Names have weight and, in perfumery, can lead to certain expectations. In fashion, perhaps few names carry more of an instant iconography than Dior’s “New Look.” You see it right away: that famous silhouette, the exquisite clothes, and the spectacular black-and-white photography that often rose to the level of art. You see “New Look” and you associate it with the greatness that it reflects.
All of this may explain the lofty expectations for New Look 1947 and, perhaps, some of the subsequent disappointment. Critics claimed it was too insubstantial a floral, too abstract and sheer, and not worthy of such a great name.
I’m not immune to the expectations caused by symbolic names and, truth be told, New Look 1947 was not quite what I had expected. Then, I thought about it and I wondered: what did I expect? What really fits an iconic name and over-arching concept that encompasses so very much? The bottom line, to me, is that New Look 1947 is a very lovely, delicate, sometimes retro, airy, floral perfume and you may enjoy it a lot — especially if you just forget about the name and smell it.
New Look 1947 is part of Dior‘s prestige La Collection Privée line of perfumes. The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website. The Privée line consists of fourteen perfumes that are exclusive to Dior boutiques (only one in the US, in Las Vegas) and to its website. The collection began in 2003 with three perfumes but, starting in 2010, the company added more fragrances to the line, and one of those was New Look 1947. All of them were intended to illustrate and celebrate the life of its founder, Christian Dior, and were created by François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior.
Dior categorizes the perfume as a “spicy floral” and puts its description in the context of the Dior history:
February 12, 1947: A major event was held at 30, avenue Montaigne in Paris, where Christian Dior presented his first fashion show. With his flower women and bright colors, the Designer launched a fresh fashion trend. “It’s a New Look!” exclaimed Carmel Snow, Editor-in-Chief at Harper’s Bazaar, thus christening the Designer’s inimitable style. Today, the New Look has become an explosive, generous, ultra-feminine and floral fragrance.
The notes for the fragrance, as compiled from Dior and other sources, include:
Ylang-ylang, Peony, Indian tuberose, Turkish rose, Jasmine sambac, Tuscan Iris, Siam Benzoin, and Madagascar Vanilla.
The first time I tried New Look 1947, I jotted down that its opening was “candy sweet florals” which reminded me of gummy drop sugared sweets. The second time I tried the perfume, I was perhaps a little more immune to the enormous sweetness and noticed the florals much more, writing how they were stunningly beautiful and of “astounding delicacy.” Both descriptions and experiences are true. New Look 1947’s opening is both incredibly sweet and incredibly lovely. Airy brushstrokes of ylang-ylang and jasmine vie with peony, sweet rose and the merest touch of tuberose — all on a base of creamy, custardy, rich vanilla. It’s as feminine and dainty as a gaggle of laughing, willowy geishas, walking on air.
Despite the airy weight of the florals, they are rich, strong and heady in those opening minutes. However, they are never indolic, sour, plastic-y or reminiscent of some of the more worrisome aspects of such indolic flowers as ylang-ylang and tuberose. There is nothing to evoke over-ripe decay or cat litter boxes. I suspect the incredible sweetness of the perfume is responsible, in part, for that.
Minutes later, the powdery iris pushes aside some of the creamier, heavier white flowers, undercutting their richness and adding a distinctly retro note to the perfume. New Look 1947 starts to take on slight lipstick undertones in its powdery, iris femininity. The perfume also starts to turn a little abstract which, in perfume terms, is a way to describe something of an amorphous nature. The florals all blend into one amorphous floral “whole” with few distinct parts that you can pick out and sitting atop a structure of iris powder and vanilla. The tuberose note was never as individually noticeable as the other flowers and, now, it is even less so. I hope that reassures those who are rather terrified of the note and its often indolic, over-ripe nature.
Forty minutes into the development of the perfume, I suddenly detect a quiet note of velvety peppered woods with a flickering aspect of rubbing alcohol. It is definitely, and without a doubt, ISO E Super, an aromachemical to which my nose has become particularly attuned in recent weeks. Here, it is far from over-powering and, thankfully, has nothing antiseptic, medicinal or shriekingly chemical about it. If you were to ignore that flickering, fleeting rubbing alcohol undertone that pops up every now and then, all you’d really feel is that the perfume has a velvety texture of soft woods underlying the creamy, powdery florals.
By the start of the second hour, New Look 1947 has softened to a sheer skin scent. The ISO E’s alcoholic, peppery note — light though it was — has vanished, leaving nothing but a delicate iris scent with amorphous florals, light powder, sweet vanilla, and a velvety feel. The powder is now light and subtle, which is my personal preference, and no longer redolent of old-fashioned lipsticks. There remains something that feels almost woody to the velvety undertones of the scent but it is light. The whole thing is incredibly sheer and gauzy, and, oddly, reminds me of some modernist paintings that entail abstract brush strokes or Jackson Pollack’s random splatterings of grey and white.
In its final hours, the perfume turns into a simple jasmine and iris floral with vanilla benzoin undertones. It’s nothing complicated and far from revolutionary — but I don’t think any of the Privée line were meant to be. They were meant to be well-crafted scents that evoke elegance and femininity in the classic tradition. New Look 1947 certainly succeeds in that endeavor.
The perfume’s sheerness and low sillage create the misleading impression that it is a vanishing scent. It is not, but it is a skin scent. I haven’t tried the full Privée line (yet), but I have the sense that they are all meant to be lightweight in feel, and elegantly unobtrusive in projection, while remaining for much longer than you’d expect. (The ambery-labdanum and incense Mitzah which I adore was the same way.) For something that is even lighter and gauzier than Mitzah, New Look 1947 was surprisingly persistent and lasted just short of 8 hours.
The sheerness of the scent seems to be one of the main reasons for the blogosphere’s disappointment with the perfume. Bois de Jasmin wrote:
Christian Dior New Look 1947 is one of my most disappointing and frustrating discoveries this year. I say it because I absolutely love the voluptuous idea of its tuberose and violet accord and the image of red lipstick glamor that it conveys. Yet on the skin, New Look 1947 feels far too soft spoken and sheer to fully deliver on its promise of bold elegance circa 1940s Paris. [¶] …Unfortunately as time goes on, New Look 1947 does not build up to any crescendo and simply fades into a vague powdery floral. My hope is that Dior might consider releasing it as the extrait de parfum. Such a beautiful idea certainly deserves to make a grander statement.
A passionate defense of New Look 1947 was mounted by Octavian Coifan, the acclaimed blogger of 1000 Fragrances, who wrote that the perfume was actually the perfect, symbolic embodiment of the New Look:
New Look 1947, the new exclusive fragrance from “La Collection Couturier Parfumeur” is Dior’s parfum lingerie, the New Nude Look with a grège scent: the softness of “purple gray” orris and the creaminess of “apricot beige” white flowers. It is built on a similar idea with J’adore l’Or – an infinite smoothness of flowers melting into an abstract note,very distant from the figurative depiction of a flower or the representation of a specific bouquet. Like Chanel No5, this perfume is the abstraction of an imaginary feminine scent, it is that “je ne sais quoi”.
… [I]t is less the idea of a specific perfume type and more the concept of a presence, delicate and fragile. It is a skinscent, but not the musky type. It’s again a parfum lingerie that evokes the Dior 1947 backstage before the unique fashion show that changed the world of fashion for ever: soft shoulders, wasp waist, bosom padded for extra curve, hips that swelled and rustling skirts. We have here the scents of make up, lipstick, face powder, the scent of silk lingerie. [Emphasis in the original.]
I agree with him, for the most part. I think New Look 1947 is supposed to represent an abstraction, a compilation of femininity. I’m not sure about all the lingerie bits and, personally, I perceive the perfume representing the Dior ballgown as much as the silken slips, but I do think New Look 1947 represents the fundamental essence of the new fashion. Dior’s clothes in that Golden Age of haute design were all about an abstract idea of hyper-femininity in hues of dove grey, white, light iris-y blue and soft, dusty rose. People focus on the opulence, shape and size of the clothes with their yards of luxurious fabric, but the real key was the return to “fairytale” femininity after the bleakness of wartime and the government-imposed austerity of the postwar years. Abstract sheerness and amorphous tones of white, grey and lilac iris certainly make New Look 1947 part of the Dior tradition.
Ultimately, all of this is esoteric, unnecessary, intellectualism and wankery. The critics can argue about sheerness, symbolism and abstractism, but the bottom line is whether the perfume smells good, not whether it lives up to some marketing name. And it does smell good. If you like very sweet, airy, gauzy, florals with some powder and vanilla, then you really must try New Look 1947. Period.
It may be particularly ideal for those who like extremely unobtrusive perfumes. The soft sillage but good longevity makes it perfect for the office, but I think the perfume is extremely versatile as a whole. You must, however, like florals that are very sweet at first and, then, later, somewhat powdery. If you prefer more powerful fragrances, I think you may be disappointed. This is not a diva or statement perfume — not even remotely. Lastly, those with acute sensitivity to ISO E Super may want to skip this one; I have absolutely no doubt it’s there. The quantity of the aromachemical is extremely low, but anything may be too much for those who get headaches from it in any amount.
The general problem with New Look 1947 may be something else altogether: the size of the bottles. They are just enormous! The smallest bottle clocks in at 4.25 fl oz or 125 ml. Most perfumes start at 1.7 oz or 50 ml, going up to 3.4 oz or 100 ml in the large size. Dior’s largest bottle is an enormous 8.5 fl. oz or 450 ml! More than four times as large! Per ounce, they are far, far cheaper than most niche or exclusive-line perfumes. The “small” bottle costs $155, so that is approximately $36 an ounce — the general price of mass-market perfumes. The gigantic “large” 8.5 oz size costs $230 for $27 an ounce — far less than any perfume at Sephora or Macy’s! But, tell me seriously, how many people will ever finish an 8.5 oz bottle?! Who? It’s completely insane.
On the other hand, if you opt for their … er… “small” size, you are getting more bang for your buck than with any other haute perfume on the market! Even more so if you order directly from a Dior boutique where, in the U.S. at least, there won’t be tax, will be free shipping and you’ll get tons of wonderful, free goodies. (See below for details.) And, by the standards of niche or haute perfumery (which, I grant you, are quite screwy), $155 is not hugely expensive even if the bottle were a regular size.
Bottom line for lovers of light florals: forget the name, lose all your expectations, and give New Look 1947 a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised.