It's hard to believe that Poison is already 25 years old. This much-maligned and equally beloved 80s scent bomb with a bad reputation still grips my imagination. With its aubergine-colored, fairy tale apple meets vintage apothecary bottle with a crystalline stopper, Poison is nothing if not provocative. You either love it or hate it — usually for the same reasons!
Top notes: Coriander, pimento, plum, anise, mace, rosewood, carnation
Heart notes: Rose, tuberose, ylang-ylang, carnation, cinnamon, jasmine, lily of the valley
Base notes: Cedarwood, vetiver, sandalwood, musk, heliotrope, vanilla, opoponax
Rich, woody, spicy, sweet (it's practically dripping with narcotic tuberose) and berry-like (occasionally veering into a grape bubblegum accord), Poison is like Shiseido's Feminite du Bois with the cedarwood turned down and the tuberose-jasmine turned way, way up. (Think of FdB, which Poison precedes, as Poison's sophisticated French cousin; she's something of a minx as well, but she hides it a little better.) The continuum of berry-like scents from Femme, to Magie Noire, Poison and Feminite du Bois, shows the versatility of the berry/Prunol note as well as its goth-erotic sensibility.
Tuberose is the perfect floral for Poison to showcase, since this often sickly sweet flower, at certain angles and ripeness, can exude a poisonous-seeming sour twang. Like certain poisons whose sweetness hides their toxicity, tuberose initially hides its narcotic, deadly intent. When I smell this facet of tuberose, I think of a snake coiling its tail in anticipation of a venomous strike. Like tuberose, jasmine is two-faced, sweet and friendly and then indolic — aka fecal/meaty/funky. Both of these beauties are the Mata Haris of the floral note world, initially gorgeous but capable of treachery and trickery.)
Although Poison comes on strong, the scent balances its intensity with a symphony of background notes that keeps it from being one-dimensional. In addition to tuberose's minor key twist, Poison's spice (cinnamon, coriander, carnation), woods, and musk temper its floral sweetness. If anything, there's so much going on it can be bewildering to figure out what grips you so. And although there's an assault at the beginning, once the genie's out of the bottle, she mellows out with an opiate-like softness, partly sweet, partly woody, musky and incensey. (Maurice Roucel's Musc Ravageur creates a similar impact thanks to cinammon and musk — but with a more minimalist olfactory palette that emphasizes its bass notes/base notes oudh/guaiac wood rather than the wind section siren song that is Poison's narcotic floral heart.)
What follows are some of the best snippets of reader-reviews I could find on Basenotes and Fragrantica. It's a tribute to Poison's impact that it's hard to tell sometimes which are compliments and which are disses.
You can get vintage minis of Poison on eBay or The Miniature Perfume Shoppe, where I got mine. There might be a reformulation, so stick to vintage, but also remember that vintage Poison has, as one Basenotes reader said, "almost nuclear longevity and sillage." How much of the stuff do you really need? I will proudly (but judiciously) wear this stuff out in the world, detractors be damned! But I promise, Luca Turin, I will not wear it to dinner.
"Spray this in Mumbai and it will climb Mount Everest." "These top notes are both fascinating and revolting." "...Suddenly grabs a hold of you and drags you straight to grape city." "Wearing Poison is like being with a bold, abrasive best friend that you love anyway...Like this friend, just when Poison begins to annoy, it does something amazing and makes you fall in love with it again." "Only to be worn if you're in a daring mood."
"Vomit worthy." "So many notes. It also made me itchy." "Some people smell like pure sex wearing this — others smell like rotting fruit.""It is the thickest, darkest, loudest, meanest, most devilish perfume I ever set my nose on. The juice was drained from the gigantic flower grown on a planet outside of our galaxy, where no other creature has set foot before...There is no antidote."