Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

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”.

Scent Sample Sunday: Iris Rebelle

Scent Sample Sunday: Iris Rebelle

Iris Rebelle is a 2018 launch from Atelier Cologne, which I’ve just tried as part of their Advent Calendar for this year. Fragrantica lists the following notes: top notes — calabrian bergamot, orange blossom and black pepper; middle notes — iris, lavender and may rose; base notes — guaiac wood, patchouli and white musk. And sure enough, as soon as I applied some on my wrist from the mini-dabber that comes in the calendar, my first reaction (without having yet read the notes list) was “bright iris.” I like it very much, but if you don’t enjoy carroty iris notes, this is not for you. Iris Rebelle is worth your attention if you like iris notes in fragrance. It will not last for hours on end, but it will last long enough for you to experience the progression of its notes.

The opening combines a bright, strong citrus note from the bergamot with a lightly earthy iris, right from the start. I don’t really smell any pepper that I can pick out separately, but a light spiciness underlies the citrus and iris. The middle phase is mostly about the iris, fittingly. It is an earthy iris, but it also has a transparency that seems to be typical of Atelier CologneIris Rebelle is also part of the line’s “Chic Absolu” collection, which is described on the website as “clean, transparent, and elegant.” The bright citrus opening is also one of their signatures, as the line was founded to feature the kind of citrus notes found in colognes, combining them with a wide range of other notes:

Inspired by the legendary Eau de Cologne, the Cologne Absolue is a new olfactive family created in 2009 by Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, Atelier Cologne Creators and Founders. Genuine pure perfume exalting the magical freshness and elegance of citruses with exceptional lasting power thanks to very high concentrations of essential oils.

I haven’t tried many of Atelier Cologne’s scents, so the Advent calendar was a nice opportunity to do so. They also sell a discovery set online, which comes with a voucher to apply its purchase price to a future order of a bottle. I like this company’s considerate treatment of its customers, from the discovery set voucher to the small sizes they make available (down to 10 ml). Sometimes you just want to play with a fragrance, not commit to 100 ml at great expense! Atelier Cologne is also very conscientious with the ingredients they use, which do not include any paraben, paraffinum liquidum, GMO, animal-derived ingredients, colorants, or sulfates.

Each Atelier fragrance comes with a little slice of backstory, which seems to be de rigueur for modern niche fragrances. The moments assigned to Iris Rebelle are:

He was drawing obsessively, invading her space as if he were alone. But when she changed her seat he could not stop staring at her… Days later backstage, she was nervously breathing as the crowd was waiting for the ballet to start. At that moment, she unexpectedly saw him in the front row. All at once, she felt strong and calm, as if they were alone.

Who is the artist? Who is the dancer? I think this is a romanticized reference to the artist Edgar Degas and one of his many models among the ballet corps of the Paris Opera, whom he did draw “obsessively.” And indeed, Iris Rebelle does evoke some of that world, from the cologne of the “abonnes”, the male patrons of the ballet, to the wood of the stage flooring, surrounding the flowers that may represent Degas’ “danseuses“, to the transparency it displays, not unlike Degas’ works in pastel. Degas was himself a rebel artistically, one of the Impressionists who overturned the received notions of art, drawing, and painting, in 19th century France. The backstory for this fragrance is highly idealized, however, as the ballet world Degas portrayed was much harsher than his pastels suggested; and it seems that Degas himself was something of a misogynist even for that time.

Painting and pastel by Edgar Degas of Paris Opera ballet dancers rehearsing.

Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage, http://www.metmuseum.org

One aspect of Iris Rebelle that I like is the persistence of the citrus note, especially since it comes from bergamot, a green and astringent citrus note that I love. I have never eaten an actual bergamot fruit, but the scent is very familiar to me from the famous Earl Grey tea, which is flavored with the bergamot that lends its distinctive fragrance to the tea. Usually citrus notes in perfume fade away very quickly, but this bergamot lasts a while longer, and weaves together with the lavender note to evoke a hint of a gentleman’s cologne insinuating itself into the floralcy of the heart notes. Even the earthiness of the iris may refer to the lower origins of most of the dancers, while the orange blossom and rose notes evoke the pastel fantasy world they worked so hard to embody onstage.

Pastel of ballerina tilting onstage, by Edgar Degas

Ballerina, by Edgar Degas

Have you tried Iris Rebelle? What other Atelier Colognes do you recommend?

Scent Sample Sunday: Iris Dragees

Scent Sample Sunday: Iris Dragees

Lancome has launched another in its “Maison Lancome Haute Parfumerie” line, and it’s a winner! I am coming to love this higher-end Lancome line, as it is launching some truly gorgeous florals, my first loves in fragrance. Iris Dragees , launched in 2018, is by perfumer Nathalie Lorson. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: “top notes are bergamot and pink pepper; middle notes are freesia, orange blossom, almond, sugar and iris flower; base notes are iso e super, orris, vanilla and white musk.” The box and the Lancome website list only three notes: iris distillate, iris resinoid, and sugared almonds. The latter are the “dragees”, which are literally almonds coated in a hard sugar shell, usually in soft pastel colors.

Iris Dragees is very true to its name. Contrary to Fragrantica’s list, I smell iris right away, although there is a brief, fresh pop when first sprayed that could be a hint of bergamot. The iris jumps forward almost immediately, and it is a sweet iris, but not too sweet. (I’m not much into gourmand scents, though I do like some gourmand notes, like vanilla and coffee). Although iris is often perceived as “powdery” because of the note’s long use in, and association with, luxury powders, this iris feels less powdery to me although still floral, and  I think that’s because of the almond note. To my nose, almond lends a creaminess that is very appealing. Here, it is a light creaminess, so maybe more like almond milk — subtle, and enhancing the iris rather than announcing itself.

The “dragee” aspect of Iris Dragees also shows up quickly, with a light vanilla undertone  that also subtly supports the iris heart note. As the scent dries down, the iris becomes more and more pronounced, but it never loses the underlying sweetness from the “sugared almonds.” Iris Dragees lives in the same realm as its sibling from the same Maison Lancome line, Jasmins Marzipane, which Tania Sanchez gave five stars in the new “Perfumes: The Guide 2018.” It is a land of elegant sugared flowers, so artfully composed that to the human eye, it would be hard to tell whether the delicately tinted decorations on a gorgeous cake were real flowers or their idealized facsimiles.

Sugared iris flowers on wedding cake by Amanda Earl

“Iris” cake by Amanda Earl; image from http://www.amandaearlcakes.com.

A little goes a long way with Iris Dragees; a small spray on each of my wrists is ample for me to enjoy it, and its longevity is good. The base has a lightly woody vibe, which is probably from the Iso E Super listed among the base notes by Fragrantica. It is a soft landing from the soft heart notes.

Another aspect of this fragrance and its siblings which I appreciate is that they can be bought in a 14 ml size, just right to bring the price down to “impulse purchase” range (suggested retail $35.00), but enough to enjoy more than once or twice. These travel-size bottles are as pretty as the big ones, with their artwork based on cut paper.

Iris Dragee bottle

Iris Dragees by Maison Lancome; image from http://www.lancome.co.uk.

If you like iris fragrances, I suspect you will like this one a lot! I’m a relatively new convert to iris as a fragrance note; not that I ever disliked it, I’ve just always gravitated to greener florals and notes like muguet, rose, and lily. But I have discovered in the last couple of years that I really do like many iris-centered fragrances, such as Miller Harris’ Terre d’Iris and Laboratorio Olfattivo’s Nirmal.

Have you tried Iris Dragees or any others from Maison Lancome? What did you think? Can you recommend any other iris fragrances?

Edible iris flower cake toppers from Sugar Butterflies on Etsy.

Edible flowers from Sugar Butterflies