Perfume Review: DSH Perfumes Pandora


Photo from DSH Notebook

Oh, dear. I feel bad about this review… but I’m determined to be truthful. This one’s getting a lot of love from vintage-perfume fans as well as natural-perfume fans all over the perfume blogosphere: Jen at This Blog Really Stinks (who hosted the draw for the large sample I tested – thanks, Jen!), Scent Less Sensibilities, Eyeliner on a CatIndieperfumes, The Non-Blonde, EauMG, Scent Hive, Oh, True Apothecary, Scentual Soundtracks, Perfume Pharmer, Escentual Alchemy.   I love many vintage perfumes too. I like chypres, particularly if they have floral components. I am an AldeHo – if it’s got aldehydes, I’m probably going to like it.   (If I’ve missed some other reviews, please let me know.)

See, the thing is… this is the fragrance that started out as an experiment in naturals, a “modern fragrance in vintage style,” if I’ve got the story right (somebody jump in to correct me if I don’t).

I’m not typically a big fan of “all-natural.” For one thing, I think it’s silly to claim that only synthetic materials can be harmful to the body or the environment. (Oooooh, don’t get me started. The smug attitude makes me grit my teeth in rage.) From a practical standpoint, I’ve been mostly disappointed with the skin longevity of all-natural perfumes, with a couple of notable exceptions (Dawn’s own Rose Vert, and Honore des Pres Vamp a NY). I’m not one of those people who complain all over Makeup Alley that “this doesn’t last, it only stayed six hours and I had to reapply in the middle of the day,” but if I’m not getting three hours’ worth of wear at least, I’m just not interested in spending the money to buy it. I know, too, that all-naturals have different qualities – they tend to sit closer to skin, they tend to “bloom” in unexpected ways rather than lifting slowly off the skin the way fragrances underscored with synthetic materials tend to do – but they’re not qualities that make me excited. I’m always happy to give an all-natural fragrance the good old college try, and I’m willing to make a few allowances, but I’m not predisposed to prefer all-naturals.

I’ll remind you at this point that aldehydes are synthetic. And that I like them.

At some point, Dawn seems to have decided to go ahead and add a few synthetic materials that she felt made Pandora “come alive” – the aldehydes, and a small amount of ozone (unnoticeable to me, by the way). Here’s what she has to say on her blog about the project:

The “Beautiful Evil” is a quote from the story of Pandora as told by the Greek, Hesiod. She is the all gifted, all giving one, a singular woman and synonymous with Eve in many respects. It is she who opens humankind to the knowledge of good and evil and ultimately breaks the utopian ideal. With Pandora, mankind has plagues but also knowledge and maturity. She opens the door to truth and hope.

What began as an all-botanical design for a project changed direction with the addition of a subtle synthetic influence. It made all of the difference. This is also a perfume that also utilizes some new and exotic botanical materials…in Pandora, the ancient meets the 21 century.

The notes feature ruby fruits, bergamot, aldehyde, spices, ozone, violet leaf, davana, cassis bud, green and pink pepper, rose de mai, juhi jasmine, linden blossom, yerba maté, cabreuva wood, orris, green tea, mousse de saxe accord, cyperus, fossilized amber absolute, ambergris, patchouli, vetiver, muhuhu, sandalwood, tonka bean, oakmoss and vanilla.

(Yes, she said oakmoss. Please start breathing again.)

On my skin, Pandora has very good longevity; one spritz will last about four to five hours. There’s no indication on my small sample what concentration I have; the fragrance is available as 15ml parfum ($220, shown above), or as 4ml/10ml eau de parfum ($25/$60).  

The first thing I smell is a cheerfully intense herbal-tea note (if you were worried about the red berries, fear not) under a bright haze of aldehydes. There’s an immediate suggestion that you might accidentally have gotten hold of some vintage Miss Dior, what with the moss and the dry iris in there, and there’s a very old-fashioned air to this stage of the scent. It’s an incredibly layered scent; it contains a lot of notes I can’t identify other than to call them “woody” and “herbal.” Earthy, foresty, and vintage – it’s very pleasant.

A little while later, Pandora segues into a warmer, woody-chypre sort of fragrance with a hint of spice here and there, and I begin to like it a lot less. It’s still layered and complex, but this is not the kind of thing that pleases me. It reminds me somewhat of vintage Magie Noire, but drier and less green, without Magie Noire’s opulent floral heart. There are florals in Pandora – I smell jasmine, definitely, and a bit of rose – but they are not the focus. Instead the focus is on the woody notes and moss.

Eventually the oriental/mousse de saxe base begins to float up through the woody notes, and this is where I have to start gritting my teeth. It’s strikingly reminiscent of several scents that I really dislike: Opium, Youth Dew, Caron Nuit de Noel. Whatever accord it is that those scents have in common, it’s popping up in Pandora, both cloyingly sweet and oily-dusty. It makes the back of my throat ache and I find it unpleasant. But that’s me, my personal taste, and if you like the perfumes I just mentioned you won’t be bothered by it at all.

Pandora is an exceedingly intelligent-smelling perfume, a swirling pastiche of woods and herbs and amber, lightened with a few glints of aldehydes and fruit, a cornucopia of fragrance materials. It is, truly, a vintage-inspired modern fragrance, and if this sort of thing seems up your alley, I suggest that you go get a sample from the DSH website, post-haste! Buy a bottle! Now! Support independent perfumery! (The parfum bottle, by the way, is Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. So elegant – and I do love the beautiful mossy green color of the liquid inside.)

Thing is, Pandora is beautiful… and I do not like it.  This fragrance is not my style, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing its obvious excellence. A large part of it is natural, and there is something wonderful and solid and complex about natural ingredients. Too, it’s put together in such a way as to create a seamless, smooth, and yet distinctive and bold perfume. Kudos to DSH Perfumes.

My great thanks to Dawn for making the sample available and to Jen at This Blog Really Stinks for hosting the drawing. It is a joy to know that somebody is still making perfume with brains!

Pandora sample on my dresser, next to a tube of Revlon Certainly Red and my favorite garnet-and-pearl drop earrings.

I am happy to be able to pass on this sample to a commenter on this post. It’s a spray sample, approximately 3ml with about 2ml (possibly more) remaining, plenty of perfume left for testing and enjoying! Since it’s a small sample, I’m opening up the draw to commenters outside the US.

To enter the drawing, please let me know if you like any of the other fragrances I mentioned in comparison to Pandora in the review: Miss Dior, Magie Noire, Opium, Youth Dew, Nuit de Noel. Which is your favorite? Do you have any special memories associated with these, either worn by you or a loved one?

Draw will be open until Friday night, October 28, at midnight Eastern Standard Time.  DRAW IS NOW CLOSED.


31 thoughts on “Perfume Review: DSH Perfumes Pandora”

  1. I’ve never commented before, but I enjoy reading your writings. Whether you are reviewing a perfume or writing about your love and joy filled life, your writing always touches me and makes my day brighter and happier.

    I’m sorry you did not like Pandora. But I have to admit, it sounds right up my alley. Did you mention oak moss? I’ve scored a vintage bottle of Miss Dior on eBay and wore Youth Dew early in my college career. But it is Opium that is my all time favorite. The first bottle, which still has a few remaining drops, was a gift from my husband when we were dating. While I can only wear it in the evening during the coldest part of the year, it holds so many memories for me. One drop takes me back to those years. I had never met anyone so intelligent, funny, kind and generous as my husband. A gentleman to the core. As our love has grown exponentially, so has my perfume collection.

    I love the deep, spicy floral that is Opium. I really love the way the beaded silk, tassled cord holds the stopper.

    Thanks again for this review. I’m now wishing for the chilly holiday season, so I can wear Opium once more.

    1. Welcome, Tatiana! I’m so glad to hear about day-brightening.

      It’s wonderful to hear about love growing over the years… congratulations on picking a Good Man, and thanks for sharing your rich memories of Opium.

  2. I’ve already had a sample, so no need to enter me in the draw 🙂

    While beautiful, Pandora isn’t for me either. Unlike you, I actually found it too floral! Or at least, more floral that I was looking/hoping for. The oily character was intriguing, but I was expecting more green.

    You shouldn’t feel bad about this review. Even if it’s not to your taste, I think you’ve captured what Pandora is about— a testament to the skill of the perfumer, and the beauty of the perfume!

    1. I was a little surprised at not getting more “green” out of Pandora – it was herbal, but not GREEN. It’s funny about the florals; wonder if I wear strongly-floral scents so often that I don’t notice them in small quantities? I know your collection skews far less floral than mine!

      I’m nearly always impressed with what Dawn has put together, even if the result isn’t to my taste.

      1. Now that you mention it, you’re right! The only florals in my collection are roses, so anything like a true floral-bouquet reads prominent to my nose.

        Herbal is a great way to describe Pandora— I think that if I approach it again with different expectations, it will appeal to me much more! Part of my surprise, I think, was that I had never smelled the famous mousse de saxe; a little more exposure will do me good 🙂

        I tested a sample of the Lautrec: my goodness, if there ever was a scent with my name on it…

  3. I first wore perfume when the mater smartened me up, spritzed me with a tiny bit of Youth Dew and sent me to visit the elderly lady (Miss Smith) who lived alone next door. The experience puzzled me then – why did I need a pretty frock and scent to go next door, and why was I singled out from my older siblings? – but I liked the scent and cheerfully went along with the visits (they continued until Miss Smith passed away).

    Fast forward a few years and I was borrowing Magie Noire when going to school – this must’ve been a gift because the mater didn’t use it, as far as I could tell, and I didn’t want to see perfume being neglected!

    Now I’ve got a lifetime supply of 1990s Opium, because it was the only scent my OH could remember whenever he was at a Duty-free store at the time.

    In short, I think I do like the kinds of scent you don’t care for, and I could offer a good home for your Pandora, if you think she’d travel well.

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  4. I think this was a really fair review. I know the scent is not to your taste, but you’ve still described it beautifully. I think every one of us understands appreciating a scent vs. wanting to wear it. Or even simply just disliking a scent. Our differences are what makes the world go round. 🙂

    Clearly, I don’t need to be entered in the draw, but it’s lovely of you to pass this sample along!


    1. It’s a wonderful fragrance, even if *I* don’t love it! Thanks so much for the opportunity to test it, because once again I feel a great appreciation for Dawn’s work, and I enjoyed reading about the project from inspiration to finished scent.

  5. Hi Mals, lovely post. I really appreciate how you can appreciate and admire a beautifully made scent (and say so very eloquently) while admitting it’s not to your taste. That’s talent — being able to praise something that you’re not wild about.
    As for me, I wore Magie Noire in college and enjoyed it (lightly) and also Opium, although the body cream was plenty enough scent for me. I wore them when I was dressed to the nines and wanted to give off a sultry, sexy vibe (which if you know me, is 180 degrees from who I am). But that’s college for you — trying out new things, new personas, etc.

    1. Thanks, Ann. Pandora is so well done, I couldn’t dismiss it with a shrug and an “Eh, I don’t like it.” It deserves better effort!

      I can see you being all slinky in your Opium, with big earrings and extra eye makeup… when I was in college, my mother used to call me at 9pm and tell me goodnight, just about the time when I was getting ready to go OUT in my big earrings and my DvF Tatiana.

  6. I own and love vintage Miss Dior, Youth Dew and Nuit de Noel. Youth Dew was one of my signature scents when I was a teenager. I didn’t care for Opium when it came out and haven’t worked up the nerve to try it again. I have a mini of Magie Noire that I haven’t focused on yet. So I’d love to try this, and, whether I’m lucky or not, really appreciate your generosity in reviewing Pandora and organizing the drawing!

    1. Oh, Noz, you would probably love this thing! If you don’t win the draw, you really should order a sample from DSH – I’d bet this would be right up your alley.

      (Youth Dew as a teenager. Sophisticated! 🙂 )

  7. I’m glad you were honest. It’s hard to say “I don’t like this” when all the other perfume bloggers are raving about something.

    I love vintage Nuit de Noel and Magie Noir, Today I am wearing my current favourite perfume, Papyrus de Ciane, which is all about the mousse de saxe.

    Like you, I’m not usually a fan of naturals, but I also like some DSH. I liked Dirty Rose and American Beauty. Anyway, I’d love to give this a try.

    1. If it had been crappy, in my opinion, I’d have said so even if everybody else was swooning. It is absolutely not crappy. It’s wonderful. It’s just not ME. So I can happily talk about what it’s like, how it develops, how it makes me feel, and just where it falls out of my comfort zone.

      DSH’s natural scents really don’t have that aromatherapy vibe that some all-naturals seem to have; they’re so thoughtfully composed. This one is considerably more complex than either dirty Rose or American Beauty, I’d say, and bloggers who’ve been hailing it as a true descendant of vintage chypres are right on track.

  8. I also own and love vintage Nuit de Noel (my PRECIOUS requested as a Christmas gift from hubby 2 years ago!!) . Used to love Opium but it has changed since I wore it in my youth and I don’t care for it anymore! Youth Dew is the worst scrubber I ever wore, so it would be interesting to see if I would like this. Me, I’m lemming your earrings!!

    1. Awwww, your hubby got you what you wanted!! Sweet. I have smelled Opium recently, and it is definitely thinner and – I don’t know, less dangerous-smelling. (I still hated it. Sigh.)

      I LOVE those earrings! They were an anniversary gift The CEO gave me waaay back when I was pregnant with Gaze. They were on clearance in the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, which used to (probably still does) mail out catalogs. He happened to walk by while I was reading the catalog and saying, “Ooh, these are pretty!” and thirteen years later they’re still my very favorites.

  9. Muse,
    I wish to thank you for this review. I really enjoyed it and have to thank you for so many fine compliments although Pandora is not for you. You describe Pandora and your experience of it so eloquently and express one of the things I love most about art: that while it may not be the viewer’s / hearer’s/ smeller’s taste, it still speaks and touches those who interact with it. This is truly beautiful.

    1. Thank you, Dawn. I’m such a fangirl of yours! I treasure Rose Vert and Susinon/1000 Lilies and Oeillets Rouges., I think the next thing I buy will be La Fete Nouvelle, because it reminded me so strongly of childhood summers, what a joyful smell.

      I like to think that quality shows, even if the style is not for everyone. Pandora is very beautiful, even if she’s chosen not to sing for me.

  10. I love Miss Dior, as it reminds me of my godmother. I have never tried Nuit de Noel, but always wanted to. Magie Noir I used to sell as a SA for Lancome in the 80’s…a little too much for me (although people liked it on me), but my mom loved it. I would love to try Pandora…you make it sound wonderful, even if you don’t like it. I won a fragrance called Stephanie, and I’ve tried it 3X, and while I can tell it’s well made, it’s just not me. It’supposed to be gardenia heavy, amybe I just don’t lioke that , I don’t know…pretty new to this.

    1. Well, I can see Stephanie being not your thing, if you like cool mossy scents like Miss Dior… Stephanie is a bit full-blown, and you might not be a white-floral girl. What are your other favorites?

  11. As usual, a gorgeously written review! I think it’s wonderful that you can write so eloquently about a fragrance that just didn’t work for you – I appreciate clearheaded, civilized reviews like this (I’m currently struggling with Honour and hope to be half as cogent as you – we shall see…)

    anyhoo, I would rather fight a rabid wolverine out on a half-frozen lake than come within 50 feet of Opium! Ow! Love Miss Dior, though (vintage). I dunno, mals….do you think this one is ‘me’?


    ps. that bottle is gaspingly lovely!

    1. Thanks, Ms A! Is it YOU? I don’t know. It was only Miss-Dior-ish for awhiles… could be described as a bit like Diaghilev but with that balsamy Youth-Dew thing and more vanilla in the base, so I just. don’t. know. I HATE that balsamy thing, and if you don’t mind it, you might enjoy Pandora. It does have that rich, full, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feeling to it that vintage scents seem to have.

      Is that bottle not simply stunning? Wow. Wow.

  12. I already have a sample, so please don’t enter me in the draw. I was very interested to see that Pandora reminded you of vintage Magie Noire, which I love and wore for many years, because I didn’t catch that resemblance at all.

    Pandora does remind me quite a bit of Nuit de Noel and also Papyrus de Ciane. The accord that the three share most strongly (to my nose) emerges very early in their development. I had thought that this was the Mousse de Saxe; however, the very sweet dusty part of Pandora appears later, so it seems as though what I have been thinking of as Mousse de Saxe must be another element that they have in common.

    1. Hi, Liza!

      I probably should have been more clear: Pandora doesn’t *smell* like MN, but it does have that “complex & herbal” thing that MN does. Then too, I don’t have a long experience with MN – I own this vintage mini that takes my breath away and feels like a rainy, windy late-November night, and it’s such an Experience that I don’t wear it often.

      I have yet to try Papyrus de Ciane. The thing that seems similar between NdN and Pandora is not the last thing I smell, but it’s close to the end, and it is what I’d describe as sweet, oily, and dusty. Hmmm. Pandora goes mostly vanilla after that part, I’d say.

  13. Thanks for such a thoughtful, honest review. Way to stand up and express your thoughts as a dissenter! You write so well, and take effort to describe the scent. . .conveying that you enjoy it as a work of art, but that it is not to your taste. Well done.

    My question after reading your review is whether I think I’d like it. Hmmm. I’m with Kjanicki, and like Mousse de Saxe–Papyrus de Ciane is on my short list for FB wishes. I keep getting samples and running through them. My experience with natural perfumery has been somewhat disappointing. Many I’ve tried are an herbal gmish that have little lift, and a short life. I’d like to see what an artist like this has created.

    On another note, I completely agree with your aside about natural vs. synthetic compounds. I’ve given up arguing with shop assitants who assert “there are no chemicals in this” cleanser, moisturizer, etc. It’s not worth the negativity that results. I give the most neutral noise and nod that I can and back away.

    I look forward to your next review. May you continue to have great fun trying new things. Be well.

    1. Hey there, HS! Thanks.

      It’s hard to say about whether you’d like it or not – I’m always surprised when I test something that is compared to a fragrance I already like, or has notes that seem right up my alley, and then I don’t like it at all. I do think that it would be well worth testing for you.

      Even Dawn’s all-natural scents have a sense of life and movement that seems lacking in most of the other naturals I’ve tried. My usual knee-jerk reaction to all-naturals is a cynical “Big whoop, like I care,” but I do really love her Rose Vert, which floats and hovers for hours, even on me.

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