Dianne Brill

If you visit the Dianne Brill fragrance blurb on Beautyhabit, in search of information about the scent, it says “Instead of giving you a list of the many precious ingredients in this fragrance, I would like to offer you a moment to FEEL THE SCENT.”  And it goes downhill from there, with cringe-worthy prose about being fulfilled and feeling the vibration.  I probably would have stopped there, in disgust, with any other celebrity – particularly one whose heyday was the 80s club scene.

Except I love Dianne Brill.  When I first heard about her fragrance I deeply, perversely wanted it to be brilliant.  I had no idea she was already something of a success, with a website featuring her own makeup line and confirming the main thing I liked about her in the first place – she clearly has a sense of humor, even (especially?) about herself.  I remembered the outsize 80’s personality that matched her big hair and generous …  poitrine and was happy to hear that, unlike so many other figures from that time, she hadn´t gone down the tubes, a sad-sack victim of drugs and debauchery.

Eventually Chandler Burr did a review of her fragrance for the NY Times and in his interview managed to come away with a sense of the process (Brill worked with Valerie Garnuch) and some of the suggested inspirations/notes, cribbing from Burr´s review, include: a piece of leather Brill bought in a flea market and kept in a box because she loved the smell; an unnamed, discontinued Kiehls body oil that had “a sort of naughty/beachy/salty scent;” wood from “construction sites, I didn´t want sandalwood, nothing Indian or exotic;” figs, both ripe and green; the smell of a Cuban cigar box Brill owned; and spices, “although the spices were a real tough call for me. My husband and family had just bought a wonderful sailboat, and we were off the coast of Mustique, and we found the producer of an excellent West Indies nutmeg, which has a very weird, disco-nasty smell, people just starting to sweat on the dance floor. So Valerie put that in.”

The result is what Burr beautifully describes as “edginess polished with a gourmand brush.”  It´s strange from the top to the bottom – a sweet, rich, floral opening that is slightly off kilter, letting the wearer know immediately that the trip will be interesting.  As Patty noted in her review, “it has the resemblance of something more traditional on the open, but quickly veers off into some completely new territory, then back to traditional fruity-ish floral, then completely heads down the path of something far more interesting.”

The figs interwoven with the smell of the interior of a tobacconist shop is one of the most singularly strange and delightful combinations in recent memory – sweet fruity ripeness and bitter astringency pushing against a backdrop of hay and tobacco.  Underneath that, a salty smell that reads less as “marine” and more as salty, sweaty skin – “disco-nasty” indeed.  Also, there´s a whiff of something peculiar and ozonic and a teeny bit nasty that runs through the whole thing, a chemical smell reminiscent of the synthetic/hairspray note in Gucci Rush (apparently a reference to a popular brand of poppers).

Once you get past the misleading sweetness of the first 20 seconds (additional notes Garnuch gives are ylang, Peruvian benzoin, and chocolate) it smells pretty unisex to me, although I can´t imagine many men (or even some women) wanting that froufrou bottle on their dresser.

In the end, the thing I love most about Dianne Brill´s fragrance is it´s the rarest of birds – a perfume with a sense of humor that also manages to be very good (Burr gives it three stars).  In this respect I´d compare it to Cumming – it doesn´t smell a thing like Cumming, of course, but it shares Cumming´s wearability and quirky charm.  Based on what I´m smelling, the perfume Brill described is very much what she got — Garnuch did a brilliant job of combining a fairly disparate set of Brill´s loves into something easy to love in itself.

I feel like starting a new filing category on the right – one labeled “Perfume Contrarian” – for fragrances like this that I can´t help but sense I´m swimming against the popular tide on.  Who besides me wants to wear something made by Brill?  I have no idea.  I also feel duty-bound to report I tried this on at least two people on whom it started out – and remained – unbearably sweet, as if it had turned into straight vanilla-fruit hitting their skin.  All the other notes simply disappeared.  Also, it´s tenacious, so if you hate this, you might be hating it for hours.

I wonder if you, reading this, have a fragrance you´d file under “perfume contrarian” – something you continue to love and wear while feeling it doesn´t get the respect it deserves, and whether that bothers you.  As for me – I want a bottle of this stuff.  I think it´s kind of cute, actually.

Dianne Brill is available from Beautyhabit for $95 for a 50ml bottle; and if you´re still trying to figure out who the heck Dianne Brill even is, here´s a link to her website – and wow, she looks amazing, doesn’t she?

images: beautyhabit.com


  • dinazad says:

    I sooo wanted to love this – not because of the bottle but because of the cigar box, which I crave. And because I adore Brill’s over-the-top persona. (Also, her lip colours are gorgeous). Unfortunately, my skin tends to swallow skank and to crank up sweet, and so the scent was well nigh unbearable and toothache inducing on me. “sniff”. But I might splurge on that grrreat dark red lip thingie instead.

  • Elle says:

    I *love* DB and her wicked, wonderful sense of humor and was *determined* to like this. I was also very concerned I wouldn’t actually like it and would have to work hard at finding positive things to say about it that didn’t reveal my true lack of love for the scent. Got my sample and w/ gritted teeth put some on my arm, mentally prepared to go into positive spin mode. Sniffed once, sniffed again, kept this up for the next couple of hours. Honestly, FBW!!! YAY!! SO relieved…and shocked. 🙂

    • March says:

      A bottle just sold on eBay yesterday for $50, I wish I’d bid on it. But I was saving my bullets for … some other things :”> that I’ll blog about if they turn out not to be water. Or empty. Or otherwise disappointing. 🙂

  • helenviolette says:

    This one has been quite contrary on me. It never seems to smell the same twice. The first time I put it on it was such great, fun, over the top- and smelled good. Since then it has smelled ok and bad. (I dated a few men with this sort of dilemma in my youth #-o ) But my sample is still pretty full, so I will give it another go!

    • helenviolette says:

      Oh, and as for Dianne- she looks incredible- makes me want to track her down in person for an up-close inspection…

    • March says:

      Hmmmm. Skin chemistry? It’s such an odd fragrance it wouldn’t really surprise me if there were good days and bad days.

  • Kim says:

    I sort of agree with Disteza – my vote for contrarian perfume is split between Commes des Garcons and Parfumerie Generale. But for entirely different reasons!! I love CdG as a line and wish it got more love, especially 888, Original, and White. Even the stuff in the line that doesn’t agree with me, I still have to admire technically and everything I have tried in the line seems to have a twist or edge. And Parfumerie Generale – sigh! Corps et Ames is a walloping wonderful chypre that almost no one ever seems to mention. I can’t wait to try Felanilla!

    • March says:

      Girl after my own heart — ITA with your list of underloved CdGs. I think original is just kind of forgotten, and few people liked 888 as much as I did, I think it’s brilliant.

      PG has done some really great stuff. I just wish they’d slow down the rate of releases, it’s hard to keep up.

  • sweetlife says:

    When I read the promo material on NST I couldn’t stand it, but now I want to try this one. Somehow it is very satisfying to me that she wanted the scent of “disco-nasty” in her perfume.

    Also, having recently taken a friendly turn towards high femme territory myself I find myself just smiling and smiling at the ladies like Diane who seem to have had their cake and eaten it (quite a lot of it) too. I love a girl with boob-pride. I sincerely hope she’s having as much fun as it looks like she is…

    • March says:

      Me too — looking back at her antics I sort of figured she’d train-wrecked herself out of existence, big boobs and all. I’m happy to see her looking and sounding so happy.

  • sariah says:

    I am the perfume contrarian poster child for Obsession and Fracas, and it doesn’t bother me that they get little respect from some quarters, more for me!

    DB’s website is super fun, never even heard of her. Good to see someone proud of their curves.

    • March says:

      Obsession is a little much for me, personally, and I don’t wear Fracas for the same reason, but I adore it — it’s such an amazing scent. I have a wee atomizer I spray in the air sometimes just to smell it. And I think Fracas gets a lot of love from the fragrance nuts. 😡

      • Musette says:

        Fracas gets a lot of love all over the Universe because it is just so……..All That!

        and a bowl of fresh tortilla chips

        and a BIG bowl of guacamole (the good kind, made fresh from real avocados)

        and a good – really good – margarita, on the rocks, made with fresh-squeezed lime juice and triple sec…

        …served on the terrace of your private villa overlooking the sea in Costa Careyes.

        Yes, She’s All That!


  • Disteza says:

    I suppose most of the ELdO and the CdG Synthetic series would qualify as the most ‘contrarian’ of perfumes. Since they all either smell resolutely horrible on me (the ELdOs) or give me a migraine (the CdGs), I can’t profess much love for them. I think I’ll have to mention PdG’s Coze as the most often worn of all my contrarian perfumes. I see very little mention of it anywhere, which does sadden me a bit. I get a beautifully heady mix of pepper, hemp and wood from it that you can layer successfully with practically anything that needs a bit of a character boost. I’ve tried it with Guerlain’s DSV, SL La Myrrhe, a few of the CdG incenses and some of the Rosines, and it got along famously with ’em all!

    • March says:

      Isn’t that funny, I have no recollection what Coze smells like. That was early on, wasn’t it? I bet I have a sample upstairs, I’ll root it out.

      The only CdGs that were all wrong for me were most of the Synthetics and the Guerillas. Weird — I know it’s ALL aromachemistry, but something that deliberately smells like gas fumes or copy toner or whatever almost always gives me a headache.

  • Robin says:

    These days, I’m more excited to hear about niche scents I can safely *ignore*. Sigh — ok, if it’s got the quirky charm of Cumming, will add it to the list of things to get.

    • March says:

      R, I have no idea whether you’d like it (and much would depend on whether you got the interesting bits.) But at least it lived up to my hopes/expectations — that she worked with a perfumer to develop an idea beyond “let’s make some fruity thing that will sell like hotcakes.” And given her makeup line/femme persona, I couldn’t even argue a fruity gourmand thing would have been wrong. I really like it.

  • sara says:

    I am all kinds of curious to try this one. Always loved Dianne and she looks terrific! The “olfactory scrapbook” approach to perfume creation is always an interesting one but it sounds like this one is successfully executed as well.

    • March says:

      Doesn’t she look great? I didn’t go look it up, but she’s got to be at least as old as I am. She’s … uh, aged well, hasn’t she? 🙂 I’m glad Chandler Burr weaseled some notes out of her.

  • Juno says:

    I always liked her. Her description of how to get into a rubber dress was unforgettable – she had a memoir out in the early 90s: Boys Boobs and High Heels. A local shop sells her line AND Lipstick Queen, maybe I will go buy a lipstick and have a sniff too.

  • Melissa says:

    Love Dianne, but unfortunately, not the juice. It stayed very sweet on me with a vanilla and, ummm, rotting fruit (?) vibe. Vanilla and something strange, but not pleasant. And yes, tenacious. It kept peeking out from under whatever I sprayed over it that day.

    But having checked out that website, I don’t care what the fragrance smells like! And that kitschy bottle? Well, I suppose that it just suits her.

  • Divalano says:

    I’m with Tom, go, go Dianne for being still fab after all these years. May your corset & fishnets shine on forever.
    I wanted to love this one. And I kinda did for about the first hour. It was spicy & bittersweet with an edge of something dark lurking about the edges. And then it sort of wilted & turned into something mushy & weak legged & I don’t know … just, perfumey. But I still have the rest of my sample. I think I’ll take it off the swap pile & give it one last try.

    • March says:

      Corset and fishnets! Maybe with a run in them… Diva bought a pair (small weave) and came home with a run in them, complaining. I said, hon, I know. I know.

      It’s very circular on me (although it lasts all day) and the weirdness level drifts in and out depending on how much tobacco/metal shop I’m getting. Mushy and weak legged and perfumey … wouldn’t cut it.

  • Joe says:

    Respect-schmeckt. I chucked my pride and yearning to be loved by everyone years ago — all good perfumes should do the same! If some people can’t appreciate these hidden gems, then they’re the ones losing out, right? And you and other reviewers are there to tell us all about diamonds in the rough that we otherwise might overlook, so all’s well!

    You make this sound fun, and therefore the analogy to Cumming seems apropos. I don’t remember Brill even from my “Spy” magazine-reading days, but she seems like a hoot. But my that bottle is just… FUG! [-x It even has a little mini portrait of her on it, doesn’t it? One of the few cases in which a decant is probably more attractive.

    • March says:

      It DOES have a little portrait of her on it, looking sorta Mae West and she’s in a cigar-band portrait … aw, I think it’s adorable in a slightly tacky way. A decant might be the way to go anyway, given the way it can perform (or, not) on skin.

  • tmp00 says:

    It makes me almost absurdly happy that DIanne Brill is still around and has prospered. I might need to go to the depths of the Valley and smell this..

    • March says:

      T — I wish you would check it out, only because I think you might love it. There’s a nice strong tobacco note running all the way through, it’s interesting. And I’m glad you share my happiness. :)>-