One Thousand Scents

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Intoxicated: 1985, Part 2

The "brief intermission" I mentioned two weeks ago--two weeks ago!--was supposed to an actual thing, a piece of writing unrelated to my nostalgic eighties lovefest, but life kind of got in the way: I visited my mother and stepfather, and he was laid low (very low) by a case of pneumonia which hospitalized him for five-plus days, which meant that my mom spent a lot of time at the hospital and I spent a lot of time house-sitting, doing chores and taking care of the animals and such. And not writing.

At any rate, my stepfather is improved, life is more or less back to normal, and I'm back home, with stories to tell about my few hours in Toronto on the way home (Boutique Guerlain! Frederic Malle's line at Holt Renfrew!). The intermission is coming. Just not today.


The other huge, unavoidable scent launch in 1985 was Dior's Poison, which along with so many other launches of that era was a colossal, dark-hued oriental that made lavish use of the new and interesting synthetics that were increasingly available. At that point, even though I had bought Obsession, I still wasn't absolutely comfortable with the idea of wearing a women's scent, and Poison seemed more feminine to me than I thought I could manage. I didn't actually buy any until a year or so later, when I discovered that 1) it wasn't feminine at all, and 2) I didn't really care that much anyway.

The Poison you will smell nowadays--I bought some a few years ago--is not quite what it was in 1985. The top has, in the modern style, been freshened somewhat, and the florals in the core are more aggressive, certainly with a higher proportion of synthetics, both changes bringing it more in line with the ever-popular and inescapable fruity-floral category. It's still pretty good, though; still strange and thought-provoking. If you had never smelled it when it was launched, or if you haven't ever had a chance to smell the vintage, you wouldn't compare it to anything else on the market: but believe me, when it was new, it was completely unlike anything else out there, utterly new, radically modern and different. And genuinely great, too. Even the name generated shock waves. How innocent we were then!

I had a chance to smell some vintage Poison Esprit de Parfum (Dior's formulation, somewhere between eau de parfum and extrait--they also made Dune in that strength) while visiting my mom: I have naturally enough given her a great many scents over the years, from samples up to full-sized bottles, and she still has a mini of the EdP, which obviously I had to uncork and sniff. It hasn't aged flawlessly: the top is muddied, almost unrecognizable. But the core of the scent is the same as it ever was, and it is astonishing--and astonishingly strong. I didn't even put any on, but the mere act of unstoppering the bottle must have gotten a tiny amount on my skin, because fifteen minutes later my mother furrowed her brow and said, "Did you put on some perfume?" I told her I had uncorked the Poison, just pulled the stopper out, and she nodded, because she knows: that stuff is potent.

One of the writers over at the Perfume Posse made a reference to its potency when she wrote, "I had, at one point, a dot of Poison Esprit on my thumb I had applied with a toothpick, and the clerk at our corner store looked at me with an expression between suspicion and horror and correctly identified the scent." A toothpick-point dot of Poison is about right. One of the saleswomen in the fragrance boutique where I discovered Poison told me a horror story: a woman came into the shop regularly and doused herself with it--here the saleswoman would mime a big pinwheeling circle of the arm around the head and torso, with her finger pressing an imaginary button, "pss pss pss pss pss!"--while saying, "I just love this stuff!"

I have actually written about Poison rather intensively before: first when I bought a bottle of Midnight Poison in October of 2007, then a couple of times when I underwent a baffling case of dysosmia in December of that same year. (I got better.) So you might want to go ahead and read those: I'm not going to repeat myself too much. Just this: the two greatest versions of Poison, Esprit de Parfum (denser, more eroticized) and Cologne (fresher, less assaultive), are long gone, but if you ever find them, along with Obsession, as vintage, buy them. Buy them! Their modern incarnations are not the same: they've been updated to better suit modern sensibilities, but it's not until you have smelled them as they were that you can get an idea of just what it was about mainstream eighties perfumery: it was big, it was sexy, and it was hypermodern in the best possible way.


  • In 1985 I was wearing Obsession too, and I felt like the sexiest thing in a perm around.

    Poison I don't know at all, but I salute it as the opposite of all that is pale and washed out.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1:13 PM  

  • This synthetic note that assaulted your nose a couple of years ago ... could it possibly be dihydromyrcenol?

    There's a note I've been smelling a lot lately, and it seems to dominate compositions that include it. It's a sort of green, soapy, plasticky or maybe metallic note that reminds me of Ivory dish soap. There's a lot of it in Cool Water. I've smelled in some other kind of cheap floral compositions (like Tocade). The other day I was sitting at a bar and smelled it coming from the dishwasher. I think it's dihydromyrcenol (which I know is used in large amounts in Cool Water as well as in soaps and detergents), but I couldn't swear to it, as I've never smelled the molecule straight.

    By Blogger Elisa, at 1:24 PM  

  • I was in Shreveport, LA this week and found, in an old drugstore, an ounce of Poison eau de cologne. In the past year I've been lucky enough to find this and two other bottles of vintage edt. I have more than enough Poison to last me a lifetime, but I love it so much that when I see an older bottle, particularly when reasonably priced, I must have it. I'd never heard of the cologne version. It's unusual; not so much like the Poison I remember in the top notes, but it definitely hits familiar territory in the middle notes and dry down. Great to see another guy talking about his love for Poison.

    By Blogger Brian, at 6:49 PM  

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