The Christian Dior Poisons, part 1: Poison and Tendre Poison

Christian Dior Poison fragrances

Poison was launched by Christian Dior in 1985. The fragrance was intended to revitalize the brand's fragrance offerings, which had taken on a distinctly old-fashioned aura — before the release of Poison, the brand's biggest seller was the 1947 fragrance Miss Dior.

Poison represented a break with Dior's past in more ways than one. It was considerably more expensive than the fragrances which preceeded it in the Dior line, and had a more modern, youthful image. The name, however, is what caused most of the early controversy. Maurice Roger, the president of Parfums Christian Dior, noted at the time:

Finally, I realized you can afford to be a little controversial as long as your product is noble. There are some 56 launches a year in Europe and some 35 in the U.S. That's a lot of noise. You have to be exceptional to break through that wall. The name of a perfume is like the title of a book or the cover of a magazine — it has to be attractive and make a difference. (Women's Wear Daily, 6/21/1985)

Of course, what Roger called "a lot of noise" back in 1985 has now reached deafening proportions, but at any rate, his gamble paid off handsomely. The juice itself was created by perfumer Edouard Flechier, and the heady cocktail includes notes of orange blossom, honey, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, plum, rosewood, rose, tuberose, wild berries, cistus labdanum, carnation, jasmine, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, vanilla, heliotrope and opopanax.

Marlen wrote an appreciation of the original Poison last year, so I won't go into a full scale review. Given that my favorite perfumes at the time were the comparative lightweights Eau de Givenchy and Prescriptives Calyx, it is probably no surprise that I hated Poison when it was released. While I don't exactly adore it today, I have made my peace with it: it is far, far easier to appreciate its good points now that everyone on earth isn't wearing 2 sprays too many. Whatever you think of Poison, it is safe to say that it has now reached iconic status, and it seems fitting to give Flechier the last word:

Today, I do not think it would be possible to go as far as we did with Poison. The new perfumes are tame by comparison. I think that's why Poison has become a classic, because all the classics have an extreme dosage of some component. Consider Chanel no. 5 (1921), for example, with its overdose of aldehydes; Vent Vert (1947) with its jolt of galbanum; or Shalimar (1925) with its signature of ethyl vanillin. (quoted in Perfume Legends by Michael Edwards, p. 227)

It is almost unimaginable today to think that Christian Dior wouldn't have a Poison flanker on the market within the next year or so, but times were different then, and it was 1994 before they followed up with Tendre Poison. Also developed by Edouard Flechier, Tendre Poison was meant to appeal to a younger audience. The notes include galbanum, mandarin, freesia, orange, honey, vanilla and sandalwood.

Tendre Poison starts with a blast of galbanum floating over very sweet floral and citrus notes, and for a few moments one might imagine that it is going to pay tribute to Poison in more ways than one. But once it settles, Tendre Poison is, well, "pretty", and has nothing like Poison's in-your-face arrogance. Tinged with green and amply sweetened with vanilla honey, Tendre Poison has a simpler floral character, with none of the heavy spices or dark oriental underpinnings of the original Poison. It is lighter, greener and fresher than Poison, but all the same, it is not an ethereal or delicate scent: what it does have to say, it says rather loudly, and it does not strike me as a particularly youthful scent. Of the two, I prefer the first Poison.

Both Poison and Tendre Poison can be found most anywhere. A sampling of bargains: a 30 ml spray of the original Poison is $30 at parfum1; a 100 ml spray of Tendre Poison Eau de Toilette is $35 at scentiments.

Tomorrow: Hypnotic Poison and Pure Poison.

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23 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    An 80yo chemistry teacher in highschool would launch into hissy fits when my friend Ana wore her mother's Poison to class….(circa 1989)

    “Who is wearing Poison?? Who is it, Oh… I have a privileged nose… I will find you out! NOBODY WEARS POISON in this class BUT ME!”

    Ana shivered all class long and we all laughed…And she did it again every week. :-)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ah, Poison, the love of my misspent youth LOL I absolutely adored it when I was 13-16, heh. Still love it, but never wear, don't know why. All the new 'Poisons' are just pale shadows in comparison. But, as Flechier notes, it is not possible now to go as “far” as Poison. Flechier and Roger say some wise things there, in those quotes. Thank you very much for the review, R!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a great story, thanks for posting it!

  4. Anonymous says:

    LOL at “the love of my misspent youth”…I don't suppose I can claim a misspent youth while wearing Eau de Givenchy, can I? Too tame a backdrop for wild adventures.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I too wore Poison, back in the day. I was vacillating between being a rock n' roll chick (big bleached hair) to being a punk chick (mohawk…hideous). Poison seemed to be appropriate for those times, though I will admit, I never really LOVED it as a fragrance, more as an idea…weird.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Ah, memories! Poison was my first real perfume purchase as a young woman, and I felt so grown-up and sexy in it. Haven't worn it in years but I have lots of fond memories of it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I feel much the same way you do about the original Poison … I have always been able to resist it, but now I appreciate it from a distance. I am interested by Flechier's comment, “…all the classics have an extreme dosage of some component.” It is the delicacy and artistry found when that “extreme dosage” is in some way balanced that I think is the hallmark of a classic's construction. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, to hear what you say about the only Poison I wear, HP … thank you for a great post, R. xoxo

  8. Anonymous says:

    I've tried and retried the Tendre, always in vain: it's somehow unbalanced and harsh on me. Poison is strong on me, but never harsh. I think with Tendre they tried to make it edgy with the greenness, but it's more at movie danger rather than any actual danger like that in the orignial Poison.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I wore it and adored it back in the day, although it's no longer in my repertoire. I do think this is one of those relatively rare, outstanding marriages of juice and bottle, though… the bottle, like a dark, poisoned apple, is absolutely perfect for the dangerous, sensuous liquid it contains. Iconic — yes.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Well, I love Poison more as an idea than as a perfume too, I guess…and funny how the idea will fit either of the personas you were vacillating between. Today I would guess Angel will fit that same bill?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Yes, would agree. Of course, it is also true that the “extreme dosage” provides its own advertising…all of the perfumes he cited have impressive sillage, so everyone can smell them and they become instantly identifiable, whether you love them or hate them.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Yes, that is exactly right: harsh but not really edgy.

  13. Anonymous says:

    My first “grown up” perfume was Coriandre, and I remember it fondly too :-)

  14. Anonymous says:

    Agree about the bottle, and somehow, the amulets they released this year work with the concept too.

  15. Anonymous says:

    ha, how funny you say that, because I own a bottle of Angel too. It smells incredible on me…I have to admit. I don't wear it often, though, pretty much only on the rare (very very rare) occasion I go out to a club, ha! Right now I'm wearing Bois D'Iris, on your recommendation (I love going through the archives on this site, trying new things) and I do love it. I've gotten so many decants (and bottles) on your recommendation, Robin, and you and I have much of the same tastes in perfume! Thank you!

  16. Anonymous says:

    I have made my peace with Poison, but not yet with Angel, LOL…have a feeling it will be a harder sell since I still smell it everywhere I go. But nice to know we have similar tastes otherwise ;-)

  17. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, Angel's a tough one…smelling it on other's makes me sort of nauseous, which is odd because I do like it on me. I have to wear the tiniest amount, though, because it's overpowering.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Oh, how I loved Poison in esprit de Parfum. The bottle and name and juice were all equally magical. The perfume was so bold and distinctive, love or dislike, you never could forget it. I also like Hypnotic Poison although I haven't replaced my 1 fl oz yet.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Completely agree that it is an unforgettable scent, S, and I would add to Flechier's statement — the other component of a classic is that it is loved & hated in equal measure.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I LOVED the original Poison. I purchased a bottle last year only to be totally disappointed!! It doesnt smell the same! It seems to have a musty” after “scent to it. Why do they reformulate scents only to ruin them?

  21. Anonymous says:

    I hate reformulations too, although they can't always help it — some ingredients are no longer available or are restricted. Still, it's usually just because they're cheap & won't spend the money to do a proper job. Sorry you've lost your favorite :-(

  22. Anonymous says:

    I have been looking for the original Poison recently. My wife of 13 years used to wear it and since we were dating has moved more to body sprays. I thought that for our anniversary this year I would get her a bottle for a trip down memory lane. It would be magical for me too as that scent has a powerful hold on me as it brings back great memories. Every once in a while I will be walking with/through a crowd and think that I got a wiff of it on someone and I will try and figure out who is wearing it to get another smell. It is disappointing to hear that it has been reformulated and that it may no longer smell the way I remember it. Does no one have supplies of the original before it was reformulated? Also, where is a good place to buy it online?

    –Tiger

  23. Anonymous says:

    If you want to be sure, you could look for a vintage bottle on eBay, but I'd smell it first at Sephora or someplace and see what you think of the new version.

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