Iris 39 is an unusual iris perfume. Eschewing the usual pleasantries, it plunges us straight into sour, bitter-lipped, patchouli-driven angles laced with searing ginger, lime, and cardamom. With none of the preimagined light, downy play between powdery orris butter and other florals, this is forceful and pungent.
Like people, though, with their inevitable character flaws, there is something missing here, a hole: it has been left raw, wild; un-airbrushed. We sense the stark architecture, relish no warmth; no soft, bone-protecting furnishings.
Iris perfumes magnetize me with their coolness, even when I cannot always give myself to them in my entirety. To do so would be somehow to surrender myself to their snobbery and imperious gaze; become sucked right down into their roots and their morbidity: the petals; grand papery matrons, crinkling our touch – the Virginia Woolfs of the marshes, watching in the English garden; arch-duchesses, knowing death but perennial; the dust of tomed libraries and dead angels swirl in earth-bound; violet-doomed time tunnels.Those sweated, dried out and pulverized bulbs, with their silken, water-sodden shimmer. Aerated; beautiful, porcelain faces turned away; the unfurled flowerheads of their melancholia; argent, moon-coddled powder……
It is all right here in Iris 39, in that opening salvo of cool, vegetal iris, leached entirely of all serotonin. No sweetness, no compromise: a sighing breath of Après L’Ondée as the iris juice expires its last; and then a cold, twisting witch’s mouth of patchouli licked with spice: emotions sucked right, right in; a chic, deathly submergence.
I am quite transfixed by this perfume, even while sensing its privations, its sense of not being quite coloured in, and wearing it on my arm one evening I find that arm being raised to the nose quite regularly: it felt familiar; cold comfort; an iris with subcutaneously cruel intentions.
On my sweater the next morning, the scent had clung, maleficently, stubbornly, and it was then that I realized the source of déja vu: Clinique Aromatics Elixir. Yes, that was it most definitely, the aromatic, powdered patchouli of Elixir, a perfume I know very intimately as it is the signature scent of my great-aunt Jean, who has worn it for decades, from the height of her glamourous phase as a wartime showgirl to her current, miserable existence as a sad and moribund ninety two year old in a Birmingham nursing home. Her Elixir still gets a spray now and again though. You can smell it in her room. Every time my mother visits her she just talks about how much she wants to die, as the scent of her past clings, tauntingly, to those sad, lonely, walls.
Iris 39 has that same smell; the same intensity of sillage (stylish, distant; complete) but with a far deeper indifference. Elixir has a chamomile-touched, powdered magnanimity, an American generosity. This Parisian take is more dark-hearted; callous. Absorbing; desolate.