I can't believe it, but I didn't make it to the big Miss Dior exhibition at the Grand Palais. It went by too fast. If I have to find a culprit, I can always pin it on the overabundance of stimulations in Paris. Lately, I've taken to snapping Instagrams of exhibit posters so that I make sure not to forget to visit this and that oh-so-interesting "exposition". But there are always more incredible exhibitions than I have actual free time and leisure to spend on, to cultivate myself.
As a consolation prize, I am going to review Gris Montaigne / Gris Dior. It's not Miss Dior, which I wear in eau de parfum form, occasionally, even though they tempered with it; it's still very attractive to my nose...
I see Dior tried to emulate Chanel and their No.5 with a major display of artistic sensibility around a star perfume. It's called sponsorship or more elegantly put in Latinate form "mécénat". Of course the career of Miss Dior is younger so the historical layering has to be different than the one available for the No.5. It's happening now. It's geared towards the more youthful side of Dior perfume culture. Those oversized sculptures trying to overcome the de facto humble shape of fragrance flacons are the historic references of the future. Meet you in 50 years with a long-view retrospective.
The house of Dior are doing a lot of engineering of both their visual and olfactory branding. This is where you are going to get why I started with an aside on the Miss Dior visual orgy at the Grand Palais - giant blinking red bow and all. Self-conscious, highly selective of the effect they want to project but most of all, very oriented towards major branding efforts, Dior are shuffling and reshuffling images and scents so that our psyches get imprinted with them.
Update: as of 2019 Gris Montaigne has become Gris Dior; the jus is now also tinted purple instead of gray.
Gris Montaigne is presented as a new chypre perfume and also as the olfactive embodiment of the iconic grey color of the Dior boutique on 30, Avenue Montaigne, of its medallion chairs, of Dior's predilection for the elegant "couture" shade.
What I find interesting about this composition, which is part of La Collection Privée Christian Dior, the upper echelon of Dior perfumery, is that - yes, it is more refined - but, no, it is not original. Officially however it is supposed to be "new".
Talking with someone from Dior marketing made me realize that they take literally at face value what a perfumer will tell them. In this manner, this insider tells me that they had been working hard on this "original creation"which had been devised from scratch. Proof apparently was all those executive meetings and brainstorming sessions. François Demachy had isolated himself inside an ivory tower of intense inspiration and the result had come out as Gris Montaigne, a novel idea. if smells are like pictures to you, you will have to disagree with the facts put forth in the scoop.
The truth is that Gris Montaigne is nothing more and nothing less than a subtler form of Midnight Poison. The vanilla is more transparent and the floral notes are more select, while the woods are less conspicuous. There isn't even a deviant twist, a mad dash outside of the confines of the model. Creativity takes a rest, while faithfulness to the olfactory heritage of the house - and Midnight Poison in particular is reasserted.
This is the very same neo-chypre rose targeting this time a different clientèle, with more cash, whose code of elegance is envisioned as more restrained, less insistent on making an obvious impact. So, Gris Montaigne is also a tuned down Midnight Poison. It is in the end arguably more elegant, more fleeting too, more "upper class" - but a new composition it is not; this in terms of both ideas and olfactory form.
If you are ready to pay quite a bit more for "nuance", go for it; if not you will be able to purchase the same perfume under the name "Midnight Poison". Added: Dior retired the perfume shortly after this article was published.
I am not even sure one smells better than the other. Gris Montaigne is more ethereal. Midnight Poison is fleshier. I think Dior did that already with Grand Bal, which is a J'Adore who's climbed up the social ladder of great expectations.
You can always insist on buying "an original" and cast your gaze back downwards. But then again, fragrances are so often like an infinite set of mirrors in a Luna Park: they reflect each others at slightly different angles. What appears to be a systematic policy at Dior is the bottom-up approach: pluck a fragrance from the public garden and replant it in the private garden, where the quality of the shade is no doubt more rarefied.
Fragrance notes: patchouli, bergamot from Calabria, Turkish rose absolute, jasmine sambac from Tamil Nadu