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.