Bearded Ladies


– Reviews and reflections on iris

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!

13 thoughts on “Bearded Ladies

  1. I'm not a big iris fan (though there are a few that I love, love love) so the only one on your list I've tried is the Chanel. But I had to comment on your description of Terre d'Iris…I got such a laugh about thinking of an iris fragrance with “titanium ovaries and a built-in attitude”! Might have to check that one out, though she sounds a might skeery!

  2. Suzanne, as I'm sure you can guess, I am an iris fan. I blame Chanel no. 19 as my gateway. Really, Terre d'Iris is a great version of iris – very woody and more than slightly green. Skeery? Only to your enemies…;)

  3. B, yes…I thank you for this – and for Terre d'Iris, too! It wasn't exactly love at first sniff, but when I tried her again a few days later, I loved her very much indeed! Give her w whirl, I think you might like her!

  4. I love iris! Or, at least, I love iris in a well-balanced fragrance… I was just thinking, “What iris' do I have in my collection?” And it occurs to me that while I have many, I don't love any of the true 'Queens of Iris' scents. Iris Silver Mist is an intellectual appreciation, but not really very wearable for me—same with Hiris and 28 La Pausa. They just seem to hate my skin, even when I try and play nice with them.
    Noir loves my skin! Orris Noir, Iris Taizo, Calamity J…. iris set with plush oriental notes seem to be my key for success 🙂

  5. Dee, I haven't tried Hiris or Orris Noir (that last is soon to be amended), and there are a few more out there I'm sure I've missed – including anything PG, such as Iris Taizo. There's another one on my list of Try or Else I'll Die: Guerlain's Iris Ganache. Rumor has it it has some of those Oriental sensibilities you and I know and love…

  6. Oh gods… Iris Ganache. I am almost afraid to try it! It's $250 for 50mL, right? That would just be a silly thing to do, to smell that one—Because I KNOW it's going to be one of those ones that I will die without.

    Die. Without.

  7. Haha! Your description of Iris Nobile is perfect. I'm not capable of maintaining the level of grooming required to pull it off more than once or twice a year…but on those occasions, ah well then it's a queen-maker. Quite!

  8. Funny!

    I am not much of an iris fan – my idea of a good iris perfume is that chilly Amazon No. 19. I did rather like PG Iris Taizo, and surprised myself by finding ISM pleasantly carroty and unpretentious. And I dig the green-rose-iris stunner that is Silences. But still… not an automatic iris fan, and comfortable with that.

    (I know of one reason you liked Iris Nobile so much: it's chock-full of orange blossom. Which I dislike.)

  9. Dee…I feel your pain! Really, I do. Let's see what happens in the next month or so – and maybe there will be a bottle split or something in your future!

  10. Axum – Oh, yes. You have to dress up for Signora Nobile. Preferably in Armani, I'm thinking. (So totally not me! 😉 )

    I could say the same for this iris, too!

  11. Actually, Muse, I didn't much care for Iris Nobile, not nearly so much as for, say…28, La Pausa, Dior Homme, no. 19, or even Silences, to name but a few. I'm just not that kind of woman who can wear THAT kind of perfume, and that's OK. There are plenty more left over…;)

    Orange blossom is one of my favorite flowers, but I think it was the star anise that killed IN for me. Can't Stand. It.

  12. Oh dear! I have a sample of Iris Nobile on the way. Now I'm deeply worried. Must get my hair done, trim my nails, shave my legs, and dust all the skirting boards in my hose before she arrives!

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