It’s spring, says my calendar, and spring is the time of year to dig all my favorite flowers out of hiding to celebrate. It’s spring – so bring on the fancy florals, those fragrant florid fantasies that I try to conjure before flying out the door in the morning with Spider-Man Jr.
Any reader of this blog knows my predilection for orange blossom, and Mademoiselle Orange still reigns supreme, no question. But in these heady days of early spring, she’s sometimes a bit too…girlie for my taste. Girlie is fine some days, the days I wake up happy and want to shout it to the stars. Since daylight savings time arrived last weekend and I realize that technically I’m now getting out of bed at 4 AM when it is still pitch-black outside, those days have yet to arrive.
For mornings like these and the days that stretch out in front of them, I want a flower that says ‘w-o-m-a-n’, preferably with a capital W. And no flower known to man or Woman in my arrogant opinion says Woman (capital included!) like that bearded lady known as Iris Pallida.
Iris is such a stunning flower, a showgirl in the spring parade with her white or purple frills and that laughing slivery shock of yellow. In perfumes, however, she comes across very differently. Iris can be chilly, slightly intimidating and even haughty, but she is always, always flawlessly turned out and always exudes…elegance and class and a slight distance to other merely mortal flowers. She has been known to devour roses, unless Madame Rose battles it out, all thorns included, and refuses to be intimidated. As for the rest of them – well, they’re not her, are they?
‘So not my social register, dahling. You can do better. Your stock has gone up.’
I listen to arguments like these every morning in front of my perfume cabinet, I swear.
Recently, I decided to explore this bearded lady in all her many glories a bit more. When a sample package arrived from Olfactoria recently, she included a few versions of Madame Iris, and instead of doing separate reviews of each, I decided to compare them – just to start another catfight in my cabinet. I love it when the djinns in those bottles begin to argue, and argue, they do. My stock is going up, and they know it!
The Queen of Faërie
Iris Silver Mist, by Serge Lutens.
Created by Maurice Roucel in 1994, this is iris at her strangest, her eeriest, and her most mercurial and ethereal. There really is nothing else like it. Chilly spring earth with a whisper of green, a hint of carrot, and a shapeshifter of an iris that peeks and hides, hides and peeks – and then jumps out at you when you least expect it with such mind-blowing beauty you want to cry. Right at the moment you get it, you get this iris in the bedrock of your very soul, she disappears laughing below the ground, and all you’re left with is a memory. You give up. You forget about her, and resign yourself to that melancholy echo of the earth breathing on a spring day. She waits, and then jumps out of the forest, shouting ‘BOO!’ I like surprises, but few perfumes have surprised me so much and so continuously as this one.
28, La Pausa, by Chanel (2007)
If like me you love iris, then this is a no-brainer. It’s iris. Iris in all its glory, iris from start to finish, it’s all about iris, and it’s gorgeous, green, breathtaking and heartstopping in its very iriscentricity. The problem is, it disappears in nothing flat. WTF??? Jacques Polge, how could you DO this to me? If Chanel – who would surely know how – would amp this up to eau de parfum or parfum, it would never leave my cabinet or my spring rotation, ever. Christopher Sheldrake, are you listening? Do something. We iris lovers deserve that much!
Infusion d’Iris, by Prada (2007)
If some of these bearded ladies are buxom, fully grown women who know how to wear haute couture, walk in stilettos and behave in ladylike fashion when confronted with whole cooked artichokes, then this is Iris as Supermodel. Not above age 20, not with a hint of curves and not too much personality, either. This is an iris with not much meat on her bones. She photographs well, it must be said, but this woman doesn’t deserve that capital W. For the longest time, all I got was Elnett hairspray whenever I tried it. I tried it again today, and while I didn’t get the Elnett, I got a pallid, bloodless, slouchy iris, a wannabe iris, a wimpy iris I’m not sure I have time enough for. I like to make a statement, and the only thing IdI states is ‘well, at least I tried to be what you wanted…’ in her breathy, little voice. Sorry, baby. You should go play with your Barbies now. They’ve been missing you.
Iris Nobile, by Acqua di Parma (2004)
At the opposite end of the scale is Acqua di Parma’s Iris Nobile, who is all Woman, all the time. The kind of woman who would never dream of venturing out in public without every hair and eyelash in place. She is very beautiful, slightly haughty and very, very restrained. I wore jeans and a sweater the day I took her for a test drive, and she was not very pleased. Not by the music on my iPod, not by my attire in general and least of all by those jeans. ‘A proper signora would never wear those!’ she shouted, ‘and certainly not without more foundation garments! And heels! Signora, you are small! You need heels! A pencil skirt at least, and a suitable blouse, silk of course, and…’
And I’m just too much of a Viking slob for Signora Nobile…
Terre d’Iris, by Miller Harris (2005)
Miller Harris is a line I’ve had a slightly uneasy relationship with. I once owned a decant of Citron-Citron, and although I liked it quite a lot for hot, carefree summer days, it vanished almost before I knew it was there. Not so with TdI. This is an iris with titanium ovaries and a built-in attitude, and it caught me by surprise. Elegant, but not so elegant she can’t stand my beloved jeans, and with just enough wood to keep me intrigued. (All puns intended!) Oh, yes, she’s a keeper. She can wrestle that Prada wimperella with one hand behind her back and an elegant toss of her hair, and take on all the snooty Lutens ladies who roll their heavily made-up eyes at the plebes who share that cabinet. I liked her, really I did. With that much attitude, I suspect she wore safety pins in her attire in her wanton youth – and rest assured, it was…wanton. All that wood…
I still have a few more bearded ladies to try. The question is, what catfights will they get into on the shelves of my perfume cabinet? I can’t wait to find out!