Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

I had a few fragrance adventures in London last month, but one of the best was a surprise encounter with 2018’s launch, L’Iris de Fath. Yes, THAT one — the award-winning reconstruction of the legendary Iris Gris fragrance from the house of Fath.

Other bloggers and authors have written at length about this project, including Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, who were involved with it. The Fath website offers this:

Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris is known as one of the greatest perfumes if not the greatest, unequalled since its creation. The balanced duo of Iris and Peach reflects perfumer Vincent Roubert’s exceptional know-how. The concentration of Iris of an unreached level made of Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris the most expensive perfume in the world. Launched in 1947, it disappeared the same year as Fath in 1954.  Often copied and certainly never equaled, it remains unique and timeless.

It was unthinkable that this heritage remained prisoner of the limbo of the past. Under the supervision of Creative Director Rania Naim, Parfums Jacques Fath launched an international competition of perfumers, in order to reproduce as faithfully as possible this exceptional fragrance. The myth is reborn, thanks to two young talents unanimously chosen by a committee of experts:  Patrice Revillard, Perfumer and Yohan Cervi, Creative Director of Maelström.

Like a chrysalis turning into a butterfly, it is now known as :L’ IRIS de FATH

After all, no matter the name, no matter the color, as long as emotions remain intact.

So how did I manage to meet this mythical creature? I went to Jovoy Paris’ Mayfair store in London and met a young sorcerer’s apprentice (SA) named Khalid. Khalid is a very nice, knowledgeable sales assistant at Jovoy Mayfair, where I have had nothing but lovely experiences. The first time I ever visited, the owner, Francois, happened to be there. He gave me a personal tour of the store, pulled out many fragrances for me to try, and even showed me (and let me smell!) the precious chunks of ambergris they keep in a vault downstairs.

On this latest visit, I happened to be nearby at my favorite overall store in London, Liberty. I was planning to meet a friend for a late lunch, and had some time to spare, so I stopped in at Jovoy. It was a quiet time in the store, and I was warmly greeted by Khalid. Here’s what I love about Jovoy. I told him that I was really just browsing, that I write about fragrance as a hobby, and that I had visited the store before and really enjoyed its wide range of stock, but wasn’t there to buy anything in particular. He asked me nevertheless what I like in fragrance, I said florals, and he asked if he could show me some of their newer floral scents. Of course, I said, and out came the testers and the paper strips, so I could sniff some truly beautiful florals. After I oohed and aahed over one with a dominant iris note, he asked me, “Do you like iris?” and I assured him that yes, I love iris, and in fact it was becoming one of my favorite notes, close on the heels of the muguet I love so much.

Well, Khalid got a gleam in his eye and invited me to follow him downstairs to see the store’s most special iris fragrance. We approached the same vault where the ambergris is kept, and there it was — The Unicorn. L’Iris de Fath. Reader, I gasped.

 

Khalid opened the vault and carefully dripped one drop of the precious fluid on a paper test strip, which he then handed to me. One drop, and a cloud of iris richness filled my nose. I tell you, if I ever win Powerball millions, I will fly back to London, head straight to Jovoy Mayfair, and buy their entire stock of L’Iris de Fath from Khalid. And I hope he gets a whopping commission.

I don’t have enough of a trained nose to be able to describe L’Iris as well as others have done, so I’ll just record my own impressions in my own words. This is a remarkably elegant, lasting, classic iris perfume. It has the rootiness of traditional orris, which I love and which takes center stage right from the start, but the opening is brightened by neroli and petitgrain, and it smells of iris flowers as well as their roots. The iris has a warmth that one doesn’t often associate with that note, and it comes from a subtle peach that lends it a velvety, soft, suede-like texture. I live in a part of the USA where peaches are a major crop; even the street where I live is named for the peach orchards that used to grow where a turn-of-the-century city neighborhood now unfolds its charms. Summer peaches that have been allowed to grow to ripeness on the heavy branches of fruit trees, in the hot Southern sun, have a scent to their skins that is not fruity, yet speaks to us of fruit. Just as I found that the famous melon note in Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is really the scent of the rind of an intact, ripe fruit, not the inner flesh, the peach of L’Iris de Fath is to my nose the scent of ripe, sun-kissed peach skin, with a hint of fuzz, soft and warm. Brilliant work by perfumer Patrice Revillard.

The heart stage is thoroughly immersed in iris and orris notes, but you can tell that other flowers are there too, because the fragrance is multi-layered and far from simple. I can pick up some violet, rose, jasmine, and carnation; none of them compete with the iris, although I think the violet adds a soft sheen of mauve powder at this stage. The base is warm and sensual, but reserved. The oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk are apparent but they are so well-blended that one doesn’t smell them as separate notes. Sillage is elusive; one minute you think the scent isn’t carrying much further than one’s immediate vicinity, the next minute someone comes into the room and exclaims, “What is that wonderful smell?”

I found myself trying to imagine what famous beauty best embodies L’Iris de Fath and I think that must be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. This perfume is warm, yet reserved. It beckons you in the way she is famously said to have used her soft, breathy voice to speak so quietly and intimately to a companion that her interlocutor would be forced to lean in closer, closer, to hear her; and thus she conveyed the sense that she and her listener were alone in a private conversation, a little world of their own, even in the midst of a crowded party. She bewitched people, yet she was also reserved, dignified, impeccable, even with wind-tousled hair.

Jackie Kennedy in yellow iris sheath dress

Jacqueline Kennedy in iris sheath

L’Iris de Fath does not speak loudly, but it is very clearly itself: a warm iris-peach, elegant and classic. Its progression is fairly linear, and I mean that as a compliment. The orris especially wafts up for several hours and is present from start to finish. It is brighter at the start, warmer and less distinct at the end, but nevertheless fully present. It is one of those perfumes that would make one’s skin smell like the perfect, fragrant, warm, skin we’d all like to inhabit. Like our own skin, but so very much better.

Thank you for this lovely experience, Jovoy and Khalid!

Featured image: Iris “Alabaster Unicorn”.

12 thoughts on “Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

  1. What an incredible experience! I envy your opportunity to experience L’Iris de Fath! Thank you for sharing, I loved your post and description. I am so intrigued by fragrances from the past, and love to hear that one was re-created so successfully.

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    • It was such an unexpected treat! Jovoy Mayfair is becoming a favorite stop in London, together with Les Senteurs on Elizabeth Street. Honestly, the staff are so nice and knowledgeable, and the store itself is lovely.

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      • I also envy the opportunity to visit European perfume boutiques. I live in the US; Denver does not have perfume boutiques. The only place I can sniff perfumes is department stores. How I would love to be in perfume boutiques! I have samples of Jovoy perfumes and love them. I’ve also looked at Les Senteurs website.

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        • I also live in the US, in Atlanta, which doesn’t have standalone perfume boutiques either but does have an outstanding selection at our local Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sephora, etc. I’m lucky in that I can travel with my husband on his work trips, at least during the summer when my own job is more flexible and I can take vacation time. Yes, it’s such a privilege to be able to visit London once a year!

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          • You are so fortunate to travel with your husband! I don’t travel out of the country often other than to visit my Mom and sister in Canada. I travel in the US so my dogs go with me. However, one day I’ll take a trip back to Europe (I was there often but as a child pre-perfume, my family is from Holland). I wish to go to France and visit perfume museums and boutiques.
            Nordstroms here has a decent selection and Neiman Marcus fragrance department is now 1/4 of the size it was in the past. I think I’m pretty much caught up on what Nordstroms, Macy’s, and Sephora has to offer here though. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has her studio in Boulder, not too far of a trek. I’ve been there once with a fragrance group, and the plan to go back in the near future.

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  2. I think you were really eloquent in describing Iris Gris, you made me want to smell it right away.
    I live in London yet have never been to Jovoy, now thanks to you it is firmly on my radar, and we share a love for Liberty.

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    • Thank you! I do hope you will visit Jovoy soon, it’s a lovely store. Yes, I’m a hopeless Liberty addict; I usually visit during any trip to London. I have loved their fabrics since I was a child and wore dresses of Tana Lawn.

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