great articles, even if it does make us sigh and lament on what once were great fragrances! December 20, 2012 at 12:36am Reply

  • Fazal Cheema: i have been fortunate enough to get Dioressence Esprit de Parfum in Splash Glass bottle (100ml) and one Esprit de Parfum in Refillable Ceramic-looking container which is 75ml..Is there a hope I have gotten my hands on the original Guy Robert version. Smelling the splash version, it is indeed one of the most beautiful perfumes ever created! December 30, 2013 at 10:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s quite possible. Compare it to the photos/ads I posted and see if it matches. Congratulations on your great find! December 31, 2013 at 7:56am Reply

      • Fazal Cheema: now i notice i didnt clearly saw the ad, the splash glass matches the bottle shown in the ad at the top of the page …the spray ‘ceramic style container’ has golden ring between lower part and the cap and its esprit de parfum too..i have seen miss dior esprit de parfum in the same container online as well..75 ml size only January 1, 2014 at 12:25am Reply

  • Liz: Hi Victoria,
    Do you know what happened to Chopard’s first fragrance Happy Diamonds? Did it undergo a name change or has it just dissappeared?
    Are you able to recommend a perfume with similar notes?
    Kind Regards,
    Liz February 9, 2014 at 3:39am Reply

  • Adriana Galani: I have a middle one, as You all call it and am very happy with. Once one of my bosses told me the fragrance played a big role in employing me, at the time of interview and I had this one on…. so? Auspicious as well. 🙂 Newest one is too pale for me and I never came to smell the vintage unfortunately. February 24, 2014 at 3:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great compliment! It’s probably the best compliment one could receive on their perfume. February 24, 2014 at 5:56pm Reply

  • Aurora: It’s an outstanding review, Victoria, so well researched on the 3 iterations of Dioressence, I have read it with such pleasure as my interest was picked by acquiring a small 30ml bottle of the EDT.
    My thoughts on the version I have is that it is distinctly a Dior scent, a ‘cousinage’ to Miss Dior is obvious and I seem to detect lily of the valley in the heart. It lasts so well for an EDT, I have been wearing it several evenings in a row. Now thanks to you I know the back story too. August 3, 2015 at 2:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for letting me know. It’s been such a while since I’ve worn it (well, relatively speaking, of course), and it’s time I revisit it too. August 4, 2015 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Julie: My mom used to wear Dioressence, what a fascinating story! I remember a bottle sitting on her dressing table…
    The ad above reminds me of some of the windows she would design to attract customers to browse at the clothing boutique she worked for in Barrington, Rhode Island. I enjoy reading all of your reviews Victoria. Every writer on here is great. I stumbled onto your site awhile ago. Growing up in the 1970s was a lot of fun. At that moment in time, I was probably reaching for Babe. 🙂 February 11, 2016 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Babe! And why not? It was fun. 🙂 February 11, 2016 at 11:33am Reply

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