Groan. The conglomerate LVMH seems to have acquired Jean Patou this summer, with the acquisition to be completed this month, although there has been a lot of mystery about the deal: LVMH’s stealth capture of Jean Patou. This is cause for concern, because LVMH is reputed to have “dumbed down” legendary fragrances it has previously acquired, perhaps most famously those of Christian Dior, like my formerly beloved Diorissimo. That LVMH has launched a new Parfums Dior fragrance named so similarly to “Joy“, Patou’s most iconic fragrance and one that vies for the top spot of all 20th century perfumes, does not bode well for the original Joy, which Luca Turin awarded five stars in his original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide” and called “huge, luscious, and utterly wonderful.” This is especially disappointing because I had discovered and liked Thomas Fontaine’s re-creations of classic Patou fragrances such as L’Heure Attendue and hoped they would continue.
Joy by Dior is not huge, luscious, and utterly wonderful. I agree with Colognoisseur that it has been tested to its last faint breath so that it will become a bestseller among young women who may never have heard of Jean Patou. It is pleasant, inoffensive, and somewhat anemic. And if that sounds like damning with faint praise, it is. I tried it yesterday, somewhat hoping to like it because I do like actress Jennifer Lawrence, who is the face of Dior and whose beautiful face graces all of the advertising for Joy by Dior.
Like many moviegoers, I first encountered Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games trilogy, although she had already caught critics’ positive attention in earlier work like “Winter’s Bone”. I was immediately taken by her natural beauty and the fluidity of the emotions that seemed to rise organically from her face and physical bearing. The story itself was compelling, about the domination of an entire country by one small, luxury-obsessed group in the Capitol of Panem, who condemned most of the residents of the Districts to lives of actual and semi-starvation and malnutrition, among other woes, until the Districts rebel.
Joy by Dior is the smaller, paler, thinner, younger Primrose Everdeen to the real Joy, itself comparable to Katniss in her transforming wedding dress: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: a huge, luxurious confection stuffed with the most expensive elements, over-the-top feminine, the epitome of extravagance, presented for a hungry world’s admiration, awe, and envy. The original Joy was claimed to be “the world’s most expensive perfume” when it was launched at the start of the Great Depression, when couturier Jean Patou recognized that many of his longtime customers could no longer afford Parisian couture but could manage the purchase of an iconic fragrance that would give them the same aura of luxury. Each bottle was said to contain the essences of thousands of jasmine flowers and hundreds of roses, as well as animalic ingredients like civet and musk.
As reviewer Angela wrote several years ago on Now Smell This, “Joy Parfum seamlessly morphs from a complex floral explosion to something darker, and unless you already knew Joy, you might not recognize the dry down and the heart as the same fragrance.” There is a darker, more insubordinate aspect to Joy, as if the parfum presents itself as demure and ladylike, but as it dries down and the evening progresses, it reveals itself to be more of a femme fatale who is in full control of her own destiny and that of the men who choose to enter her orbit.
As Samantha has written in her blog “I Scent You a Day”, the original Joy is a heavyweight, a Presence. The new Joy by Dior is a lightweight, almost anorexic. It’s not bad (it is by Francois Demachy, after all), it is even likable, but it is a small, pale thing compared to its big sister. Its classic citrus opening combines orange and bergamot, and the orange note is pleasantly astringent, not too sweet. It combines nicely with the greenish tartness of the bergamot. Next come roses and jasmine, but they enter shyly and hesitantly — a far cry from the confident assertiveness of those flowers in Joy. These are slender, girlish blossoms, not full-figured, unabashed roses.
Similarly, the drydown of Joy by Dior does not purr or growl: it whispers, in a breathy tone of white musk. I don’t smell any of the listed sandalwood, patchouli, or cedar notes. Again, the drydown is likeable, but it is also forgettable. Sadly, as soon as I tried Joy by Dior, it reminded me of dozens of fragrances whose names I could not recall. It just smelled very familiar.
The bottle is also disappointing. I love me some pink, so it’s not the color of the juice that lets me down — it is the generic-looking cylinder that is clearly meant to evoke the cylindrical bottles of Dior’s more exclusive fragrances in “La Collection Privee” and the “Maison Christian Dior” collection, but that has been tarted up with silver sparkle, like glitter. And the typeface on the bottle, loudly proclaiming “JOY” with a smaller “Dior” in the center, is barely different from the typeface on the iconic Patou bottle, which was designed by an noted architect and captured the essence of Art Deco, as noted on the Jean Patou website:
Every Jean Patou bottle is a jewel in its own right. The same techniques and craftsmanship are still used today. The bottles have retained the Art Deco forms dear to Patou’s friend Louis Süe, who came up with the original design. The cut glass flask decorated with gold leaf is filled drop by drop. The stopper is then sealed by hand with a gold thread and stamped.
A work of timeless beauty.
This new bottle will, no doubt, lend itself to cost-saving replicas in the flankers to come, but it could have been so much better. Chanel, for example, when it launched Gabrielle, came up with a truly beautiful bottle with clear reference to the classic Chanel No. 5 bottle, although I was ultimately left unmoved by the fragrance itself.
Sigh. Why, oh why, do we have this trend of releasing fragrances that remind me of little sisters? (Not my own little sister, btw, who resembles Katniss more than Prim!) I’m looking at you, Gabrielle. Let’s hope that Patou’s new masters will let us post-adolescents continue to enjoy Joy, the original, without mucking it up. Even Effie, after all, evolved from one of Katniss’ tormentors to her ally, saving her from tasteless makeover attempts.