J'Adore by Christian Dior is one of the youngest perfumes I've ever written about here on Yesterday's Perfume. It's "only" 14 years old. But if you consider that one of the reasons vintage perfumes are alluring to many folks, myself included, is because they're no longer available in their original — and usually superior — formulations, then J'Adore fits right in. In fact, J'Adore is a case study in how radical and destructive a reformulation can be and still be called the same perfume.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing J'Adore's perfumer Calice Becker for Refinery29. I had the awkward realization shortly before I met her that I knew about her perfume Tommy Girl, but I wasn't familiar with her blockbuster success J'Adore. (In 1999, I was too busy adoring Gucci Rush, which, come to think of it now that I know J'Adore, had a similar aura of paradoxical freshness and creaminess.)
In any case, what I did know is that many respected perfume-lovers were not keen on J'Adore's reformulation. Luca Turin dissed it in Perfumes: The Guide, and a couple years ago, Victoria of Bois de Jasmin complained about J'Adore's alien replicant. The reformulation, she wrote in a devastating critique, turned a perfume that "delivered its radiant quality through a beautiful progression of accords, from the vivid green top note to the lush floral heart and finally to the silky drydown" to one that was "both thinner and sharper overall." In short, J'Adore, the imposter, "completely destroyed the incredible balance that set J’Adore apart from all other modern florals." Ouch. And Amen.
I recently ordered a decant of the original J'Adore online and set out to compare it to the J'Adore that now sits on a top perfume shelf at Sephora (or on a Dior counter at department stores). On my way to the mall (I'm visiting SoCal, y'all, so yes, I'm walking to the mall), I applied a bit of J'Adore to my skin, sniffing it as I walked.
At first, the original J'Adore is green and sharp and sort of fruity, a very familiar 90s opening salvo. Following this, a floral glow, which leads to an interesting tonka-tinged, buttery, delicately powdered base. OK, I thought. Not bad.
I wasn't totally keen on the top part of J'Adore, and I was prepared to dismiss it as another one of those synthetic-fruit 90s artifacts. But then the dry down arrived, and J'Adore, like a date who seemed ordinary, conventional, and possibly even boring in the first few moments, but who then says something strikingly interesting — suddenly mesmerized me. I leaned in, eyes sparkling.
Soft, milky, floral, and subdued, J'Adore, as it was disappearing, smelled to me like the clean sweat of a young girl, scented with the subtlest tincture of rose, fattened and rounded out with buttery vanilla, tonka and maybe powdery orris. Talk about a transformation from top to bottom! (I wonder if Becker was inspired by Sophia Grojsman perfumes; J'Adore almost seems to pay homage to Grojsman's style of florals.)
With the original on my left hand, I traipsed over to Sephora and sprayed the contemporary J'Adore onto my right. I'm going to be less generous than Victoria was in her description of the reformulation, which may have gone through another set of reformulations by the time I got to it. What started out for me as a typical synthetic-smelling fruity floral that prompted me to say to myself, "C'mon, it's not that bad; it's kind of like the original, only flattened, shortened and amplified" turned into serious dislike when I compared it to the original. (Check out the occasional dissonant reviews of largely positive responses on Fragrantica, written by those who loved the original.)
These are simply not the same perfumes. Not by a long shot.
Sour, fruity, synthetic, and powerfully green, reformulated J'Adore is a fresh, neon, fruity floral — a Jolly Rancher candy in a bottle. It has that burst of shampoo-scented immediacy and produces a not-altogether-pleasant feeling that you are being assaulted with niceness. It's the perfume equivalent of someone smiling maniacally or being overly solicitous.
It's as if The Reformulators (I'm now picturing comic book villains in vintage robbers' eye masks, rubbing their hands together in glee as they pour chemicals into a caldron of the original perfume) took the original J'Adore and beheaded it, leaving it without a body to hold itself up. It's a rictus of a screeching fruity floral now, all head/top notes, no heart or body.
There's also no development. It's fruity-floral o'clock, around the clock, in reformulated J'Adore's world. The original J'Adore starts off with this attention-getting fresh top, but then moves on to something lactonic and soothing, like warm milk with a drop of fruit essence, nutty and warm.
There is no warmth in the new J'Adore.
Its hairspray's shellacked on. I can't run my hands through it or nuzzle against its neck. I can't smell the warmth of slightly perspiring, musky skin just underneath the veil of scent. The original J'Adore had a way of smelling, in the dry down, like the mingling of skin's musky perspiration with subtle perfume. The new stuff? It's just sitting on your skin like a chemical stew.
Although tonka is not listed in the original notes that are out there, it is unmistakably there. In fact, the base reminds me a bit of Aviance's base, the surprise of something warm and slightly rich after a fresh, floral beginning. According to Victoria, that fresh green scent that is also warm and "creamy" comes from the arochemical Glycolierral, a green ivy leaf note.
Whatever accounts for the difference between the original J'Adore and today's imposter by the same name, the reformulation, in its simplicity and vulgarity, doesn't hold a candle to the original, which shimmers and pulsates on the skin. I wonder how Calice feels about it all. It must be bittersweet state of affairs for perfumers when this befalls their originals, no matter how successful they continue to be.
Original J'Adore notes
Top notes: bergamot, mandarin, plum
Heart notes: champaca flower, ivy leaves, jasmine sambac, Turkish rose, violet, orchid, blackberry
Base notes: musk, wood