When I first smelled Jean Patou Joy, I thought, “What’s the big deal?” Here was an iconic fragrance, reputedly the most expensive perfume in the world (this was before Clive Christian hit the scene), and Jackie O’s favorite. To me, though, Joy smelled ho-hum. Sure, it wasn’t offensive, but it didn’t excite, either.
Well, I was crazy. Now I recognize Joy for what it is: a classic, womanly, gorgeously balanced scent. It is the olfactory equivalent of a 1950s Dior dinner suit — flattering, adaptable, and luxurious down to its hand-basted seams.
Henri Alméras created Joy in 1930, just after the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. The story goes that in response to the dark mood that settled over the western world, especially the United States, Jean Patou directed Alméras to create an extravagant perfume. Alméras complied, and Joy’s hallmark is the 28 dozen roses and 10,600 jasmine flowers that go into every ounce of extrait. Architect Louis Süe designed Joy’s emerald-cut bottle.
According to Osmoz, Joy’s top notes are aldehydes, peach, and leafy green. Its heart is rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, and tuberose; and its base is sandalwood, musk, and civet. In the Eau de Toilette and the Parfum, the notes unroll differently. The Eau de Toilette starts with a fizzy, stemmy neroli, then a few minutes later bursts into roses tangled with full-bodied but fresh jasmine. The Eau de Toilette stays close to the skin once it dries down and fades into dull roses and a vague warmth after a few hours. But overall, Joy Eau de Toilette feels bright and, well, joyous.
The Parfum, on the other hand, builds on the Eau de Toilette’s lighthearted theme to remind us that real joy is beautiful, calm, and lush, and may be most deeply appreciated by people who know that true pleasure isn’t as simple as it seems. The Parfum’s opening isn’t as crisp as the Eau de Toilette’s, and its heart of luscious roses and jasmine is richer. But the biggest difference between the Eau de Toilette and Parfum is in the dry down. The Parfum’s base is surprisingly spicy and animalic. Joy Parfum seamlessly morphs from a complex floral explosion to something darker, and unless you already knew Joy, you might not recognize the dry down and the heart as the same fragrance.
Despite closing in on 80 years old, Joy doesn’t smell particularly retro. In fact, although Joy might be a natural for a woman who knows her way around a Ferragamo, I’d love to smell it on a tattooed cocktail server in a smoky bar. Joy has a depth that complicates its otherwise straightforward beauty. Modern takes on Joy’s theme, such as Lorenzo Villoresi Donna, smell thin and simple in comparison.
If, like me, you tried Joy once a long time ago and weren’t overly impressed, it’s time to give it another go. The good new is that with all the ultra-luxe perfumes coming out these days, Joy is no longer even close to the most expensive perfume on the market.
Jean Patou Joy is widely available in department stores and at discounters online, and it comes in bottles as varied as thousand dollar Baccarat crystal to 6 ml purse sprays.