There was a time when a new perfume launch by one of the big houses was of great import, the quest for timelessness and fragrant immortality often leading to a greater artistry and perfectionism.  Perfumers pored over, and tweaked their formulae for years until they found that magic formula that sent the nostril hairs and brain filaments zinging with pleasure….

Between 1947 and 1963, Dior released just five perfumes – Miss Dior, Diorama, Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, and Diorling –  all of which are considered classics. Since then, in a vastly oversaturated market, more than that are often released by one house in one year, mostly forgettable flanker scents that come and go like passing ships in the night, never really getting under your radar. The same cannot be said of the perfume we are looking at today, because despise, love, or merely tolerate it, Poison is most certainly memorable; intensely so – seared as it was onto the collective memory when released to the world at large in 1985; a perfume that even the perfume haters were unwillingly forced to inhale on a daily basis as lustrous sorceresses clicked their heels on the pavements of world cities enveloped provocatively in mushroom clouds of venomous berries and plummy-cinnamon, purpled tuberosa musks…..

At this time, a project such as Poison was as secretive, as closely guarded, as a new film by Kubrick –  and unveiled with as much publicity and fanfare, with launch galas and champagne parties of the crème de la crème partying under the giant factice flacons and juicily indulging in the sheer excess of it all, the centre of the eighties, the shameless vortex of capitalist fun made even bigger, more implacable, in a smell.

The name that was saucily given to that aroma was the first thing that guaranteed this clever product would capture our attention (apparently it was seen as literally scandalous that the maker of such refined scents as Diorissimo and Diorella could come with such a monstrosity), but the juice itself was an entirely new departure in scent as well, so different to anything preceding it. How often can we say that now? In recent times, few perfumes can claim similar levels of pioneering, especially not in the commercial arena, where new fragrances are consumer tested, sanded down and sanitized to the sellable point where they smell pleasant (though that is debatable) and lack any obvious personality. With Poison, this real shock of the new, both in terms of marketing/advertising and the gloriously vibrant liquid within, really worked; the perfume was an enormous international hit, but was vilified in equal measure, being one of the three ugly sisters who were famously barred from restaurants and boutiques (the others being Obsession and Giorgio) due to their extraordinary potency: many simply cannot bear Poison.



I myself love it. Partly because it so beautifully captures my world of mid-eighties teenage self-discovery (all the bangle-wearing Madonna wannabes and naughty girls at every party I went to smelled of it, as did their mothers), but mainly because I just enjoy its daring, delicious, purple toxicity – that rich, sweet potion of pimiento spiced berries, coriander,  honey, opoponax, and carnal tuberose that glows from a woman’s skin with such brilliant alacrity. It is not a ‘pretty’ perfume, is not subtle, but to me Poison is a great classic; fruity, fun and ludicrously seductive.
















Note: The current version of Poison has been diluted and reformulated, as is often the case with formulae that are expensive or ‘difficult’, and the current perfume hangs her head, thinned and embarrassed, as though she has been through bouts of electric shock treatment therapy. She has been punished….

Yet I do still smell it on the streets sometimes: this must have been a big hit in Japan too, back in the day, as you sometimes catch drifts of the vintage jus surrounding Japanese older women glammed up for the theatre or some ladies’ function, especially in winter, when it warms the cockles and the lungs (just as Madonna herself still rocks that gutsy tuberose Fracas by Piguet, she herself no longer a young thing). Here, middle aged and older women are often very desexualized and put down by their male counterparts the older they get, an aspect of living in Japan that infuriates me to the core, and to me, their wearing Poison along with their furs and finery somehow seems like a quiet middle finger; a proclamation of self-worth and untapped, wasted sexuality. It smells wonderful.


Filed under Floriental, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

31 responses to “POISON by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1985)

  1. I remember the old Poison well! It was everywhere and once you smelled it, it was unforgettable. Haven’t smelled the latest reformulation though, but it’s probably for the best. Poison was so strong, I think I’m still smelling it through time and space!

    My poison (excuse the pun) is Hypnotic Poison, which is nothing like Poison, but I still like it 🙂

    • ginzaintherain

      Me too! That one is infinitely wearable, and Nina’s holy grail as well: that playdoughy, creamy, nutty smoothness. It is delicious. But it doesn’t have the drama or scope of Poison (and I know exactly what you mean about still being able to smell it through time and space….I can as well: just conjure it up in its entirety in my brain….)

      • brie

        Desperately Seeking Susan…while everyone in my neighborhood was enamoured with and emulating Madonna I was secretly fascinated with Rosanna Arquette (and still am!).
        Regarding Japanese men-the upcoming talent of young chess players in the US are predominantly male and either Indian, Chinese or Japanese. As quintessential WASPs my three children are in the minority within this arena. My daughter was once playing against a Japanese boy who stated to his father “I am playing a dumb white girl”. To me this spoke volumns regarding their attitude toward women. Kudos to her for “kicking his arse”

      • ginzaintherain

        I don’t want to simplify the culture and say the whole place is sexist, but it IS a big problem for me, the whole dollification and strict segmentation of young, married, mother, old, much more than Europe. I could write volumes on the subject, but the Poison thing was not just something I added for the sake of it: to me it really does feel like some kind of fruity, sultry armor..

    • brie

      Daisy- Poison and Giorgio (wore both when they first came out quite heavy handed) are branded like a tattoo into my olfactory memory as well..will NEVER forget how they both smell! I had numerous bottles of Poison including a small parfume dab on which leaked all over a pocketbook once….the smell never dissipated and I had to discard that bag!

      • ginzaintherain

        Giorgio is unbelievable in that regard: I find if fascinating. Where I live is at the top of a valley, and one evening there was a woman about half a kilometre ahead of me, in the dark and the mountains and the moist undergrowth, wearing Giorgio. I hadn’t smelled it for years, and I couldn’t BELIEVE how it managed to trail behind her, perceptibly, almost enough to taste it, on the air: IT ATE THE AIRSTREAM…..how is this possible?

        I kind of loved it though; I was trying to dissect it as it came towards me…that strange anchor of vetiver just about saving that eye-creakingly strong accord that none of us will ever forget….

        You know what? I saw a bottle of it recently at a thrift store, and I almost considered buying it, just to HAVE. i wish I had now: when I went back it had gone…

  2. Interesting article, thank you.

    Even though there was just a handful of perfumes available in the country where I grew up and Dior was one of the well-known and desirable brands, I never liked Poison. I didn’t like the bottle. I didn’t like the scent. It was just not for me.

    I suspect today I would have felt differently about it but since I never liked the original and I’m not a big fan of mainstream perfumes, I chose never to spend time or skin real estate on testing the newer incarnations or flankers.

    • ginzaintherain

      I totally empathize. It is easy to hate Poison: it is an almost intrinsically annoying scent, cloying, even crude, and emphatically in your face.

      And yet….

      > Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2013 00:10:23 +0000 > To: opoponax8@hotmail.com >

  3. Love this review Neil. I was never overly taken with the original Poison, though remember when it first came out as my great-aunt – then in her 70s – surprised the family by taking to it with passion and wearing it constantly. It actually suited her and testified to the side of her that we didn’t always see. The side of her that loved to go out dancing during the War wearing huge earrings and didn’t bother about the air-raid sirens or the dropping of bombs in the distance. The apple-y bottles of the Poison range – displayed as they are on the Dior shelves, back-lit so their watery interiors catch the eye and draw you in to their enchanted shadowy pools – are rather eerie. The apple of Poison is rather old-fashioned. It is not the sassy, streetwise, upfront and easy-going apple of Donna Karan’s New York, rather a little, small, sweet, apple, peculiar, intense and unpredictable – sometimes engaging, sometimes crabby, but always intriguing and strangely potent. For me (as you note) Hypnotic Poison is the poison preferee, but I only keep a bottle of the generic one for casual spritzing now and again when I need something sweet, outgoing, bubblegummy, and light-hearted. The elixir is a different matter. Intense, rare, and subtle. The elixir – heavy with jasmine sambac and star anise – is the original Hypnotic Poison. Issued for a brief moment in 1998 – and I fell in love with it at that moment – then replaced with the formulation we have now – the Elixir was tantalisingly reissued a couple of years ago – then discontinued again. I treasure my bottle of it, but it is one to be worn sparingly and for special days only.

  4. Excellent choice of imagery 😀

  5. For some reason I’ve never tried Hypnotic Poison, and it sounds as if I ought to. I made red-cooked beef with star anise recently and found myself thinking that a faint whiff of star anise in a perfume could be really luscious.

  6. I love this review! I grew up in this era and wore all three of the ugly sisters – though not at the same time mind you. But I loved them all so much, and quite frankly I still do.

  7. Lilybelle

    I hated Poison in the 80s. Then, I changed my mind a decade or so later and decided it was brilliant (but by then everybody hated it). I love the idea of those older Japanese ladies shooting their figurative fragrant middle fingers at their male oppressors. 🙂

    @Shuvanidev, I wore Tatiana, too, in the late 70s/early 80s.

  8. Mrion

    Oh yes!! I was a secondary school Art teacher, and I remember with delighted poignance how we all had our amazing fumes, each woman STILL imprinted in my memory along with her stunning partner scent…the Poison, the Opium, the Paris, even the Shalimar! Me, Mitsouko had stolen away with me sometime around finishing art school, but I still got through bottles of things like Diorissimo, Ysatis, Capriccio, Farouche, Bal a Versailles at SCHOOL…it’s a hoot considering the fume- phobic times now. But you know what..the kids loved it! Simple delight with no baggage. Yes these perfumes had the power and personas of kings and queens, so unlike the bulk of the mainstream now.

  9. Neil, how come my comment posted on December 4 is still awaiting moderation, while many other comments posted after that date have already been published? Did I say something too out of the ordinary?… 🙂

    • Maria

      I have no idea. I am the last person of all the bloggers to censor or edit anything, though : that should be obvious from my own lurching profanity. Sometimes when I get comments from a ‘new’ person it comes with an exclamation mark as though it were spam ( as I get ‘robots’ sometimes). Maybe I have to press some approval button first or something. My apologies! It certainly wasn’t deliberate!

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