Fur rubbed with mint toothpaste (Chandler Burr). Vietnamese beef salad (Tania Sanchez). Like fruit on the verge of going bad (Luca Turin). More than any other vintage perfume that I've encountered so far, Diorella provokes the most outré metaphors from perfume critics, all of them tripping over themselves to be more hyperbolic than the next about this fresh, yet funky-ripe scent by the legendary Edmond Roudnitska (my new favorite perfumer next to Germaine Cellier?).
Of all his creations, among them Femme and Eau Sauvage, Diorella was Roudnitska's favorite.(It has been called a "perfected Eau Sauvage" by Luca Turin; some say that it is Eau Sauvage with a drop of peach.) If Eau Sauvage is Roudnitska's overexposed olfactory photograph, and Femme the underexposed one (with saturated sueded fruit notes), Diorella is the perfect picture, bright yet warm. It starts off citrus fresh, and quickly moves to a body odor-tinged (cumin-like), indolic honeysuckle/jasmine. The musky base adds weight to its sparkling top notes, never wearing Diorella down but rather giving it a little depth and darkness.
This paradoxical combination of lightness and darkness, freshness and bodily funkiness, makes me think of the song Suzanne, by Leonard Cohen: "She shows you where to look/amid the garbage and the flowers." Because, at its heart, it smells like garbage on the verge of going bad that someone has thrown a pile of flowers onto, Diorella shows you how to find beauty in the intersection of garbage and flowers. I know this doesn't sound like an endorsement, but it is!
Top notes: Sicilian lemon, peach, basil, Italian bergamot, lemon, green notes (galbanum?)
Middle notes: Honeysuckle, jasmine, violet, rosebud, carnation, cyclamen
Base notes: Oakmoss, clove, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, patchouli
After wearing it daily for about a week now, I can say that one of the things I love most about it is its kaleidescopic nature. First of all, the clove and basil mixed with flower notes contributes to the strange mint smell Chandler Burr refers to. If you look for that, you will smell it, the way blue and red mix to form purple. As for the Vietnamese beef salad Tania Sanchez refers to, I was very skeptical about this, until one day, sitting at my desk, I could have sworn I smelled the coriander and fish sauce (along with lemon juice) that serve as the marinade for the beef salad. Perfumes exist now with salt notes; this one, at times, indeed smells salty. And I smelled the beef! (Perhaps the basil and indolic* flowers created this olfactory hallucination.)
Continuing on in the stinky Vietnamese food vein, Luca Turin's "fruit going bad" metaphor made me swear I smelled a touch of Durian fruit in the sweet/rotten undertones of Diorella, or maybe more accurately, jack fruit. Subtle, but unmistakably there. (From the melon note?)
Honestly, does anyone do "funk" as well as Roudnitska? It's as if he's reminding us that these ripe smells connote death as much as they do life. It's profound, really, this reminder in his perfumes — that it's the mortality of these bright and alive things that makes them beautiful.
I'm not sure if this is historically accurate, but one commenter on Basenotes said that Diorella was the first perfume to break free from the notion that flowers were wholesome. Whether it was the first, I agree one would definitely think of flowers and citrus fragrances differently after spending some time with Diorella. There's a living, breathing, dirty animal underneath the clean citrus, the lady likeflowers, and if I can get my hands on the eau de parfum, I'm going to have a full-on relationship with it rather than a one-night stand.
*Gorgeous fragrances often contain notes of something nasty. Even jasmine perfumes contain indole, which perfumer Christopher Brosius likens to the smell of dead mice. (Indole is "probably the most unfairly maligned molecule on earth", writes Luca Turin in "The Secret of Scent".) (This observation courtesy of More Intelligent Life.)