Iris in Disguise

iris wallpaper print late 19th century

iris wallpaper print late 19th century

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.

Pierre Bourdon's late masterpiece Great Empresses of Japan

Pierre Bourdon’s late masterpiece Great Empresses of Japan

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.

Another 19th century wall paper iris

Another 19th century wall paper iris

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.

Vetiver Oriental

Vetiver Oriental

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.

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8 thoughts on “Iris in Disguise

  1. I’m not sure I recognize “iris in disguise”: I’m lucky if I can smell a straight-forward one (for example, I smell no what I think is iris root scent in Impossible Iris) so I would have never guessed it in, let’s say, Coromandel without consulting Fragrantica.
    When you say Shalimar Eau Premiere, you mean Shalimar Parfum Initial, right?

  2. I did mean Shalimar Parfum Initial- my bad.

    Coromandel is listed with orris at fragrantica, and I thought I smelled that in there when I ran across Coromandel at our local Chanel boutique. Where it isn’t listed is Borneo 1834 which is more about patchouli and chocolate, however I guess Christopher Sheldrake had a lot to do with both perfumes because he had created Borneo and left for Chanel shortly afterwards. Did you see his short film about iris?

  3. For me, iris root often = ehhhhh, shrug.

    I’m not crazy about the earthy thing in general, you know (and what I love about Iris Poudre is that sweet, fluffy drydown anyway). I was very surprised to find ISM as cheerful as I did – lots of carroty stuff in that one, and it seemed cheerful to me in the manner of, say, pigtailed, freckled kindergartners playing Miss Mary Mack.

    My favorite iris perfume is probably No. 19, which should tell you something about my relationship to perfumery iris.

  4. Perfumery iris is kind of hard to use I think. Odd no? Sometimes it seems too earthy, and sometimes too dark (as in who switched off the lights dark- Iris Taizo for instance!). Sometimes it’s just too starchy, as though if you wore this all day it would chafe ( Angelique was a bit starchy to me) or you just can’t smell any after ten minutes, 28 La Pausa to me. Chanel No19 is an excellent all rounder and just gets the note right, and although some people might say starchy, I don’t get the ice queen analogies.

    My favorite is this discontinued de Nicolai Balkis. The iris is buttery, lovely, but admittedly that fragrance is much more about roses and raspberrries than iris.

  5. Love those wallpapers! I own a bottle of PI, and find it comforting in a way I can’t quite articulate. To be honest, I didn’t even know it had iris in it, so there you go. Jolly good disguise. I have a sample of that Romea d’Ameor scent somewhere so I must try it again.

  6. Parfum I is comforting. I wore it when we were on a plane back from Chicago during the Irene cyclone of 2011, and my wrist was the calmest thing in the entire airport (s). O’Hare was fairly panicky too. Never gotten on a plane so fast in my life. It turns out that airport personnel can funnel a crowd of folk onto and off of transport in a twinkling when they want to turn around and fly out of a storm ASAP!

    1. I’ll have to try the Hanorah, which I wonder about,there used to be a perfume company out of Italy called Hanorah that produced scents like Lovable and distributed the Byblos perfumes.Wonder if they’re the same?
      Hiris is a very iris scent and I find it almost too dark to wear but beautiful!

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