La Bohème: DIVA by UNGARO (1983)









” By the way, you’re such a diva”, a new acquaintance on Facebook said to me recently.




“He is”, said Duncan, picking up the thread.



Attention-seeking, a touch tempestuous and flamboyant, I suppose it might be true, but I do know one thing: I love that word. Diva. It evokes something besotted, rarified: a gilded, beautiful soprano on stage at La Scala. The audience in the palms of her outstretched, coloratura hands as she hangs on, virtuosically, to that tremulous, sky-piercing C and lets it voluptuously float, time-bound, to the rafters.



All eyes on her. They all have paid good money, there, for the diva.




Jacques Polge’s creation for Ungaro from 1983, a form of prelude or sketch for his later, more fleshed-out and carnivalesque Coco (1985), certainly lives up to its name: a voluminous, full-throated, honeyed spice-rose chypre that would conjure up crimson red theatre curtains even if you didn’t know its identity. But combined with the bottle – itself beautifully redolent of the ingenious draping techniques of couturier Emanuel Ungaro – and the name, Diva, placed strategically on red label in full centre of the flacon’s décolletage; this intentioned, orchestral plush of a perfume is one of those rare, fully realized executions- from head to toe – that in these often crass, vacuous days of contemporary perfumery feel as invaluable and priceless as a bruised and dazzling firebird like Maria Callas.






Sadly, though, Diva has not survived. Unlike Chanel’s Coco, which I was surprised to learn recently is still among the top-selling scents in the UK,  more highly ranked even than the insufferable Coco Mademoiselle (which, people, I DETEST) –  Ungaro’s first feminine, like all the finest operatic heroines such as Giacomo Puccini’s tragic Mimi, perishing selflessly in her frozen garret in the exquisite La Bohème, died a quiet, honourable death. In fact, though I own the parfum, which I found, to my intense delight, one fine Sunday morning at a fleamarket in Berlin, I had neglected even thinking about this gem for a very long time until yesterday morning, when it was suddenly cold enough for me to need my winter coat (coincidentally for a theatre performance in Tokyo), and there, in the typical rubbish of the pockets, I curiously happened to find one of those ripped out vintage scent-strips,  one I had ripped out naughtily one night from a pile of old magazines at some retro cafe in Kamakura.










Let’s look.

























It is a Neiman Marcus ad.





















I really like those strange words……….’fully potent parfum’: ‘available in crystal bottle’; also, the ‘vivid, long-lasting eau de parfum’…..






I also love the dress: a woman captivated by her couture: both wearing and being worn by her creation, much as she would be by this perfume: one of those grand, foreboding, amber-roses of the early eighties, like Armani Pour Femme, Sinan, and Courrèges in Blue, that tread a beautiful, precarious tightrope between brassiness and elegance; between the sly, erotic assertion of one’s presence and the full-trumpeted proclamation of it. If you know Coco, and I know that you do, then, basically, you also know Diva.






The full-blooded, aptly patchoulied and oakmossed, animal rose: the spice; the brocaded, baroque sweetness (though Diva has a significant note of honey and vanilla not as noticeable in Coco, plus an intriguing top note of cardamom). But where the Chanel builds on Diva’s theme, with glintier, prettier mimosas, fruits and more spice ( and indeed chocolate): the full Venetian gondola (Diva is more Paris, or Milan), Ungaro’s swan song is smoother, less harlequinesque: more brooding, definitely more tender and moody: more fourrure than just fun-loving. Gorgeous, yes, but less forgiving. More contained. An undulous, begowned, prima donna.














Filed under Flowers, Spice

33 responses to “La Bohème: DIVA by UNGARO (1983)

  1. Laurels

    Oh, I wish I’d smelled this back in the day. Damn my monogamous perfume past!

  2. Sandra

    Lovely review for one of my favorite perfumes! I wish I could get my hands on the original again. I went through many bottles and should have thought of stocking up! Agree fully – Diva is a wonderful word.

    • Glad you have worn it and I would love to know more of your stories with this perfume.

      How did it make you feel? How does it compare with Coco?

      • Sandra

        It was the first perfume my mother bought for me. I was 15 and we were vacationing in Aix en Provence. I wore it for the next 20 years on a regular basis.

        I stopped buying it when I felt that the perfume lost its richness. I miss it terribly at times.

        I find Coco darker and spicier. Diva was the perfect perfume for this Leo.

      • What a mournful line: ” It lost its richness”….

        How I know what you mean..

  3. Lilybelle

    You’ve reminded me. I had a friend who worked for a while at Chanel’s corporate offices in NYC back when Diva was released. She had all these promotional jars of Diva perfumed cream and samples that she gave out to her friends to try. She floated around in clouds of Diva. It smelled GREAT on her. I can smell it right now as I type this. Another friend of ours gave her a hug and said, “Mmm…are you wearing Coco?” She told him, “No, it’s Ungaro Diva”. Now that you say it was created by Jacques Polge it finally makes sense to me why she had all these Ungaro Diva samples while working at Chanel. Diva wasn’t for me. It’s one that wears me (like Coco), but I remember how wonderful it smelled, especially on my friend. I’m sorry to know “it lost its richness”. 😦

  4. Dearest Ginza
    That dress. Those endless corrugations of cloth. Such glamour before the digital sharpness of Miyake’s pleats.
    The perfume sounds equally as analogue and just as wonderful.
    And yet, drapery in concrete forms like glass or stone always remind me of the draped urns that adorn so many Victorian graves with inscriptions ‘Our Nelly’, ‘She fell asleep’, ‘In a better place’.
    Yes, there is something in a Diva’s tantrums that is ultimately railing against death. Perhaps that is why opera stars and actresses are so apt to the adopt the predisposition having to imitate the flipping of this mortal coil with such frequency.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  5. My dear Neil, it seems we have splendidly similar tastes. I am a fan of THE Diva. She is to be worshipped. Ever so often she reveals flashes of skin to her loyal subjects. I get lots of skank from her!

  6. cath

    When I read your review last year, I didn’t own Diva. I’m pretty sure I have smelled her in my younger years, but I had no recollection of her.
    A few months ago I was able to lay my hands on a bottle of the vintage EDP, and ooohhhh myyyy gaaawd, is she a beauty.
    I am not a fan of roses in perfumes, but Diva gets a place next to Nahema as one of the rare roses I can wear and actually love.

  7. Marina

    I had a bottle of this back in the day and admittedly it was way too much for my 17 year old self. How I must have smelled! Good lord!
    I love that you stole the advert as well.
    I remembered it so vividly. Thank you for the recollection.

  8. wooddogs3

    I am a lover of cardamom notes, but failed to recognize the cardamom note in my exquisite vintage Diva. Oh rats, now I need to wear it today…

  9. Lilybelle

    Nice to read that one again and reminisce. 🙂

  10. Beautiful scent which was glorious in those fabulous 80’s. Bottle and scent were perfectly matched. Sad that it is just a memory now.

  11. My favourite Ungaro has always been Ungaro (released in ’77). I still find it heavenly and wear it often. For me, Diva is in the school of ‘I am Perfume – hear me roar!’ The modern version is still sold in Australian pharmacies quite cheap but I never smell it on the street. Seems like people are happy to let their tattoos do the roaring nowadays and not their fume!
    Best, Star

    • I’m not sure I know Ungaro. Did it have green or black on the bottle? What is it like?

      I have Senso, which is ridiculous, but ultimately like Diva and Pour Homme best.

      • It came in 3 types of bottles: cobalt blue ribbed with green top; black bottle; red and orange floral canister. Joop Femme replicated it (but not completely). Unisex. Powdery, woody oriental but with a little zing. In the edp is best. If you’re interested I can send you a sample. Just let me know postal address.

  12. jennyredhen

    Is the modern Diva not good? You can buy it here in NZ . It is sent from Australia. The price is very reasonable compared to Coco etc.
    Re Mitsouko is the EDP better than the the EDT?

  13. S

    To my nose, Diva is more earthy and tangible, Coco is the opposite, Ethereal and angelic. Diva as any (human Diva) is mundane and touchy…Coco is a pure light, colorless, lives on your skin unconditionally, like a guardian angel sent to comfort you..I love both of them, own them and always in search for vintages.

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