Sometimes a me-too perfume turns out to be as interesting as the perfume it was playing catch-up with. The various attempts to compete with Chanel’s blockbuster are a case in point. Competitors made various efforts to produce an echo success of Chanel No5 in the years after its release in 1921: there was Lanvin’s Arpege from 1927, also from that year Coty’s version of a floral aldehyde, L’Aimant.
Then, in 1929, unable to stand watching an undersized dress-maker rake in outsized profits any longer, Guerlain got in on the act with Liu.
What is notable is the quality of the different versions. Arpege became an enduring classic, L’Aimant may still be in production and Liu is to be found in the Les Parisiennes Collection at Guerlain - an octogenarian now, having outlived many other Guerlain offerings.
The most interesting variations on the floral aldehyde theme though, re-crossed the abstract formula with some other material, often floral. That is how Le Dix was conceived in 1947. It was part of a somewhat démodé genre by that time. The new kid in town was the New Look, and its perfume ambassadress: Miss Dior also from1947. Miss Dior was sharp, but also deep toned, as the bottle design suggests tweed; indeed it re-called Tweed, the old Lentheric perfume from 1933.
Le Dix could not have been more different. It was No 5, the French said, with violets. It is that, but the sharp tone of No 5 is modulated in Le Dix down to a civilized softness. The notes contain bergamot, coriander and peach as opposed to No 5’s opinionated blast of aldehydes and ylang-ylang in the top, and the heart is greener, dominated by orris and without the heavy jasmine of the Chanel, the end is lacking the oakmoss that once was in No 5. Le Dix comes across as both more feminine and more delicate than its muse.
It still works. I know, because Guts thoughtfully bought a box of Le Dix talcum powder for me one Christmas. My daughter, then aged nine and already no slouch at detecting something new in the bathroom pantry, asked to try it. O.K., I said.
Well. that was pretty stupid. It was gone in about two months. As she tried to scoop up the last traces of powder, she announced that she wanted some more.
This was a difficult request to comply with since strictly speaking there wasn’t any. What she used up was vintage Le Dix. I tried to interest her in some Freezia talcum from someplace or other.
“Well,” she said sniffing and frowning – and, like Grampa Simpson she can give you the frowning of a lifetime – “It’s just not as good as the other stuff.”
Not much is.