Each of the classic perfume houses seems to have a flagship fragrance that defines the house, yet would never make it past the marketing team today. Chanel has No. 5, a fusty, lovely veil-hatted scent worn by millions and probably truly loved for its scent by only a small fraction. Guerlain has Mitsouko, a perfume aficionado’s most loved and most want-to-love walk through rotting peaches, rainwater, and mold. Jean Patou has Joy, and Caron has Tabac Blond.
And then there’s Christian Dior Miss Dior, perhaps the most off-putting and, to me, deliciously irresistible icon of them all. (I’m talking about Miss Dior Original or Miss Dior Classic, of course, and not the fragrance sold today as Miss Dior, which is to the real Miss Dior as Barbie’s take on the Mona Lisa would be to the real thing.)
In a nutshell, Miss Dior is a chypre highlighting galbanum, gardenia, and leather, released in 1947. It’s thick and furry and dusted with powder. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Dior releasing anything so difficult to read today. (For a proper review of Miss Dior, see Robin’s take.)
From the first time I tried Miss Dior, I wanted to like it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t even talk myself into it, like I initially talked myself into liking Mitsouko. Later, at a downtown department store, I sprayed Miss Dior on a wrist and offered a sniff to a friend. “Not for you,” was her judgment. I had to agree. I understood why Chandler Burr pronounced Miss Dior "unwearable." Why was this perfume such a big deal?
But I kept going back to my sample. Eventually — as with Jackson Pollack, Wagner, and morbier cheese — I “got” Miss Dior. Its dense sillage opened up to show (to me, at least) that it was an urban perfume, full of retro chic, smoked cigarettes, day-old corsages, and Russian novels read by the window in autumn.
I not only finally understood Miss Dior, I loved it. I bought a 16-ounce bottle of vintage Eau de Toilette and wore it a lot, even though I knew I might not earn “you smell so good” after hugs.
Which leads to considering why we wear perfume at all. A fragrance like Miss Dior gives us the opportunity not just to hone our appreciation of scent, but to be more vulnerable in a way. When we love an unpopular fragrance and wear it — sensitively, of course — we let the world know how we differ from the mainstream. We open ourselves up to being misunderstood and unappreciated, but also to be truly seen. Plus, we get to smell fabulous.
Are there any perfumes that were especially difficult for you, but that you came to adore? Do you wear them, even though the outside world might not understand and appreciate them?