Miss Dior was released in 1947 on the heels of Dior’s innovative New Look collection, which took women out of the boxy, broad-shouldered power suits and drapery of the ‘40s and into an era of slim shouldered, fitted waists above voluminous skirts, sleekly and flirtatiously emphasizing the contours of women’s bodies. According to Christian Dior himself, the collection was designed for “flower-like women,” and the New Look can be seen as a hoped-for return to the halcyon life of delicacy and traditional femininity after a prolonged period of coarseness and even strife, when women had to “man up” and fend for themselves during the Second World War.
In the context of this return to tradition feminine contours and elegant daintiness, one might expect the New Look’s accompanying perfume, primly named Miss Dior, to emphasize the light, tinkling aspect of feminine youthfulness, perhaps a pink-cheeked, baby-soft violet concoction, or something just as innocuous. Surprise, surprise, Miss Dior is nothing of the sort. Created by Paul Vacher and Jean Carles, Miss Dior is a green, leather chypre: complex, carnal, and singularly unusual in the world of classic chypres by virtue of an ambered base that veers enticingly close to oriental territory.
My review is based on my late ’70s/early ’80s era parfum (see pic) and a vintage ’60s EDC. My parfum starts off with a twist of green galbanum, dry and vegetal, joined with a hint of aromatic clary sage and given body by the warmth of gardenia. The gardenia used seminally in Miss Dior (and in Jean Carles other masterpiece from the previous year, Ma Griffe), was a new aroma-chemical called styrallyl acetate; it is not the sweet, fresh gardenia of the tropical Kai variety, but rather a classic smelling floral that contributes a lushness and full-bodiedness to the top and heart notes of the composition.
All too quickly, the lovely top-notes fade down to the floral heart, a warm, mossy bouquet consisting primarily of the usual suspects: jasmine, rose, neroli, plus devilish narcissus and intoxicating remnants of the gardenia from up top. Like the gentle Snows of Awakening in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the powdery effect of iris insulates the floral heart from any sharpness, tamping down the blanket around the other notes, cushioning them from any screechiness, while simultaneously preparing the way for the powdered sweetness that is to come…
Inside the beating floral heart of Miss Dior, a whisper of creamy vanilla makes its presence felt, surprising me not only with its subtlety and beauty, but with its very presence there! Perceptible vanilla is a rare thing in classic chypres – almost unheard of, in fact – and so it appears here idiosyncratically, along with the normal chypre ingredients of labdanum/patchouli/oakmoss, and this unique combination nearly causes Miss Dior to straddle two worlds within perfumery, marrying together what are arguably the best aspects of both chypres and orientals ( i.e. balanced mossiness + ambery sweetness, respectively). Real ambergris tincture was also present in vintage Miss Dior, harmonizing the individual notes and contributing a raw, primal funk that is subtly present like a glowing ember just underneath the creamy surface. It is more present in my ’60s EDC.
(If you have never tried real ambergris tincture, you should! It’s unusual reek of bile and putrefaction is fascinating, and once smelled it is hard to forget.) Miss Dior’s exceedingly complex dry down is strange, compelling, vaguely tobacco-ish, and erotic – a whisper of seduction, Dior’s proprietary blend of the ‘Lean-In-Closer’ desirability of amber-vanilla with the “I’m-complicated” cachet of warm chypre.
Although Miss Dior is a green leather chypre, its leather has little in common with others in the genre like original Bandit and Estee Lauder’s Azuree, whose overdose of the rubbery, slightly anisic, gasoline-like note Isobutyl Quinoline is immediately apparent in those formidable classics. To my nose, the leather of Miss Dior is a natural, subjective accord created by the base notes rather than a ‘leather ingredient’ that’s been added to the formulation. My 1980 parfum extrait does not have the strong sense of leather and natural ambergris that the ’60s EDC has. Now, whether this suggests that the lower concentrations are more raunchy, or that earlier Miss Dior in all concentrations were more raunchy, I simply do not know. I think I need to get a hold of a very early Miss Dior parfum and find out.