Smelling Dior’s new Joy (fear not: the Patou people gave them permission to use the name… and they’re now owned by LVMH) made me think of the phrase that was so often repeated on the news during the recent financial crisis: too big to fail. Except that, in Dior’s case, I wondered if it wouldn’t have been more accurate as ‘too big to risk’. Fragrance brands are not and never have been charities. We know that. And we realise that, much as we’d like to imagine them indulging in free-spirited exercises in self-expression, they serve the bottom line and they have no choice but to generate profits. And not just any profits. These have to be sums that prop up a globe-spanning operation which employs thousands of bodies and does its bit for one of the most gigantic luxury goods companies the world has ever seen. And here’s something else we all know too: size is scary. So when placed under the pressure of such monolithic proportions, it isn’t surprising that Dior and its equivalents play it safe.
Come to think of it, that could have been a more apt name for this release: Safety. Although I concede it wouldn't have had quite the same ring to it as Joy. In technical terms, there’s nothing wrong with the fragrance: after all, creating a product that will cause the tills to chime every two seconds doesn’t necessarily entail making an object that malfunctions. If anything, the opposite is true: scents of this nature (La Vie Est Belle comes to mind) have to perform with the reliability of an iPhone while being equally resistant to any attempts to peer into their inner workings. That requires a considerable degree of skill, and I suspect Francois Demachy had to fine-tune this concoction several times until it struck just the right note of pleasantness and wallpaper-like ignorability that seems to be so desired by millennials, the group targeted by the Jennifer Lawrence ad campaign.
But technical accomplishment notwithstanding, safe is what it remains. A super-musky, citrus floral that arrives bearing a few lemony notes at the start, bounces off a couple of rose petals and then, as though frightened that it may be indulging in too much excitement, makes a bashful retreat behind a near-impenetrable wall of fabric-softener synthetics. The scent of the sort of politeness that masks an inability to form an opinion. It’s hard to imagine someone as outspoken as Lawrence really wearing this stuff, but hey, Katniss has to pay the bills too. It’s just a shame that her personality didn’t rub off on Dior’s scent-makers and persuade them that ‘too big to fail’ can also be read in an optimistic way. If any mainstream brand out there has the power to embrace an original piece of work, it’s Dior, with its immense capacity for taste-altering publicity. They could have been braver. But they chose not to be. And so the walk towards inane joyfulness in mass perfume creation continues apace.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Christian Dior in 2018.]