Often described as Chanel No. 5 with violets, Le Dix ("The 10"), with its nose-tickling aldehydic sparkle and haunting violet note, holds its head up high among vintage perfumes, like a handsome older woman in a sturdy 1940s suit, hat, and full makeup standing in a sea of Forever 21-clad teenagers. She has to be proud; everyone is telling her she smells "powdery," "old," and "soapy."
Gaia from The Non-Blonde reminds us that uber-feminine Le Dix came out in the same decade as the iconic leather chypres Bandit (1944) and Miss Dior (1947). Its initial impression of softness and conventional femininity is bound up with a perfume note that has perhaps always signified nostalgia and melancholy: violet.
As I wear Le Dix and let it settle on me, I understand why this is the first vintage violet scent I truly appreciate. It's faithful to the melancholy connotations of violet but adds gourmand richness to round it out and a spicy/woody backbone to give it some edge.
Top notes: Bergamot, lemon
Heart notes: Ylang-ylang, rose, lily of the valley, iris (definitely violet but not listed)
Base notes: Civet, musk, vanilla, sandalwood, and vetiver (Perfumer: Francis Fabron; notes from Notes on Shoes, Cake and Perfume)
As one commenter on Basenotes suggested, there might even be a burnt-caramel, snuffed candle-scented intensity thanks to nitro musks. (Due to the 60-odd years it took for this perfume to travel to me, the top notes were hard to recognize in the vintage sample Wendy from Notes on Shoes, Cake and Perfume so generously gave me .)
I can detect the authorial signature of Francis Fabron, the nose for one of my favorite vintage perfumes, Robert Piguet's Baghari, in the final stages of Le Dix's dry down. In Baghari's dry down, there is an absolutely heady and intoxicating richness (courtesy of boozy-creamy benzoin + vanilla) that makes make swoon. In Le Dix, the dry down is powdery and gentler in its creaminess, but still swoon-worthy. (Baghari and Le Dix have the following notes in common: aldehydes, bergamot, lemon; ylang-ylang, rose, lily of the valley; and vetiver, musk and vanilla.)
Le Dix's comforting impression of velvety violet and vanilla lingers on my skin even as I write this.
But Le Dix is not just a stuffy, smiling, powdery grandma who smells like a spiced Choward's* * candy. Like her 1940s perfume sisters, Le Dix has a past and some edge if you sit down with her long enough. In spite of its much-maligned note violet, which "radiates from the top note to the fond" as one writer put it, Le Dix takes this melancholy note and turns it into a stalwart, if conventionally feminine dame, like one of Vivien Leigh's characters or the troubled beauty herself. I'm not sure if I could wear this one, but I certainly can admire it.
* This amazing quote from Mark Twain comes from the beautiful poetry and perfume blog Memory & Desire. Specifically from her post on the violet note.
* * You can get Choward's violet candies here.
You can read some fun facts about violet here (violet blossoms are high in vitamin C; violets contain ionones which disable your ability to smell it unless you stop and return later; and it was a favorite note in the 19th century, etc.). And here's Edith Piaf, singing what I imagine is Le Dix's favorite song: Je Ne Regrette Rien.