Before I begin, I have two announcements to make: First of all, I want to thank the generous Joanna for sharing a decant of vintage Diorella with me. This review is based on my subsequent wearings of this beautiful rendition, prior to the oakmoss banning days. My second confession is that some ten or so years ago, when Diorella was quite widely available (and before oakmoss was so ridiculously restricted) and it did not quite capture my heart. While I liked its freshness and similarity to the brilliant Eau Sauvage, here was something about it that I disliked - a combination of the heaady floral note of honeysuckle, and the soapy aldehydes at the opening. Time perhaps has been kind with Diorella, because she has aged gracefully. Or perhaps it is an even earlier formulation of the same one. But it is certainly different from the scrubbed and lathered version you’ll find on the Dior counters nowadays.

Way before its time, Roudnitska was at ease incorporating fruit salad elements in his fragrances in a most refreshing, light-weight manner... created in 1972, Roudnitska’s fruit has thankfully no affinity with the syrupy, unbearably sweet fruity-gourmand florals of the new millenia; but rather posessed a cheerful lightness paired with complex substance from more earthy and floral notes of natural raw materials. So again, these are far superior to the light, watery fruity-florals of the 90‘s, though these were strongly influenced by the asthetics that Roudnitska developed with the creation of Eau Sauvage, which introduced the concept of space and expansion to modern perfumery.

Diorella is munching on a honeydew melon (or is it a cantaloupe?). It is ripe, juicy yet somehow still crisp, as it is brilliantly paired with citrusy notes of lemon and bergamot and a touch of spicy-sweet green basil. Her peach-toned skin emanates a scent that is similar to white peach’s delicate, milky and slightly nutty aroma, due to the use of peach aldehyde and peach lactone. These unique fruity notes were both brilliantly used in a non-edible way (as Edmound Roudnitska explains beautifully in Michael Edward’s book, Perfume Legends - French Feminine Fragrances). Rather, it brings freshness and a unique texture to the jus. It is brilliantly paired with effervescent, ethereal and soapy honeysuckle, crushed basil leaves and a tad of the oily aldehydic notes backed with ionones, that simultaneously give the clean impression of triple-milled soap, and the dirty allusion to hosiery that’s been worn and sweated in for at least half a day. That dichotomy between anti-bacterial herbs and animal/human secretion seems to be at the core of Diorella.

The oily aldheyde and peach notes fades rather quickly, allowing the basil and citrus notes more breathing room. Orris butter is present yet very subtle, giving a soft-focus background to the composition, and making it somehow smell more feminine. What truly moves to the forefront is jasmine. Pure, unadulterated, indole-rich jasmine at its best. And it is that indole that will accompany Diorella throughout her strut on the skin and the surrounding air - first an ethereal jasmine, and later on a full, unabridged indolic jasmine, with its fruity, jammy peach-like and earthy and animalic character beautifully showcasing this gorgeous phenomenon. The similarity to Le Parfum de Thérèse as well as Eau Sauvage are striking; but what surprised me what the affinity I discovered with Eau d’Hermes. Also a perfume that is all about jasmine, yet from a very different point of view - more warm, sweet-earthy and spicy. It is probably the juxtaposition of jasmine with ionones that creates that olfactory connection for me.

Last but not least, it’s time to talk about the base notes, the foundation of Diorella. No matter how much Roudnitska denies any connection to Eau Sauvage, the similarity is striking, despite the differences. There is definitely oakmoss, but not nearly as much as in Eau Sauvage, which gives it more of a green, dry and woody character rather than a dense, brown-earthy and musky feel. Vetiver also supports it in this direction. Even the patchouli, which appears in both, seems to be toned down and instead of the big-warm-oily patchouli hug you get in some feminine Chypres such as Miss Dior - there is just a single brush stroke of it, done in aquarelle. Last but not least, where Eau Sauvage has a generous dose of hay, which gives it an almost-fougere quality, Diorella has a subtle sprinkle of tonka bean (or perhaps just pure synthetic coumarin - in reality there is a very small difference between the two), giving it a slightly bitter finish, but with that feminine soft-focus that reflects the orris from earlier on.

Diorella is a very Mediterranean perfume, and truly reminds me of Grasse and the surrounding area, including the perfumer’s home and garden (which I visited in 2009). It also reminds me of a perfume that his son, Michel Roudnitska created way into the future - Eau Emotionelle - also playing on the cantaloupe-jasmine-ionone theme, but in oil-pain strokes rather than the sheer aquarelle of his father's. The culture in that area is greatly influenced by Italy and Spain, and there is something very Italian about it, especially in the opening notes. If Diorella was a woman, she would be one with a very outgoing, young spirit. A woman that loves to laugh and enjoy life’s pleasures, and just goes with the flow - but isn’t audacious or dominant by any means, and is very kind, generous and open but without ever being vulgar in the least. There is something truly carefree, open, fun, bursting with life and joie de vivre about it. In case you didn’t know already - it’s a true masterpiece. It has been relatively recently re-introduced along with the other classic retro Dior-fumes: Diorling, Dioressence, Diorama... I’m sure the new version pales in comparison but I’m nevertheless intrigued to find out what they’ve done to it to overcome the restrictions on jasmine levels and the industry’s new (low) standard of avoiding oakmoss at all costs (even though it is still allowed - the washed-down version of atranol-free absolute, and at only very low percentage).

Top notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Basil, Melon, Aldehydes, Peach
Heart notes: Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Hedione, Orris, Violet
Base notes: Oakmoss, Patchouli, Vetiver, Coumarin

Synthetic Molecules

Synthetic Molecules by Ayala Moriel
Synthetic Molecules, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

My olfactory adventures did not, by any means, end when leaving San Francisco. On July 2nd, my friend D and I drove to Santa Cruz, and we were hoping to stop at The Perfumer's Apprentice to explore some synthetic molecules and say hello to Linda, who for one holiday season a few years ago carried my Palas Atena and Fête d'Hiver perfumes.

While en route, we discovered that the shop in Santa Cruz has shut down, and the premises moved to Felton, which was just on our way there anyway. We rang Linda up and were glad to get a hold of her just as we arrived at Felton!

The Perfumer's Apprentice is now mostly operated as an online shop; but it is open by appointment-only for private perfume-making parties at Linda's garden, which is shaded by ancient oak trees and inhabited by friendly honeybees. We were lucky enough to be received for such a spontaneous, short-notice visit, and be allowed into The Perfumer's Apprentice's warehouse, which housed hundreds of bottles, vials and jars containing both natural extracts and synthetic molecules, as well as flavouring agents and fragrance oils.

I have to admit that being exposed to so many aromatics all at once, even in the well-ventilated space where they are stores, was nothing short than nose-boggling overwhelmence. Often when I'm asked why I decided to be a natural perfumer, I say that it's for complete selfish reasons - I prefer to be surrounded by the mellow, well-rounded naturals than the often harsh, extremely potent and articulate synthetic molecules.

With that being said, even a spoiled nose such as mine has to train itself to embrace the foul as well as the fragrant. And I've set myself a goal this year to study as many as possible of the natural constituents that make up the beautiful, rich and complex essential oils and absolutes I work with every day. Again, for completely selfish reasons - I feel it's important to educate my nose, and be knowledgeable and open minded about synthetics, even if I choose not to work with them or include them in my perfumes.

While some of the constituents are readily available as isolates, others are not so easy to find. So I'm now in the process of collecting small samples of natural constituents (i.e.: naturally occuring aromachemicals in their purest form - i.e.: not within a complex essential oil "compound") so that I can educate my nose and deepen my understanding of the essences I know so intimately from my 10 years of working with them.

And what better place than The Perfumer's Apprentice? It is a heaven for any perfume afficinado that wants to meddle in the art of perfumery, or simply satisfy their curiosity regarding the raw materials widely used in modern perfumery and find out how Iso E Super (overdosed in the popular Eccentric Molecule), Ethyl Maltol (the main molecule in Angel) or Galaxolide (that evil polycyclic musk that pervades all laundry detergents and dryer sheets and pollutes our water supplies as it never breaks down), or are curious to find out what indole (the main constituent in civet, and what gives jasmine it's extra animalic/fecal oomph) smells like - to name but a few examples.

Unfortunately, I left my shopping list on my laptop back in Sonoma county, so my choices were all based on my memory and a few labels that I caught glimpses of while browsing the overwhelmingly fragrant shelves. I picked up a few natural constituents (lab-made synthetics that are naturally occurring), and a few man-made molecules (i.e.: not naturally occurring - aromatics that were entirely made up by creative and/or lucky chemists in the lab). One of the latter ones is Calone, which was accidentally discovered by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in 1951, only to find its (popular) use in perfumery some 40 years later in the late 80's and early 90's, with the aquatic genre of Cool Water, l'Eau d'Issey, Dune, Escape and the like.

And, of course, I HAD to get some Hedione - the beautiful, synthetic molecule that closely resembles an element in jasmine (that gives it its dewy, green, fresh and expansive quality). It is so mellow comparing to all the other potently vile aldehydes, calone etc. that I will have to dedicate a post for it at a later time to give it the attention it deserves (it's this synthetic raw material that makes favourites such as Le Parfum de Therese and Eau Sauvage so beautiful).

I also got Spirogalbanone, an intensely green synthetic lactone, that I wish I had quarantined right away (should have done the same with the aldehydes - they are terribly potent when not individually ziploced and separated from the rest of the crowd...! It smells very much like the sharp, disturbing green opening of galbanum, amplified by 1,000. Not for the faint of heart!

Other than these, most of the materials I've picked were naturally-occuring molecules, but syntheticlaly made - for example: I got a few aldhydes, including C-14 (peach), and C-11 which accounts for the scalp-like, oily-fatty accents in No. 5 that made it so special at the time and smell like a woman, not like a flower... The aldehydes must be diluted down to be of any use. They are traditionally diluted down to as low as 1% (where most materials are diluted down to 10% to study their characteristics). Try to experience them at full strength and prepare to gag.

Among the beauties were Ambroxan (naturally occurring in ambergris, and has excellent stable and fixative qualities and sort of a warm, musky scent), Ambrettolide, which naturally occurs in ambrette seed, and has a clean, what we learn to call "white musk". Also have some raspberry ketone, vanillin, heliotropin, all in crystals so will have to dilute in alcohol to really be able to smell (rather than snort!) them.

And last but not least - Vetiverol - vetiver alcohol - which is what gives vetiver its clean, precious-wood, slightly wet yet sweet aroma. I have a suspicion there is more of it in Haitian vetiver than other varieties. It also has a brown clear colour, which makes it look like vetiver oil, where as most of the synthetics are either transparent and clear or white crystals. Vetiverol is so rich and complex it's surprising that it's "only" one molecule.

I'm looking forward to discovering these building blocks (especially the naturally-occurring ones) as well as the isolates I've gotten from Aftelier. It will be interesting to work with natural isolates in perfumes, but I strongly feel like I found my voice in natural perfumery sans the pure isolates. Nevertheless, I'm curious to study them, and am fascinated by the chemistry of the oils I work with. Exploring organic chemistry is like learning a new language, which I find exciting and frighteningly intimidating, simultaneously.

Eau Sauvage

From the moment I met Eau Sauvage, it was steaming passion. It’s sparkling clarity and bold sensuality are seductively well-mannered. Eau Sauvage is what I would want to immediately splash onto a man’s chest and than bury my head into... This would probably be my one recommendation, aside from necessary precautions, for a blind-date gadget (whether if you are a man or a woman)… It radiates good taste and vibrates with a lively charm. Eau Sauvage has the sensuality of clean, freshly showered skin, smooth just-shaved cheekbones, the sweater of a lover left behind for further cuddling and sniffing, permeated with the impeccable scents of sweat sweet hay.

As a side note I may ad: I wasn’t exposed to the Eau Sauvage ads featuring showers and mysterious men just about to take off their black sweater – and was pleasantly surprised to find them fitting to my own internal image of the scent (which is quite unusual in the world of perfume ads).

It wasn’t until I became a perfumer that I learned that the magic charm here lies with the oakmoss. Oakmoss has the power to add a rich, complex underlining base to what otherwise would be just another one of the many fleeting eaux de citrus & herbs. And so while Eau Sauvage is unmistakably sparkling with citrus, it is also one of the first Chypre for men, and actually a revolutionary fragrance in its time.

Eau Sauvage was one of the very few significantly different fragrances for men. The fragrant history around the world (Arabia, India, Ancient Greece and Rome) tells us that men indulged shamelessly in a diverse selection of aromatics: from sweet and indolic flowers (rose and jasmine) to heavily sweet balsams, incense, musk and ambergris. Contrary to that, the modern Western man, since perhaps the days of Napoleon or even earlier, submitted themselves to a painfully limited palette of aromas: citrus, aromatic herbs, woods and some musk. Anything sweeter, heavier or more floral was reserved for women. Of course – there were a handful of significant and unusual scents for men prior to Eau Sauvage: Jicky (Guerlain, 1889, considered the first modern perfume but also one that dared to question the gender boundaries of perfume), Mouchoir de Monsieur (Guerlain, 1904), Pour Un Homme (Caron, 1934), Old Spice (originally released by Shultan in 1937 and was actually marketed for women but happily adopted by men).

What reserves Eau Sauvage such a special place in perfume history are two things: its composition, of course, but also it’s timing. It was released in 1966, a time when men were perhaps ready to start breaking out of the strict olfactory boundaries that locked them in a clean prison of citrus and herbs. Other scents released around this era are Tabac Original (1959), Chanel’s Pour Monsieur (1955), Pino Silvestre (1955), Monsieur de Givenchy (1959) and Creed’s Cuir de Russie (1953). These paved the path to the revolution of men’s scents, a quiet revolution that is still happening and morphing quietly into a rebel against the exact same things that restricted Western men, olfactory-wise, for the past two centuries. Eau Sauvage was a milestone in breaking out of the norm – starting with the use of substantial amounts of oakmoss and patchouli at the base, and hedione and jasmine in the heart. Only few people at the time knew that the Maestro had an even more revolutionary scent in stock – the one reserved for his wife Therese (designed for her earlier, in 1960). In Eau Sauvage, Roudniska used only a bare amount of the hedione comparing to his masterpiece for his wife, and none of the aquatic melony notes used in Le Parfum de Therese. But the use of citrus and basil and an expanding jasmine heart created a very similar effect, yet one that was be more easily acceptable by his audience.

Another departure from the norm was its mass appeal to both men and women. Since the release of Jicky, there wasn’t as much olfactory “gender-confusion”, and everybody felt comfortable stealing each other’s cologne, as long as it was Eau Sauvage. Diorella was sooon to follow, perhaps to shut down the cologne-kidnapping complaints and cologne-custody court battles that followed Eau Sauvage and threatened to break too many marriages… Diorella was a toned down version of Le Parfum de Therese, and a floraler version of Eau Sauvage (more hedione, and more jasmine, with the addition of melon). Where Diorella failed (marketing wise), other houses gained and started releasing many more unisex scents ever since – O de Lancome (1969), Diptyque’s l’Eau (1968), Santa Mari Novella’s Melograno (1965), Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien (1981) – and than the explosion (or shall we say inflation?) in unisex fragrance in the 90’s, accompanying and/or following Calvin Klein’s One (1994).

The use of basil, citrus and oakmoss is genius, and along with the jasmine, considering it’s time, it is also daring. To me it will always stay at the top – the epitome of masculine fragrances, and fragrances at large.

Top notes: Lemon, Pine, Lime

Heart notes: Basil, Jasmine, Carnation

Base notes: Oakmoss, Patchouli, Musk, Hay

Image credits:
Posters from
Bottle image from Dior.com
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