Just last Sunday my father handed me a few plums, freshly picked from a tree in his garden. Hot and ripe. Like Poison.
That luscious, sweet, fruity smell transported me within a second on a late September day when I impatiently unwrapped my birthday present. It was 1986. I held in my hands my very own, very first, very grown-up perfume. I was dreaming about it since I first saw the bottle (never had a chance to smell a tester or really try it on, it was a wild desire based on an advertising photo). Nothing I have ever smelled felt a scent like that, and all the girly, fresh, light, and youth tainted perfumes I was familiar with were simply bombed away with this one.
It was Poison by Christian Dior.
It is hard to believe that it was launched twenty-six years ago and that now the fragrance of the original Poison is referred to as „vintage“. You may love it, you may hate it, you may even stop reading my text at the first sight of its name, but you have to admit that it was revolutionary.
The package. Poisonous green. The bottle: apple-shaped, the color of dark plum, perfectly fitting the palm of my hand. Once you unleash the beast, the first breath is strong and unexpected. Plum and coriander, anise, and rosewood rise with a Goth queen attitude. Then its exotic alchemy evolves in magnificent tuberose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, and carnation in narcotic and deadly symphonies. Base notes finish you off as you feel them forever in tones of musk, sandalwood, and Cedarwood. There is so much going on, it seduces you, unarms and transforms you in a malevolent way, it draws you in like a forbidden pleasure. You most certainly will never forget it. Like I never forgot the next morning when I immersed myself in this scent, making almost all the passengers on the tram feel nauseous. Spritz and walkthrough, and walk fast, is the only method I find acceptable for Poison, and that formula in the eighties had a sillage that could survive WWIII.
It was bold, it was courageous, it was outrageous – and it made me feel like a full-blooded woman. I don’t think it deserved its bad reputation. Maybe people just didn’t understand this magnificent perfume. Maybe women put too much of it. Maybe they were scared of unleashing dark, Goth, primal sexuality that it stirs – I know I was, and now I know I was just too young to fully appreciate such a masterpiece.
Poison was created by Jean Guichard, parfumeur and director of the famous Givaudan School. He also created La Nuit de Paco Rabanne, Obsession, Eden et Loulou de Cacharel, So Pretty de Cartier, Parfum de Peau de Montana, and many more. Born in Grasse, coming from a family also in the perfume business, owner of his own jasmine and « Roses de Mai » fields, now he educates new generations of perfumers.
What you may not know, the creation of Poison – involves an error in the making. As I read in an interview he gave in Persolais blog, Jean Guichard worked on the project Poison closely with Maurice Roger who managed Dior at the time. He took this project very seriously and the choice of perfume was too important to him to delegate it to someone else. Yes, Dior had stagnation in sales, perfumes on the market were beginning to smell so boring and yes, Roger needed something completely new. Guichard worked during the week, sending little vials over to Roger on Fridays. He would smell them during the weekend and call back on Mondays, giving feedback so that the formula could be changed again. On one Friday the lab technician got two samples ready and sent them over to Roger. When Guichard smelled them, they were not the perfume he made! It smelled very fruity, very synthetic, horrible! When he went back to the office on Monday, the management was crazy. He had to call Roger and explain to him that a terrible mistake has been made. The perfume was corrected, it smelt very nice and acceptable, and was sent over again.
Maurice Roger called Guichard some days later, saying that the new sample is not good. But the old sample, the one that they apologized for sending, had something absolutely fantastic in it. They didn’t even know what happened in the lab, but soon found out that it was the mistake of the lab technician. At that time there was some synthetic damascone in Poison. The perfumer working on the trials was Edouard Flechier and he used 1% concentration on all trials, but the lab technician added a 100% concentration! Furthermore, Guichard says that it was not he who made Poison, but Maurice Roger because he chose that specific trial to be worked on. He just perfected the perfume, and it became a hallmark of an era. Dior’s sale rocketed. The rest is history
Dior, like many other key fashion houses, has expanded into a niche market. Their Collection Privée was launched in 2010, and when discussing sourcing perfume materials, their UK Fragrance Ambassador Carl Groenewald, states it’s “the same way we do the fabrics for Haute Couture gowns.” Speaking of the clients for these fragrances, Groenewald declares they “do not want a commercial fragrance and to smell like everyone else.”
Photos: Dior, The Plum Girl