Les Escales de Dior: Pondichéry, Portofino, Parati & Marquises (The Cruise Collection)

Dior is a perfume house that I like quite a bit, and to which I’m bound by the ties of childhood nostalgia. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the name of a Dior perfume that was wholly new to me, Pondichery, and I sat up in excitement when I read about it. A trip to India through tea, cardamon, jasmine and sandalwood, all done in a refreshing summer manner…. It called to me like the sirens to Odysseus. It didn’t take me long to realise that Dior had a whole, rarely discussed Cruise Collection of eau de toilettes that it had initially released back in 2008 called Les Escales de Dior, and which now numbered four in all: Escale à Pondichéry, Escale à Portofino, Escale à Parati, and Escale aux Marquises. The PR press copy, as quoted by Harrods, explains the collection’s style:

Les Escales de Dior is a Collection of fresh and sophisticated fragrances, inspired by the casual chic style of the Dior Couture Cruise Collection. In each destination that inspires an “Escale”, François Demachy, Dior’s Perfumer-Creator, selects the highest raw materials, exclusive to the Dior House.

Three of the four Escale fragrances. Source: mujerglobal.com

Three of the four Escale fragrances. Source: mujerglobal.com

I tend to become a little obsessed with things so, even though I still have quite a few of Dior’s wonderful, Privé Collection to get through, I became determined to get my hands on Les Escales de Dior. (The line is sometimes called The Cruise Collection on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) When Dior’s wonderful Karina Lake called me from the Las Vegas boutique with some news about a fragrance, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to beg for samples of the Escale collection.

I’ve been working through them, and they’re generally nice eau de toilettes with some very pretty bits, an uncomplicated nature, and a somewhat commercial bent. There’s nothing wrong with them, especially for their low price and large size, and commercial perfume buyers seem to adore a number of them — but they’re not for me. Given how simple they are, I thought I’d provide a relatively brief synopsis of the four fragrances in a single post, instead of treating each one individually to a lengthy, in-depth review. 


Escale à Pondichéry (hereinafter referred to simply as “Pondichery“) was released in 2009, and is categorized by Dior as a “green floral citrus.” Dior describes it as:

An olfactive immersion in India. François Demachy was inspired by the black tea extract during his journey in India: a fresh, sophisticated and elegant note. The new fragrance, Escale à Pondichéry, is rich in natural essences coming from the Indian continent, selected by the Dior House for their superior quality: cardamon essence, sandalwood essence and jasmine sambac absolute.

Source: fann.sk

Source: fann.sk

Pondichery opens on my skin with black tea, the juiciest bergamot, and nutty cardamon. The notes combine to create a strong but delicate aroma of tea with lemon that is just barely milky in undertone and lightly spiced with cardamom. It feels crisp, refreshing, juicy, aromatic, and airy, all at once. A subtle hint of white musk stirs in the base, smelling simultaneously clean and a little bit floral. I’m not a fan of white musk, even in subtle doses, but I can see why it was added. It helps accentuate the impression of a breezy, summer cruise. In fact, Pondicherry really evokes the crisp, well-starched, ironed whites of boat or cruise people, or the colonial past of the British in one their warm, Empire territories. Cricketers in India, or colonialists in the West Indies, are as much a fit for the visuals of crisp white as a modern-day cruise.

The tea accord is lovely but, for me, the white musk competes dominates just as much and ruins it all. My skin tends to amplify the synthetic, and I’m not a fan of  “fresh, clean” notes, no matter how popular they may be with the general public. For large stretches of time in Pondichery, it’s hard for me to smell much below the tidal wave of white crispness. Whenever I succeed, the tea is quite lovely with its strong undertones of refreshing lemon. About ten minutes into Pondichery’s development, the fragrance turns into a very summery, clean citrus scent with tea and an abstract floral note. Unfortunately, the latter never feels like jasmine, let alone concentrated Jasmine Sambac Absolute. Instead, the note is sharp, slightly chemical in nuance, potent in all the wrong ways, and yet, mutedly restrained in terms of an actual floral character. It is like a hygienically clean, fresh, unnatural jasmine, if you will, reinforced by laboratory-created white musk and infused with something disagreeably synthetic and lemony. (Yes, I have a strong bias against commercial synthetics!)

Tea with milkThankfully, Pondichery improves in time, and becomes quite pretty on occasion. After that difficult opening, the fragrance eventually settles into place and loses some of its synthetic and laundry-clean musk overtones. At the end of the second hour, Pondichery is a tea fragrance with slightly milky, lemony undertones, accompanied by fresh floral musk. There are occasional hints of creamy, white woods in the base, but they are abstract and certainly can’t be distinguished as real sandalwood. On occasion, the milky, sweet, creamy tea note is accompanied by something that smells like almonds, but it is subtle. Once in a while, a flicker of warm, lightly spiced nuttiness stirs in Pondichery’s base, but it never feels like cardamom (which has long lost any individual distinctiveness), so it must be that fake, ersatz “sandalwood” synthetic used to replicate the almost extinct Mysore wood. In its drydown stage, Pondichery grows more abstract, amorphous, and hazy, turning into a simple clean, white, musky woodiness.

All in all, Pondichery lasted just short of 10.75 hours on my skin, which might be surprising for an eau de toilette, except my skin hangs onto white musk like the damn plague. For the same reason, Pondichery had moderate projection for as long as the first 6 hours, wafting a few inches above the skin, before it turned into a discrete skin scent. On Fragrantica, the majority of voters found Pondichery’s longevity to be “moderate,” and its sillage to be “soft,” followed by “moderate” as the next choice.

Pondichery seems to be an extremely popular summer fragrance, with Fragrantica commentators loving its tea notes, its refreshing citrus tones, and the depth added by its subtle woody base. Men like it as much as women, so it’s quite unisex in its appeal. On the Nordstrom site, buyers positively rave about how wonderfully fresh, light, and beautiful Pondichery is, and the number of times the word “fresh” is used in a positive manner underscores to me one more time just how much the casual perfume buyer loves clean, white musk in commercial perfumery. If that is your taste, you should absolutely check out Pondichery. It’s versatile, affordable, and easy to wear. Parts of it are quite pretty, and I can see why the tea accord appeals to so many people.


Source: goldparfumer.ru

Source: goldparfumer.ru

Escale à Portofino (hereinafter just simply “Portofino“) was the very first Escale fragrance. It was launched in 2008, and is described by Dior as an “aromatic citrus” that is an “invigorating burst of sweet freshness.” The notes, according to Fragrantica, are as follows:

Top notes are bergamot, petitgrain and lemon; middle notes are almond, orange blossom and juniper berries; base notes are cedar, cypress, galbanum, caraway and musk.

Portofino opens on my skin with every possible part of a citrus tree: neroli with its bitter, spicy greenness, followed by regular, feminine, sweet orange blossoms; crisp, aromatic lemon; juicy, sun-ripened bergamot; and quiet hints of the woody twigs from the petitgrain. There are subtle flickers in the base that almost seem like sharp galbanum and something mossy. There are muted whispers of cedar lurking below, as well, accompanied by white musk. I don’t detect any almonds, nor cypress with its slightly piney characteristics.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

The whole thing is a very clean, refreshing, bright, summery, aromatic citrus that feels like an eau de cologne, though it initially has the strength and richness of an eau de toilette. At the end of the first hour, Portofino becomes simpler and hazier, devolving into a neroli and orange blossom fragrance with soft white musk. At the 90-minute mark, Portofino turns into a complete skin scent. There are fluctuating levels of orange blossom and white musk, but no woodiness and no almonds. It remains that way to the end when, in its final moments, Portofino dies away merely as a clean citrus musk. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 6 hours on my skin, and I seem to be one of the lucky ones.

On Fragrantica, most people seem to love Portofino, though there are a complaints about the fragrance’s weak longevity and projection. Some people found Portofino to be far “too citrusy,” a few thought it smelled artificially synthetic in its lemony nature, and seven people complained that it smelled like lemony dishwashing liquid or lemon furniture cleaner. (Actually, I stopped counting after the 7th one, as there are a lot of reviews for Portofino on the site.) A large number of people (28) compared Portofino to an old eau de cologne dating back to 1792: 4711 Original Eau de Cologne by Maurer & Wirtz. I haven’t tried the fragrance to know how it similar it is, but Portofino with its orange blossoms seems much warmer to me than a pure cologne with its brisker, crisper, thinner nature. Still, as a whole, the majority of Fragrantica commentators spoke positively and appreciatively about how Portofino was “refreshing,” “light,” “chilly,” “elegant,” “luxurious,” and/or perfect for summer. The word “fresh” was used repeatedly, as well. Again, it’s not my thing, but if that’s your style, you may want to consider giving Portofino a sniff.


Source: cosmetics-parfum.com

Source: cosmetics-parfum.com

Escale à Parati (hereinafter just “Parati“) is an eau de toilette that was released in 2012. Fragrantica explains the perfume’s name, its inspiration, and its notes:

Parati (or Paraty) is historical and touristic town in Brazil, situated on the Green Coast (Costa Verde) near Rio de Janeiro.

Francois Demachy, the Dior in-house perfumer, found the inspiration for this fragrance in vivid and pastel colors of the landscape, laughter, wind, music, samba and sea. The fragrance captures Brazilian exotics with citrus and woody notes of bitter orange, lemon, petit grain, rosewood, mint, cinnamon, red berries and tonka bean.

Source: my-parfum.net.ua

Source: my-parfum.net.ua

Parati opens on my skin with lemons and oranges. It’s juicy, fresh, bright, and light, and seems well-suited to summer. Quickly, the citrus bouquet is followed by warm, sweet woodiness, and hints of mint. There is something a little synthetic in feel in the basenotes, but it’s minor. Quiet whispers of slightly bitter, woody, petitgrain twigs lurk about, but they never detract from the overall cool and fresh nature of the fragrance.

Blood Orange. Source: Twitter.

Blood Orange. Source: Twitter.

In less than ten minutes, however, Parati turns warmer and creamy in feel. The tonka bean adds a soft sweetness, though it doesn’t reflects a vanilla characteristic at this stage. Now, Parati is a creamy citrus fragrance dominated by a blood orange tonality, and accompanied by cinnamon and soft, muted rosewood. Around the 90-minute mark, the fragrance starts to gain more vanillic overturns, turning into a creamy, orange scent with soft woods and a subtle dusting of cinnamon, all cocooned in a warm, custardy vanilla. Parati remains that way largely towards its end, turning more abstract, hazy and soft until it is merely a trace of sweet vanillic woodiness. All in all, Parati lasted just over 4.5 hours on me, with soft, discreet sillage throughout.

On Fragrantica, people seem to have experienced a substantially more citrusy fragrance than I did. In fact, a number of commentators compare Parati to a cologne with its dominant, simple, citric blast. A handful mention the cinnamon and Parati’s warm woodiness, but they’re not many. As a whole, there doesn’t seem to be as much enthusiasm for Parati as there is for the rest of Dior’s Escale fragrances, but the scent is only a year old while others, like Portofino, have been around for quite a while now. I liked parts of Parati because its warmer, slightly sweeter nature didn’t feel as “fresh and clean” to me as some of the other crisp, light, citric scents, but it’s clearly a matter of personal taste.


Source: Marieclaire.it

Source: Marieclaire.it

Escale Aux Marquises (hereinafter just “Marquises“) was launched in 2010, and is a warm, floral citrus eau de toilette. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

blood orange, pink pepper, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, coriander, elemi resin, benzoin, amalfi lemon and tiare flower.

Source: rmwebed.com.au

Source: rmwebed.com.au

Tiaré is a large component of the scent, so it may be helpful to briefly discuss its aroma. The flower is a tropical, Tahitian kind of gardenia whose scent is often associated with suntan lotion due to its use in Monoi-type of products. It has a creamy, rich aromaa that can sometimes feel like coconut or custardy vanilla, but which isn’t actually much like either. It’s a very lush, indolic, heady scent, and it lies at the heart of Marquises.

Blood Orange via FragranticaThe Dior fragrance opens on my skin with bright, juicy, slightly tart blood orange. There are hints of pink peppercorn, but Marquises is quickly infused by a heady blast of creamy, lush tiaré. The overall effect is to turn Marquises into something that distinctly resembles an exotic, orange-vanilla popsicle. Soon after, lovely whiffs of fresh, slightly spicy ginger follow, along with cloves, cardamon, and bitter nutmeg. Subtle tinges of lemon and fruity pink pepper berries lurk underneath.

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

The spices, however, are quite prominent and, within minutes, I’ve gone from smelling like an orange popsicle to some sort of spiced butter cookie. It’s the result of the tiaré’s very buttery undertones, combined with the nutmeg in particular. Behind the sweet, spicy, buttery, slightly vanillic warmth are bursts of juicy, tart, fresh citruses, though they sometimes feel like a Jack in the Box, popping up only occasionally and in varying strengths. On my skin, Marquises is never a full-on, predominantly citric scent, and is much more about the tiaré and spices.

Ten minutes in, Marquises is creamy, tropical, lush, sweet, very heady and slightly indolic, with buttery vanilla sweetness, loads of dusky spices, and a slight undertone of citric freshness. Ginger adds a quiet zing, especially in conjunction with the blood orange, while the nutmeg adds a slightly bitter edge that helps cut through some of the heady, unctuous richness. Sometimes the scent feels quite floral, but I’m still struck by the occasional impression that I smell like a shortbread butter cookie sprinkled with nutmeg. It’s not bad at all, especially as Marquises has enough dryness, spice and citruses to keep the scent from feeling gourmand in any way. The whole thing is very airy, bright, and heady.

Thirty minutes in, Marquises shifts a little. There is suddenly a quiet woodiness that stirs in the base and, surprisingly, it has quite a smoky aroma. It smells a little acrid, a bit sharp, and reminds me of the scent of burning leaves in the fall. It comes from the elemi, and it feels a little disconcerting in the midst of all the Tahitian floral creaminess mixed in with butter cookie and orange popsicle accords. Then again, I suppose those last three things are an unusual combination, in and of themselves.

Source: Kootation.com

Source: Kootation.com

At the 90-minute mark, Marquises settles into its main, final bouquet: tiaré backed by strong hints of blood orange (that has a slightly neroli and orange blossom undertone), with subtle spices and woodiness, all flecked by a vanilla creaminess. It’s a soft blur of muted notes that all overlap each other, never feeling individually distinct. Marquises hugs the skin as a discreet whisper, turning increasingly soft until it’s nothing more than a sweet, vaguely creamy floral citrus scent with some amorphous woodiness. All in all, it lasted just over 3.75 hours, which is pretty much in line with many reports on Fragrantica, though one poor soul said Marquises died after a mere 30 minutes.

Marquises seems hugely adored by those who have tried it on Fragrantica, many of whom call it “beautiful.” For a few people, it’s actually their favorite from the Escale collection. As a whole, commentators find it citrusy, fresh, and elegant, though some find the spices to dominate, and a rare few think the fragrance smells masculine. Judging by the votes, the main notes that people have experienced are: tiaré (54), blood orange (52), and lemon (51), followed by ginger (43), nutmeg (41), and cardamon (41). The common complaint, however, is that Marquises barely lasts on the skin. Yet, some people find the scent to be lovely and luxurious enough to warrant re-application during the day, and Dior certainly sells Marquises in a generous size at a decent enough price for that to be an option. (The smallest bottle is 75 ml/ 2.5 oz in size and costs $75, £56.00, and about €67,90.) I thought the scent was quite pretty at times, and it never felt very synthetic, so if you’re looking for a warm, airy citrus fragrance with a bit of a quirk, then Marquises may be right up your alley.


I liked small bits in each of the Dior fragrances, and thought they were generally pretty on occasion. None of them are revolutionary, original, edgy, complex, nuanced, or of luxurious depth, but I don’t think a commercial, summery Cruise line of fresh, citrusy eau de toilettes is meant to be. That said, neither light, crisp citruses nor fragrances that scream “fresh and clean” are to my personal taste, especially when white musk is involved. However, the commercial mass-market taste is for precisely such fragrances, so the Escale collection is aimed at a specific target audience.

For those who appreciate such scents, the Dior eau de toilettes seem ideal, especially for summer. They’re light, easy to wear, versatile, unisex, and affordable (especially given how the “small” Dior size is almost an ounce more than the starting size of most brands). Les Escales may have iffy longevity, depending on the particular fragrance in question and on your personal skin chemistry, but eau de toilettes have moderate longevity in general. As for sillage, the Dior style is for very discreet, soft fragrances as a whole — something which makes them ideal for anyone concerned about wearing fragrances to work, or those who prefer merely a subtle suggestion of scent. All in all, they are well-suited to a particular perfume style and taste.

Cost & Availability: The Escale fragrances are all eau de toilette in concentration, and are available at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and select department stores. The fragrances generally come in two sizes: a 75 ml/ 2.5 oz bottle which costs $75, £56.00, and about €67,90; and a 4.25 fl oz/125 ml which costs $98 or €91. (There is a massive 200 ml bottle as well, but I can’t find pricing on that and few places seem to carry it online.)  In the U.S.: the Escale line of fragrances can be found at select department stores, Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [(702) 369-6072]. If you’re really interested, however, what I would do is to call this number instead — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She is an amazingly sweet lady who will also give you free Dior perfume samples, free shipping, and you’ll pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. (I get nothing for recommending her, by the way. I merely think she’s wonderful, and I’ve bought from her myself.) Elsewhere, you can find the full Escale line at Macy’s (though I don’t know how many of the stores carry the fragrances in-house), and two of the fragrances (Pondichery and Portofino) are also available at Nordstrom. A friend in San Francisco informed me that he had difficulty finding the Cruise Collection in department stores, and located them actually at Disneyland, so not every Nordstrom or Macy’s may have them. As a side note, a large 4.2 oz tester bottle of Pontichery is on sale at FragranceNet for $66.46 with a coupon. The others may be similarly discounted on that site, so you may want to check. Outside of the US: In the UK, you can find the Escale Collection at Harrods where prices start at £56.00. In France, you can find the Escale line at French Sephora which sells the 75 ml bottles for €67,90 and the larger 125 ml bottles for €96,90. The link will take you to the Pondicherry entry, but you can find the other fragrances from the Escale link shown midway down on the page. In addition, you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a store near you.
Samples: If you want to give any of the Escale fragrances a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $2.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review- Dior Gris Montaigne (La Collection Privée)

Source: Fashionfave.com

30, Avenue Montaigne. Home of Dior. Source: Fashionfave.com

It’s not often that a perfume’s inspiration parallels memories in your own life. Dior’s flagship headquarters at 30, Avenue Montaigne, and the famous “Dior Grey” were big parts of my childhood and teenage years. As a small child, I spent endless hours in the beautiful, grey-white mansion: I often sat on one of the large, grey, stuffed and studded, round banquettes in the vast, rectangular room on the second or third floor with its wall of tall French windows as I waited for my mother to try on clothes. I would sit and stare at the floor, looking for dropped pins in the light grey carpet as one of the elegant seamstresses would flit around my mother, making alterations. I became a little pet to a few of them who were always amused by my efforts at “helping,” and by my unsolicited opinions on the outfits in question. And Dior Grey — that special, elegant twist on dove grey that is the signature colour of the house — became a favorite of mine, to the point that I often wanted to have a room in that colour. And, eventually, I did.

Source: Dualshow.com

Source: Dualshow.com

The original room upstairs in a photo that must be from the '50s. Source: fashionnation1on1.wordpress.com

The original room upstairs in a photo that must be from the ’50s. Source: fashionnation1on1.wordpress.com

Later, the third or fourth time I lived in Paris, I was a teenager and our flat was two blocks away from the flagship store. Monday through Friday, I would wait for the school bus to take me to my high-school in St. Cloud, and the pick-up location was exactly catty-corner or on a diagonal line across from the store. I spent countless mornings, staring at that beautiful, elegant facade from afar and trying to see inside the windows. As an adult, Dior Grey remained one of my favorite colours. And, right now, my bedroom is done to approximate the interiors that I remembered from childhood: the walls are painted Dior Grey, the furniture is silver, mirrored or white, and the room is filled with silver and black touches.

Having been imprinted with Dior from childhood, much like one of Konrad Lorenz’s ducklings, it was virtually impossible not to have high expectations for a perfume that is meant to evoke both Dior’s flagship headquarters and its trademark colour. In fact, I knew that nothing could possibly live up to that weighted mental baggage, so I intentionally and explicitly tried to wipe them all from my mind when I tested Gris Montaigne.

Dior Gris Montaigne

It is brand new, just released, and the latest member of Dior‘s prestige La Collection Privée line of perfumes. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier, but I go by the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The Privée line consists of thirteen perfumes that are exclusive to Dior boutiques (only one in the US, in Las Vegas) and to its website. (It would have been fourteen, but Gris Montaigne has come in to replace the glorious Mitzah which has essentially been discontinued — to justified howls of horror from perfumistas across the world.) Like the rest of its siblings, Gris Montaigne was intended to illustrate and celebrate key moments in the life of its founder, Christian Dior, and was created by François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior.

Dior describes Gris Montaigne in a way that brings back a flood of childhood memories:

And if grey were a perfume?

The olfactory signature of the Couture House’s legendary location, 30, Avenue Montaigne, has become a reality. The perfumer’s response to couture, this sophisticated chypre fragrance is a bold interpretation of the Dior Grey. The Couture Grey featured in the collections since 1947, the Grey Emotion of Christian Dior’s family home in Granville, Pearl Grey like the facade of the boutique on Avenue Montaigne.

Colour becomes a perfume: a burst of citrus, a floral heart of Turkish Rose and Jasmine Sambac from the Indian region of Tamil Nadu, followed by a woody note heightened with Indonesian Patchouli set against an ambery backdrop of moss.

The notes for the fragrance, according to Dior, are simple:

Essence of Calabrian Bergamot, Turkish Damask rose, Indian Jasmine Sambac, Indonesian Patchouli, and Absolute of Macedonian moss.

Source: g-1.com

Source: g-1.com

Gris Montaigne opens on my skin with a light citrus note, followed immediately thereafter with florals headed by rose. The bouquet sits atop a patchouli base that is, initially at least, beautifully flecked by soft amber, creamy sandalwood and the lightest sprinkling of powder. The rose is infused with quiet inflections of bergamot, while the patchouli adds a subtle warm and fleshiness to the very delicate note. There are also subtle touches of oakmoss in the base; it doesn’t feel like pungent, dry, arid, almost mineralized oakmoss, but it doesn’t feel completely bright green and fresh, either. The prettiest part of the perfume in those early minutes is the sandalwood. It’s nothing like real Mysore sandalwood with its distinctive spiciness, richness and depth, but the synthetic version used here has a lovely softness, creaminess and smoothness.

A room in the re-vamped Montaigne store. Source: ru.fashionmag.com

A room in the revamped Montaigne store. Source: ru.fashionmag.com

In its very earliest moments, Gris Montaigne is lovely. The light sprinkles of powder — combined with the very subtle oakmoss — make the perfume feel both classique in inspiration and a modern, neo-chypre in type. It’s a delicate, feminine, refined scent and, call me crazy, but it actually does evoke both the colour grey and the Dior rooms at Avenue Montaigne. For all that I tried to ignore the name and its associations, for all that I went into testing this perfume with the express plan of considering this an unnamed scent (“Just consider it Perfume ‘ABC’ from House XYZ,”), somehow, I can smell those rooms. The reason is the clean, floral, feminine, restrained, gauzy aroma. It’s almost a little sterile in its grey softness. But that word seems unfair because of all the negative connotations, so let’s say instead that Gris Montaigne has a touch of the restrained, aloof, professional, endlessly feminine, floral and slightly powdered feel of those coolly muted, elegant rooms.

purple smokeTen minutes later, the perfume starts to change. Cedar starts to rise to the surface, adding a quiet dryness to the floral notes. Unfortunately, the patchouli also starts to become more dominant, turning Gris Montaigne into a distinctly fruity-patchouli rose atop that base of dry, peppered cedar. Purple patchouli is not only my least favorite kind, but it’s also a common note in a lot of commercial, inexpensive, fruity-floral fragrances today — and big reason why I can’t stand many of them. There is something about its character in Gris Montaigne which reminds me of Chanel‘s Coco Noir, except the Dior is drier thanks to that cedar note and isn’t so clobbered by the fruity-patchouli (which I thought verged on the bullying in Coco Noir). Despite that, from the 30-minute mark to the 90-minute one, the purple patchouli and the dry cedar battle for the rosy heart of Gris Montaigne. The trio always rests above that light oakmoss base flecked with the smallest touches of amber and sandalwood. I wish the sandalwood were as noticeable as it had been initially but, alas, there isn’t much of it.

Inside the re-designed Dior headquarters. Source: Glamshops.ro

Inside the re-designed Dior headquarters. Source: Glamshops.ro

Gris Montaigne, like the rest of its siblings in the elegant Privée Line, is a beautifully blended perfume. Like the newly redesigned, revamped Paris headquarters, it’s light, airy and filled with bright touches from that fruity-patchouli whose almost syrupy sweetness seems to dominate for a good portion of the second hour. God, there is so much of it! At other times, however, especially right after the end of the first hour, it feels as though cedar has almost taken over. Increasingly, Gris Montaigne has an abstract element to it as well. One sometimes has the impression that it’s nothing more than an ordinary, common, generalized, nebulous, fruity-floral patchouli perfume. Even when jasmine joins the party, around the 90 minute mark, it doesn’t do much to transform the scent or to give it greater nuance.

And Gris Montaigne goes further downhill from there becoming softer and hazier with every passing hour, with only the purple note really standing out as something distinctive. (Oh so much purple patchouli!) By the start of the fifth hour, Gris Montaigne is a sheer, bland, floral-patchouli scent infused with some spicy dryness atop some light amber. There is a small modicum of relief in the eighth hour when the sandalwood re-appears. It actually works well with the patchouli, creating a spicier, richer version of the note than what flickered at the start. But the sandalwood is just a small touch, and it really doesn’t change what is the sole note left in Gris Montaigne at this point: fruity patchouli. The rose is a whisper, there is no jasmine, the powder vanished after the first 10 minutes, and the cedar threw in the towel a while back. In its final moments, Gris Montaigne is a simple note of abstract, sheer, general sweetness, and nothing more.

All in all, Gris Montaigne lasted just under 10.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It became closer to the skin about 90 minutes in and had minimal projection, but the forcefulness of that patchouli made it definitely noticeable if you brought your arm anywhere near to your nose. Gris Montaigne didn’t become a skin scent until the fifth hour and, like all the Privée perfumes that I’ve tried, it has surprisingly enormous longevity given the moderate-to-low sillage.

I hate to say it, but Gris Montaigne feels extremely generic for most of its lifespan. It’s a refined take on a thousand similar fruity-floral scents, but not much more than that. You may be wondering how much of my assessment is due to my personal baggage involving that name and the perfume’s inspiration. It’s a fair question and the answer is: my assessment is absolutely tainted by it. Because, without those strong personal associations, I would rip this perfume to shreds, especially over the patchouli. The sole reason I’ve being half as kind as I am is because of the beautiful opening minutes and because of my nostalgia. The bottom line is that, in my opinion, Gris Montaigne is far from being a worthy successor to Mitzah, even though the planning and development of Gris Montaigne meant it had to be in the works long, long before the decision to discontinue the other fragrance.

In placing Gris Montaigne in the context of its siblings, I realised two things. First, Gris Montaigne seems to reflect a desire to take advantage of the modern, mass-market hunger for and profitability of fruity-floral scents. Second, it also symbolizes a shift in the colour spectrum of Dior’s Privée Line away from the darker, richer, orange-brown labdanum glory of Mitzah, or the amber-coloured hues of similarly spicy, deep fragrances like Ambre Nuit and Leather Oud. With the discontinuation of Mitzah and Vetiver, the arrival of Gris Montaigne seems to turn the hues of Dior’s Privée Line into something much more floral, pastel, and light in colour. It may be an unfair assessment, and it’s probably wholly off. Yet, I can’t help feel that Gris Montaigne marks a move towards something more pale, more bland, and more commercially… er… fruitful. (Pun intended.) Bottom line, Gris Montaigne is pretty, but in a way that makes it like any number of commercial scents out there, from Chanel’s Coco Noir to…. well, take your pick.

All my criticisms notwithstanding, I do think there are a lot of people who will like Gris Montaigne, especially if they keep their expectations low. For one thing, it is a very easy fragrance to wear, the sort of thing one could just spray on and go. Everyone needs a versatile perfume that is uncomplicated and could fit a variety of situations, from the office to a child’s playdate to a dinner date. Gris Montaigne would absolutely work for that. It is also a scent whose very feminine nature and restrained sillage will make it practical for those who prefer more unobtrusive scents while still keeping an elegant and refined edge. I think it will generally be a little too feminine for the average guy — but I also don’t believe in gender lines in perfumery, so if you can rock it, wonderful!

I did my best to be fair to this scent, but if you think I failed in that endeavour, I wouldn’t blame you. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of the past, and it makes the nature of a review even more subjective. But I’m convinced that — if I were given Gris Montaigne to smell blindly — I still wouldn’t like it and my bottom line would still be the same: it’s nothing special.

Cost & Availability: Gris Montaigne is an Eau de Parfum that comes in 3 different sizes: a “small” size at 4.25 fl oz/125 ml which costs $155, and a very large 8.5 fl oz/250 ml bottle which costs $230. (There is also a simply ginormous, giant
15.2 oz/450 ml bottle that is available, but who could possibly go through that?) The perfume is available exclusively at Dior boutiques, Dior online, and in a handful of upscale department stores that have a large Dior section. In the U.S.: you can find the entire Privée Line at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, and a good portion are also at San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus. Outside of those two cities, your best bet is to call your local Neiman Marcus to see if they carry any of the Privée line. In terms of the Dior boutique in Las Vegas, Gris Montaigne arrived this week (8/12/13), and you can call the store [(702) 369-6072] to buy it directly. I would try to call this Dior number — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She is an amazingly sweet lady who will give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. (I get nothing from the recommendation, by the way.)
Outside of the US: I believe the Dior Privée line is carried at London’s Selfridges and at Paris’ Galleries Lafayette. It is obviously available at any concrete, brick-and-mortar Dior store in your country as well. You can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior boutique near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country.
Samples: You can order samples of Gris Montaigne from Surrender to Chance, where prices start at $3 for a 1 ml vial. They also sell a 13-piece sampler set of the Privée Line (minus the new Gris Montaigne) for $35.99. I obtained my sample from The Perfumed Court which is not my favorite place to shop and which is also generally more expensive than Surrender to Chance. They sell vials of Gris Montaigne starting at $4.99 for 1 ml.