Christian Dior Dioressence, vintage & new ~ perfume review

Dioressence fragrance by Christian Dior

Although it took me a while to appreciate some of the classic Christian Diors, as I've become more experienced with perfume I've come to love them more and more. For instance, the first time I tried Miss Dior and Diorella, I wasn't sure about them. They were intriguing, but I wasn't ready for them yet. Dioressence, on the other hand, I loved at first sniff. What I didn't know was that my first sniff was of the vintage Dioressence.

Dior's website describes Dioressence as a "spicy oriental" and lists its top notes as aldehydes, greens and fruit; its heart as jasmine, geranium, cinnamon, carnation, orris, ylang ylang and tuberose; and its base as patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, vanilla and musk.

Osmoz lists Dioressence as a "floral chypre" and adds orange and bergamot to its top notes; rose to its heart; and benzoin to its base.

Guy Robert, the legendary nose responsible for Hermès Calèche, Rochas Madame Rochas, and Chanel No. 19*, created Dioressence in 1979. In The Emperor of Scent, Chandler Burr recounts Luca Turin telling the story of how Dior executives asked Robert to create a fragrance that was "animalic", would live up to the slogan le parfum barbare, and would be called Dioressence (p. 146, paperback edition). The rest was up to Robert. He didn't have a firm direction for the fragrance until kismet intervened and Robert washed his ambergris-coated hands with soap impregnated with the scent of a Miss Dior knock-off. Bingo! Animal and elegance with a clear tie to Dior.

Burr goes on to record Turin's response to the current, reformulated version of Dioressence as "...it's now a lie, a total lie to the original, to what it was." Later, Turin wrote in his now defunct blog, “The last time the word barbare was used in earnest in perfumery was in the slogan of Dioressence, and that was the genuine article with a weird, scary, overripe, almost garbage-like note.” I read all of this before I ever smelled Dioressence, but I was still eager to smell it, no matter what the version. A "weird, scary" note? Who could resist that? I figured that my nose probably wasn't sophisticated enough to pick up on any compromise in the new Dioressence. After all, I liked the new Miss Dior well enough.

I arranged for a sample of Dioressence through a swap, and eagerly sprayed it on my arm. It kicked off with an intriguing mix of soap and rot. The rot was not musky like body odor, but decomposed, like the vague dead squirrel smell I catch here and there in Guerlain Jicky and Shalimar. The rot smell faded to the background, and a gorgeous floral bouquet, languorous and spicy, nudged in, supremely blended and supremely French in feel. For all its richness, Dioressence wasn't heavy, and even though the sample was only of the Eau de Toilette, it lasted for hours. I had to have a bottle of it.

Perhaps you noticed the foreshadowing I put in the first paragraph. Yep, my new bottle of the reformulated Dioressence was a bitter disappointment. I felt robbed. The sample I'd first tried and fell in love with must have been vintage. Instead of a compelling, odd, but beautiful scent, I had a bottle of pleasant, rosy, spicy, soapy fragrance that lasted on the skin two hours, tops. I should have been warned when I saw that Dior had moved away from its original barbare description of Dioressence toward the innocuous "mysterious Orient" theme.

All I can say is: Dior, shame on you. I see that recently Dior decided to make the classic fragrances (Miss Dior, Diorella, Diorissimo, and Dioressence) more exclusive in the United States by selling them only at Saks Fifth Avenue. Dior also recently released three expensive, limited edition fragrances (La Collection Particuliere). None of these moves toward repositioning Dior perfume as truly top shelf will succeed as long as the juice is a cheap imitation of its original glory. I'd rather pay twice as much for a vintage bottle of Dioressence (which will last me twice as long having twice the persistence, by the way) than buy a new bottle any day. Poor Guy Robert. Well, at least he still has Chanel No. 19.

Dioressence is available in Eau de Toilette at Saks Fifth Avenue for $54 for a 50-ml spray and $76 for a 100-ml spray.

* Oops, Chanel No. 19 was by perfumer Henri Robert.


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46 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It was a cinnamony, green-soapy scent on me too (new, presumably) – not unpleasant, but very reminiscent of those fancy guest soaps from the 80's in shell shapes and whatnot. Although I have to nod to the irritation in general I have of houses messing with formulas, in soem ways it doesn't help at all, seeing people like LT say that stuff is crap and swill and pale now. I don't have the time (or money, I suppose) to scrounge and hunt for vintage, and often I find apparently blasphemous reformulations fine, good, terrific on their own merits, perhaps sadly, but because they beat most of what's brand new out there by a mile (although there seems to be a slow trend back towards more womanly, complex scents now) – Rochas Femme, Cabochard, Mitsouko, Habanita, etc. Clearly looking at my perfume tray, I'd probably be happier than a pig in…. if the originals were very easily accessible, but I must say I don't spend much time weeping or shaking my fist over it either.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think I would have thought Dioressence was pretty, but not a must have, and would have left it at that if I hadn't smelled the vintage first. (And then wasted money on the new version, thinking that what I'd smelled.)

    Right now, 50 ml of Dioressence is $54. I'd be willing to pay more if they'd bring back the old, daring version. (Anyone out there from Dior listening?)

  3. Anonymous says:

    I'm still catching up on the classic Diors, so I enjoyed this review!

    I also noticed that this vintage Dior ad seems to be inspired by the painting “Repose” by John White Alexander (1895). Just a bit of art trivia for you. :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Interesting, thanks, Angela. I first smelled Dioressence a couple of years ago (before I had given myself up to this obsession!) on the basis of the Osmoz description and was vaguely disappointed without knowing why. Then I read The Emperor of Scent and the penny dropped. I tried the reformulation again recently and like you, it lasted barely 2 hours and was undistinguished. I'm guessing the ingredients, especially the ambergris, made the original extremely expensive but seeing as Dior have just brought out those 3 in the vulgar bottles at an eye watering price point they clearly aren't worrying about customers budgets! (I have read some good reviews of the new 3 though so maybe all is not lost at Dior).

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Angela, abt 20 years ago I had Miss Dior plus matching the body lotion. It was superb, very feminine, chic, seductive and so much more. Do I want Miss Dior back in my life?! No..for there are too many memories attached to that perfume, memories that do not match in my life of now.

    Hope that you will find a full unopened bottle of your beloved vintage Dior fragrance very soon ! :-)

  6. Anonymous says:

    I love this ad and would like to find a book of Gruau's work, if there's one out there. Thanks for the art history reference!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Dior doesn't spend much (if any) money advertising the classic Dior scents, so why not spend a little on the actual perfume? Maybe all they care about is Miss Dior Cherie and selling gigantic, expensive handbags, but most of the Miss Dior Cherie wearers will eventually want to graduate to a more sophisticated scent.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It's amazing how scent can attach itself to feelings and memories. Music seems to do that, too. I try not to listen to a new record when my life is in turmoil, because I know that music will be wrecked for me. On the other hand, I like to buy a new scent to wear on a big vacation, because I know I'll always associate it with that time in my life.

  9. Anonymous says:

    M, Thank you!

    I know what you mean about scent and memories. Scent can really attach itself to a person or a time in your life.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am so excited to read this review on vintage Dioressence. At first, my heart stopped–are my husband and I wrong to see the parfum as a rich, devastatingly sexy rose scent…? Then the veil parted–Osmoz includes rose as a note. It is immediately identifiable on me, from start to finish. This is not a parfum for the meek–but then, all of the vintage Diors are somewhat strange in comparison to modern scents.
    Thank you for writing about this one. I find my heart given completely over to vintage Diors–Miss Dior, Dior-Dior, Diorella… While I'm sure that the reformulations of Diorling and Diorama are different from the originals, I am thankful that someone like Roja Dove has enough sway in the perfume world to have brought them back. It is a shame that a company like Dior will probably never listen to anything that we perfume consumers might say–but at least they listened to someone. Now, if only Dove can convince them to bring back Dior-Dior. It is my favorite!
    I've loved reading your articles on vintage perfumes, Angela…Can't wait for the next one!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I definitely smell the rose in Dioressence–especially in the reformulated version. And you're so lucky, you have the parfum!

    I have yet to smell Dior Dior and Diorama, but I love Diorling, Diorella, and Miss Dior. Maybe Roja Dove could ring up the bigwigs at Dior and get them to work on getting Dioressence back in shape.

  12. Anonymous says:

    “dead squirrel” is … hilariously perfect!

    i've yet to smell any of the vintage diors but did smell diorama in france- i wonder if that's been reformulated as well? it was less strong than i thought it would be; it was one of those scents that had, i don't know, a lot of potential for potency but didn't seem to deliver. that, or it just wasn't for me. ;) either way. i'm dying to smell a vintage chanel 19; i've heard it's way more sharp and leathery. luckily, i like the current EDT formulation, but my curiousity has been piqued. ;)

  13. Anonymous says:

    Yep, the old dead squirrel accord. I'm sure other, more experienced noses could make out more sophisticated aspects of it…

    I'd bet that Diorama has reformulated, too. There's just something about the old Diors–about many of the old, French perfumes–that is so grand and complex. It gives me something to aspire to.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if they've reformulated using cheaper ingredients for economy, or by replacing banned ingredients because they're required to by law? I suppose we'll never know.

  15. Anonymous says:

    In the Emperor of Scent, Burr quoted Turin talking about the decisions of the “accountants at Dior”, so it sounds like it was mostly about saving money.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Angela dear, you tackled one of m mother's most beloved scents. It breaks my heart to find it so unrecognisable.

    Yes, the new one is utterly ruined I am afraid (the fate has befallen Cabochard as well, another of mum's favourites): but beware! That happened quite some time ago: before 1998-99.

    In fact when they relaunched the bottles there was some change evident :-(

    I also attribute the substitution of ambergris with the general scarcity of it on the market: it's not everyday that one come by it, you know and Dior would have much more elevated needs in terms of quantity. Not that I am pooh-poohing the issue, of course…

  17. Anonymous says:

    Dior would definitely plenty of ambergris–but isn't there some acceptable synthetic substitute? (I don't know anything about this, of course.) And I feel like other aspects of the fragrance have changed, too. For instance, it just doesn't last as long, and the rose is so much more prominent.

    Oh well, there are still plenty of beautiful perfumes out there…and vintage Cabochard is one of them. I have a tiny vial of the parfum, and I pull it out when I truly mean business.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Reposted to remove long URL:

    On January 30, 2008 Pillina said:

    I can't understand Dior wants to sell a reformulated version. I loved Dioressence and I also would feel robbed. I had the same experiance with Caleche that is has been also reformulated by Hermes. I found a very interesting online store here that I like to share with you

    http://www.latuaprofumeria.com/

    unfortunately it is in italian, but the word “Profumi Rarità” are the difficult to find perfume, like the Schuberth range (here: http://tinyurl.com/2jkx8q).

    Reply to this comment

    On January 30, 2008 AngelaS said:

    I didn't know that Caleche has also changed! Another Guy Robert.

    Reply to this comment

  19. Anonymous says:

    Well, the way I see it is there are 3 camps of opinion. One, there are those who fall for a perfume based on it's original release to the public, which is when it makes its reputation to be great or to fail. These people see it as a lie to change or reformulate a scent and still ride on the coattails of its original reputation. Then there are those who don't mind a tweeking of reformulation to “update and modernize” a classic scent. Aand then there are still others who fall for a scent for the first time on its new version and feel that its original reputation is now worthy of the same name, similar but not the same scent.

  20. Anonymous says:

    And I've fallen into each of the three camps, depending on what I was able to smell first (or at all). For instance, I really like the new Femme and Arpege even though they're definitely not the same as the originals when you smell them side by side. I'm happy with the new Miss Dior, even though it's slightly simplifed from the vintage. But now that I've tried the original Dioressence, the new version just doesn't cut the mustard for me.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I haven't paid much attention to perfume because I wear only one – Dioressence. I know… boring. But it's the only perfume I've ever found that I really like. Not that I've been looking for anything else. (And I could swear that I bought my first bottle at Nordstrom about 1975, the year I graduated from college.) I used to purchase it from Catherine's in Paris and loved getting that package from France. It seemed to me that the perfume I bought from France was different than what was available in the U.S. I have noticed a change over the years, even in the color of the perfume. I, too, would love to get some of the vintage stuff. Since I must, I will remain happy with the current version.

    But Dior should know – I would pay more for the good stuff.

    • Robin R. says:

      Your memory serves you well. According to Luca Turin in Perfumes: The Guide, Dioressence was released in 1969. It was my best friend’s mom’s signature scent in the early seventies.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Well, if you have to choose only one perfume, Dioressence is a great one–especially in its original formulation.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hello there. I wish I know how a dead squirrel smell but I don't so I'm writing you this – I wonder how far back do we have to go in order to get vintage Dioressence? In their current bottles I notice that there are two types – the name is written on a stickler label or if we go back further, it's printed on the bottle using paint. Is the paint version vintage enough? I have one bottle of each of these and I find the painted version has heavier rose and geranium in it. Or do we have to go back to the striped (?) tall long glass version they used to sell in mid 90s or even earlier?

  24. Anonymous says:

    I think I know the bottles you're talking about. The most recent version–the one I purchased not long ago at Saks–is smooth with an oval-shaped sticker. The vintage sample I had was in a little glass tube, so I'm not sure what bottle it came from. I feel like it's a good bet that the tall, wide bottle with the label all the way around it is the old version. As for the bottle you mention, tall with a painted label, I'm not sure.

    But in the end, which version do you prefer? That's the one to keep!

  25. Anonymous says:

    I could not help but say something here because I am a Dioressence convert. Now, as strange as it sounds, I detest the new one and recently found some vintage EDT and parfum. The parfum is rich, a bit too potent for everyday wear, but I love the EDT. I tried both the new and vintage EDT on my hands and after an hour, the new one was just harsh. A totally different perfume altogether. The vintage smoother, and has very superior ingredients. Now, I am trying to find vintage Diorella because I hear the new one pales in comparison. Good luck with your search for vintage Dioressence. If you want any, let me know.

  26. Anonymous says:

    You are so lucky to have a bottle of the vintage! It is shocking to try them side by side, I agree. Your offer to share is generous, but I would never deprive a sister Dioressence lover of even a drop of her stash!

    Now I'm panicked over Diorella. I have the new Diorella, and I like it. If I tried the old version and it was a lot better it would be so disappointing. Grr.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I have not smelled the vintage Diorella, and I do like the new one. I have never liked the new Dioressence from the beginning though. I am still in the look out. I shall keep you posted if I do find one…

  28. Anonymous says:

    Please do! I'd love to know what you think of it.

  29. Anonymous says:

    hello from new zealand! i've been wearing dioressence since college (90s) in the US and have found since moving to NZ that it is unavailable. the counter girls claim it has been discontinued! i don't know if i was using “vintage” or “new” dioressence, but whatever it was, i loved it! please tell me it's only because i live at the bottom of the world that i can't find my fave perfume!

  30. Anonymous says:

    I can tell you with confidence that it's definitely NOT been discontinued. It seems that Dior has been rejiggering who it sells the classic Diors through, and shops that once carried the classic Diors, like Miss Dior, Diorella, and Dioressence, aren't selling them anymore. In the United States, you have to go to Saks to buy them. I bet you can order Dioressence online from Saks.

    Good luck finding it! Dioressence really is a wonderful perfume.

  31. Anonymous says:

    It is not discontinued, but the Dior counters in Singapore have stopped selling them. This could be due to the fact that Dioressence does not sell well in Singapore. I have however seen these being sold at the Dior counters in NY, London and Paris. Lots of discounters continue to sell Dioressence, though sadly, they all carry the reformulated version in the light green liquid. The vintage EDT I own has dark brown juice and is simply perfect. Good luck finding it.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I have a vintage Dioressence mini and I tried it the other night and couldn't quite put my finger on what made it so “different” — “dead squirrel?” Right on! It's very interesting stuff and makes you really miss the days when perfumes were more “challenging,” you know? Anyway, this vintage almost-full bottle is up for swap on makeupalley if anyone's interested.

  33. Anonymous says:

    'Dead Squirrels'! I have, thankfully, never smelt a dear squirrel before and hope never to! Is your mini the EDT or parfum? I have both and while the parfum is alot more complex and heavy, I find the vintage parfum very smooth, spicy and chypre. Nothing 'off'. Maybe your bottle of the mini has turned? I do find something strange with the newer version of Dioressence though. There is something harsh which the vintage does not have. Angela? Are you there? Are you liking your bottle of Vintage Dioressence?

  34. Anonymous says:

    Miss Dior and Diorella are “strange” in that fabulous way, too. I really do love the classic Diors.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Yep, I'm here. I love my vintage Dioressence, and I do mostly because of the strange, rotting smell hidden in it–rot mixed with soap, weirdly enough. The parfum must be heaven! The newer version smells rosy and relatively bland to me in comparison.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Dioressence always reminded me of weddings and romances and beautifull make up and elegant clothes, I just fall in love all over again.

  37. Anonymous says:

    It really is wonderful–definitely in my top 10 all time favorites.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Am I ever glad I found your comments (well sort of). I have been wearing Dioressence since the late 80's and have never found another perfume that I like or would wear.

    I have been finding it gradually more difficult to buy, but a few years back managed to find it in a duty free shop at Heathrow and as I was nearly out, purchased 2 bottles.

    If I had known then what I have now, I would of bought the shop's entire stock.

    Initially thinking it was just not as popular in Australia and thus not stocked, I always thought I'd be able to buy it O.S. duty free whenever I travel. BUT having just arrived back from O.S. I was dismayed to discover I couldn't find it anyway, duty free or not.

    Thinking I would have to resort to buying it online I googled and although initially thrilled to see the recent hits (yours being the first one I looked at), I am devestated to read your comments.

    I cannot believe that the 15mls or so I have left, are the end to more than 20yrs of wearing Dioressence.

    Thank-you for your comments, without reading this if I had found it stocked somewhere, (not knowing it has changed) I would of spent a fortune for nothing.

    Shame on Dior!!!

  39. Anonymous says:

    Dioressence is really wonderful, and even the new Dioressence is better than nothing–it's certainly worth a try. The new Dioressence seems less mysterious and more clearly a rose perfume, but you might like it well enough. In the meantime, keep your eyes on ebay and cross your fingers that Dior decides to reissue a tighter formula!

  40. Anonymous says:

    Loved reading the original piece, even if a year old. Dioressence was the first real “adult” perfume I ever used. I rarely wear anything because I can't get Dioressence and want to keep the little bit I have. Didn't even realize there was a “new” one but glad I know so I can avoid it. I have a small half bottle left along with a small talcum powder. I hoard them. Crazy I know.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Do try the new one, too–who knows? You might like it, and then you won't have to hoard such a beautiful fragrance. (Now I have a craving for some Dioressence!)

  42. Lord Alex says:

    Dior Essence was the perfume my former wife wore on evening occasions. I have been unable to purchase this in Australia, being told it was no longer available. It would appear from my understanding of what I am reading here that if I was to find and purchase a bottle today it would not be the same as the one my former wife wore in 1977. Is this the case? If so, is it significantly inferior, does it have the same fragrance at all? It was my favorite and always reminds me of our wonderful times together. I would love to find a bottle to send to her. Or could someone confirm that this would be pointless as the current version is simply not the same.

    • Angela says:

      Lord A, Dioressence is still recognizably Dioressence, but it smells a little more of rose and has a little less of the “bizarre” edge it did when it first came out. Since I wrote this review, Dioressence has been repackaged and almost certainly had its formula tweaked again. Some people say it’s a little better, more like the original, than the version I reviewed (I haven’t smelled the very latest version.) In any case, it’s a wonderful perfume, and I can understand why you’d want to smell it again! Good luck.

  43. swnyrmor says:

    I have been using Dior Vintage Dioressence for many years, a couple of years ago I purchased a new bottle and immediately noticed that it was different, I have tried in vain to contact Dior in London and Paris by email for some explanation of this change and had no reply. I also mentioned it where I purchase my perfume and they were unable to explain! I did read somewhere that they had changed the formula but can’t remember why. I have alo tried to purchase body lotion and shower gel in Dioressence and am unable to buy it in uk or Switzerland can anyone help me here please?

    • Angela says:

      I think when LVMH purchased Dior, they weren’t interested in paying the companies that owned the original formulae, so they decided to remake the fragrances–and cheaply, judging from how they smell. I don’t think we’ll ever have Dioressence the way it used to be.

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