Dior Escale à Portofino (2008) {Perfume Review & Musings}






The latest Dior Escale à Portofino (Port of Call in Portofino) created by François Demachy presents itself as an unconventional, rethought Eau de Cologne. It clearly borrows its main structural idea from the genre which first came to be known to the public in the 18th century under the name Aqua Mirabilis, but lets through a rethinking of the concept influenced by the existing Cologne Blanche by Dior, a previous niche cologne offering from the house created by Francis Kurkdjian which pairs fresh and soft. Escale à Portofino can further be seen to develop the in-house lineage of freshness in perfumed compositions inaugurated by Edmond Roudnitska at Dior but pulling it in the direciton of the spare "niche" feel of the trio of colognes by Kurkdjian.

The scent is part of a new line of summer fragrances illustrating a travel theme, a mirror collection of perfumes to the annual Dior Cruise Collection designed by John Galliano. 

Dior Cruise Collection 2009 via Fashion Blog


Freshness, but also Transparency and Softness 

Roudnitska the Elder, if we may so call him, (his son Michel Roudnitska is also a well-known contemporary perfumer) is famous for having brought to life fragrances playing upon sensations of lightness and clarity such as Eau d'Hermès (1951), Eau Fraîche (1953), Diorissimo (1956), Eau Sauvage (1966), and Diorella (1972) when full-bodied perfumes for women were a dominant norm. Like Poiret encouraging women to drop the corset and traditional focus on waist and hips, Roudnistka seems to have followed a comparable intuition with his non Femme-like fresh perfumes asking women to lighten the structural ornateness of their scents and make it more modern, different, perhaps more fluid......

Panorama of Portofino by Giorgiopix 


Escale à Portofino, with its pure transparent and watercolor effect, owes to the Roudnitska heritage, especially - and this is quite perceptible in my opinion - as it was further illustrated, prolonged and made more definite and characteristic by Hermès in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena (see our upcoming review of the new Un Jardin Après La Mousson). But there is also in the case of Escale a new unpredictable sensation and a supplementary layer of textural meaning, that of an ineffable, indefinite yet characteristic softness in the heart of the perfume which seems to be François Demachy's personal touch and most original contribution to both the sensation of a fresh perfume and the classic revisited genre of the eau de cologne.

In general it would be very fascinating, I think, to compare the different sorts of transparencies and freshnesses one encounters in these authors' perfumes. Every nuance is important to appreciate these subtle effects.

Demachy, just like Jean-Paul Guerlain, recently declared that he was particularly interested in the concept of freshness. Here we experience the freshness paired with transparency but even more characteristically with softness of the air, citruses, bitter almond, green herbs, skin, and summer.


21st Century Eaux de Cologne: Exercises de Style in the Summer of 2008 


What is even more exciting is that this season we are witnessing the launch of a slew of updated eaux de colognes with creations by not only Dior, but also Diptyque, Miller Harris, and Jean Paul Gaultier who all are proposing their own 21st century versions of this ancient eau originally meant not only to smell good, but to cool down, invigorate and more generally be curative for the body and soul. Besides this group of more sophisticated, thought-out, and ambitious re-compositions of eau de cologne, you will see the usual citrusy waters for the summer, but the latter are an on-going phenomenon while the first is not. Extending the analysis a little, we think we can draw a comparison by including Un Jardin Après La Mousson and the Jardin series in general which, if not described as eaux de cologne per se, nevertheless seems to impact the rethinking of it, at least in this cologne version by Demachy where the effect of a transparent tracing-paper-like impression is palpable. When does an eau de cologne cease to be? And when does an aquarelle eau like the Jardin series by Hermès start to be, is a question one can cradle a bit to sense the fluctuating lines of demarcation between perfumes within a genre, the perfumer-creators' interpretations, and periods of history.

According to the press release, "François Demachy wanted to work with the theme of freshness, creating a fresh, light, genuinely summery fragrance." It is "an interpretation of the classic, timeless freshness of a cologne, graced with slightly more feminine accents. This new version of a Cologne, an archetype of simplicity in perfumery, is an "immediate" fragrance that is a true pleasure to use. It sends a clear message: I want to smell good." It is also an elegant composition, a modern paean sung to historical Petitgrain (its leaves and twigs here) and significantly more.

Two forms of Petitgrain are used, the one emanating from Bitter Orange tree which incurred a sophisticated process of molecular distillation to remove its earthy facet and enhance the green refreshing one, as well as Petitgrain from Lemon tree a kind which is also called "Citronnier". But the subtle addition of a delicately evanescent milky and green almond note is what makes this eau de cologne feels like it is taking poetical license, disrupting the genre a little although at first, the effect is even more interesting than that since the almond is perceived first in its textural effect within the composition rather than as an isolated, full-fledged facet.


Escale à Portofino

Our first words after some sense of wonderment and puzzlement at the perception of something indefinable were "Delicious, absolutely delicious." Here the opening of the Eau de Toilette-cum-Eau de Cologne (the original eau de cologne offered an eau-de-toilette concentration at 5%) is not pretext, a moment of impatience where one starts tapping on the floor with one's foot waiting for the top notes to pass their conventional citrusy message, but a spectacular antechamber like the scene in Scorcese's "The Age of Innocence" in which the spectator is led through Newland Archer's eyes through red velvety antechambers as visually compelling as the ballroom of the Beauforts at the end, the pièce de résistance, except that here the crystal chandeliers cascade and shine in the light from the start. The opening has the effect of citrus fireworks. The perfume is so citrony and mouth-wateringly so! Gentle soft herbs seem to rustle and wave in the summer breeze below the crystalline citrine-like transparent yellow surface. Hints of marine-scented ambergris warm up the composition and gives it some body while the metallic reflections of this raw material keep the perfume cool and nonchalantly edged between sea and land. It is a citrus cologne with a soft chamois-like effect slipped in the interstices of the scent. It smells a bit like some suave Angelica. Puzzled by this intriguing effect we later look at the description of notes and realize it is due to a bitter almond and orange blossom accord pairing with the hesperidic notes. The drydown is subtly woody (cypress, cedar) with a discreet touch of caraway to suggest a natural nuance of refined polished perspiration in the summer and constitutes yet another subtle homage paid to Roudnistka (Eau d'Hermès, Diorella). An oxygenated facet makes the scent feel eternally ethereal.

Escale à Portofino is a very elegant composition evoking a boat sailing with transparent  sails feeling like ice sheets under a Citrine-like sun. The softness of the almond note is caressing like a summer breeze and tempers the vivacity of the rich citruses: Sicilian Petigrain, Calabrian bergamot and Italian Citron while evoking yet another effect of transparency, almond water, whatever that figment of the imagination might be. The balance of cool and warm is remarkable.

People who seek perfumes that are very long lasting will probably be disappointed. Escale à Portofino is an Eau de Toilette borrowing some of the spirit of an Eau de Cologne and moreover contains 16 different natural essences, which would make it more evanescent than a perfume gorged with synthetics to the brim. Just reapply. Just remember that there is elegance in the sense of a perfume that is subtle and natural enough to slowly vanish rather than be permanently present. The glorious opening unambiguously invites you to do so.

Notes:  Sicilian Petigrain, Calabrian bergamot, Italian Citron, Bitter Almond essence (like a touch of Amaretto, see also another creation by François Demachy Pucci Vivara), Juniper berries, cold spices, Cypress, Cedar, white musk, caraway, galbanum.

The distribution of this perfume is very limited. In the US you will be able to find it in the Disney shops - they should be able to ship. 

See here for more information about the new line of perfumes and a peek at the advert. 

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20 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. You make this new scent very tempting indeed, both in its filiation and in its novelty. Do you include Chanel's Eau de Cologne in this new generation? I find it entirely delicious but so fleeting -- to get that loveliness, reapplying every 10 minutes seems to be called for. Not always an option, unfortunately!

  2. Yes, I would if only on the historical plane. I did not mention it here although I was thinking about it because I was struck by the summer of 2008 production.

    The Chanel cologne within the Exclusive series offers also a different meaning as it represents more of an effort at offering a complete wardrobe of scents, rather than focusing on the genre.

    I should add that Escale à Portofino is not fleeting. By certain standards (mine in fact), it would even be considered lasting but I am aware that by mainstream US standards it would probably be considered not very long lasting as a lot of people here are very demanding from this point of view and hope for the drydown to be both durable and noticeable, without having to try too hard. Escale is lasting, but in a subtle way.

  3. I have tried the Escale a Portofino in Stockholm... it is extraordinary indeed! But is subtle understated way. I found it to be elegant, soft but distinct and if you ask me a unisex fragrance as well. The reference to Portofino is to my understanding a marketing trick... but it's ok; they could call it whatever and it would still be a winner. The bottle is great too. The fragrance doesn't last too long but it lingers on, on fabrics quite nicely for more than 24 h. Just try it if you can find it!

  4. You made me smile when you said, "they could call it whatever and it would still be a winner". We know where your focus is.

    I think that the Portofino concept is linked to the Cruise collection. More broadly speaking, the hesperidic notes are deemed to be the Italian accents in the scent.

  5. Christian Dior - Escale á Portofino

    This is what one may call a delicious fragrance (this alone would scare off a lot of men)! I tried it on, over a month ago and ever since I have been testing it whenever I can just to decide if I want to have it or not. Or actually if it is good on me or not. First I was attracted by the simple elegance and vintage feeling of the bottle. My congratulations to the designer! Then the name is definitely marketable especially ahead of summer. Portofino’s myth as a place for the sophisticated wealth and/or aristocracy adds to the elegance of the whole concept. Testing the content of the bottle was such a pleasant experience. Sensual, clean, citric with a distinct almond note. The warmth and richness of this fragrance captured me ever since. I am from the Mediterranean and to my surprise this fragrance has something from the warm nights enriched by the scents breezed through the leaves of orange trees. To my modest opinion it is the almond that made the difference from an overtly sweet orange blossom perfume. And it is that limited sweetness that I appreciate as well. It is true, Escale á Portofino tends more towards a feminine fragrance but I still think that its clean citrus, floral and almond notes as well as its dry down can suit astonishingly well a man who flirts with old citrus classics … but with a twist. Dear all I recommend at least a couple of tests. By the way I agree with the overall idea that female and male fragrances are marketed as such… it is entirely up to each individual to test and decide if a fragrance is well suited or not for her/his personality, skin, etc.
    Escale á Portofino doesn’t last that long, but it doesn’t last that short either. As it has been widely said it contains many natural essences that understandably wouldn’t last many hours. On my skin it lingers on for approx. 6 hours, and on my cloths more.
    Now where to get it!? It has been marketed as a limited edition perfume. It may be so but I have seen it all over Europe. Best places to acquire a bottle, or two, is of course most Tax Free stores. The cheapest Escale á Portofino I have encountered is at Vantaa Airport: 75ml for 48,70 €; in both Athens and Feregehy international airports, the same quantity was a bit more expensive.

  6. Where can Dior's Escale a Portofino be purchased?

    I have looked everywhere online and only found Harrod's but, they don't ship fragrances to the US.

    Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers and Thank you,

    • Hi Lelia,

      You can find it at Epcot in the US. Please see info in the post.

      Chant Wagner
  7. Hi there!
    Just recently got a 75ml Escale á Portofino from Heathrow airport for just 40€! It's such a feel good fragrance!


  8. I love Escale á Portofino looked around the net and the found it at www.escentual.com, luckily they ship internationally.
    it lingers rather than stays, still get hints wafts at the end of the day

    sophie agnew
    • Someone else told me she loves it and requested it as a birthday present :)

      Chant Wagner
  9. I'm now getting ready to buy my second bottle of this scent. It is lovely, feminine, classic and just plain delicious! I get compliments each time I wear it. Good for daytime and good for evening. my guy loves it!

    In NL it is available only at Dior counters in The Bijenkorf and at Dior boutiques.

    It really is worth the effort to seek it out!

    M. v. Doorn
  10. My dear, your review does justice to this stunningly beautiful perfume! What amazes (and attracts) me the most about it is its effortless, gauzy elegance and the human touch felt in the almond/caraway accord. Escale a Portofino is simply delicious! And I wants it badly! :) It came out here just in time to help me get through the winter blues ;-)
    Have you tried Essenza del Tempo, btw? If you want it, I could send you some ;-)
    P.S. I'm still waiting for those reviews of Serge Noir and El Attarine... *drums fingers*

    • Hi Dusan,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I haven't tried Essenza del Tempo yet because the bottle got sidetracked from Italy and I haven't recovered it yet. I'll let you know if I need a rescue plan :)

      I have so many reviews that got delayed it scares when I look at the list. I probably need to contemplate a marathon to catch up. But Serge Noir and El Attarine are absolutely going to be on TSS at some point in time, sooner rather than later.

      Chant Wagner
  11. For those looking for stores to findthis lovely fragrance, I just purchased it at Nordstrom's; $65.00 for 75 ml. Not much to pay for so much happiness; definitely swoon-worthy!

  12. I absolutely love this fragrance. I bought it in Brussels last year while traveling and have yet to find it in the US. Thank you all who posted places to find it in the US. I'm almost out of it and I was savoring it. It is a very pleasant, clean, citrus scent with a deep, rich texture that makes a very strong, feminine statement. I love this perfume's personality and am glad to know others appreciate its tones also!!

  13. A year from my comment and I'm still loving Escale a Portofino, surprisingly still haven't bought myself a bottle (actually, I've trouble deciding between Portofino and Pondichery, lol) and am still waiting for certain reviews of certain perfumes :)
    Hope your summer was a lovely one, dear!


    • I cast my vote for Portofino :)

      I know, I need to be chained to my desk and see real, mundane details of everyday life evaporate.

      The summer was good, thanks. Hope for you too!

      Chant Wagner
  14. I have brought a bottle for my birthday last year and I have used it day or night, work, or an evening out. it is perfect for the Florida weather! I will definitely be a loyal user.

  15. Escale de Portofino smells EXACTLY the same as the infamous Turkish Bogazici lemon cologne. I certainly hope Dior did their homework and aren't going to get sued. Bogazici has been around for at least 40 years if not more. If you're interested in this scent, get the Turkish version for about $1 per bottle. As for Escale de Pondichery - fabulous scent. Much like Tommy Bahama but lighter. Excellent scent.

  16. I think you know how to write a truly wonderful post. Thanks!

    Tanya Lacouette

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