Edmund Roudnitska is my favourite nose of all time. He managed, in his long career, to create fragrances that not only smelled great but always had something important to say. And when it comes to any art, that should be the defining criteria of: it’s got something to say. From his first effort Rochas Femme in 1942 to his swansong Ocean Rain in 1990, and everything in between, Roudnitska managed to bend the natural and newly emerging synthetics to his formidable creative will, all bearing his indelible signature.
You know when you are smelling a Roudnitska fragrance. First of all they smell very French, oh so classical, but in a very modern way. It’s no coincidence that his career rose in tandem with Christian Dior, whose ‘New Look’ re-invented French fashion to suit a new ethic of modern chic elegance that provided Roudnitska with a tabula rasa in which to develop and perfect his signature style. There is a duality, a symbiotic, perfectly balanced dance of light & darkness, ephemeral & eternal, whimsy & serious, beauty & (slightly) grotesque. Diorama, Eau Fraiche, Diorissimo (I could write a full essay on THAT one – what a blast to wear!), Diorling, the totemic men’s Eau Sauvage all managed to incorporate this idiosyncratic approach, leading to what I consider the greatest perfume ever: Diorella.
Launched in 1972, Diorella conveys perfectly the spirit of The Age of Aquarius. Gender lines were becoming blurred, fashion was democratised and casual, the love was free, and the scene definitely groovy, baby. Elegance was still in style but it didn’t take itself so seriously. Roudnitska nailed this in a bottle.
(I must stress that throughout, I am considering the vintage version of Diorella, which maintained its essential perfection until the late nineties. The current stuff – aka Diorellish – ain’t bad, and is essentially a robust cologne with a fruity hue. But it has gone the way of most reformulated Diors: not worth discussing, especially in comparison to their former glories. )
Diorella is a chypre, a citric, fruity chypre. It hits with a blast of neroli, lemon and bergamot that acts simply as the ‘gateway’ to its real substance: honeysuckle, ‘fruit’ and hedione. The last element was introduced to the world by Roudnitska in Eau Sauvage a few years before Diorella, though he is much more generous with it in the latter. Hedione gives both their trademark jasmine insinuation, a sort of plastic floral character that proved that synthetics could be every bit as convincing as naturals in the right hands.
Where Diorella improves massively over Eau Sauvage is in its shameless sensuousness. Where ES is quite dry and astringent , Diorella holds you close in a casually warm embrace. There is very little bottom end in ES while Diorella always lets you know that this stuff is DEEP, the moss always lurking in the nether regions providing a touch of menace and this is what makes it such a comfortable wear for men. Some have likened Diorella as “Eau Sauvage with a drop of peach”, but the fruit accord here is a whole basket of summer fruit just arriving at its sell by date; not quite rotting, but certainly not fresh.
What florals there are present remain quite opaque and nebulous throughout. The most noticeable beyond the jasmine/hedione zone is of course honeysuckle. This rather underused floral gives Diorella a wonderful languid, lazy sultriness that really catapults this stuff into the sublime. Finally, I detect a firm note of hawthorne, which provides tartness needed to balance all the inferences of decay. Bloody genius, if you ask me.
Edmond Roudnitska showed the way toward contemporary perfumery by bridging the classical elements of French perfumery with modern aromachemicals and the required originality to make it all feel timeless. I see Kurkjian and Duchaufour as among his obvious heirs on this level. Though Diorella feels like the seventies, it is solidly transcendent of time, as all masterpieces are sui generis. There are a few other fragrances that sit on this Olympian perch, but no other can speak so numinously of true perfection like Diorella.