Christian Dior Poison : Perfume Review and Memories

44444

Poison:  Nearly 30 years after its debut, the name still causes a chill up the spine or a frisson of fear among those whose nasal passages were assaulted by Christian Dior’s titanic fragrance.

Launched in 1985, Poison entered a world of big perfume.  It was the era of flamboyant, often bombastic scents.  Even in this context, Poison made an immediate name for itself.  Whether this was cause for celebration or not depended on who was doing the smelling.  Poison, like Giorgio Beverly Hills, had as many vocal fans as it did vehement opponents.

I remember the first time I smelled it.  I had recently started wearing Obsession, Calvin Klein’s new-at-the-time Oriental that had a hair tonic note in the base.  But during a holiday gathering a cousin arrived, or Poison arrived with the cousin, shrieking in like a comet to the Thanksgiving dinner table.  Gone were the typical holiday aromas:  chestnuts, turkey, and pumpkin pie.   We were served Poison alongside roasted yams and it was all anyone could talk about; even the old aunts clucked—in appreciation.

Even today I recall an explosive white-powder tuberose sweetened by grape-y berries, with a weird herbal accent (coriander, pepper) at the top that always made me feel a bit dizzy, as if the earth were settling beneath my feet. Remember that 1985 was near the end of the big Oriental era that had begun a decade before.  Poison was the exact opposite, a behemoth white floral that didn’t smell anything like a flower but more like a synthetic floral orgy, something oh-so-right for the bigness of the Eighties.

The natural menthol note that occurs in tuberose marked Poison with a toothpaste-like, minty quality.  Although the berried top notes responsible for the fruit-candy accord are immediately noticeable, it is this minty, green tuberose that sails forth, buttressed by orange blossom and for all I know a bottle of grape Nehi soda (tuberose+heliotrope+black currant).  It’s a courageous fragrance actually, in that it overtakes and beats down its wearer, a risky fragrance that in its original form required personal boldness and sophistication to pull off.  But where did I most smell it? On teenage girls, the same ones who would buy Cacharel LouLou a couple of years later, and the same ones who would somewhat counterintuitively be able to pull Poison off most successfully.

Ads for Poison, done in tones of purples and blacks, seemed to shroud the scent in darkness and in decadence, but the truth is that Poison was anything but.  It was in my estimation the cheeriest of the Big Eighties scents, certainly the brightest and most garish.  It would mow down, rather than seduce, its victims, who I liked to assume were pimply and gangly high-school boys.

This may sound odd, but Poison was the wrong “color” for me.  I tried it, and it didn’t work with any of my clothing, not even with a bright blue suede jacket the color of a peacock’s neck.  The sandalwood, opoponax, and vetiver drydown, which I perceived as a different color than the rest, took far too long to reach and was too subtle.  A trace on the skin was pleasant the next day, but who wanted to wait that long to get there?

What was this stuff in the elegant, dark purple boule? For one thing, it was a radical departure for the House of Dior, its first truly modern fragrance and a giant step away from its past as a quiet stalwart of the upper middle class. For another, it was not meant for this traditional Dior customer but for new customers who would buy into its myth of female as dangerous vamp.  That it reached an unlikely conclusion of soda and powder was beside the point.  It was enough just to have its name on your lips:  “Poison.”  The name was daring and intriguing, what more did you need?

I tried Poison again recently and it seemed thinned-out, less complex, with the herbal notes gone, more white musk, and the base not as craggy.  It had been domesticated and made less expensive (at the time, Poison was quite costly to make) and it just smelled cheap.

I washed it off my hand and dug out a picture taken on the day I first smelled it—was it really that long ago? And then I wondered, what since then would have the same shock factor? What do you think?

Enjoyed this? Get blog posts via email:

Or, stay updated via:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • RSS

68 Comments

  • yankiel: Thank you for your posts and your blog always, you are such a sensitive and tasteful individual, thank you for keeping Perfume alive by sharing with us your personal impressions and memories. Thank you November 5, 2012 at 9:17am Reply

    • Suzanna: yankiel, I feel confident speaking on behalf of Victoria as well as myself in saying thank you! November 5, 2012 at 9:39am Reply

  • Anna Minis: In 1985, I fell in love with Poison, and wore it almost exclusively, alternated with Rochas’ Lumière. On my skin it was (and still is) a sweet tuberose balsam. But it can be oppressive, I agree. The same thing with Angel: on some skins it is balsamic, on others it is shrieky. And Poison is certainly not what you want at your dinner table! I think both perfumes ask for a moderate applying. November 5, 2012 at 9:19am Reply

    • Suzanna: Of course! Moderation is always key with the big show-off frags! November 5, 2012 at 9:39am Reply

      • Anna Minis: Not in 1985! November 5, 2012 at 11:05am Reply

  • rosarita: This was the scent that made me realize that tuberose hates me but I didn’t know what that note was for years. I only knew, trying it on at the cosmetics counter, that it smelled awful to me, that grape koolade thing being the worst. I’ve never been a fan but I remember smelling it in clubs in the 80s on the hot, sweaty dance floor. Loved that purple bottle. Now that I think about it, Hypnotic Poison was a scent I would try every time I passed it in the late 90s and couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it, finally buying a bottle. When I wear it now, my daughter says it reminds her of going to the mall as a teen. November 5, 2012 at 9:27am Reply

    • Suzanna: Rosarita, HP is my favorite of the Poison flankers. I, too, deliberated over buying it, and when I did I wore it through several bottles. Then I stopped–I’d become anosmic to it–only to pick it up again a few years later. At that time, it was huge, and imagine that at one point I’d not been able to smell it at all! Still have that particular bottle. I used to like the body lotion that went with it, too. November 5, 2012 at 9:43am Reply

  • Leah: Thanks Suzanna for such a timely post! I was a teenager in the 1980s with a fairly young mother, so Poison was a scent we shared. My motherhad worn most of the big 80s orientals so this was a departure for her, yet it did have the larger than life sillage of others like Coco and Opium. I loved it because it felt sophisticated and provocative, and the advertisements had that sort of Siouxsie and the Banshees vibe. I recently sought it out to re-sniff and was appalled by the current state of reformulation. So, I found a vintage bottle on Ebay a couple of weeks ago for a great price and confirmed that it is still a magical fragrance. Thanks for starting out my day with a great memory. November 5, 2012 at 9:31am Reply

    • Suzanna: Leah, I think this one really suffered with reformulation, and I don’t think Dior does a particularly good job at reformulation in general (Miss Dior Cherie also springs to mind). Glad you found some vintage! November 5, 2012 at 9:45am Reply

  • Blue: This is my first comment here. I just had to say that I am very disappointed in the new Poison; it is watered down and feels like a fake compared to its real dark yet bright, heady, rich former self. My mother would wear this all the time and even let me (a boy) wear it to school as well as other occasions along with Lou Lou.

    I was very lucky when I found the vintage in a tall glass bottle earlier this year, I bought it, as well as its younger sister Tendre Poison that was sitting by its side, I was very excited. I don’t want to use them; it feels too precious and will only spray them once in a while, as they remind me of better times and I feel I may taint that feeling if I wear it now.

    I can honestly say Poison along with Lou Lou changed my life along with an Arab attar which I will never find because I don’t know its name. November 5, 2012 at 9:38am Reply

    • Suzanna: Thank you for sharing this memory, blue! It’s memories like this that add so much to the appreciation of fragrance.

      Too bad you can’t recall the name of that attar, but I love that you had Poison and Lou Lou along with it. November 5, 2012 at 11:50am Reply

  • Leah: One addition to your question – as far as what other perfumes would have the same shock factor, I would have to say Mugler’s Angel and Lutens’s Tuberose Criminelle. All of these fragrances make me feel almost guilty when I wear something straightforward! November 5, 2012 at 9:38am Reply

    • Suzanna: Oh, Leah, I have to laugh about TC. I had just applied it and was in the market. TC was in that huge mentholated phase–well, a woman went by and wriggled her nose and glared at me, as if I reeked of Ben-Gay or other common unguent and it was displeasing. November 5, 2012 at 9:40am Reply

      • Leah: LOL, the opening is my favorite part! November 5, 2012 at 9:50am Reply

        • Suzanna: Me, too! But I had never thought about what someone else might think. November 5, 2012 at 10:00am Reply

  • Ann-Sofie: I can’t remember if I ever smelled the original Poison, but I had a bottle of Pure Poison (the white one) for many years. In the end I threw it away (this was before my perfume interest, today I grit my teeth on my stupidity – to even contemplate to throw away a perfume, gah!). Anyway, I had the similar feeling as you with my Pure Poison – it always felt wrong on me, like dressing up in someone elses clothes. And the sillage and staying power – mon dieu! Atomic fuel.

    PS In those days I hade no commonsense at all – I sprayed me liberally with Pure Poison everyday and went to work, probably leaving a trail of asthmatic suffering after me….. November 5, 2012 at 9:39am Reply

    • Suzanna: Ann-Sofie, perfumes were applied with abandon. You weren’t the lone “offender”! And yet, it didn’t seem out of place at all to smell a strong fragrance, whereas nowadays it does. November 5, 2012 at 9:41am Reply

    • Diana: I threw away bottles from the first release of Samsara (with the now rare sandalwood) and the Salvatore Dali lips perfume just because I “got tired of wearing them”. I also discarded some vintage Chanel No. 5 (along with other scents I don’t recall) from my grandmother’s dressing table when she passed because they were “too old-lady smelling” to keep. All of this occurred years ago, before I developed more than a passing interest in perfume. If I only knew then what I know now… November 5, 2012 at 8:54pm Reply

      • Ann-Sofie: Oh, Samsara 1st edition (!!!) and vintage no 5…in the trash…that would be hard to overcome. November 6, 2012 at 3:56am Reply

  • Ksenija: OMG! I just came back home and I couldn’t belive when I open my email and saw this post! On my way home, I stop by Douglas to try out some perfumes. And I stopped before Poison. I remember how I loved this perfume in the nineties. I thought, let’s get back some of the nice memories. So I sprayed it on my hand. What a disappointment! It smelled nothing like I remember it! Some strange top note came through and it didn’t smell like Poison at all. Well, at least, not as Poison I remember from 1994-5. After about half an hour, I could trace some of that voluptuousness seductive warmth of the original, but alas, the true magic was already long gone. November 5, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

    • Suzanna: That’s exactly how I felt! I was mystified by it, but, like Dior Cherie, there’s a bit of association somewhere in there that one must hunt for. Too bad. November 5, 2012 at 10:01am Reply

  • iodine: Oh, how I hated it! There was this cousin of mine, very shy, very meek who used to wear it- she always displayed a significant hiatus between her perfumes and her personality!- and I couldn’t stand it! I guess it was prominently the berries note… To tell you the truth I can’t recall what it smells like, can’t remember the tuberose or anything else- I should try it again, but I know that when I come across a fragrance with even a vague resemblance with it I run screaming at the poisonous effect!!! (it happened with a Kurkdjan fragrance, lately, APOM, maybe… Can it be?!) November 5, 2012 at 9:48am Reply

    • Suzanna: Who knows? Interesting! I agree, though, that Poison was de trop if you couldn’t stand the smell of it. Thinking back, I can now “smell” Giorgio and Poison together, the way it was when they battled it out for supremacy between friends. November 5, 2012 at 10:02am Reply

  • Roberta: Hi Suzanna,
    Thank you for the wonderful review. There is nothing better than Poison to cheer me up during this difficult time after Hurricane Sandy.
    I got a bottle of vintage Poison a few weeks ago and that is what I have been wearing for the past weeks. I love it so much!! It reminds me of my mom, of my 80′s childhood, of Christmas with family! The scent is actually very comforting for me and I love to wear it around the house on gloomy, rainy afternoons.
    Oh, and I have 2 words to describe the new Poison: it sucks. Before I got my vintage bottle (which is Esprit de Parfum, by the way) I smelled the new Poison in a department store and almost threw up. It was so NOT what I remembered… I am glad I got my vintage bottle. November 5, 2012 at 10:19am Reply

    • Suzanna: Roberta, first of all I wish you a speedy recovery from the hurricane.

      Secondly, am glad you have found the vintage Poison and are wearing it. The new is just not the same and not worth buying, IMO. November 5, 2012 at 11:18am Reply

  • Anna Minis: That reformulation mut be horrible! What a crime, Dior should be punished for it. When did this happen? My most recent bottle (7 or 5 years ago) smells good. November 5, 2012 at 10:31am Reply

    • Suzanna: Not sure! Perhaps someone will be able to shed some light on it. The good thing is that it is fairly easy to buy the “old” scent, since it retained its character until somewhat recently. November 5, 2012 at 11:18am Reply

  • Daisy: I loved reading this post! The thought of Poison overwhelming a Thanksgiving dinner and then kicking butt and taking names? Priceless!

    It also made me a little wistful to read about smelling it again after time had passed. Even if its current formulation is a thinned-out version of its former self, I can’t help but think there is something kind of romantic about that? Like that Barbara Streisand song about misty, water-colored memories?

    (but there is still some fist-shaking at tamed-down reformulations) November 5, 2012 at 10:35am Reply

    • Suzanna: Good point, Daisy! But still, if you are able to do side-by-side comparisons, it is a travesty. Not sure why things are thinned out; I do understand materials regulations, costs, and availability, but watering down is odd, and sometimes the scent is not recognizable and should be appended with a warning or a new name. November 5, 2012 at 11:20am Reply

  • Patt: I still adore vintage Coco, but Coco Noir is another story! November 5, 2012 at 11:50am Reply

  • Suzanna: Patt, I have some Coco Noir and to my surprise am wearing it happily. No, it doesn’t fit with the rest of my Chanels (the statelier ones), but it is quiet enough that I can wear it without provoking remark. November 5, 2012 at 11:52am Reply

  • Euphrosyne: I was and still am a fan of Poison (of course the vintage IS better, but this is the case with most perfumes). I have learned the hard way, however, that this is a 1 spritz beauty, never for the office and it’s usually better in cooler weather (though I have been know to do 1/2 a spritz in the summer when I’m in the mood).

    This is a scent (in it’s original incarnation) that could never be a mainstream release today – Serge Lutens perhaps, but the current house of Dior, alas never. Fewer and fewer ‘adult’ mainstream releases, which means I’m regulated to wearing classics and niche. Thanks for another wonderful piece of writing… November 5, 2012 at 3:44pm Reply

    • Suzanna: You are welcome, Euphrosyne, and I am glad you enjoyed this post!

      I agree that Poison could never be a mainstream release today (mass market). And Obsession wouldn’t be either, and Dune, and so on.

      Classics are great! November 5, 2012 at 8:08pm Reply

  • ralu: Poison hasn’t made an impression on me. I tried it but cannot recall it. I am a fan of Pure Poison and like it for the office. In general I am big on white florals and tuberose is my favorite note ( I have CF, NdT and TC) so I will give Poison another try. :)
    Great review! :) November 5, 2012 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Give it a try, ralu, and try the vintage also if you can. It was a trailblazer. November 5, 2012 at 8:09pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: “Poison” was aptly named. It has always reminded me of some cheap, ghastly, sub-”Two-Buck Chuck” wine like Manischevitz (sp?) or something made of spoiled grapes. I like big perfumes, but not this one! November 5, 2012 at 4:28pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Ha, ha! “Two-buck Chuck” wine. Yes, I can see that. You know what was worse? The dupes of it. Horrendous swill! November 5, 2012 at 8:10pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I never wore this back in the day. I did start wearing perfume in the eighties, Anaïs Anaïs first and Paris second. I do remember trying it repeatedly and not really liking the opening, but enjoying the drydown. Never enough to want to purchase it however. I have a small bottle of esprit de parfum which I sniff occasionally.
    I can never smell it now without thinking of Abrahams tanks though, but that is due to Luca Turin’s hilarious review of it in the Guide. November 5, 2012 at 4:46pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Love that kind of association, Lynn Morgan!

      I like the drydown best, too. November 5, 2012 at 8:10pm Reply

  • Leonie: I just remember the time when entire Moscow underground smelled like Poison, when even the ventilation vents at the entrance breathed hot air scented with Poison, or so it seemed like! It was equally wonderful and exasperating, and I loved it. There is truly nothing like this perfume to evoke memories of youth and first parties, and really really I don’t think there was a ground breaking and joyful perfume like this one since. November 5, 2012 at 4:48pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Leonie, I suspect many subway systems worldwide smelled of it!

      You may be right about the end of groundbreaking perfumes. November 5, 2012 at 8:11pm Reply

  • Cyndi: I agree that it’s been “watered down” since the 80s. Can’t think of another fragrance with such polarizing qualities, with the exception of Angel.

    However, Hypnotic Poison is rather nice – especially this time of year – but it has the “toothpaste-y” quality. But on certain days, it feels quite right. November 5, 2012 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Suzanna: Yes, HP does have a vague toothpaste quality. I still like it. Think will wear it soon. November 5, 2012 at 8:12pm Reply

  • Moi: You and I must be similar in age, because many of your trips down perfume memory lane mirror mine. My best friend wore poison for years, which meant it was off limits for me, but I remember loving it on her, especially since she was so no-fuss in all other matters of fashion. I recently spotted a couple vintage minis at an antique store. I should go back and snag them. It caused such a stir when it first came out and the fact that mention of it can still raise such strong responses is testament to its greatness, even if so many of us would no longer think of wearing it. November 5, 2012 at 8:18pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Moi, we prob. are the same age. I remember that stir so well. That doesn’t happen nowadays, does it? November 6, 2012 at 9:48am Reply

  • Diana: My only experience of wearing Poison was from a small sample bottle I used during a vacation in Jamaica. The perfume had recently been released. To this day, I think of that wonderful island get-away whenever I smell the juice. November 5, 2012 at 8:57pm Reply

    • Suzanna: What a great memory, Diana, and it reminds me of how perfume is a memory device, better than most. November 6, 2012 at 9:49am Reply

  • annemariec: So many people have a Poison story! Mine is that in 1988 I worked with a young woman who wore it. I vividly remember thinking to myself that a perfume named ‘Poison’ could not have found a more appropriate home than with her. Me, I was a prudish little thing wearing White Linen. I remember how shocked I was to hear her describing to a room full of people how she had lost her virginity in an upstairs flat near where we worked. I now realise that she was probably attempting to escape from a privileged but dull upbringing, testing out herself on the world to see where she might fit. As for Poison, I still don’t wear it but I can appreciate what a fine bit of work it is (or was). I did learn, I hope, to be more careful in my judgments, both of people and perfume! November 5, 2012 at 9:18pm Reply

    • annemariec: Adding: I loved your Thanksgiving anecdote! November 6, 2012 at 3:10am Reply

    • Suzanna: Thanks for sharing that, annemariec. That’s an amazing link between perfume and personal growth and I think many of us can relate.

      I wore White Linen also, a bit earlier than that, though. Your mention of it relative to Poison is fascinating! November 6, 2012 at 9:52am Reply

  • Rednails: I have an oz. bottle of vintage Poison EDT, and I don’t know how young girls wore it. It is beyond vampy, chock full of civet, perfect for 50+, red-taloned me. It’s like an amalgam of Coca-Cola syrup and the strangest flower you ever saw, some carnivorous plant from The Little Shop of Horrors. I love it, but mainstream? Weird. November 5, 2012 at 9:52pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Rednails, I think we all wore enormous perfumes in that era, regardless of whether it was appropriate for the age or not. I always enjoyed that part of perfume appreciation most! November 6, 2012 at 9:47am Reply

  • Annikky: What a lovely post, Suzanna. I especially liked the point about teenagers pulling off Poison the best. There is much complaining about young girls and the omnipresence of sweet fruity florals these days, and not without cause. But IF they decide to go for something bold, I find the result can be really great (this is of course true not only for perfume, but fashion and other things as well). Probably because at that age people tend to be very intense and uncompromising and also not that worried about offending others. So striking statements can come naturally.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a “real-time” experience with Poison, I was too young when it came out and I doubt it woud have been easily attainable here (Soviet-era Estonia) anyway. I have smelled the current version several times, but it has not made a lasting impression – must try to get my hands on some vintage stuff, I have a hunch I would like it. November 6, 2012 at 4:16am Reply

    • Suzanna: Annikky, the current version wouldn’t have made any impression on me, either. Good point about things not being available in the Soviet era. I haven’t considered that when I discuss my own experiences, but now I will. November 6, 2012 at 9:45am Reply

  • Noah: What made the original formula so expensive? November 6, 2012 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Suzanna: That’s a question probably better answered by Victoria, who would have much better insight than I. V.? November 6, 2012 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: It wasn’t as pricey as Chanel No 5 or Jean Patou Joy, but it had some rich natural materials–rose, jasmine, tuberose. November 6, 2012 at 3:13pm Reply

      • Suzanna: Thank you, V.! November 6, 2012 at 4:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: It is such a fascinating perfume!

          Does anyone remember the scene from the movie The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, in which Rebecca de Mornay wears Poison to seduce the husband of the woman she holds responsible for her miscarriage? November 6, 2012 at 4:50pm Reply

          • Daisy: I remember that movie! Rebecca de Mornay does a great crazy woman. November 6, 2012 at 4:52pm Reply

  • Astrid: I have disliked this fragrance from Day 1. Grape juice…nasty Welsches grape juice is all I smell. Why would I want to smell like a 5-yo’s snack…? November 6, 2012 at 5:32pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Isn’t it interesting how perceptions differ? Thanks for adding to the discussion, Astrid. November 6, 2012 at 11:46pm Reply

    • Wendy: I also dislike poison but it doesn’t smell like grape juice to me, it is just so sweet and strong it makes me feel sick smelling it. I find it hard to believe it’s an oriental fragrance. June 12, 2013 at 5:24am Reply

  • Tori: I LOVE this perfume. I associate it with warmth and excitement and love because my mom wore this perfume throughout my childhood. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone; my mother has a very strong personality so while this perfume is very strong and can be overpowering, it smells just right when emanating from her. No doubt her skin chemistry has something to do with it as well. On her, this dark floral scent (this scent will always be envisioned as a dark purple hue in my mind) intensifies and develops into a nicely balanced bouquet with just enough spice.

    But I dislike it intensely on myself. My skin chemistry pulls all the wrong notes out, making it smell like moth balls, synthetic, ugly and cloying. I much prefer lighter, sweeter scents with a brighter “feel” to them, like Annick Goutal’s Petite Cherie, Gendarme’s Carriere (though I may get stoned by perfume snobs for mentioning this scent) or SL’s Un Bois Vanille. My version of Poison’s strong floral would be Malle’s Carnal Flower. But Poison will always have a special place in my heart and I sometimes open my mom’s bottle just for a sniff and it takes me back to happy times. She’s taken to using Pure Poison now, and I have no idea whether it’s changed from the original. You see, a 5 year old’s sense of smell is usually not that sophisticated. ;) January 8, 2013 at 1:40pm Reply

    • Suzanna: What a great story, Tori, and thanks for taking the time to write it. Indeed, the differences in how we sense perfume are great. I’ve always been able to wear Fracas when my friends have not, and others wear leathers that smelled too tannic and meaty on me.

      I bet you had a sophisticated nose, for a five year old! January 8, 2013 at 4:46pm Reply

  • Alicia: I have never been an enthusiast of Dior perfumes, except one: Dune. Otherwise J’adore leaves me cold,I find Diorisssimo a touch too indolic, Poison is interesting, but not something I would wear often. Miss Dior is less than a shadow of itself. But I love Dune. Otherwise I stick to my Guerlains and Chanels, with a few detours into Caron (Narcisse Noir, Farnesiana), and YSL: beloved Rive Gauche, and in case I miss a big 80s fragrance, then Opium. April 6, 2013 at 8:41am Reply

    • Danaki: My mom dabbed Chanel No.5 and Shalimar on occasions, and bought me Anais Anais when I turned 11. When she smelt Poison on a work colleague, she actually fainted.

      I never wear anything that has tuberose or orange blossom when I’m with her. July 4, 2014 at 10:10am Reply

What do you think?

From the Archives

Latest Comments

Latest Tweets

Design by cre8d
© Copyright 2005-2014 Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved.