Iris is one of the most expensive notes in the world of perfumery, or used to be, before the development of anisaldehyde, and Alpha Irones or the heavy synthetic iris Irival that makes an appearance in Iris Silver Mist. As you can see these days iris is unlikely to be natural, the cost alone more or less precludes that, but there are plenty of irises on the market some self advertising, some not.
Among the synthetics my personal favorite has to be the discontinued ShalimarParfum Initial. This perfume had nothing to do with Shalimar, instead the scent had a good deal in common with Dior Homme and DH’s lovely synthetic iris note was reproduced but lightened just a little bit. They were pretty close to one another as compositions. I went out and spritzed Dior Homme from my local Sephora and then Shalimar PI and found out how close the kinship was. They were siblings really, not even cousins. The Shalimar PI * did not prosper. I suppose the fact that the new perfume had nothing to do with actual Shalimar hurt the sales in the end since those who loved Shalimar could not love this new iris concoction.
The other irises that don’t appear to be irises include Pierre Bourdon’s Great Empresses of Japan from the Romea d’Ameor line, now defunct but still available. This takes the heavy side of iris and weaves as weighty a kimono brocade as any dragged along behind the wearer to an iris viewing. Perhaps it doesn’t help that there is also a violet note in the composition which does not shed any light on the proceedings. If you like iris this is one that has been under appreciated and has all the delicacy of Pierre Bourdons’ Iris Poudre but possibly a more elegant substructure, and a less sweet dry off. The Poudre part of IP is strong for my taste and here with the Japanese Empresses, I think M. Bourdon wove a more luxurious fabric for wearers.
Yet another iris in disguise is Honore des Pres’ I Love les Carottes. This appears to be a re-do of Olivia Giacobetti’s own Hiris for Hermes, but this version is entirely natural and is initially as full of dirt as an eight year old on an earth worm hunt. Well, the smelly part of any iris is the rhizome after all, and there is a substantial similarity between the scent of carrots and that of iris roots, which similarity gets played up in this fragrance. What I’m not sure about is the availability of this line. The web site seemed to be suspended, and so you may have to snag a bottle off Ebay.
Then there is Papillons’ Angelique. A perfume which smells largely natural to me. Despite the name having nothing to do with iris, the perfume is almost an iris soliflore. Although this is a floral reconstruction of Iris pallida using other florals like mimosa and osmanthus to mimic that scent. I think I smell orris in the beginning and maybe a little heliotropine in the dry down.
Angelique is very pretty but this perfume’s best stratagem is to stick close to the iris flower itself, and Angelique does this by giving you the impression of the Iris pallida bloom in its sweet anisic petal bedecked glory. However, this is the sort of perfume which is too easily compared to other things, and when compared comes up short. I wore it opposite of Patricia de Nicolai’s original Balkis, which contains coffee, iris, rose and raspberry and is a very lively conversation indeed and totally original. Angelique by contrast is treading ground already covered by Fleur d’Iris the old Maitre Parfumier et Gantier production, not to mention Chanel’s 28 La Pausa or Iris Silver Mist. If you want to stand out as a niche concern then be original, otherwise someone else has almost always done it better, and still is doing it better for less.
Last of the irises in disguise is the stately Vetiver Oriental of Serge Lutens’ line, now sold in the bell jars for what I guess is real money. This was one of my personal favorites among the Lutens fragrances, and probably the fore runner of Borneo 1834 in 2005, certainly of both Iris Ganache in 2007 and Chanel’s Coromandel also from 2007.
There was something about the combination of wood notes (either, sandalwood, or vetiver, or patchouli) with iris and chocolate that got perfumers thinking, and Vetiver Oriental from 2004 was one of the earliest of its line.
Of all those subsequent iterations on the theme of iris and chocolate and wood, only Iris Ganache smelled more like iris to me, and which version you prefer depends a lot on how sweet and how dry or woody you prefer your fragrance to be. Coromandel skews darker and more oriental with its amber emphasized, Iris Ganache with white chocolate is very sugary and very floral, with a violet reference to Guerlain’s Insolence, Borneo 1834 is dry- er, more crumbly and patchouli centric than Coromandel, but Vetiver Oriental while dry is also oriental and wavers delightfully between the chypre and the oriental genres with an unctuous nod in the direction of the gourmand while remaining perfectly composed at all times. I love it.
But I didn’t buy VO when the perfume was known to be going into the non export line. I have only myself to blame, because the season for irises is short, and it never pays to procrastinate if you love them, right now we may be spoiled for choice, but that won’t last.
* I initially wrote Shalimar Eau Premiere but as Undina says this is Shalimar Parfum Initial, my goof.