Ever since the release of the original Poison by Christian Dior in 1985, I have been mystified by the attraction of this perfume. Everybody either wore it or smelled it back in the Eighties, if they were not wearing or smelling Giorgio Beverly Hills. Perhaps I was permanently scarred by a rather terrifying woman who wore Poison to the office every day – a lot of it, spreading its heady spell over the entire department. She wore tight skirts, stiletto heels and a contemptuous attitude toward whoever did not meet her standards, which was pretty much all of us. She read Vogue on her lunch break and never made a friendly gesture toward anyone that I was aware of. One day she punched a hole in the carpet with one of her weaponized heels and took a hard fall; there was zero sympathy for her among the employees as she was that unpopular. So of course I can’t smell Poison without thinking of her.
Hypnotic Poison came out in 1998, the second Poison flanker after 1994’s Tendre Poison (unless I have missed one), and I have studiously avoided it until now, when I came into possession of a sample of the Elixir strength scent. Okay, it was now or never; could I exorcise the demon of the past and appreciate this on its own terms?
As soon as I sprayed it on I felt the presence of the original, in the heavy, bitter almond opening standing in for that famous camphoric tuberose-anise-incense blast. I was determined not to scrub; I had to get through its development somehow, even with visions of Stiletto Woman dancing in my head. Pretty soon the sweetness chimed in and it got a little bit milder – whew! The tag line on my sample card says “The sensuality of jasmine exalted by a liquorice, star anise accord.” Well, I got the star anise all right, but the poor jasmine is desperately trying to get noticed, and failing. Caraway is there too, adding to the delirious gourmand feeling of the bitter almond. This must be the kind of hallucinogenic “food” that’s served in an opium den.
With two of my favorites, jasmine sambac and moss, listed as the heart notes I was really hoping for some of the top notes to die down so I could smell them; good luck with that, there was no respite. Instead it seemed to go right into the base of jacaranda wood, vanilla and musk – lots of vanilla, turning this into a dessert of Chinese restaurant style almond cookies, which I happen to love, but I am not sure I want to smell like them all day. (Would it surprise anyone to learn that all parts of the jacaranda tree are poisonous, and that it has very sharp spines that can cause allergic skin reactions?)
One this happened I found this fragrance to be very linear, with not much else going on once settled into the sweet phase. The constant throat-burning presence of the bitter almond defines this perfume. If that could have been dialed back just a little I would have liked it more, but then it would not have shown its Poison lineage so clearly, and that of course is the point. Bottom line: I could wear this in public if I had to, unlike the original, but I would never buy it. I intend to test the other Poison flankers in the near future, and perhaps I will find one to like. Until then, I can finally cross this off my list.
Image credit: European magazine ad for Hypnotic Poison with actress Monica Bellucci from stylefrizz.com. (Love the purple snake!)