Christian Dior Diorama ~ fragrance review

Christian Dior Diorama perfumer advertChristian Dior Miss Dior & Diorama perfumer advert

Who is your favorite perfumer? Mine is Edmond Roudnitska. In my dreams, Roudnitska insists on naming a perfume after me. "You martini-breathed temptress," he says, "I must capture your essence in fragrance!" He casts his eyes over me, taking in my tangled hair and rumpled vintage dress ornamented with pet fur. He intuits my every thought, even those few not having to do with what I'm going to eat next. Then he creates Eau d'Angela. A masterpiece.

Sadly, Roudnitska is no longer with us. I'm stuck with having to find Eau d'Angela among the perfumes he's left behind. Of that too-small legacy, one of the few I hadn't given a thorough investigation until just this month was Christian Dior Diorama.

Diorama was released in 1949, the second of Dior's fragrances after Miss Dior. In recent years, to buy Diorama and another classic Dior fragrance, Diorling, you had to go to the Bon Marché in Paris or Roja Dove's boutique at Harrods in London. Some people said you could buy Diorama at the Paris Dior flagship store, but other people denied it. Bottom line: smelling Diorama was nearly impossible for stateside perfumistas.

To make it worse, many people who did smell Diorama were disappointed. It was cumin-y, flat, and left a sour rose trail. Those who were lucky enough to have smelled vintage Diorama were doubly vexed at the new version. I can testify that it's true for Diorling — new Diorling is a different creature than the elegant, rich vintage version. One isn't just a weak reflection of the other, either. They're truly different fragrances. I tracked down a bottle of vintage Diorling fairly easily, but I've never seen vintage Diorama for sale for less than a mortgage payment.

Last fall, Dior put Diorama into wider distribution. In the hope that François Demachy, director of olfactory development at LVMH, reformulated it to restore some of its prior glory, I ordered a decant. Saks Fifth Avenue, Diorama's exclusive distributor in the United States, trumpets Diorama as "Dior's newest fragrance" (sure, over 60 years ago!), calls it a "spicy floral," and lists its notes as bergamot, ylang ylang, plum, peach, Turkish rose, Indian jasmine, Egyptian cumin, cedar, and Indonesian patchouli.

On me, this latest incarnation of Diorama is an orange blossom-rose-cumin fragrance with a hint of peach. It wants to cleave to the elegant tradition of the Dior classics Miss Dior, Diorling, Diorella, and Dioressence, but — like those perfumes today, too — in my mind it fails. The orange blossom lends a feeling of gas station soap and crushed vitamin C pills, and the rose is wan and thin. Cuminphobes take note: Diorama's cumin is firmly present from start to finish.

I do smell a nice complication of moss that leads me to suspect Diorama is really a chypre. Roudnitska created Rochas Femme, a peachy, animalic chypre, only a few years earlier. It would be fascinating to smell his original Femme next to the original Diorama. And isn't it interesting that Femme was tarted up with cumin in its latest version, just like Diorama is now (and maybe always was)? In its drydown, Diorama shows a little vetiver, sandalwood, and musk and even hints at Diorella.

I might be singing Diorama's praises rather than being cranky if I didn't already adore two other cumin-y florals: Vero Profumo Rubj Eau de Parfum and Amouage Jubilation 25. Rubj is juicier and lustier than Diorama. It's a different fragrance altogether than Diorama, but if you like the orange blossom-cumin duet, give it a try. Jubilation 25 is a floral chypre with cumin, but its materials smell so rich and complex compared to Diorama's that it's hard not to want to spank Dior's management. You can't remake a Dior theatre dress from the early 1950s in cheap fabric with half the shaping and expect it to look like anything more than an arty take on a bridesmaid's dress. Similarly, you can't expect a beautiful idea in perfume to become beautiful perfume without quality ingredients.

So I guess it's back to dreaming about Roudnitksa and taking comfort in my stock of old Femme, Rochas Mousseline, Diorella, and Frédéric Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse. Maybe I'll add a new dream involving stumbling on an amphore of Diorama perfume from the 1950s. In this one, I'll turn over its tag and find on the back, in faded ink, "Eau d'Angela, love, Edmond."

In the United States, the new Diorama Eau de Toilette is sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue for $90 for 100 ml. In Great Britain, it's sold at Debenham's.

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64 Comments

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  1. FragrantWitch says:

    Lovely as always, Angela. I was starting to sit up and take notice when you said orange blossom-cumin as I love Rubj EdP (thanks to your gorgeous review) but gas station soap stopped me in my tracks. The only time that smells good is in comparison to the actual gas station bathroom. ;-)
    I guess my bum luck with Dior continues, none of them really grab me. My mom is a huge fan of Dioressence but only Dune tempts me to sniff at the Dior counter and even then I leave empty handed. Now, the Guerlain counter is a whole ‘nother story….

    • FragrantWitch says:

      Oh, and (as a former ballerina) I can confirm that Rubj does indeed smell like a ‘ravished ballerina’!

      • Angela says:

        Nice to have it road tested!

    • Angela says:

      I love the classic Diors, but I can’t say that the current formulations of any of them are worth buying, except maybe Diorella. I feel like Dior has let cultural treasure erode by cheapening the gorgeous, groundbreaking classic Diors. It’s so wrong.

      • FragrantWitch says:

        I’ve never smelled any vintage Diors bar my mother’s Dioressence, which I can agree is lovely but not ‘me. I do think all this reformulation is tragic as these fragrances are so much more than just lists of notes – they are part of the rich tapestry of people’s lives and like any art form reveal a great deal about the society and culture in which they were created and loved. It’s a little like turning your back on your past which is never a good idea!

  2. ceelouise says:

    I wore Jubliation XXV yesterday. There’s nothing like it. Sometimes I get a bit of church-y incense like in Mitsouko from it. Did Roudnitska create Cristalle?

    • Angela says:

      I think Henri Robert created Cristalle. Another beauty!

      Do you like Jubilation 25, too? It’s so different than XXV, but also gorgeous.

      • ceelouise says:

        I meant the Jubliation for women is what I wore yesterday! For some reason, I always think it’s the Roman numeral-ed one, even after reading the name in your post.

        • Angela says:

          I thought that might be what you meant!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Angela. I’ve taken a recent interest in vintage Dior, article is perfect timing. Oh, and I am about to buy a decant of the current formulation of Diorama from someone who didn’t care for it.

    • Angela says:

      I’d love to know what you think of it once you’ve had the chance to try it.

  4. Well, it’s not really Dior who’s letting us down, but LVMH. Again.

    Meanwhile, I couldn’t get past the part of your review where you “turned up a vintage bottle of Diorling fairly easily.” My goodness Angela, if you ever need to supplement your income you should contract to hunt up vintage bottles on commission.

    • Angela says:

      Guerlain seems to be holding the line against LVMH, but not Dior.

      I snagged my bottle of Diorling four or five years ago, but I still see them out there from time to time!

      • ggperfume says:

        I second Sweetlife’s idea! Your commission, of course, could be a cut of the perfume (unless it’s not a scent you like, in which case cash will have to do). Let’s see. . . preparing my list now. . .

        • Angela says:

          For you, I’ll do it commission free! Just email your list, and if I stumble across anything I’ll let you know.

          • ggperfume says:

            How kind of you. I’ve just written you at your NST email address. Thanks again!

    • Musette says:

      I was just going to comment on that! After I picked my jaw up off the floor.

      Diorling is one of my great loves and my biggest fear is that the current one is a Bad Idea. So I’ve stopped trying to get my mitts on it. I dream of vintage Diorling. Every Day.

      The new Diorella is lovely – I was surprised at how much I liked it (Full Bottle Like – but at $89 I figured it would be okay either way). I like the open of Diorama (the first 30 seconds) – after that…meh. March mentioned its resemblance to Diorella in the drydown; I can see it but it’s sort of paler/wan-er – and slightly irritating …like an echo in a bad telephone connection.

      Lovely, fun review!

      xo A

      • Angela says:

        That’s the one good thing about the new versions of the classic Diors–at least they’re relatively inexpensive!

        I like your comparison to an echo in a telephone wire, too.

  5. melisand61 says:

    Great review Angela and right on target. Some people like the reformulations of the Diors, but I think that they are either very different or at the best, very pale shadows. I’ll keep trolling ebay for the impossibly expensive originals. Diorling is my favorite with Diorama probably coming in second.

    I too will stick with my vintage Femme and the oh-so-wonderful Jubilation 25. And the older version of AdP Profumo, which rests nicely in the same continuum of animalic/fruity chypres in my chypre-loving mind. As with the Diors, the newer version of Profumo simply makes me sad….It’s pretty, but that’s all it is.

    • Angela says:

      AdP Profumo is positively majestic. So, so beautiful.

      Yes, Miss Dior, Dioressence, Diorling, and now Diorama–they’re just not the same, and it makes me profoundly sad.

    • Suzy Q says:

      Angela and Melisand61,
      How can you tell if Femme is really vintage? Is it the bottle design? I’ve got a sample of vintage and would like to get more.

      • Angela says:

        The bottle design is a dead give away–I think all the modern version of Femme I’ve seen have been in the same bottle with the same lid, font. But Femme is an old fragrance, and you can count on it having changed a little here and there over the years before the big change.

        • Suzy Q says:

          Thanks, Angela.

    • Melissa,

      I love how specific and exquisite your taste in perfume is. I would love to tour your elegant collection someday!

      • Suzy Q says:

        Katie, take your video camera with you on the tour!!! I’d like to see her collection, too.

      • Angela says:

        She really does have terrific taste. I blame her for my love of Mythique, among others.

  6. jirish says:

    Lovely review. I too have fantasies of my favorite perfumer (Andy Tauer) creating a personal scent for me. Haven’t really explored the Diors much. Even the ones still in production seem hard to find, and as for the vintage, fugetaboutit! Just don’t have the luck for vintage anything. But you have reminded me how much I like Jubilation 25.

    • Angela says:

      I’ve decided Jub 25 will be my Diorama since I can’t have Diorama as it was meant to be.

  7. Jill says:

    I love the image of your “rumpled vintage dress ornamented with pet fur”! Great review. I have trouble with orange blossom anyway, but gas station soap and crushed-up vitamin C I would really have trouble with. Somehow I haven’t fallen in love with any Diors, and yet I have a certain fascination with the house and the names of the scents.

    • Angela says:

      It’s probably better not to fall in love with the house at this point. The Dior Couture fragrances are a different story, I guess, but I haven’t tried them yet, except for a taste of Mitzvah.

  8. Abyss says:

    Available at Debenhams, huh? I had no idea. At least in UK we don’t have to jump through to the hoops to try it.

    Thanks for the review, Angela. I’ve been avoiding many of these Diors because I’ve read enough about all the reformulations horrors. What I find really puzzling, though, is that Dior still seem to be able to produce decent new frags occasionally – Dior Homme, that collection of colognes, they tend to get pretty good reviews, right? So why can’t Dior show some respect to the poor oldies? *sigh*

    I’ve a bottle of Diorissimo from a couple of re-formulations back and I’m on the lookout for an earlier version Diorella. I doubt I will be bothering with the rest unless Dior decide to get their act together.

    P.S. I’m a huge fan of Jubilation 25. That one’s easily in my Top 10 all time favourites.

    • Angela says:

      I know! I have to think they simply decided the classic Diors weren’t worth the trouble. It’s such a shame. It’s like deciding not to restore the Pyramids because they don’t get the same number of visitors as Disneyland.

    • Subhuman says:

      This vexes me, too – if Dior can afford to put time, effort and expense into excellent stuff like the new Dior Couture scents, the Colognes, the Poison Elixirs, and mainstreamers like Dior Homme and J’Adore Absolu, why not the landmark classics that helped turn Dior into the fashion and fragrance juggernaut it is today? It must all come down to what’s selling these days, of course, and not many youngsters with disposable incomes are lining up for Diorama or Dolce Vita. It’s a shame, and depressing.

      • Angela says:

        I think you must be right. They must not think it would pay to put good materials into them. The classic Diors are kind of freaky perfumes–in the best way, of course.

  9. ggperfume says:

    You’ve spelled out the sad truth for us again, Angela. Who wouldn’t want to sniff the perfume inspired that drawing on the left? Why bother to re-introduce it if it’s not the same? Now I’ll just have to hope for that lucky find at a yard sale. (As if – I’ve yet to be lucky that way!)

    • ggperfume says:

      “. . . the perfume that inspired that drawing. . .” is what I meant to type.

      • Angela says:

        I knew what you meant!

    • Angela says:

      I agree with you 100%. I know Miss Dior, for example, has long time wearers, but I have to believe that anyone particular enough to favor Miss Dior will know it’s been cheapened.

      • 50_Roses says:

        Exactly what I was thinking. Why not just give the reformulations new names? Just call them something else. If someone knows and has worn the vintage, they will know that the current formulas aren’t the same. And most younger perfume wearers, who have never smelled the original formulas, probably wouldn’t care about the names. As disappointing as it is to have a well-loved fragrance be discontinued, it is worse to find what you think is a bottle of it, only to discover that it has been ruined. I understand about animal ingredients, nitro musks, etc., having to be replaced, but the wholesale cheapening of formulas is disheartening. If you can’t keep it recognizably close to the same scent, either don’t make it or call it something else. OK, rant over.

        • Angela says:

          I feel the same about it. Probably to a lot of perfume buyers, though, Diorama might well be a brand new fragrance and not conceived in the 1940s. They won’t know the difference. I guess Diorama could be a good gateway fragrance for some people, though, who wouldn’t normally consider a cumin-infused fruity chypre.

  10. nozknoz says:

    I’ve been enjoying a decant of Dior New Look 1947, which is very pretty. I had even thought I might need a bottle, but it’s only available in the 8.5 oz vat, which, at $225, costs exactly the same as the lovely travel set of Jubilation 25. HAH!

    • Angela says:

      Those are some big bottles! I was really lucky and got my Jub 25 during the brief moment 1-oz travel bottles were available for $50. Now I’m sorry I didn’t get one of everything.

      I’m looking forward to trying more of the Dior Couture scents.

  11. Jared says:

    Just as a fun little comment here, I had a dream last night where I wound up on some farm that had smelling apparatuses like the Frederic Malle things that blow the fragrant air to you in the scent of choice. The “farm” had every scent ever created, and lo and behold, Diorama was among them, as were the other classic Diors. I was thrilled to finally get the chance to smell them, and in my dream, I did in fact smell it (I hear it’s rare to actually smell things in dreams?) If only I could grasp what my dream-self came up with for the smell of Diorama, something I have never smelled in my waking life! And, probably never will at the rate these are going. But, a very fun and interesting dream all the same. How very timely and psychic that today’s post should coincide :)

    • nozknoz says:

      What a delightful dream, Jared!

    • Angela says:

      I love that dream! How amazing! I wonder what it means?

  12. annemarie says:

    As others have said, I’ve shied away from some of the classic Diors because with reformulations, it all just seems too complex – and expensive!

    However, I mind embarassing myself in this compnay by saying that I can easily tolerate the current Miss Dior, or at least the one I bought about three years ago. I also have a mini of an older iteration, when the bottles were still in black and white check, and the older is certainly deeper and richer. The newer is dryer, but I find it retains enough of its intriguing beauty to keep me wearing it fairly frequently.

    I don’t like to condemn reformulations out of hand. If I can, I comapre new and old, and if the new pleases me, I’ll wear it.

    Diorissimo, however, is another story. The modern screeches artificiality at me, so I don’t wear it. Have never had the chance to try vintage.

    • annemarie says:

      I menad ‘I DON”T mind embarassing myself … ‘. There, I’ve embarrassed myself with my bad typing.

      • Angela says:

        A few typos are welcome–even encouraged so I don’t look as bad!

    • Angela says:

      It’s true–just because something has been reformulated doesn’t mean it’s bad. This is especially true if you don’t have something older made with better materials to compare it with, or if you haven’t smelled a lot of perfume and so can’t really tell when something smells cheap or a little “wrong” somehow. Miss Dior has lots of character in whatever form she’s in, I’m sure!

  13. Angela,

    Another juicy little article of yours connecting the dots between perfumes and their particular joys. Thank you!

    • Angela says:

      You’re welcome, of course!

  14. hongkongmom says:

    Love the article and I especially love your dream that a 1950 amphore pops up……more realistically, I dream(if dreams can be realistic) one pops up, without your name, but at a steal of a price, that u just happen to be the ONLY person who gets to see it at that point in time!!!!! I really wish you get that, along with my wish for robin to get her vintage dioressence.

    Funny thing tho…I have never really liked the diors(blasphemy!!!)…just as well it seems. Phew! I’lle def. stick with jub 25!

    • Angela says:

      I just might faint dead away if I stumbled across an old amphore of Diorama, but you can bet before I hit the ground I’d be clutching that bottle tightly! Thanks for the good wishes, and it might be a blessing at this point that the old Diors don’t excite you.

  15. fleurdelys says:

    LOL-ing at “…martini-breathed temptress…my tangled hair and rumpled vintage dress ornamented with pet fur. He intuits my every thought, even those few not having to do with what I’m going to eat next.” Angela, are we doppelgangers, or long-lost sisters or something? As for the Diors, I have Diorissimo (modern) and Miss Dior bath oil (vintage). Reading the sad stories of reformulation has made me resist trying the rest of the line, even though I enjoy Diorissimo in its current form (never tried the vintage).

    • Angela says:

      We are a select group, we martini-breathed, slatternly gals. I’m glad to know you.

      If you get the chance to try some of the old ones–I’m thinking of Diorling or Dioressence, especially–do jump on it!

  16. Dzingnut says:

    Angela – your opening paragraph is stupendous! I am re-reading it for the 10th time, and it still makes me laugh. It’s brilliant!
    I would so love to find vintage bottles of all the classic Diors (perfectly preserved), because they’ve slid so far down the slippery slope to oblivion in their current incarnations.
    And I’d buy Eau d’Angela unsniffed for sure! (Hopefully it will contain notes of kitteh bref!)

    • Angela says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Finding classic Diors in tiptop shape would really be a dream come true.

  17. prism says:

    this sounds sad to me, given how other reviews of the vintage version call it a rich floral fruity….

    • Angela says:

      Maybe I’m lucky not to have smelled the original. Or–although this is unlikely, I think–maybe the reformulation is an improvement on the original! Nah.

  18. Dolly2 says:

    I would say that J’adore if probably one of the better fruity florals I have tried, but I’d like to try some vintage to smell the difference.

  19. hollyc says:

    In spite of your marvelous review, in spite of respecting your assessments, in spite of knowing better, I am now in possession of a 100 ml bottle of the new Diorama. This is somewhat like Diorella, but the fruitiness is all heavily ripe peach, I get no spritely citrus. And while this is very lovely and quite well done, I get no further development. Not even floral. Just overripe fruit. This has proven quite wearing after a while. I prefer my fragrances with some development to maintain my interest and this just doesn’t. I don’t even get cumin, let alone leather. Diorella progesses through various stages to arrive at a lovely mossy animalic drydown as does Miss Dior (altho their respective drydowns are quite different). Perhaps it will wear differently in the future, but as of right now and one wearing . . . . I shoulda listened to ya Angela!
    Any chance of reviewing the new Diorling that I have read is available at their store in Paris? I promise I’ll listen this time!

    • Angela says:

      Oh no! Of course, if I didn’t have access to a decant I probably would have been lured by the siren smell of Diorama and ordered a bottle, too. I did do a review of vintage and new Diorling (check the reviews, if you’re interested) but that was a few years ago. I don’t know if Dior has changed Diorling since then, but it’s certainly possible. Considering what has happened to many of the classic Diors in the past few years, I’d be afraid to see even more cheapening.

      • hollyc says:

        Fervently repeating “decants first, decants first, decants first . . . .”
        Thanks for the great reviews Angela, going now to look up Diorling!

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