I’m just kidding about the Red Wedding bit. If you’re currently preparing for a wedding (yours or someone else’s), then of course we hope it turns out much better than it did in The Game of Thrones. Still, it never hurts to come prepared. A good iris perfume, if chosen wisely, can be just the steel dagger in your pants that you need.
Iris Poudre by Frederic Malle
Despite the name, Iris Poudre is neither very powdery nor very iris-heavy. Boy, it’s beautiful, though. Wearing it feels like a celebration. It envelops the wearer in a white, balmy, creamy cloud of aldehydes and sweet flower petals, with subtle hints of a cool, floral iris glinting like pearls threaded into layers of white tulle. When I wear it, I feel like I’m ten again, digging through my mother’s clothes and playing dress-up with her costume jewelry.
The sweetness, almost like honey or amber, hiding behind the skirts of Iris Poudre always takes me by surprise. It is a sugared cream wave that gathers force and builds behind the thin wall of glittering aldehydes, and when it breaks, together they create that balmy, pearlescent cloud of scent particles that moves with your body like a shoal of tiny silver fish.
And yet, inside the lift of aldehydes, I sense something chemically abrasive and woody that tugs against the creamy, bland perfection of the scent. It’s not unpleasant, and in fact, it makes the scent all the more interesting to me. It is not, as I first thought, the natural sharpness of soap, but rather the pressurized air just released from pulling a tab on a can of soda (after shaking) – that same unbridled, expectant air of “something is about to happen” that I get from Chanel No. 22 and Baghari, both scents to which Iris Poudre may be compared.
The chemical sharpness of aldehydes in general, therefore, there to give the same boost to a fragrance that the propellers of a plane does, and tasting as much of metal and forced air as champagne. I can live with that. Actually, I really like this edge of modernity, that glancing dash of metal in a fragrance that is otherwise all about soapy, old-fashioned glamour. It makes it as abstract and as modern as that other supersonic, aldehydic floral, Chanel No. 5. But I would far prefer to wear Iris Poudre.
Impossible Iris by Ramon Monegal
A unique take on iris – beautiful and slightly strange. Have you ever eaten a raspberry crème brulee? By some weird quirk of culinary alchemy, the vanilla custard and the raspberry transmute each other into something completely different from their normal selves – the custard loses its bland sweetness and takes on the sharp fruitiness of the berry, while the berry has its raspberry identity completely sanded down, leaving only a bright, citric fleshiness in its place. The end result tastes nothing like custard or raspberry, but is a completely new taste born from their union.
Something similar happens in Impossible Iris. The custardy, plasticky ylang and the bright, sour raspberry mix with a cool, powdered suede iris, and the result smells nothing like either one of the original ingredients to the pot. True, there is a distinctly moist fruit note, but it is more the blue-green shimmer of a wet raspberry leaf than the vulva-pink flesh of the berry itself. The ylang divests itself of its usual steamy, banana-like nuances, and combined with the rooty tones of the iris, blows up the hairspray and plastic hairnet side of its personality.
The iris, slicked in these juices, takes on a aerosol tone, like the fresh emission from a can of suede boot cleaner or furniture polish. Somehow, it emerges from the fruit, mimosa, and ylang as a wholly new creature, wobbly on its legs, but utterly beautiful.
Iris de Nuit by James Heeley
If there is anything to come out of this iris quest I’ve been on lately, it’s that I really love Iris de Nuit. Pairing a fresh, carroty iris to a greenish violet, this fragrance manages to evoke both a rain-soaked English garden and the clean lines of the Chrysler building.
It’s also one of those rare fragrances that clearly emits a color like other fragrances emit a sound or an image. If you’re someone who experiences scents in a synesthetic way, then you must try this fragrance and tell me if you agree.
There is a wistful tone to this fragrance that reminds me somewhat of Après L’Ondee with its similarly doleful air. But although it shares some of its faintly anisic, herbal qualities, Iris de Nuit feels very much of this century – modern, streamlined, bound to this earth – not cut adrift in a permanent fugue state.
Iris de Nuit is a clean, transparent fragrance, but the ambrette seed adds a vegetal, muskiness that blurs the sharp edges of the violets and iris until it takes on a slightly “fur”-like texture. Angelica root imparts the green, mouth-sucking astringency of green rhubarb stalks, less of a smell than a crisp, herbal “taste” I can read with the back of my tongue. In the base, there is a slight herbal saltiness from ambergris and a haunting woodiness.
But the details hardly matter – you can’t dissect such haunting loveliness. Every note in this fragrance knits in so tightly with the others that one gets just an overall impression of a series of overlapping tints and tones – duck-egg blue fading into violet and then night blue, like being inside a cubist’s art installation or just standing on a dusty road somewhere watching darkness fall.
Ibitira by XerJoff
I haven’t been able to get my hands yet on a sample of XerJoff’s Irisss, said to be one of the world’s greatest iris fragrances. But then I remember reading an opinion of someone on Basenotes that Ibitira by the same brand, while although not entirely focused on iris, was, in his opinion, a far better fragrance all round, and I remembered that I had a tiny sample of it somewhere. After much searching, I found it – a meager 05.ml, but enough surely to give it a good wearing.
Oh but I enjoyed every single second of that wearing! Ibitira is a beautiful, rather Italian take on the iris-rose-jasmine combination popularized in the French classics such as Chanel No. 5. And truth be told, I prefer the Italian take. Ibitira takes out the central section of florals, shaves off the aldehydes, and adds some Italian sunshine in the form of lemons, bergamot, and fresh green violet leaves. Polished floral luxury, but serene and smiling. Real Italian-style joie de vivre!
The Florentine iris really shines here – no powder, just an electric shock of bitter rootiness, like green leather or the sound of two silver spoons clashing against each other. For a second, it reminds me of the citrusy, fresh iris in Prada Infusion d’Iris. It powers through on that iris identity for a good few hours before sliding in to rest in a huge pink rose note and a greenish jasmine.
I really like that the fragrance retains a cool, classical feel while also smelling utterly, clearly, incontrovertibly of the separate flowers that went into it – this is not the golden abstraction of Joy or Chanel No. 5. There is, however, a similar almond feel to the white musk in the base – it’s something I experience a bit in the No. 5 pure parfum but even more heavily in the EDP. I would wonder if there is heliotrope in Ibitira because of the almond-like undertone, but I don’t see it listed and I don’t think that Chanel really uses heliotrope (to the extent that Guerlain does, at least).
The base takes a turn towards orientalism, and for me, something of the silvery sheen of the iris is lost in the bustle. A dryish, powdery amber moves in, and combined with the almond-like tones in the heart, I am reminded of the beautiful Mona di Orio Musc, which also combines heliotrope, rose, and iris with white musk, creating an almost crunchy, dry ice effect in the drydown.
Despite the gradual attenuation of the iris, though, this is a stunning iris fragrance and one that I feel honored to have been able to test. I’d recommend it to anyone for whom budget is not a concern. In summary, a robust, smiling, Italian version of a classic iris fragrance for those who love classic French perfumes but feel them too somber for a joyful occasion.
Other Iris Fragrances for a Wedding
There are several other iris fragrances that would be perfect for special occasions. One such iris is Prada Infusion d’Iris Absolue (review here), which differs from the original Infusion by containing a larger dollop of buttery iris, a luxurious suede note, resins, and a vanillic base (it also lasts far longer than the original).
Shalimar Parfum Initial (review here) would be stunning on a bride (or heck, a groom!). To my nose, it is unisex, and actually leans closer to the great Dior Homme Intense than to the original Shalimar. It is a balsamic iris fragrance with a piquant red berry and patchouli background, lying somewhere between a fruitchouli and an iris suede. Immediately likeable and friendly, it’s a modern way to wear iris.
Another great option would be Acqua di Parma’s beautiful Iris Nobile (review here). Although to my nose, it is far more of a creamy white floral than an iris, it is a nice option for brides who want a sweeter, more floral iris than the rootier stuff recommended above. It also lasts the whole day, and contains a good amount of sunny orange blossom and gardenia that makes it work for a spring wedding outside.