Sunday, 24 July 2011

Waking The Witch



As part of my on-going mid life crisis, we, (my brain and I) have recently been set upon a dark and stony path back to the mid 80's, 1985 to be precise.

This has manifested itself in a number of ways, many of which could easily be misinterpreted as the early symptoms of psychosis such as waking up with Kate Bush or the Cult ringing in my head or scouring the local supermarket for Appletise and Perrier whilst shouting indignantly at the sales assistants when they tell me that they don't know what a Cabana is, but on the whole we are just about holding it together.

Amongst these wayward cravings the biggest one hit me about a fortnight ago. Late one evening I was struck by an overwhelming desire to dig out a small bottle of Dior's Poison that I recalled having archived many years ago.

Cutting a long story short, several hours later and amidst a waist high tide of cardboard storage boxes I found her.

Pulling off the lid I was convinced that I was in for a disappointment, this little bottle was after all the better part of 10 - 12 years old and I was fully expecting to be met with unadulterated vinegar and cat's pee.

Shaking like a junkie I dashed back to the bedroom and spent several minutes with just the cap of the bottle wedged under my nose taking it in. The scent hadn't deteriorated at all, this evil bitch was truly beyond the grave....

Love it? Hate it? Don't remember it?

Allow me to introduce you......




Any of you old enough to remember the 80's will inevitably have, at some point, caught a whiff of, or been strangled by the presence of, what was the most evocative and controversial scent of the decade. Adored and despised in equal parts Posion was the signature scent of the shoulder -padded, power hungry Thatcher Reich. It swamped the department stores, suffocated school girls and drove people from their desks in the workplace.





*Me?....... with this moustache?............. in a perfume house full of young ladies?!*


Poison was created in 1985 by Edouard Fleicher (above), commissioned by Maurice Roger the head of Dior. Three years in the making, Fleicher's ambition was to:

" compose a counter-intuitive oriental with very fruity notes to play on contrast and excess, to produce a provocative, daring, disturbing fragrance"

Excess is the key word here, it has to be said that there is nothing shy about this perfume. From the first hit you are almost knocked off your feet by the veritable scent bomb of top and middle notes including a near fatal overdose of Tuberose and Jasmine. I have read that many people find this the hardest part of it's development to get through and it is known to inflict severe headaches in some individuals. Interestingly Poison was actually banned from some workplaces and offices during the 80's. That's what I call a proper perfume.

The construction of Poison looks something like this:

Top Notes - Plum, Coriander, Rosewood, Allspice, Wild Berrries Anise,
Middle Notes - Tuberose, African Orange flower, Jasmine, Rose, Incense, Cinnamon, Honey Carnation and Opoponax
Base Notes- Vetiver, Musk, Sandalwood, Cedar, Heliotrope, Vanilla, Amber


It is without doubt the overwhelming knock-out nature of Poison that awarded it its unforgettable legacy . Fleicher himself was quoted in reference to this phenomena:

"Today, I do not think it would be possible to go as far as we did with Poison. The new perfumes are tame by comparison. I think that's why Poison has become a classic, because all the classics have an extreme dosage of some component. Consider Chanel no.5 (1921) for example with it's overdose of aldehydes; Vent Vent (1947) with it's jolt of galbanum, or Shalimar (1925) with it's signature of ethyl
vanillin"
Michael Edwards, Pefume Legends.

Poison was launched in Europe in Paris 1985 at the lavish Poison Ball, and it was said that during the following months a bottle was sold every 50 seconds in the city.

Back to my humble Hackney flat where sitting on the floor surrounded by the fall-out of my treasure hunt it hit me that the residual 2ml in the bottom of my tiny purse spray was not going to last me very long . So I decided it was time to invest in a new bottle.........

As some of you may already know many of the classic perfumes that have been around for decades have been re-formulated at some point in their lives, this seems to happen for a number of reasons. The most common reason appears to happen when a long standing house favourite is sold on to new hands. Often at this point the formula is tweaked or trimmed and this is a real bone of contention for perfume geeks as re-formulated scents are more often than not cited as being lamentable parodies of their former selves.

It is easy to find yourself in the Valley Of Reformulation if you are interested in any of the time honoured classics and there is plenty of interesting reading to be had on the internet on this subject.

Poison has definitely run the gauntlet on this front. It was identified that she was 'contaminated' with 4 potentially hazardous phthalates in 2002 (phthalates are apparently not very good for you according to the results of some research that Greenpeace undertook the same year) and she has at some point most definitely been reformulated between that point and today, however I am unable to find any hard evidence as to when this may have happened. Phthalates basically just make a scent stick to you and last longer from my humble understanding. Personally I have to say that having been brought up in a house with lead pipes, aluminium saucepans and smokers I'm none too bothered about using the original version. I think that the presence of actual toxic components in it's make up actually adds to it's credibility, I mean the clue is in the title really isn't it. If you're after organic alfalfa juice then go buy it, I'm happy to kill myself gradually in the manner of my own choosing.


Needless to say I was curious to find out for myself just how these changes to the original formula have affected the fragrance and how the modern version on the shelves at Boots differed from the vintage version I had at home.


(Above)Poison in her modern incarnation, still a raving beauty



Poison isn't docile in any of her guises, however, on trying the modern version in a high street chemist I would have to say that I was disappointed to discover that they have really cleaned up her act. If the 85 version was an opium den hooker then Dior's reworking sadly involved her being ordered to wash her knickers.

The purple fruits are still there but have been chastised to hell. Don't get me wrong she still has quite a good initial narcotic hit but no longer with the power to suffocate anyone that you happen to be sharing a lift with. (Which is kind of the effect that I am after, that or driving small children away in bewilderment and tears)

She still starts out with all the purple fruit and tuberose, which lingers most convincingly for a few hours and then it all starts to go a bit bloody Haribo, which is sadly what most modern perfumes smell like to me. Why modern women insist on smelling like a poxy Woolworths pic'n'mix counter (RIP) is beyond me. In a nutshell she's been sent to rehab.

I've since, out of curiousity, tried the much talked about vintage EDT , which I hunted down on the internet and found that it didn't sit well on me at all. The middle notes of coriander were troublesome and unbalancing and the sweetness was far too transient. There are those who swear by it as do those that also favour the even scarcer vintage EDC, which I look forward to stumbling upon one day. It must be said that the original packaging knocks spots off the modern edition. It's got the decadence and brashness of the 80s and isn't too busy apologising for it's own existance.


(Above) Original EDT dating from 1991

For me the real heart and soul of this fragrance can only be found in the scarce Esprit de Parfum. The depth and smokiness of this formulation is unparalleled. It's bewitching, addictive and utterly overwhelming and us such needs to be used sparingly for maximum effect. The silage is incredible, it develops in waves of pure incense and musk time and time again.


(Above) The 'Holy Grail' my big beautiful vintage Esprit de Parfum
I'm still trying to crack the batch code to figure out her date!


Contrary to what you might expect it isn't just a powered up version of the EDT, it's almost a different beast entirely. Just imagine standing over a huge smouldering bush of deadly nightshade on crack.....



Are you with me?


I managed to to track down a bottle of this on eBay (to follow on from my near empty purse spray) It had been badly listed and badly photographed, so I took a gamble and got lucky. It turned out I'd managed to score an ex-shop display 100ml bottle in excellent condition that was 99% full. So needless to say I did a little victory war dance around the floor the day it arrived.

Rediscovering this scent has been something of an epiphany for me, in the blur of middle aged hormonal turmoil there she stood part flower, part animal, part whore,.... where had she been all these years

Suddenly it all made sense. I hadn't gone looking for her, she had beckoned me like a siren from those sunken years. All of those notes that had me gagging and running for the door as a teenager hung in the air like a dream.................. definitely not one for young girls, no, only those bitter, old and vitriolic enough will have the power to withstand her asphyxiating stench and live.

If you are out and about in London and notice that the streets have fallen silent from the cries of young children, that people are scrambling to shut tight their windows, the birds have fled and that your breathing is becoming hard and laboured look about for me I'll be the old witch abroad in my black velvet and feathers polluting your streets with my purple miasma.

Run little children...... run..........



Post script: In tribute to where I nicked the title for this post from, here's a little gem from Kate's 1985 album The Hounds of Love

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBuIPthoiCQ




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