(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on December 11, 2011)
I knew a woman many years ago who wore Poison, and that alone was enough to deter me from ever allowing the aptly named substance to come in contact with my skin. But one bright and sunny day, as a part of my ongoing quest for truth through and in perfume, I decided that I would take up the legendary elixir. Could I, in good conscience, continue on in such a state of ignorance even decades after the perfume's launch? I humbly asked myself.
No, the time had arrived, at last, to set my prejudices to one side and finally put Poison to the direct test, by wearing it myself. Was it not possible, after all, that my negative perception of the perfume was mere projection stemming from my negative impression of the woman who wore it, perhaps too heavily applied?
It is true that she wore too much make up as well, what became abundantly clear the fated morning when I bumped into her before she had spent what must have been the two hours of her daily ritual in painstaking application of yellowish cakey foundation, four coatings of navy mascara, thick liquid black eyeliner, opaque silver eye shadow and matte fuchsia lipstick, all of which contributed to her “twenty-one going on forty" appearance. Her over-processed, bleached blonde hair set with electric curlers and sprayed permanently in place with a waterproof lacquer did not help either. Nor did her Harlem nails and her skin-tight jeans, which she must have needed either a shoe-horn or perhaps some Vaseline to get into.
She was a tough lady—no doubt about it. My impression was that she concurred wholeheartedly and intuitively (having not read any of his works) with Machiavelli : It's wonderful to be both loved and feared, but if one of the two must be sacrificed, the latter will suffice. Sticks, not carrots, ensure immediate compliance with the ruler's will.
But now she was gone. I hadn't seen her for years, yet somehow her image etched in my mind continued amazingly to exert such an influence over me that my noble quest for perfume knowledge was being severely obstructed by the gaping Poison lacuna imposed by what had become a merely chimerical figure from whom I had nothing to fear. It wasn't just that my memory of her had prevented my testing of the original Poison. No, much worse, I had steered clear of the entire Poison series, such was her hold on my imagination.
There are occasions in each person's life when she wakes up as from a dream and realizes that it's finally time to let go, to slay the demons and throw off the chains still shackling her mind. My heartfelt hope was that I might discover that Poison really wasn't that bad after all, that, perhaps, I was just a tad bit olfactorily unsophisticated at the time when I forged an unforgettable association between a certain imposing person and this famous perfume. Perhaps my mental connection of this perfume with that woman had kept me in a benighted state and prevented me from appreciating what many others have identified as a truly great creation....
Alas, on occasion I am not wrong, and today, with some degree of sorrow, I am prepared here boldly to proclaim that I did not make a grave mistake—or even a tiny error—in refusing to don this perfume for more than twenty years. Poison strikes me (violent metaphor entirely intended!) as a direct ancestor of Thierry Mugler Angel—minus the redeeming drydown of the latter.
Dark purple fruits—grape jelly or plum jam, as you like (or not...)—and a gob of other stuff (see notes, below...) which together creates a je ne sais quoi concoction (but is it perfume?) so potent that I am frankly surprised that the FDA permits this potion to be sold in spray bottles! Honestly, I was wearing maybe .05 ml of my 1ml sample vial (yes, still 95% full), yet I labored under an intense headache from the moment the juice hit my skin. Were you perhaps wearing pure perfume? cynics may surmise. No, not at all: this was the edt!
Do women really enjoy wearing Poison? Isn't it about as comfortable as false eyelashes, a girdle, and a beehive hairdo? Isn't it like wearing shoes three sizes too small in order to shrink one's feet? Or foregoing anesthesia before having a cavity filled?
Upon this, my first direct and physiological encounter with the Poison “perfume moment” in history, I became immediately convinced that this liquid may well have been solely responsible for the rabid anti-perfume backlash of the 1990s. Mon dieu!
I have read reviews in which perfumistas wiser than I advise spraying perfumes such as Angel and Poison into the air and then walking through the mist thus created. Others prescribe a very light spritz at the hip level. Perhaps, on another occasion, in, say, twenty more years, I'll give that a try.
Perfumer: Edouard Fléchier
Salient notes (from www.fragrantica.com): plum, allspice, coriander, wildberries, orange honey, tuberose, opopanax, incense, cinnamon, anise, jasmine, rosewood, amber, vanilla, musk, sandalwood, heliotrope, vetiver, carnation, neroli, cedar, and rose
PURE POISON (2004)
I naturally approached Pure Poison with some trepidation, given what had been my recent traumatic experience with Agent Purple. Could there be a potion less unadulterated by nontoxic components than Poison itself? I nervously asked myself, while running a preemptive bath.
Well, it turns out that Pure Poison is yet another badly named flanker, in this case, to my considerable relief. Pure Poison bears little, if any, resemblance to its namesake, offering a strong but alluring white flower elixir which opens sweet and becomes progressively more clean, even somewhat soapy, over time. The rich consistency reminds me in some ways of Robert Piguet Fracas, although the notes are of course very different, as tuberose is nowhere in Pure Poison to be sniffed, and Fracas is not at all soapy. What connects them in my mind is probably that both compositions seem to me to be creamy and white, with real potential for addiction.
Jasmine is definitely the star of the Pure Poison show, which in its pristine whiteness is entirely untainted by anything purple, Grace à dieu (or reasonable facsimile...). The one similarity I did find to Poison was that Pure Poison, too, is so strong that only a small application brought me close to the cusp of a headache. One more drop, and I'd have been over the top. But lightly applied, I liked it a lot.
Perfumers: Carlos Benaim, Dominique Ropion, Olivier Polge
Salient notes (from www.fragrantica.com):jasmine, gardenia, neroli, white amber, sandalwood, bergamot, cedar, orange, mandarin
HYPNOTIC POISON (1998)
I retain a memory from long ago of a small red bottle (sample or mini) from Dior containing a perfume which I rather liked, but never pursued for some reason... Thanks to a fellow fragrant traveler, I was afforded the opportunity to rediscover it once again. That perfume was none other than the next stop in my journey through the land of Poison: Hypnotic Poison.
Another poorly named flanker—happily!—Hypnotic Poison falls into the general category occupied by Lancôme Trésor, Chôpard Casmir, and Esteé Lauder/Aramis Tuscany per Donna, in my personal olfactory memory bank filing system. Like these other viscous elixirs, Hypnotic Poison, too, is a big, expansive sweet perfume, in this case, an oriental vanilla which verges on gourmand—well, unless you're one of the wearers who arrives at a Playdoh drydown, although it's probably worth observing that some children apparently do eat Playdoh when their parents are not around...
I have to admit that after reading the root beer and Playdoh reviews, I seemed to succumb to the power of suggestion, as I began to detect those notes in Hypnotic Poison as well, with the result that what once seemed vaguely exotic suddenly began to smell a bit too familiar. All too familiar, in fact.
Added to that, I also feel that I really have moved on to new perfume frontiers, having left Trésor, Casmir, and Tuscany per Donna and other perfumes in their neighborhood far behind quite some time ago. Suffice it to say, then, that I won't be acquiring a bottle of Hypnotic Poison anytime soon—at least not until such time as I experience another seismic olfactory shift, that is. For now it's a bit thick and insistent for a comfort scent and just too sweet to be much of anything else for me.
The only similarities I found between Hypnotic Poison and Agent Purple were the concentration and sillage: Dior has apparently not succumbed to market pressures to dilute in order to increase the volumes (literally and figuratively) of the perfumes which they sell, and that probably explains why even some of their perfumes launched decades ago continue to command MSRPs. I have not seen a lot of Dior offerings at the discount emporia, where many other brands fob off reformulated and/or watered-down nonsense for a fraction of what the original perfumes once cost.
Dior's strategy appears instead to be to produce endlessly proliferating series of flankers of flankers of flankers, to stretch marketing campaigns to ever-greater lengths and squeeze the most that they can out of their investment in the original bottle design!
Salient notes (from www.fragrantica.com): vanilla, almond, coconut, allspice, sandalwood, jasmine, rosewood, plum, tuberose, apricot, lily of the valley, rose
TENDRE POISON (1994)
Continuing my travels down the fated but not always so poisonous path of Agent Purple flankers, I next arrived at Tendre Poison, and what a surprisingly not-so-tender elixir I found it to be!
While initially applying this potion, I actually spilled my sample vial down my décolleté and suffered from an instantaneous headache, along with a distinct déjà senti experience as a flash of purple lights pulsated in my brain until at last the scent had dissipated enough for me to get my wits about me again.
From there, the composition morphed into a very strong white floral soapiness, somewhat similar to Pure Poison but quite a bit less floral and quite a bit more soapy. Bright white soap, to be more precise. Perhaps even fluorescent white.
Strong stuff, this flanker is! In fact, on taking another look at the vial, which I thought I had nearly emptied, I found that it was still 80% full! Phew! Hats off to Dior for not skimping on whatever powerhouse components are found in not-so-Tendre Poison, but honestly, this should be called a parfum, not an edt. Why there was enough in my tiny vial to scent an entire pallet—in the stevedore sense—of soap!!!!
Yes, believe it or not, a single 1 ml sample vial of Tendre Poison could be used to scent this much soap:
A full ounce of Tendre Poison could be used to scent this much soap:
One day I'm sure that I'll muster up the courage to try Tendre Poison again in a nanodose, at which point I'll be able to issue my final verdict... For now, let's just say that Tendre Poison has done nothing to refute my longstanding view that perfumes boasting asafoetida as a note should probably bear a skull-and-crossbones warning label.
Have you by chance smelled the original Escada?
Better yet, have you ever smelled asafoetida straight up, my fragrant friends?
If not, please stop by an Indian spice emporium or grocer one day soon and give the stuff a sniff. Don't worry, you don't have to buy any—or even open up the jar. Those of you who like to prepare fine Indian cuisine chez vous may well have this item in your kitchen, which I myself found necessary to store inside a tightly clamped glass canning jar inside a sealed cooler.
Yes, as incredible as this may sound, the stench of asafoetida penetrates multiple layers of plastic or even glass! Why, you might even be able to smell it from the parking lot!Perfumer: Edouard Fléchier
Salient notes (from www.fragrantica.com): tuberose, bergamot, ►asafoetida◄, freesia, honey, mandarin, neroli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, and heliotrope
MIDNIGHT POISON (2007)
I had been exercising a good deal of caution in my travels down the trail of Agent Purple flankers, practically tiptoeing, in fact, by taking long, multi-day "breathers" (literally and figuratively) between each potion to allow the completion of a full detox process before moving on.
One starry night, however, lured in by a glance at the clock fast approaching midnight, I threw caution to the wind and pulled out my sample of Midnight Poison, the last in the series of first-order flankers. I knew that there were now flankers of flankers, and even flankers of flankers of flankers, but for the time being, my sense of relative completion of the immediate task at hand was near... What did I learn through this long, sometimes headache-ridden journey?
Note to self (and anyone else who intends to embark on this adventure): Ignore, I repeat: ignore, on any bottle bearing the name 'Poison' and produced by Dior, the labels 'edt' and 'edp'. Each and every one of these liquids needs to be treated as parfum.
Yes, upon applying Midnight Poison, too, I was immediately stopped in my tracks by a splitting headache. Did I perhaps spray too much on? No, I did not spray at all. I dabbed, ever-so-gingerly, a tiny fraction of my sample vial and the tell-tale Poison headache rehydrated within seconds. This must mean something! I thought to myself and jotted down a note on my mind's neuro-tablet to peruse the list (circulating around the Fragrantica threads) of the "most toxic perfumes". Turns out that my hunch was right: the Poison series made an impressive showing on that list.
Do I like Midnight Poison, setting aside my personal headache problem? Yes, I have to say that, after flushing my lungs with adequate fresh air and thus effectively loosening the vice grip clamped on my cranium, I did enjoy the drydown. Overall, I found Midnight Poison to be a dark, woody oriental with thick, rich, abiding patchouli and a nice spiciness with potential appeal for guys and gals alike—provided that they do not overapply!
By now it goes perhaps without saying that the longevity and sillage of Midnight Poison, too, are unsurpassed. But I'll have to take this perfume up once again after a thorough twelve-step detox program, featuring lots of filtered water and natural perfumes, before I can determine whether this is something that I can actually enjoy (by applying only a nanodose) rather than simply endure.
Perfumers: Jacques Cavallier, Oliver Cresp, François Demachy
Salient notes (from www.fragrantica.com): patchouli, rose, amber, vanilla, mandarin
What is the moral of my tale of travels through the province of Poison? Simply this:
Marketers do not always lie.
(adapted from reviews posted at www.fragrantica.com in November and December 2010)