The re-release of Diorling provides 2012’s first opportunity to raise the thorny subject of reformulation. To his credit, François Demachy – the man behind this re-working of Paul Vacher’s original – makes no secret of the fact that the new bottles bearing names such as Diorissimo and Dioressence don't contain the same smells they did when they were first launched. A few people will assert that he is being disingenuous when he places all of the blame for this on IFRA, but at least he is unafraid to acknowledge that reformulations exist and that they happen all the time. (Someone should tell the Dior SA at John Lewis Southampton, but let’s not go there.)
This relative transparency prompts the following question: do we, as consumers, have the right to expect perfumes to stay the same for ever? I confess I find it difficult to convince myself that the answer is Yes. We seem to believe that a fragrance is not unlike a film on DVD: we can play it back as many times as we like, confident in the knowledge that it will never alter. But it might be more helpful – and less frustrating – to compare a scent to a performance of a play at a theatre. The story is the same from one night to the next, as are the costumes, the sets and most of the words. Even the various actors may remain in their roles for months and years on end. But no two nights will ever be identical. Indeed, some may differ in surprising, unexpected ways.
At this point, I can hear some of you proclaiming, “Fair enough. But the only thing this new Diorling shares with the original is its name. Its sets, costumes and actors are totally unlike those presented in the 60s. In fact, it is working from an altogether different script by a different playwright.” This raises the second reformulation-related question: where does the perfume critic draw the line when comparing a current version of a scent to an older one? Again, the answer isn't simple, partly because of the volume of releases with which we’re bombarded these days: it’s hard enough keeping up with new scents, let alone trying to track down various iterations of classics. The only workable answer is that the issue has to be considered on a case by case basis.
All of which leads me to state that I’ve never smelt the original Diorling. I wasn’t even terribly familiar with the version which was, until recently, available only at the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie (but was removed a few months ago to make way for this re-release). I have it on very reliable authority that this latest incarnation is a long way from Vacher’s, but I’m unable to verify this. Therefore, all I can do is focus on the present and assess the scent on its own terms.
Diorling’s most striking attribute is the hyper-legibility which Demachy seems to have instilled into recent mainline Dior releases. In itself, legibility in perfume construction is laudable: Dominique Ropion, for instance, manages to find a balance between allowing the various aspects of his compositions to speak with recognisable voices whilst harmonising them into a symphonic whole. But Demachy uses a broader brush. He prefers to create the equivalent of the top row of letters on the sight-test chart at the optician’s: they’re big, they’re bold, but they’re also undemanding and more than a little boring. In the new eau de toilette of J’Adore, he topped the formula with a massive tangerine so that everyone could point and say, ‘Oh look, there goes a massive tangerine.” And with Diorling he’s placed a broad-shouldered ‘vintage powder’ accord over a generously-proportioned, well-worn-handbag leather base, so that people can pat themselves on the back with self-satisfaction and declare, “Ah yes, I understand how this perfume works: it is powdery and leathery.”
The style may appeal to some, but I’d argue it’s uninvolving and simplistic, not to mention hollow: there is nothing to bridge the gap between Diorling’s two poles, with the result that the construction threatens to cave in on itself. If I were in a forgiving mood, I’d say this could be Demachy’s ironic way of suggesting that we no longer have a way of crossing the divide that lies between us and perfume history. But I suspect the truth is that it’s yet another calculated strategy to meet the current demand for scents which are instantly readable and immediately comprehensible. If that’s the case, then I can’t deny that Diorling meets its primary objective. But if I may be permitted to conclude by ignoring my own advice and invoking the past, I have a feeling that if Vacher’s 1963 creation had been similar to the one currently on sale in department stores, people wouldn’t now be lamenting its demise.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Christian Dior in 2011.]