Suffragette City: Vintage Diorella

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Although it is still February, the weekend was unseasonably warm and sunny, and I felt that I could wear Diorella again.  Diorella–neon bright, energetic but still relaxed, lifted my mood and dispelled the gloom of winter and uncertain times. Diorella is such an entertaining roller coaster ride of a perfume that for a long time I never stopped to analyze its appeal: I just put it on and enjoyed it. Gradually, I began to realize what an unusual composition it is: it is my favorite of all of Edmond Roudnitska’s perfumes and, it is said, his favorite as well.

If you wish to experience the real Diorella, I would encourage you to make every effort to obtain a vintage bottle, ideally the original EDT that was sold in the old houndstooth-patterned Dior boxes with a blue cap.A parfum was also released in 1972. It is absolutely gorgeous and extremely rare. While I treasure my vintage Diorella parfum, I sincerely believe that the vintage EDT may be the most beautiful formulation of all for this scent, since you can apply it freely. If I can’t convince you to begin the search for a vintage Diorella immediately, you might consider Le Parfum de Thérèse, launched in 2000 but based on a perfume composed by Roudnitska in the 1950’s for his wife.  Le Parfum de Thérèse is not the same as Diorella, but it shares a similar lightness of spirit coupled with an earthy soul.

Diorella is a warm weather perfume for me. It is refreshing and invigorating like a citrusy cologne splash, but Diorella has so much more going on in its depths than a typical cologne and unlike most colognes, vintage Diorella lasts all day and develops beautifully as it goes on. It opens with potent citrus notes and then moves into an equally tangy fruitiness that only works for me because it is not sweet. Add sugar to Diorella’s transparent notes of honeydew and peach, and you would get the unwearable watermelon and green apple candy notes that you find in many current perfumes.  Aromatic herbal and green notes are joined to the piquant citrus and fruit. Basil is always named in note lists for Diorella, but I can’t find it; instead, I smell fresh cilantro and just a hint of patchouli with its green muskiness. Like Marisa Berenson adorned in the best bohemian couture in a 1970’s Vogue feature, Diorella takes the definitive hippie herb and turns it into something sophisticated and subtle. As you wear Diorella throughout a long day, the patchouli becomes more recognizable, surfacing along with oakmoss.

Diorella is hesperidic, herbal, fresh, and surprisingly animalic, just on the acceptable side of wearable-to-work for me. I am awed by Roudnitska’s daring and philosophical use of indoles in Diorella, where the animalic quality never evokes something as banal as booty or poop. Diorella is musky and tangy like clean summer sweat, but there is another element that is definitely present: an unmistakeable hint of decay, that can be rather shocking when you notice it for the first time. Barbara Herman proposes that Diorella suggests flowers in the garbage in her excellent book on vintage perfumes, Scent and Subversion (2013); meanwhile, Tania Sanchez suggests Vietnamese beef salad which is dressed with pungent fermented fish sauce (nuoc mam) in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2009). And for me, I have to go with Christopher Brosius’ suggestion that the indoles in Diorella smell like dead mice (as quoted by Herman). Although I detest that odor in reality, that tiny drop of essence of exhumed mousie that wafts up from Diorella from time to time somehow makes me laugh. It’s my friend Roudnitska poking me with his elbow, saying, “Life is short. Have fun.”

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