This month our guest writer, Laurin Taylor, looks at Joy both past and present.
According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster, the official definition of “joy” is this: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” But in the fragrance world, joy has a different meaning. Two meanings, in fact. The first is Jean Patou’s Joy, a grand, classic white floral that made its debut in 1930, just after the stock market crash marked the end of the Roaring Twenties. Despite the dark clouds of economic gloom settling over much of the western hemisphere, Patou instructed perfumer Henri Alméras to create the most extravagant scent possible, no expense to be spared. Twenty-eight dozen roses and 10,600 jasmine blossoms went into every bottle, making it “the costliest in the world” – a slogan Patou splashed across every advertisement. The rest is history – literally. Joy remains such a milestone of modern perfumery that samples are preserved in cold storage at the Osmothèque archives in Versailles. Now joy has a second meaning, courtesy of Christian Dior. I don’t know the exact number of roses in Dior’s Joy, but the marketing campaign may very well be the costliest in the world. I feel like Jennifer Lawrence, the face of Dior, has been stalking me this month. Every time I turn around, there she is with her dewy complexion and perfectly-arched brows. She stares at me from the ground floor in Boots, from the escalators at Debenhams, and even from my very own bookshelf, where I propped up the sample card that came with my bottle. Her expression is startlingly blank for a woman wearing diamonds in the swimming pool. I would definitely be experiencing joy at that, but she looks more like she’s just remembered she left her hair straighteners on. Still, that face doesn’t come cheap, and Dior have clearly spared no expense to turn our heads.
Having worn Dior’s Joy several times now, I only wish they’d paid less attention to their marketing strategy and more on what went into the bottle. Rumour has it that LVMH (Dior’s parent company) bought Patou, just for the right to use that little three letter word. I applaud the sheer audacity of such a move, but can’t help thinking it was a waste of money when they could have just bought a thesaurus. François Demachy, the in-house perfumer says, “This perfume resembles certain pointillist paintings that are rich with a precise, yet not too obvious, technique.” I translate this roughly as “it’s more than the sum of its parts”. As fans of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off will remember from the scene in the Chicago Art Museum, if you stand too close to a Seurat painting, you’ll go cross-eyed trying to take in the tiny dots the fill his canvas. But move a few steps back, and it all comes together – behold! It’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. There is no such moment of revelation with Dior’s Joy. Its parts – bergamot, rose, jasmine, sandalwood and musk – add up to exactly what you would expect: a pleasant citrus floral with some powdery musks lingering in the base. It’s pretty, but it’s no museum-worthy masterpiece. More like the cozy decorative throw that really ties your sitting room together.
I find myself a bit cross about it all, which either shows a great passion for my subject or means I ought to get out more, depending on how generous you’re feeling. A few weeks ago, I was similarly grouchy about some soppy content posted by an Instagram “influencer” until a colleague reminded me, “You’re not the target market. You’re NOT the target market.” This is an excellent mantra for the perpetually cynical in the age of social media, and I have whispered it to myself more than once since that morning. In an ideal world, something as personal as fragrance would have no target market, but let’s not kid ourselves. My guess is that broadly speaking, the target market for Dior’s Joy is “women under forty”. By Halloween this year, I will have aged out of that demographic, but for the next month and a bit, Dior has me in their sights. I am the target market this time, so I’m entitled to feel indignant. My personal philosophy of perfume is that if you love it and you can afford it, it’s worth it. That still applies here, but £75 for 50ml of this Joy doesn’t sit well with me. If I were still selling perfume on weekends, I would gently nudge you towards more interesting options – the bottle on the bottom shelf that didn’t catch your eye, or maybe the one with the note you wouldn’t normally consider.
So that’s my advice to you, reader. By all means, smell Dior’s Joy for yourself – you can hardly escape it, after all. But once you’ve tucked the blotter away in your handbag, I would also urge you to look behind the glossy posters and away from Jennifer Lawrence’s bewitching blue eyes. Pick up something you’ve never heard of, or a bottle that seems a bit old-fashioned. There is joy to be found there as well, demographics be damned.
Christian Dior Joy is available from John Lewis prices range from £54 -£109.50 and is available is 30ml, 50ml, & 90ml.
Jean Patou Joy is available from Debenhams priced £61.20 for a 30ml & £85.50 for a 50ml.