At school, as a fifteen year old, as one of my exam subjects I chose Art. Although I had very little drawing ability, I simply wanted one class where I could daydream. Although this meant that by the time I had to present my ‘portfolio’, which consisted mainly of very boring, painstakingly copied still lifes – a log and some cowslips here, a turnip there, some ‘surreal’ paintings covered in random eyes, or typical teenage pastels – in my case often obsessively of Boy George – I somehow, miraculously, succeeded in getting an A grade in the finals, principally I think because I was good at ‘talking up’ all the pictures I had strategically enhanced with what I thought were clever-clever titles in the margins that turned round the perception of what you were actually seeing: like Marcel Duchamp turning his famous urinal into a piece called Fountain and translating reality into a new dimension, I somehow duped the examiners into thinking that what I had produced was far more interesting than what it actually was.
You can see where this is leading. Although I quite enjoy some of the perfumes by Etat Libre D’Orange – even if I have truly fallen in love with none – at heart, I do think that the company takes a similar approach to my teenage self – essentially idea over substance. In the majority of their releases, which are often quite pleasant and wearable, well-blended commercial releases like I Am Trash but given an extra dimension with the addition of cheeky Dali-esque tags for a cerebral glitch, ‘She was an anomaly’ (‘for the one you will never understand’) falls into this category of perfumes that are given a peculiar focus almost entirely because of their names (Tom Ford’s Fucking Fabulous was another sweet, woody sawdusty iris scent that you would never have looked at, nor smelled twice had it not had such an attention clamouring name). This new release by Etat Libre D’Orange is yet another iris-led perfume by the talented current doyenne of the iris, perfumer Daniela Roche Andrier, who has authored such orris-based contemporary fragrances as the Prada Infusion d’Iris series as well as their Tainted Love and Purple Rain – both of which I would happily wear if I found them at a reduced price tag- not to mention the cosy, if almost suffocatingly comfortable and sofa-loving orange blossom iris that was the comely Gucci Eau De Parfum from 2003. Iris also features heavily in Ms Andrier’s recent Tiffany & Co Intense from 2018, a clear, benzoiny iris ; now the perfumer has created a less effusive, more introverted sandalwood iris musk that held my interest for a few minutes when the initial dry, papery notes tingled my nose but which then went somewhat flat and uninteresting (at least on me). Which definitely makes it not an anomaly.
It is probably inevitable that iris would eventually veer in new directions away from the cold and poetic desolation of the more shivering, disdainful varieties that are too well known to warrant mentioning here. And rather than the glimmering sugar vats of patchoulified zombie floral that dominate how a lot of the industrialised orris is utilised these days (in the ever popular megabusters such as La Vie Est Belle and Flowerbomb), there is also, it seems, a certain ‘middle way’ with iris in perfumes like the similar Fleur De Peau by Diptyque (2018), with its skinsoft ambrettoloide irisness breathed warmly through rectified sandalwoods; a perfume, again, that I couldn’t get excited about personally but which I can imagine being quite gratifying on certain individual for a certain solidifying , interiorised serenity. While Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Paper White (2018) – a perfume I received in the post yesterday, is a clever rendition of the eponymous narcissus varietal combined with a cool iris powder over a modern chypre base that is stark, arresting, and somewhat disturbing (this person would definitely pique my interest) – when smelling a wide range of perfumes at Shinjuku Nose Shop the other day, I came across a more ‘gorgeous’, if typical iris perfume, Poudre Desire by Elisire (2015) (‘a graceful aura of delicate flowers blooming in the sun right after the rain’ – and yes, it was clearly a homage to Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee, like so many others, from the high quality iris suffused with heliotrope, cedar and white flowers to the overall scope; just with less melancholia – years of counselling, and serotonin depletion-inhibiting pills having done the trick in bringing this creature back successfully into the folds of society…) – yes, the cold shivers of reality are certainly far away in this plumed bon bon of a scent by in-house perfumer Frank Salzwedel in collaboration with Alberto Morillas, an always feel-good perfumer I often gravitate towards, and who was also responsible for this year’s Tears Of Iris from Gucci’s Alchemist’s Garden series (a remote, watery angelica of an iris that comes in a beautifully Italianate bottle but which somehow does not entirely rise to the occasion – except, perhaps for a pale, and lachrymose, lace-wearing fashionista). Poudre Desire goes completely in the opposite direction to that perfume with a sensual – if immediately familiar – composition that conjures the post-bath pleasures of the boudoir in convincing fashion, but which unfortunately (sorry, this is the second time I have written this post – the first one was much, much longer and much better and then I accidentally deleted it – hence the somewhat irritating tone; I was in such a good mood! A furious bike ride for 40 minutes has not diminished my dismay – and hence the negativity – but I am putting it up anyway, grouchy or not); yes, unfortunately this very nice smelling perfume comes in a rather unappealing design (to say the least) – a bottle that could be any television or pop star’s 17th celebrity release (pink, with a big diamond on top – I don’t think I could stand such frou frou cheapness in my collection; in fact I know I couldn’t – and I know how pretentious that probably makes me sound ), but at 25,000 yen (about $233) I just need more multifaceted beauty for my money. To win the true perfume lover over completely, you need the full package: an olfactory concept that feels genuine, which is executed beautifully, and is then contained in a flacon that is labelled and boxed delightfully enough for you to want to hold it, stare at it – or if that sounds too maniacal (but I literally do stare at my perfumes, sometimes – I find it hypnotic and relaxing) just enjoy seeing the bottle standing there on your dresser, or housed safely in your chosen closet; a scent that stimulates your imagination, yes, that you enjoy both visually, but of course particularly, when you then apply it to your demanding; skeptical, hard earned skin.