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Joy by Jean Patou

Joy by Jean Patou

Fragrance review

Joy by Jean Patou

This out-of-production fragrance is almost a century old, so why review it now? Because – its legacy is so grandiose people still talk about it despite the recent commercial coma that has finally done it in. Also, because important lessons lurk in its demise.

JOY by Jean Patou - eau de parfum flacon

FOR: women
FAMILY: floral, white floral
TOP NOTES: aldehydes, green notes, Bulgarian rose (Rosa damascena), peach, pear
MIDDLE NOTES: jasmine, may rose (Rosa centifolia), ylang-ylang, tuberose, iris
BASE NOTES: sandalwood, musk, civet
NOSE: Henri Alméras
YEAR: 1929
WEAR: warm to cool temperatures, outdoors and roomy interiors

The costliest perfume in the world.

The scent

Let’s start with what JOY is. At its best, as an eau de parfum, it is a flower shop in a bottle. JOY is not just roses and jasmine but a whole floral extravaganza carried on fresh cut stems still dripping with that stinky flower pot water.

It opens bright, fresh and robust with heady rose and hints of peach and pear carried swiftly on a cloud of aldehydes. From there it develops into a constantly evolving feast of blossoms of various shades. This is where you will experience opulence in photorealistic rose mingling with ylang-ylang, hints of iris and mild sweetness of honeysuckle and where grand jasmine comes in amplified by an undulating tinge of tuberose.

After a couple of hours, the mood quickly fades from pure JOY brought on by the floral ecstasy into a more austere yet seductive base built on sandalwood and musk with animalic civet notes lingering throughout.

JOY enters the ballroom with flair, then flirts and dances to satisfy the celebratory spirit, then tiredly calms and settles into a soft, powdery, slightly stuffy roomful of flowers. Or retires to a  delicate reminder of the presence of rose and jasmine in the garden wafting in with the breeze, dragging in hints of decaying window frame and wooden sill on which a gang of cats took up permanent residence.

Throughout, it never lets you forget the bold opening and rich bouquet packed with fragrant blossoms that’s been tossed in your lap by an adoring fan. You just carry it with you like a badge of honour wherever the evening may take you.

With JOY, it’s always a red-carpet gala for the mature, old-money crowd. If you are too young or too timid, perhaps you should consider wearing JOY and staying in – not all can stomach the musky, bitter animalic sillage left lingering for hours near the skin and adjacent clothing.

1947 Joy by Jean Patou advertisement - "The costliest perfume in the world"

Did you know?

it takes 336 Bulgarian roses and 10,600 jasmine flowers to make a single ounce of JOY (30 ml)

a single pound of hand-picked jasmine flowers from Grasse sells for $43,000

each year, Jean Patou released 50 limited edition Baccarat flacons of JOY, retailed at $1800 at Bergdorf Goodman

JOY was voted Scent of the Century by the public at the Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards in 2000, beating Chanel No. 5

JOY by Jean Patou - bottle of vintage juice
Harper’s Bazaar, 1933

“Patou, a Pasha at heart, indulges in like privilege. Last year he created Joy, a perfume scarcely to be begged or bought. He will make it on special order, and when it comes it has your name printed on the label.”

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Evolution of JOY

For all its facets, JOY is a brilliant combination of natural beauty and seductive innuendo in a simple, straightforward yet complete package. The proof is in the 90 years of deeply satisfied customers.

Why would such a masterpiece all of a sudden stop selling enough to warrant its preservation? Is LVMH just a mean, faceless corporate blob that has no love for anything it owns? Did they buy Patou to surgically remove the fashion brand from its perfume maison donor? Or is their move a reflection of the spirit of our times and market trends reinforced by modern conscience?

Remember that JOY started as a brainchild of a natural disruptor of his era. Back in the day, Jean Patou was the coolest, bravest fashion indie up-and-comer. A thought leader in his own right, he was also a shrewd follower of the latest macro-trend – the emancipation of women in the time when all kinds of crusty social structures and ideas were being challenged.

It was also the time of mighty post WWI hardship. The Great Depression conjures up rather unpleasant thoughts, especially when facing the post-2008 macroeconomic outlook in the midst of The Great Pandemic of the 2020’s.

Yet in this time of uncertainty and gloom, especially for old money, Patou invented an extravagant idea of a luxurious gift of HOPE for those who had been running low. JOY was served up as a souvenir to American high society clients who have fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford to make a long journey to his maison in France to get fitted for the most fashionable stylings of the day. JOY was meant to be a personal magic potion to summon opulence, extravagance, elegance and grandeur where they were noticeably absent otherwise.

JOY by Jean Patou - a computer rendered product image

Did you know?

between 2001 and 2011, JOY was manufactured by Procter & Gamble in England, a decade that tarnished Patou’s great reputation for superb quality

Mehta family owned Designer Parfums restored some of its glory with perfumer Thomas Fontaine sourcing flowers in Grasse again and moving production to Normandy

in 2018, LVMH purchased the Jean Patou brand and acquired rights to the name JOY

1995 JOY by Jean Patou in limited edition translucent crystal snuff bottle by Baccarat
JOY, 1929 – 2020

Mid-2020 LVMH decided to permanently stop production of all Jean Patou fragrances, including JOY. The name JOY is now borne by an insignificant Dior fragrance.

End of JOY

The trouble with JOY in the 2020’s market is that opulence, extravagance and grandeur are not where JOY is at. Its legacy was diluted by poor ownership, poor marketing and new-age regulations. Starting with the P&G moving production to England failing to honour the quality standards, later cemented by the IRFA 43rd amendment of 2009 limiting the jasmine absolute concentrations, the scent itself has become ravaged and diluted. 

Through efforts of perfumers like Thomas Fontaine, JOY has regained some of its original quality and is still incredible in its own character, just not unique and amazing enough to bring the same hope it used to carry. The lesson – if you have a unique, luxury product or brand, you don’t mess with the quality that makes it so or you will never recover the original grandeur and sheen.

JOY is also old. A century of tinkering with the original formula, imitations and variations on the theme, including Patou’s own Enjoy and Joy Forever, have dulled the promising glow. The burst of aldehydes is not shocking anymore. If anything, many people resist it and find it too artificial. 

The smell of flowers at the heart, so real and natural it’s hard to believe it’s just liquid in a bottle, is not as much fun as it once was. The package of crystal and gold had been replaced by glass and plastic. 

Mass production and global supply chains have supplanted the small, artistic, collectible batches at most corporate-run houses. No one is fooled by ‘maison’ anymore. We all know it’s all big business. And the list of ingredients on the box is a reminder that we are not dealing with magical alchemy but rather complex and potentially harmful chemistry. The mysterious allure and romantica of JOY have lost their potency.

These days, there are a gazillion choices for your very own signature scent. Originality is still at a premium, but Patou hasn’t been niche since your Great Grandma can remember.

As an idea, JOY fails to bring in 2020 what it used to bring in the 1930’s – HOPE. If anything, it’s the antithesis of hope with the changing climate, overly populated environment, and entire species of fauna and flora going extinct every single day. It’s not so cool anymore to mow down hectares of plants farmed on what could be natural habitat to mix with a bunch of chemicals and serve it up in a generic bottle with a plastic pump and stopper, all with ‘JOY’ dispassionately printed on it by a faceless conglomerate looking to make a quick buck. Instead of JOY, in 2020 that feels more like GUILT and conscientious BURDEN. 

The history has simply come full circle on Jean Patou and his flagship perfume, once proudly labelled the costliest scent in the world. Costly production is not the ticket right now. Nevermind the fragrance. That’s still great and, if you are true to yourself, you should wear it if it pleases you. But straight forward, indolic powdery florals are just not ‘it’ these days either.

Did you know?

Jean Patou (1887 – 1936) was the first to make sportswear for women and include complementary accessories for his clothes

Patou was also the first maker of suntan lotion Huile de Chaldee and among the first couturiers to include perfumes as part of a collection

he famously had a bar serving scented cocktails for gentlemen waiting for their ladies to be fitted and a perfume bar where patrons could create their own fragrances

Jean Patou - the most dapper French gentleman of his time

JOY today

So, who should buy JOY in the 2020’s? I’d recommend it to collectors, hopeless romantics and carefree gift-givers. And Daisy Fay Buchanan fans. And those kooky, charismatic, independent thinkers who like to assert their individuality by wearing something that says ‘I don’t care for mainstream pop-culture, I like my classic flowery masterpieces’. If you want flowers and you haven’t yet smelled a natural, realistic rose or animalic, unapologetic jasmine (but would like to), then JOY is definitely for you.

Who should NOT buy JOY? Anyone looking for a modern, trendy scent that’s got all the expected bells-and-whistles. Oud lovers. Own scent makers. Those who don’t know who Daisy Fay is. Those who don’t want to smell like their Grandma at her wedding. 

Will JOY ever be back? Sure, why not? It’s not like it fell off the planet. There is the original formula safely stored at Osmotheque. LVMH can still produce it, should they ever choose to. And there are enough nostalgic romantics born everyday with a silver spoon in their mouth to bring JOY back like the last ray of sunshine on a sunset you ran over the hill to see again. 

So, even though we lost JOY for now, remember, there is always HOPE.

Doutzen Kroes Joy ad Jean Patou
Jean Patou JOY ad - Le parfum le plus cher...
1974 JOY by Jean Patou advertisment
JOY by Jean Patou, 75 ml (2.5 fl oz) Eau de Parfum bottle with matching box