This wasn't just difficult. It was excruciating. In fact, no, it wasn't just excruciating. It was like being in the dentist's chair, thirty minutes into a root canal treatment, with the sound of the drill bouncing off the walls, when all of a sudden, with no warning, the anaesthetic decides to wear off. And trust me: I speak from experience.
When the Candy Perfume Boy and I decided to turn our Super Scent spotlight onto Christian Dior, we both knew that picking our favourites from the brand's sizeable current line-up would be a challenge. That's partly why we decided to make today's list a Top 7 rather than a Top 5. However, I absolutely did not expect the task to cause such agonising inner conflict. As I struggled with the list, going from one draft to another, there were many occasions when my perfume geekery - normally a source of great fun - transformed into torture of near-medieval brutality. But time kept ticking and our self-imposed deadline kept looming closer and closer, so eventually, the doubts and deliberations had to be pushed aside.
There are so many worthy names that didn't make it onto my final list, for all sorts of valid reasons. For instance, take Fahrenheit (Jean-Louis Sieuzac; 1988). I wore it almost non-stop as a teenager - indeed, it became the scent of several summers - but my nostalgic affection for it isn't blinding enough to conceal the knowledge that its current formulation doesn't display the same genius as the original. Much nail-chewing ensued when I came to consider J'Adore L'Absolu (Calice Becker & François Demachy) which has remained my favourite J'Adore iteration since it emerged in 2007. I swoon each time I come into contact with its hyper-luminous jasmine heart... but in the end, I could find no room for it in the Top 7.
Annick Menardo's original eau de toilette of Hypnotic Poison (1988) was another casualty, despite the fact that its unsettling musky, vanillic almond construction is as distinctive and memorable as it ever was. Jean Martel's Jules (1980) never fails to impress me with its muscular handling of herbs, woods and animalic notes. It shares many similarities with Pierre Bourdon's Kouros for YSL, but whereas the latter revels in the filth of its growl, Jules conceals its carnality beneath a veneer of couture sophistication. And I should also mention Miss Dior Originale (the current moniker of the brand's debut fragrance, 1947's Miss Dior). It's in pretty good shape, especially in extrait form, where its angular cheekbones and intelligent bitterness act as a welcome tonic to the sweetness of most modern releases.
However, the most heart-breaking exclusions were the Roudnitskas. Diorella, Diorama, Eau Fraiche, even Eau Sauvage... they're all still commendable pieces of work, but there's no doubt that they've been 'amended' (no fault of Dior's, necessarily) and that, consequently, they don't satisfy as they once did.
Here endeth the preface. Enjoy the list. Make of it what you will. Feel free to challenge, debate and discuss. But no matter what else you may think of my selection, please do take it as a reminder that, at its best, Dior has provided us with more than one brand's fair share of landscape-shifting olfactory brilliance. When its creative forces have been good, they've been exceptional. Surprising. Innovative. Impassioned. Brave, without being reckless. Artistic, in the purest sense of the word. What's more, they have permitted the most talented perfumers of all time to deliver some of their finest creations. And that, dear readers, is no mean feat.
Do make sure you visit the Candy Perfume Boy's blog for his Top 7. I'm also pleased to announce that on this occasion, we're being joined by Basenotes, whose editors have come up with their own version of the Best Of Dior list, based on all manner of devilish algorithms and statistics, no doubt. Don't forget: as per our Super Scent rules, I don't know what the other lists are going to contain, so I'll be rushing off to CPB and Basenotes as soon as this post is published.
7. Diorissimo (Edmond Roudnitska; 1956)
This is one Roudnitska I simply couldn't leave out. Were it still in its original form, it would deserve nothing but the very top spot of this countdown. In fact, in its original form, it would probably be at Number 1 on my list of the greatest fragrances of all time, from any brand. But even though it isn't as soul-seducing as it used to be, it still deserves to be singled out for praise, as it remains one of the most poignant attempts to condense the soul of a lily of the valley into a bottle. How does the current incarnation vary from its ancestors? Well, to my nose, it's harsher and screechier at the top and far less funky in the base (the original possessed an impeccably-judged civet note) but at its core, you can detect the passion and the life-loving fragility that gripped the affections of so many people, time and time again. Note: the current eau de toilette and extrait versions are the closest we can get to Roudnitska's original formula; the juice sold as Diorissimo eau de parfum - heavier and less translucent - was composed by François Demachy.
6. Dioressence (Guy Robert; 1969)
Well, look what we have here: a 60s scent that hasn't been reformulated into a pitiful mess! It goes without saying that the perfume currently sold as Dioressence can't be like the original, but taken on its own merits, it's a wonderful tribute to bygone aesthetics. A sleek, powdery construction of fresh florals (mainly geranium) over dimly-lit woods, it cuts through today's clone-obsessed creation codes like a vintage silk scarf beaming its bright colours through a high-street fog. In other words, it is elegant and wholly at ease in its own skin.
5. Eau Noire (Francis Kurkdjian; 2004)
On the hospital ward of perfume name cliches, 'noire' has been on life support for several years. But in this case, it's an ideal tag, forming an impeccable fit with Kurkdjian's unusual combination of licorice, coffee, leather and a more-ish, dusky lavender. Acerbic, herbal and delightfully charred, it's one of the most striking and suave compositions the brand has ever given us, perfect for the dandy with an edge. Do be aware that this has already been discontinued in several markets, so if it's one of your personal favourites, you might want to consider stocking up.
4. Leather Oud (François Demachy; 2010)
There are several praiseworthy scents in Dior's Collection Privée - the exclusive range curated and mostly composed by François Demachy - but this has been my favourite from the moment it was released. A wondrous Occidental take on agar wood, it stirs up an incendiary desert hurricane, using dry hide, cypriol and sun-baked spices to form one of the most convincing entries in the unending torrent of oud compositions. Smell it... and feel the heat of the earth's core reach up towards you.
3. Dune (Dominique Ropion & Jean-Louis Sieuzac; 1991)
You can be pretty sure that a perfume has been touched by genius if its effect is almost impossible to describe with words. Yes, on paper, Dune is a witty juxtaposition of a saline, marine accord with a dense, calorific chocolate base. But that doesn't begin to convey the impact it has on all those who wander into its reach. As angst-ridden as it is voluptuous, it is quite simply one of the most pulse-quickening, recognisable olfactory creations of all time. If you haven't smelt it for a while - and chances are you haven't, as Dior have kept its profile low for years - then give yourself a treat and spray some on a blotter the next time you're in a perfumery. You won't be disappointed.
2. Dior Homme (Olivier Polge; 2005)
Forget Jude Law, Robert Pattinson and Jamie Dornan: the real star here is the perfume itself. An innovative, game-changing blend of baked fruit notes with iris, aldehydes and vanilla, it achieved 'modern classic' status soon after it was released and it continues to generate awe wherever it goes. Emotive, urbane and difficult to classify, it is the definitive statement on early 21st century masculinity. If only other brands had taken its barrier-bashing lead and displayed similar bravery when composing new scents for men.
1. Poison (Edouard Fléchier & Jean Guichard; 1985)
I'm sorry, but the beast everyone loves to hate gets the top spot on my list. Well, no, that's a lie: I'm not sorry at all. I adore this stuff and I think I always have from the moment it exploded into our unsuspecting little noses. So often, Dior's toxic monster is described as being harsh and aggressive, and of course, on some level, that's accurate - Poison ain't no wallflower - but it also projects tremendous smoothness, balance and control. The fruits, musks and florals supporting the tuberose core have been put together with gasp-inducing attention to detail and, more importantly, with a far greater sense of romanticism than most people seem willing to acknowledge. Ignore the hype and try to sniff this stuff anew: it is as close to olfactory perfection as anything could hope to be. Some advice: try to track down the current extrait formulation - which is superb - rather than the eau de toilette. Or better yet, scour the net and hunt down a few drops of the magical esprit de parfum incarnation of yesteryear. Your collection will thank you for it!
Note: In keeping with the rules of our Super Scent project, the above list was chosen from Christian Dior's current line-up; discontinued scents weren't considered. In case you're interested, by our reckoning, this is what their current perfume portfolio comprises:
Addict, Addict Eau Fraiche, Ambre elixir, Ambre Nuit, Aqua Fahrenheit, Bois D'Argent, Cologne Royale, Cuir Cannage, Diorama, Diorella, Dioressence, Dior Homme, Dior Homme Cologne, Dior Homme Eau For Men, Dior Homme Intense, Dior Homme Le Parfum, Dior Homme Sport, Diorissimo, Diorling, Dolce Vita, Dune, Dune Pour Homme, Eau Fraiche, Eau Noire*, Eau Sauvage, Eau Sauvage Cologne, Eau Sauvage Extreme, Eau Sauvage Le Parfum, Escale A Parati, Escale A Pondichery, Escale A Portofino, Escale Aux Marquises, Fahrenheit, Fahrenheit Le Parfum, Fahrenheit 32*, Feve Delicieuse, Forever And Ever Dior, Grand Bal, Granville, Gris Montaigne, Higher, Higher Energy, Hypnotic Poison, Hypnotic Poison Eau Secrete, J'Adore, J'Adore L'Absolu, J'Adore L'Or, J'Adore Touche De Parfum, J'Adore Voile De Parfum, Jules, Leather Oud, Miss Dior, Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet, Miss Dior Le Parfum, Miss Dior Originale, Mitzah, Musc elixir, New Look 1947, Oud elixir, Oud Ispahan, Patchouli Imperiale, Poison, Pure Poison, Rose elixir, Sauvage, Vetiver*.
According to some accounts, the scents marked * have been discontinued, but as they are still featured on a few Dior websites, we considered them for inclusion on our lists.