lundi 16 janvier 2012

Dune in the Nude: A Revival of Dior's Underground Classic


Last summer, Serge Lutens’s De Profundis prompted the memory of Dune, which I bought and wore for two weeks during my holiday. I’d written a post, which gradually got pushed back by a slew of launches. Then Victoria of Bois de Jasmin and Angela of Now Smell This both posted reviews, triggering something of a Dune revival. Here’s my delayed contribution to the conversation…

When we single out a mainstream product that veers off mainstream charts or exhibits some kind of weirdness, say the recently discontinued Bulgari Black, we tend to think “this could be niche”. Not so Dune. It is too smooth to fit into what later developed as the niche codes, with their deliberately baroque distortions and contrasts. And it was definitely a mainstream success, with 13 million units sold in its three first years of existence. But mainstream in a way that the industry seems to have almost entirely lost touch with. It is also one of the few members of an eccentric family, the green orientals, founded by Cartier's Must in 1981.

The name “Dune” was jotted down by Maurice Roger, Parfums Dior’s CEO from 1981 to 1996, at the time when he thought up Poison: Dune was to be its serene, nature-inspired antidote.
The visionary Roger was brought in from Sanofi (which then owned Yves Rocher, Roger & Gallet and the Van Cleef and Arpels licence) to usher Dior into the globalized, marketing-driven 80s.
“The time is done when a little individual would project his own fantasies by dreaming of his schoolteacher’s skirts, dreaming of the smell of furniture polish in his grandmother’s country house or dreaming of the beautiful electric light of dawn after a beautiful festive night”, he decreed to the press when he presented Poison. The concept and story came before the product, and that story had to speak to women around the world.
What’s fascinating is that rather than the bland, catch-all products the bid for blockbusters yields today, Parfums Dior managed to produce three remarkably original fragrances under Roger’s tenure: Poison (1985), Fahrenheit (1988) and Dune (1991) – the 1995 Dolce Vita would have been more of an achievement if it weren’t a twist on the 1992 Féminité du Bois, which Pierre Bourdon co-authored with Christopher Sheldrake.

Maurice Roger never mentioned to Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Dominique Ropion that the perfume would be called Dune; nor did he speak of sand or beaches. His brief was to conjure a jardin de curé, a priest’s garden, producing both flowers for the altar and herbs for the kitchen by a seaside church in Brittany or Normandy.
Nevertheless, the perfumers managed to work in the briny ocean breeze blowing on the garden and, more interestingly still, to build an olfactory form that has not only the fine-grained smoothness of a sand dune, but also the subliminal inner tension that drives dunes to shape-shift of their own accord.

This tension is owed to the action of the raspy, bitter green notes on the fuzzy balsamic oriental accord. The former combines blackcurrant and laurel with an overdose of stemone (used to conjure fig and tomato leaf, for instance, but also lily of the valley), the first such overdose in perfumery. The latter features a classic trio of vanilla, patchouli and benzoin. What bridges the contrast and gives Dune its ethereal roundness is liatris, also known as deertongue, a coumarin-rich plant with strong tobacco and herbaceous facets (official notes list broom, which shares honeyed tobacco facets with liatris). The patchouli/vanilla base, blended with the bitter notes, produces a dark chocolate illusion in the drydown.The startling saltiness might be an effect of evernyl – oak moss has an iodic aspect reminiscent of its close relatives algae.

As a result, Dune, though conceived as an herb and flower garden, invented an alternate olfactory universe to conjure the seaside without a drop of calone, just at the time when the aquatic family (pioneered by Yves Tanguy’s Aramis New West in 1988) was about to gain ground. Unlike some blockbusters of earlier decades, Dune isn’t showing its age, not because it's been forgotten, but because its compelling oddity – salt-encrusted skin rolled in herbs oozing a bittersweet, milky sap – is still perfectly modern.



Photo: Nude in the Dunes, by Edward Weston

36 commentaires:

  1. Spot on! Thanks very much indeed.

    I've always been a fan of Dune, since my Mum attended its Dubai launch and brought a bottle back home. It never fails to make me think of the Middle East... which is appropriate enough, I guess.

    I also seem to remember that its original TV ad was abstract and celebrity-free in that wonderful 80s/90s way.

    By the way, I don't think we review older perfumes often enough.

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  2. You always manage to wake up my curiosity, and I just love your way with words.
    I happen to miss your reviews, really. I love the anecdote of the jardin de curé that ended up smelling like a shape-shifting desert dune.
    I will look for a tester - is the current version of Dune still this magic creature you describe?
    Does the IFRA know? ;)

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  3. Persolaise, indeed, ads back then didn't feature actors... I'd also like to review older products more often... Or even wear them for that matter. But I've got such a backlog of new things I'm throwing up my 8 arms in despair, as my two heads are swimming...

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  4. Great review! It's nice to see 3 reviews of a fragrance I have owned for over a decade. I wore it last week, inspired by both reviews you mentioned.

    On another note are you sure that Black is discontinued? It's still on the Bvlgari site. If it is I will need a back-up bottle of that one.

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  5. I don't know why I've never smelled this. I'm dying to.

    Black is dc'd? Damn. Too weird & beautiful to live, I suppose.

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  6. Thank you for your review! As always, you came up with insightful background information (a priest's garden--fascinating) to put everything in context.

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  7. I missed out on Dune when it first appeared because I had a small baby at the time who didn't like perfume very much (he does now that he is 22!) so I saved my perfume moments for my beloved of that period - Opium. The reviews you mentioned promted me to get a miniature bottle of vintage Dune for a couple of quid from eBay and it is stunning. So what a pleasure to read your review .

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  8. Zazie, this review is based on the currently available eau de toilette, so the answer is yes. The "jardin de curé" anecdote comes from a direct witness and may be in Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends.
    As for reviews, writing for Citizen K and various other gigs have slowed me down. My backlog of products to write about is truly scary!

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  9. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par son auteur.

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  10. Barbara, maybe the time is right for green orientals? I really should go nosing around Cartier Must.
    As for Black, that's the word that's out in the industry, but brands seldom update their websites. I got the same type of info on Gucci Rush and am waiting for confirmation.

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  11. StyleSpy, Dune has really slipped under many people's radar, but it's worth seeking out.
    As I write above, Black's obit is circulating in the industry. They might be phasing it out while stocks last, but I'm not finding it in stores anymore.

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  12. Angela, another reason I hadn't posted is that I wanted to dig in even further... But it would have been a triple post. As I said above, the garden anecdote was reported to me by someone who worked with Sieuzac at the time.

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  13. Maureen, if you get a chance to compare the vintage with the current version, please pop back in to report!

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  14. Thanks for the confirmation on Black. It is sad though; it is easily their best fragrance. Too weird to be liked, I suppose. I actually find it remarkably easy to wear, and quite comforting.

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  15. Barbara, it's a very widely admired fragrance in the industry -- usually a bad sign nowadays. Whenever I bring up a mainstream product I love, people will shake their heads and go "but it's a flop". Well, at least discounters still have Black in stock: time for back-ups I guess.

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  16. It's synchronicity week for sure.
    The element that tipped me over to buy the bottle of Love Potion No 9 in the Penhaligon's sale was the fact that someone likened it to Dune. It arrived this week and it absolutely does sing the same song. (Less radiance - a bit quieter.)

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  17. Thanks for the review Denyse! This was one of my first grown-up perfume purchases; I loved it, although as a 15-year-old I found it quite hard to wear...smelling it in the shops these days is always a bit of a nostalgia fest.

    As far as I can tell, the current formulation is still pretty good, which is always nice.

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  18. Wordbird, this is getting downright eerie! I shouldn't be surprised if trendwatchers were busy putting together Powerpoint slides as we speak...

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  19. Parfymerad, thanks for confirming the quality of the current version. And congratulations on your excellent taste as a teenager!

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  20. I have enjoyed the recent reviews of Dune and of course yours is no exception, D! I remember buying a bottle in 1991 from Duty Free as I left for a road trip holiday in Florida. We spent some time in the Keys and I will forever associate Dune with lazy days by the ocean. Loved it. Then after a year or so moved onto Safari and never revisited it. I will now do so. Thanks Nicola

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  21. After reading all the reviews I really have to try Dune!
    What does the term "overdose" mean in this context, I've come across it several times now on perfume blogs?

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  22. Nicola, I can't imagine a better fragrance for lazy days by the ocean. I wish I had those kinds of memories to associate with it!

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  23. Eva S, an overdose means there is an uncharacteristically high percentage of a raw material in a formula, compared to the small quantities used up to then. For instance, the 8% of galbanum in the original Vent Vert as opposed to just a lick. A large quantity of a raw material will produce very different, novel effects.

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  24. I will have to re-read this later. For now I'm so upset that Black is discontinued. Black, Missoni, Theo Fennell Scent, all discontinued. I must be showing my age, but now I'm doing the hand-wringing routine, saying, what is this world coming to?
    I'll have another look at the review when I can give it it's due. (Sometimes I have to print reviews to really pay attention. I tend to skim onscreen.)
    Thanks. Dune is a top twenty perfume for me.

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  25. Carla, I'm sorry to be the one to break the bad news. But it's better to be warned and stock up before speculation sets in, isn't it? I mean, look at Le Feu d'Issey, which now goes for a fortune...
    I know what you mean about long posts, they're sometimes hard to focus on when you're reading from a screen.

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  26. Loved your review, D! When I first learned that jardin de curé was the reference for Dune from Michael Edwards, it was a revelation. Dune always reminds me of Sochi, a Russian town on the Black Sea coast, where I used to go with my parents on vacation. The salty scent would cling to everything--clothes, flowers, skin... Of course, it is possible that someone in my mom's group actually wore Dune, hence, my association.

    Black's discontinuation has been mentioned so much that I finally stopped listening. The US branch of Bulgari still lists it in their stocks. However, I have a back up bottle just in case.

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  27. Victoria, thank you! It seems Dune features in a lot of people's memories of the period, which isn't surprising since it did so well.
    As for Black, I know, there are always rumours, but this time they're much louder, so I'm not taking any chances -- I've got a back-up as well.

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  28. Dior Dune is a fragrance that have always denied its charms for me. I keep seeing amazing reviews from different places and it always make me want to try it again. But it doesn't change it smell to me, which has a soapy, green and sour aura that reminds me of rotten flowers. In general i like and respect Dior fragrances, but this one i have never managed to understand or like until today.

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  29. About Must de Cartier, it's a good time to review it, specially because it was reformulated last year, so it'd be interesting a review that compared the previous and the recent version. Cartier seems to be going through a big chance in their feminine aisle at this moment.

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  30. Black is still cooking under those dreadfully hot and bright lights at my local Sephora.......but I wll order an extra bottle just in case! Dune is lovely. I tried it for the first time today. I put one small spritz on my hand and then had people enquiring about that nice smell all day. So the sillage is nothing short of spectacular. After sniffing all day, I was reminded, oddly of, Lolita Lempicka. Perhaps there is a harmony of dissimilar notes going on in both fragrances.

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  31. Henrique, this confirms that Dune is a love/hate composition, as original products often are.
    I do intend to re-explore Must, but I can't compare it to a previous version since I don't have it, and may not have time to hunt it down.

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  32. Katy, I've never thought of Lolita Lempicka, which is an offspring of Angel, in relation to Dune. Maybe the interaction between green effects and an oriental patchouli/tonka/vanilla base?
    As for Black, I'm still trying to get some kind of official confirmation, or at least corroboration from another inside source.

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  33. Carmen, i have a bottle of must pure parfum and a mini of the edt. Wouldn't mind sending you some when you want. I also have the Must II, just in case you wanna try it...

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  34. Henrique, thank you for your kind offer. You can send me an email and I'll give you my details.

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  35. Dear Denyse,
    I have been thinking of Dune lately. To me it is crystalline, then raspy. I miss you and am dying for your book to come out. Kiss!
    Cait

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  36. Dear Cait, both are qualities of sand, aren't they? And less than two months before the book comes out, which seems both forever and a very short time. I suppose that's what happens when you're waiting for a fatidic date for two years...

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