Welcome to a monthly collaboration new for 2023! Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies and I had so much fun doing “Scent Semantics” with some other fragrance bloggers in 2022 that we decided to launch TWO regular features as a new collaboration this year. The first, which we plan to post on the first Monday of each month, is “Notes on Notes“, in which we choose one note and write about it however the spirit moves us; last month’s Note was on galbanum. This second feature is “Counterpoint“, in which we ask ourselves the same handful of questions about a single fragrance and post our separate thoughts on it, on the third Monday of each month. We’re still experimenting with format, so comments on that are welcome too!
This month’s Counterpoint fragrance is Jean Patou’s Joy (we shall ignore the imposter Dior launched in 2018 after acquiring the name and the brand). Jean Patou was one of the great designers and couturiers of pre World War 2 Europe, with his own couture house. Joy was launched in 1930 at the outset of the Great Depression, apparently so that M. Patou’s haute couture clients could still enjoy something created by him even if they couldn’t buy his dresses any more. The true creator, of course, was the perfumer; in this case, Henri Alméras.
Joy was famously promoted as the “costliest perfume in the world”, which was probably a marketing ploy but also reflected the high quality and cost of its ingredients, including absolutes made from jasmine and roses from Grasse. It was also meant to compete with Chanel No.5 as a luxury perfume. They share some qualities and notes, but each is distinct from the other, and instantly recognizable to many.
1. How did you first encounter Joy, and what was your first impression?
Old Herbaceous: I first tried Joy after I had gone down the rabbit-hole of this fragrance hobby. I knew it was one of the 20th century’s most legendary fragrances and that my perfume education would be incomplete if I didn’t try it. I found a tester of the eau de toilette at a very reasonable price, so I took the plunge and bought it blind.
My first impression was kind of “meh.” It was okay but I didn’t like it as much as the Chanels I already had, for example, or some of the more exciting new fragrances I was trying. It felt a bit old-fashioned, more than the Chanels did, and I couldn’t recognize its separate notes. As my nose became more educated, though, and I was trying more different kinds of fragrances, I came to like Joy better.
Portia: Honestly I have no memory of first smelling Joy by Patou. It seemed to be around in my childhood. It was definitely work by my Mum at some point and by various Aunts and friends Mums. There is no one specific image or memory I can conjure of my early encounters though.
When I started buying vintages I was so unaware of exactly how it should smell I sent a couple of samples around the world for confirmation and bought samples from Posh Peasant for comparison. So I’m taking my first vintage splash bottle as if it was the first time I smelled it. The only memory I have of that was being overwhelmed by this extraordinary scent. Eye-rollingly gorgeous stuff, I think I bought about a dozen bottles so I’d never be without it again, mainly vintage parfums and a couple of those 45ml EdT or EdP.
2. How would you describe the development of Joy?
Portia: Today I’m wearing both the vintage EdP and vintage parfum. I’m not sure exactly the years but the picture might give you an idea.
Opening is sharp white flowers, aldehydes and a swirl of ylang. It’s rich, plush and sumptuous. I know Joy is supposed to be rose and white floweer but the roses take a far back seat on the bus for ages before they start to become a serious contender. Even when they do make their play it’s only as a backup not the main event.
What I do smell as we hit the heart is fruit. Not that modern super sweet candy-ised fruit but that vintage tinned fruit salad. Yeah, it’s sweet but more robust, less headache inducing.
There is also a lovely, stemmy green note that could be hyacinth and it borders on torn twig. It’s verdant but also bitter and gives a lovely counterpoint to the bouquet and fruit.
Hiding deep below is also a little growly tiger and breathy, sweet jasmine.
As the fragrance heads towards dry down, the woods and animalics become more pronounced. Not dirty or ass-ish but smoothly skin-like, me but so much better.
Old Herbaceous: The notes listed for the original Joy are: tuberose, rose, ylang-ylang, aldehydes, pear, and green notes. The heart notes include jasmine and iris root. The base has notes of musk, sandalwood, and, in the vintage, civet. The version I have is the eau de toilette and it dates to 2016. Fragrantica lists this version’s notes as: Top notes — Bulgarian Rose, Ylang-Ylang and Tuberose; middle notes — Jasmine and May Rose; base notes — Musk and Sandalwood.
I think there are still some aldehydes in the opening, even if no longer listed, to give it some lift. There’s a pleasant soapiness to Joy that I associate with aldehydes; and I think they are the cause of so many people feeling that Joy is old-fashioned. I smell the ylang-ylang more than I do the other floral top notes, and then the jasmine arrives. It isn’t overpowering but it is very evident, much more so than the rose notes. I don’t smell any iris, root or bloom, at all, so that may not have become part of the modern EDT. It’s not quite as abstract a flower as Chanel No.5, but it is in that same vein. Even in EDT format, Joy has good longevity and sillage. A little goes a long way, given how dominant jasmine is. The final stage of this modern Joy on my skin is all soft sandalwood and white musk, like expensive soap.
3. Do you or will you wear Joy regularly? For what occasions or seasons?
Old Herbaceous: I don’t think I’ll wear Joy regularly, but that’s mostly because I now have such a large collection of fragrances that there are only a few I would say I “wear regularly.” Joy definitely gets more love from me than it used to, and it’s in a convenient location, so I do reach for it occasionally. It’s great for church or the office, because if you don’t overspray, it’s quite subtle and ladylike. It’s one of those fragrances that doesn’t jump out at anyone, it just smells very nice. By the same token, if you want your fragrance to make more of an impression, Joy may not be the one to choose that day (or night), unless the parfum has more impact (I haven’t tried that version).
Portia: Joy is so fabulous but rarely gets the spritz, splash ot swipe here. Every so often I get out the Patou box and grab Joy. I’ll wear it and put it back. Then I won’t think of it for months. That doesn’t lessen my love for it but it seems to fit only rarely.
I’m hoping that enjoying wearing it so much today and yesterday that it might inspire me to wear it more often.
4. Who should/could wear Joy?
Portia: Joy needs a certain amount of preparation if you’re not a regular wearer. It’s big, bold and makes a statement. It’s tenacity is also legendary, so you have to be ready to smell of this iconic beauty for at least half a day. Anyone who chooses Joy is choosing to smell of a fragrance that will not be easily available for us to buy when the bottle runs out. So they are wearing something precious and on it’s way to extinction. That alone tells you something of the wearer. Either they are so wealthy that they can stockpile or such a hedonist that wearing it to the dregs and enjoying every second is better than having it forever. No, I check myself. There are other reasons. Wearing it as a memory scent, to mark special occasions, as a lure or any number of wonderful reasons.
Really though, anyone who wants to smell spectacular and relive the joy of wearing Joy by Patou before it’s gone forever.
Old Herbaceous: As always, I say anyone who wants to can wear Joy or any other fragrance! Joy does give off a certain demure, ladylike air, at least in EDT form, but that could be deployed to great effect if the wearer isn’t, in fact, demure, ladylike, or even a lady. For myself, I prefer some of the reissued “Collection Heritage” fragrances created by Thomas Fontaine when he was Jean Patou’s head perfumer, especially Chaldée and L’Heure Attendue.
If you want to experience this legendary fragrance, I recommend getting some soon. Dior’s Joy is a pallid successor at best, but all the Jean Patou fragrances are now out of production, since LVMH bought the brand (to the howls of the faithful) and changed its name to just “Patou”. The fragrances are still widely available online and I’m told that Joy was so popular among ladies of my mother’s generation and even beyond that it is often found at estate sales. In fact, when a FiFi award was given in 2000 to the “perfume of the century”, it was given to Joy and NOT to its competitor No.5. So now really is the time to get yourself this small exemplar of 20th century fashion and creativity. I’ll be keeping my eye out for vintage parfum, since that’s the version that has gotten the most rave reviews (including from Luca Turin, who gave it his rare five-star rating) and that Portia finds so alluring.
Have you experienced Joy? What did you think? Has your opinion changed over time, as mine did?