Poison was the first fragrance that did not use the Dior name in it's title like Diorella, Diorama, Dioressence, Diorissimo, Dior-Dior, Miss Dior. Dior Dior was a failure which led to a massive corporate shake up a decade before. This fragrance sought to invigorate the company's stable of fragrance products, which appeared to be losing their flavor and edge with the consumers.
Recalling the success of the hedonistic 70’s fragrances Opium by Yves Saint Laurent and Scoundrel by Revlon, “I think we should have had this 10 years ago,” notes Jean Pierre Lippman, president of Christian Dior Perfumes, USA.
Dior reported that their worldwide sales in 1984 were $152.7 million. But the United States contributed only 18 percent of volume, and only 30 percent of that was attributed to US fragrance sales. They projected that 1985 would not even be that good. “Our fragrances did fairly well last year,” Lippman said. “In 1985, it has been a little flat in the fragrance business, with the exception of fragrances like Obsession and Giorgio.”
Susan Biehn, vice-president for advertising and creative services at Dior, explained, “Today you must cause women to pause to think about a fragrance. Obsession did it through its advertising. Dior will do it through the name and the scent itself.”
Biehn said the name was chosen because it is“revolutionary. It‘s an adventurous name for an adventurous product. The name was definitely created to make you pause,...you gift the gift of ‘Poison‘ to a perfume who lives that type of life.”
Dior Perfumes defined Poison as "a new temptation a new seduction a new emotion". No joke, Poison was Dior's newest scent.
Dior spent $10 million in advertising for Poison, said Bill Slater, then the senior vice president and general manager of Christian Dior in New York. Bloomingdales stores in Stamford, Connecticut, and an eight other US locations had the exclusive rights to sell the perfume until September 1986, after that, Poison debuted in other stores. “We were looking for something to shock the consumer,” Slater said in an interview, "the name is provocative and it stops the customer, each year it becomes more difficult" to attract the public's attention.
“Poison is an innovative and daring concept in women’s fragrances,” says Biehn. “With so many new fragrances introduced each year, it is necessary to break through the noise surrounding these launches. We realize the name Poison is controversial, but we feel that as long as we handle every aspect of this fragrance nobly, there’s nothing to fear. Knowledgeable woman are not afraid to try Dior’s Poison, because they know it is harmless and enticing to men.”
“With Poison, we wanted to say something, shocking in all languages”, Slater said. Why would anyone choose the name Poison for perfume? Slater stated that “if someone says to you, “Would you like to smell poison?” you’re interested because everyone wants to know what Poison smells like. "It's all in how Poison is going to be taken. It's not done with a skull and crossbones," warns Slater.
“It is an adventurous name for an adventurous product...you give the gift of “Poison” to a person who lives that type of life,” Biehn said.
Designer Halston, who thought that the name Opium was “kind of an odd social statement,” found that the “naming of Poison to be an example of “the true decadence of the fashion business. I think it’s just being done to create controversy. You can’t tell people to go in and ask for a bottle of Poison.”
The department manager of Stamford, Connecticut’s Bloomingdales said that “People don’t like the name, but they think it’s a wonderful fragrance. I hear a lot of negative things about the name, but I hear some jokes too. Some people come by and say “Can I have some Poison?”. Some people were wondering whether the musky name Poison is consistent with the sweet floral scent of the perfume.
In 1986, the Daily Herald newspaper reported that Joan Kuffel, a nurse at River Trails Junior High School in Prospect, Illinois, explained why Northwest Suburban parents and teachers hoped to launch a national campaign to urge the Christian Dior company to change the name of its perfume, Poison, or to persuade television stations to ban its suggestive commercials. “How can you call something poison? We have taught (children) what poison is. Now all of a sudden poison is supposed to be sprayed all over their mother.”
Like many perfumes, Poison had its name before it had its scent.. More than three years before it’s launch, Maurice Roger, Dior’s international company president, license the word Poison,. He asked his team to come up with a revolutionary fragrance, unlike any which had gone before. Three years and then tested nearly 800 sample scents developed by independent perfumers.
The resulting mauve colored mixture was created by Edouard Flechier of Roure Bertrand DuPont, and consisted of wild berries, orange blossom, honey, Ceylonese cinnamon, Russian coriander, Malaysian pepper, amber notes, opoponax and cistus labdanum is so unusual the company boasted that “it does not yet have a branch on the fragrance tree.” It was the most audacious scent they had ever created .
In Poison (Dior 1985) the following synthetic ingredients were used: aldehyde C18, gamma-decalactone, methyl salicylate, eugenol (carnation), heliotropin (heliotrope), coumarin (tonka bean), and vanillin (vanilla), with great emphasis on methyl anthranilate (orange blossom and tuberose).
Poison is classified as a soft oriental fragrance for women.
- Top notes: aldehydes, pimento, bay, mandarin, clove, plum, bergamot, Malaysian pepper and Russian coriander
- Middle notes: Ceylonese cinnamon, carnation, wild berries, orange blossom, honey, lily of the valley, rose, orris, myrrh, peach and jasmine
- Base notes: amber, incense, musk, benzoin, labdanum, myrrh, opoponax, castoreum, cedar and sandalwood
The bottle was painstakingly researched, it is shaped like an apple and made to fit snugly in the palm of your hand. This makes me think of Snow White and the poisoned apple, or Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge that poisoned her and Adam’s paradise.
The color scheme for the fragrance - amethyst purple and emerald green - was chosen because it was “bold, rich and different from all other brands,” said Dior’s president of the US operation Jean Pierre Lippmann. The exact shade was accident, he said , the result of a miscalculation during the developing of a promotional roll of film. The crystal ball stopper, the magical amethyst bottle and boxed inside an emerald green moire presentation case.
Dior was sinking millions into the product because it had hopes that Poison would given Christian Dior more of the fragrance market, Slater also said. “In the US, we’re in the top 10 in fragrance and cosmetics but we should be much, much stronger”, he said “We’re hoping Poison is a springboard…and will help project us into greater volume. You can't tiptoe into this market, said Slater, you have to march.”
Through early August, the perfume had generated $500,000 in sales, which is the best launch the company had ever had, said Slater. “But the main test is not the launch, but the release. And the resale in Europe is tremendous”, he added. So far, Poison was test marketed in the USA, France, England and Japan.
The promotional displays in the stores were as big as the money Dior was spending. There were giant purple factices, dummy bottles, surrounded by free, long, scented peacock feathers, gift samples and models dressed in green jackets and black skirts heralding the fragrance’s debut. The ads for Poison showed a heavily made up model with a perfume bottle in her hand and a panther skulking in the background.
At Poison's launch the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, in October 1985, it was an exciting event, with much fanfare, considerable press coverage and enormous crowds were treated to an image of a huge facsimile of a perfume bottles was lit by lasers and hung from the ceiling . All of Paris it seemed, wanted to try this fragrance. The perfume sold at the rate of one bottle every 50 seconds in the Galeries Lafayette said Jacques Perusse, the vice president of Prestilux, the Montreal company that represented Dior perfumes in Canada.
Poison quickly spread through Europe with a similar reaction. At Harrod’s in London, that bottle was the centerpiece of the stores Christmas catalog. At CK Tang in Singapore, the fragrance was everywhere- in boutiques on each floor, in every show window, on floor to ceiling banner, and most on the wrist of most customers and most importantly shoppers scooped up the perfume at a rate of a bottle every 42 seconds.. In Australia, $500,000 was spent on Poison’s promotion which included a lavish launching party, a press luncheon, cinema and magazine advertisements plus in-store promotions. Poison was the top scent in France, Italy, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the Middle East.
Poison left its mark overseas, with a promotion campaign and introductory sales that industry veterans call the most dramatic they have ever seen. The perfume reached North America via Vancouver, in July to coincide with Expo ‘86, and it quickly outsold sales of four other Dior fragrances. Between August 18th-23rd, 1986, it was sold exclusively in Eaton’s stores in Canada. On August 25th of that year, store such as Bretton’s, the Bay, Holt Renfrew and other major stores in Canada offered Poison.
“They never really had a successful fragrance here,” said Allan G. Mottus, a consultant in cosmetics. “It’s tremendously important to them because it would give them credibility with American retailers.” At the same time, if Poison fails, Dior would have even less credibility, making it hard to mount another assault on the American market.
To succeed in the United States, a fragrance must be formulated and pitched differently from the approach in Europe, Mottus revealed. Poison is a longer lasting scent, important to Americans, who dislike spritzing themselves with perfume throughout the day. It is relatively strong, another asset in the American market. He added that one’s sense of smell weakens with age, and the American consumer is growing older.
Awards:Poison won the prestigious Catherine de Medici’s Award for fragrance of the year in 1986. Two years later it won the equally prestigious FiFi award.
Ancillary Products:The company also debuted a complete Poison bath line including soaps and lotions. Christian Dior also followed up with other versions of Poison, including a softer smelling Poison Light Cologne in June 1989.
A bangle bracelet for the perfume Poison, introduced in 1985. This great looking bracelet is actually a perfume bottle, that can be worn as a bracelet. Black and green enameled bracelet bottle with brass detailing with clear crystal ends. One end screws off to hold perfume. Has an outside circumference of 11 1/2” and a diameter of 4”. Signed Poison, Christian Dior and Paris.
Success is Spelled F-L-A-N-K-E-R:Poison continued to be very successful and was followed by several flankers. Tendre Poison in 1994, Hypnotic Poison in 1998, Pure Poison in 2004, Midnight Poison in 2007, and Poison Girl in 2016, as well as various limited edition flacons over the years.
Tendre Poison was created by Edouard Flechier in 1994. The bottle design is the work of Veronique Monod. Unfortunately, this fragrance is currently discontinued.
- Top notes: Brazilian rosewood, asafoetida, mandarin orange, galbanum and tangerine
- Middle notes: rose, freesia, tuberose, honey, and orange blossom
- Base notes: heliotrope, sandalwood, musk, and vanilla
- Top notes: caraway, allspice, apricot, plum and coconut
- Middle notes: tuberose, sambac jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose and Brazilian rosewood
- Base notes: jacaranda wood, musk, sandalwood, almond, and vanilla
Pure Poison was created by Carlos Benaim, Dominique Ropion and Olivier Polge in 2004. Pure Poison appears to have had a reformulation around 2011.
- Top notes: Sicilian mandarin, sweet orange, bergamot, and jasmine
- Middle notes: gardenia, and orange blossom
- Base notes: musk, cedarwood, sandalwood, and white amber
- Top notes: mandarin and bergamot
- Middle notes: black rose
- Base notes: patchouli, amber and French vanilla
- Top notes: Sicilian bitter orange, lemon
- Middle notes: Grasse May rose, Damask rose, orange blossom
- Base notes: Venezuelan tonka bean, Sri Lanka sandalwood, tolu balm, almond,vanilla, heliotrope, Cashmeran
Limited Editions & Collector's Flacons:
The Seductress Amulets:
In 2006, the house of Dior released the Seductress Amulets. These are limited edition 15 ml phial shaped purse sprays in Poison, Pure Poison, Tendre Poison and Hypnotic Poison; each comes with 2 refills and is packaged in a satin pouch with funnels. These originally retailed at $50 each.
In cooperation with perfumer Francois Demachy , Dior presented three new versions of already existing perfumes Midnight Poison, Hypnotic Poison and Pure Poison, in the form of an "elixir" in 2008. Presented in their traditional bottle colors and fitted with retro-glamor atomizers. 30 and 50 ml. (Eau de Parfum)
L`Elixir Hypnotic Poison features licorice, star anise, jasmine and vanilla.
L'Elixir Midnight Poison features caramel and vanilla.
L'Elixir Pure Poison features petitgrain, green mandarin orange, orange blossom, Sambac jasmine, sandalwood, bitter-sweet almond, vanilla and cocoa bean absolute.
Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle:
Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle: created by Francois Demachy in 2010. Unfortunately, this fragrance has been discontinued.
- Top notes: Damascus rose, ylang ylang and orange blossom absolute
- Middle notes: tuberose, vanilla orchid, and green leaves
- Base notes: vanilla, sandalwood, and musk
Valentine's Day Collector Flacons:
For Valentine's Day 2008, Dior presented a limited edition trilogy including Pure Poison, Hypnotic Poison and Midnight Poison. The fragrances are available as 40ml (1.4 oz) eau de toilette bottles. The beautiful bottle designs were inspired by 17th-century Chinese carved jade snuff bottles. Floral motifs which just like a lace touch and capture the bottles are perfectly adjusted to its curves.
Original prices were:
- Hypnotic Poison Collector, Eau de Toilette Vaporisateur 40 ml (1.4 oz.fl.) – €64,13
- Pure Poison Collector, Eau de Toilette Vaporisateur 40ml (1.4 oz.fl.) – €74,26€
- Midnight Poison Collector, Eau de Toilette Vaporisateur 40ml (1.4 oz.fl.) – €74,26
Success Also Spawns Imitation:
Poison also had its imitators. With its slogan `If You Like Dior's Poison, You'll Love Turmoil.' Parfums de Coeur had sales of the fragrance of $60 million in 1986 .
Fabulous Fakes also created a copycat fragrance which they touted “If you like Poison, try our No. 56.”
Beware of Fakes! Poison has been terribly faked. Here are some photos of a fake bottle and box that I had received in a large lot of Poison perfumes. I have found that the fake Poison boxes are imprinted with the same batch code "7A01" and the bottle has the same batch code. Shown in comparison is my own bottle of genuine Poison.
For more photo comparisons and tutorials on fake Poisons, please see the individual entries on Hypnotic Poison, Pure Poison, Midnight Poison and Tendre Poison.