Category Archives: Iris perfumes







‘Les Eaux Primordiales’ is a series of new perfumes created by 28 year-old perfumer Arnaud Poulin. Intellectual in inspiration, with a very French emphasis on philosophy, culture and the abstract, the key concept behind the brand is apparently ‘atemporality in movement’, the Cinquième Sens-trained perfumer basing his creations on the foundations of the traditional ‘Great Perfumery’ while seeking to ‘redefine contemporary classics with the use and reinvention of sometimes forgotten olfactory families.’ In essence, all six scents are well made and attractive, with enough personality to perhaps achieve Monsieur Poulin’s goal of creating emotions ‘able to make body and soul come closer to each other, to be an imaginary addition to one’s persona, to create a world of one’s own’.



Notes: Italian Orris, bergamot, carrot seed, sage, ‘solar jasmine’, violet, sandalwood, cedar, tonka bean, labdanum, patchouli, white musk.


‘Duality between two materials: a flower and a precious-metal. The smell of a time when ladies would use perfume and powder. Our iris comes from Italy and diffuses smells of makeup powder, violet, and also, dust’.


From the above description you might imagine that Iris Palladium is a feminine, maquillaged iris along the lines of Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre or even Chanel’s girlish, lipstick-smeared Misia, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, I find this staid and savoury iris to be more akin to Armani Privé’s La Femme Bleue (though without that perfume’s inherent mystery).

I do love iris, particularly when it is on the more melancholy tip: Hermès Hiris, Iris Silver Mist, Le Labo Iris 39 and N0 19 immediately spring to mind, but I can also enjoy a more sawdusty, mellow, almost salty orris number like Iris Palladium. Androgynous, subtle but diffusive, this makes an intriguing skin scent that would draw people to you even if it is perhaps lacking the wow factor that would make me want to buy it. For the fiercest iris aficionados, though, those who want to have an orris for every shade along the irisian PH spectrum, this new take on the powdery, dusty classic is certainly worth sampling.



Notes: lavender, violet, blackcurrant, blackberry, fir balsam, hedione, musk


‘The name comes from the mechanical universe, perpetual movement. By definition, a moment has a beginning and an end, therefore Moment Perpétuel is the idea of an infinite moment, infinite joy, and why not, infinite love’.


Ahem. That is quite the spiel to introduce what is essentially a fruity lavender, but fortunately, the opening of this perfume is rather joyous: a very beautiful, and original, high quality, French lavender top note tinted with violet, and aureoled quite inspirationally with a beautifully optimistic, fresh, and bucolic  note of blackcurrant and blackberry – a purple fusion of happiness that really works. Both I and my other half immediately took to this one, and I insisted that he go out into town later to do some shopping wearing it to see how it progressed. It smelled lovely. An hour or two after he had come back home though I kept wondering where the smell of Gucci Envy was coming from, or if he had sprayed something similiar in the bathroom. It was a smell I was quite enjoying – fresh, clean, green, soapy – as I do like Envy, that stilettoed green classic from the nineties that was inexplicably, along with Rush, discontinued (coincidentally, we had just got a miniature Envy For Men the other day from a recycle shop – lord that stuff is sexy, a virile ginger swooner, I had forgotten) and I was actually planning to do a review, soon, of both. Nice though that scent might be, however, it was a strange ending – and one that he smells quite strongly of this morning – for a scent that began with a totally unconnected, and very natural smelling, burst of provencal lavender. A curious scent, then, this ‘perpetual moment’ and something of a schizo, but one I can imagine one of us, if the right multiple-personality mood should suddenly take hold,  probably wearing again.



NOTES: pink pepper, rose berries, cumin, elemi resin, cypriol, guaiac wood, ginger, thyme, rosemary, smoked woods, incense, labdanum, vanilla and amber


Unfortunately, I detest the synthetically enhanced wood trend in current perfumery to the extent that I can’t be rational or objective. I can’t even test this sort of fragrance on my skin, nor even stand to have the room I am in smelling of it either if I were to spray some on a card (seriously), but fortunately, for the sake of perfume fairness, my best friend in Japan, Junko, can. She is the opposite of me, and thus the recipient of any and all boisés I might receive in the post. Perfumes that I would immediately simply want to throw out of the window usually without getting to know how they actually develop on the skin because I really just can’t stand that rasping, harsh dessication for even a moment, I get to experience (and even quite enjoy, bizarrely) on her. She is my ‘wood model’, if you like, and in this way I have been able to get different perspectives on such intense unalloyed woodies as Sacred Woods By Kilian and Bois d’Hiver by Ex Nihilo, a scent she has become so obsessed with she is now in London, as we speak, trying to  find it. She would probably also like Particules Imprévisibles (and I will of course give my sample bottle to her), so named because it is ‘absolutely unpredictable, the numerous spicy and woody raw materials giving it the peculiar property to react to every skin in a unique manner’. I like how Junko’s skin reacts with these more traditionally masculine accords – such smells make her fierce and stubborn independence in such a simultaneously girly and sexist place as Japan even more manifest – and this dry, warm, spicy, almost YSL M7-like blend (not at all original; we have all smelled this kind of thing many, many times before) would probably smell great on her brown leather jacket when we meet up for our occasional, tête à tête conversations over wine and Japanese food, and I smell her subtle, but noticeable, incense- like dryness (dignified, magnetic) – from where I sit across the table.




NOTES:  Lemon, lavender, evernyl, geranium, Aldehyde C12 MNA, vetiver, oud, patchouli, white musk, amber woods


Speaking of gender and masculinity, Champ d’Influence, a classically butch kind of perfume if ever there was one, is a ‘homage to my grandfather, a childhood olfactory memory. Each morning before school, my parents would drop me to my grandparents’ house. There, my grandfather, while being a farmer, still took the time each morning to soap his face, then to apply a traditional shaving cream with a vintage shaving brush, finishing that routine with an aftershave balm. I’ve always wanted to recreate this precise and peculiar fresh smell: this fougère base with lemon notes, lavender, geranium and vetiver, so typical of the odours emanating from a barbershop. A very manly fragrance that still appeals to a lot of women’.

I would agree. I do know women who still like the smell of Brut, the suave, hunk-chested, smooth-cheeked precursor of this kind of fragrance. It’s a classical formula that works very well if you like that sort of thing (and I sort of do: on the right man – one with a good sense of humour who doesn’t take himself too seriously, it can be quite sexy), even if Mr Poulain tries too hard, perhaps, to bridge the gap between the past and the present with a harsh note in the base accord that brings to mind more metallic, aggressive fougères such as Diesel Life Fuel. With similarities, also, to YSL Rive Gauche Pour Homme (the best of this type of new skool/ old school fougere, in my view) Champ D’Influence is a very effective scent – generously replete and full (though some might say a bit too full of itself) that will probably have a certain type of woman or man who is genetically programmed to go for the big bulge kind of guy champing at the bit; getting all riled up and horny and bothered and ready to ransack him thoroughly, though personally, I think I would much rather be chatted up in a bar by someone wearing Iris Palladium.You could probably expect better conversation.



NOTES: Grapefruit, bergamot, rhubarb, hedione, violet, tobacco, nutmeg, benzoin, amber woods, vetiver.

‘The paradox between abstract and reason. This perfume is the definition of it. Vetiver is usually heavily used for masculine fragrances. Here, this material is twisted with an acidulous rhubarb note which reminds me of the delicious rhubarb pies my mother used to make. Also, some greener and more fruity notes evoking passion fruits and a hint of mangoes. Finally, a benzoin and tobacco base to infuse leather and amber tones’.


I must admit that I don’t quite get what the perfumer is going on about here: ‘the paradox between abstract and reason’ nor, his assertion that this fairly typical contemporary vetiver is the ‘very definition’ (quite an immodest claim to make, actually) of anything whatsoever. The perfume is quite nice though: fresh, sharp, almost sour, the citrus and rhubarb mingling nicely with the rounded vetiver note that works in harmony with the other softer and more balsamic ingredients, although in truth this accord is already very familiar to me in perfumes such as Aedes De Venustas  – which is also based around rhubarb and vetiver, and fresh, fruity vetivers such as Atelier Cologne’s Vetiver Fatal. If I were going for a vetiver of this type ( I occasionally do when I feel like hiding myself), I would probably plump instead for Vetiver Moloko by Ex Nihilo (another recent Parisian start up), which includes a Bulgarian rose and cypress note in the heart and takes this overdone fragrance type to slightly more restrained and rarified tenure.




NOTES: Italian bergamot, aldehydes, rose, jasmine, carnation, violet, tonka, violet, hyraceum


Arnaud Poulain’s ethos for his brand  – a blend of the brand new and the classical – is probably best encapsulated in the ideas around this curiously unfashionable blend:


‘In order to invent the future, a prerequisite is to master the past. For this perfume, I wanted to recreate and do justice to the great fragrances created between 1920 and 1940. A floral perfume revolving around a chypre base. A perfume with some of the most noble and traditional perfumery elements while still being completely contemporary, by combining them with modern ingredients’.


Possibly the least successful of this sextet, I would have to say that Mémoire Du Future, for me personally, fails in its mission. This scaled down skeletal attempt to bring le grand parfum back to life is far too dominated by simplistic and overpowering aldehydes that drown out any other naturals that might be in the blend and remind me of the dirt cheap, roll-on oil perfumes you find at Arab and Indian markets masquerading as Chanel No 5. Granted, the base is quite sexy and animalic (because of the hyraceum, or African Stone, a potent animalic ingredient blended possibly with some vanilla), reminding me of the original, eponymous perfume by Moschino – that naughty, buttery oriental that had no class really, despite its Milanese credentials, yet sure smelled big-thighed down n’ dirty when it ripped off its fur coat later on in the evening – but it’s hard to realistically compare this with the more orchestral, deep and fully rendered classiques of the Golden Age, alluring and curvaceous though it may be.







Quite nice. All six of these are competently made with a solid savoir faire, and you would probably be quite happy to work with people wearing these perfumes at the office. Admittedly, worn at high dosage, Champ D’Influence, Mémoire Du Futur and Particules Imprévisibles might occasionally be discovered groping and shagging frenetically in a three-way session behind the photocopier, unable, by 3pm to resist their surging impulses, bored at their desks and turned on hopelessly by their ruggedly pre-ordained sexual tropes; while Iris Palladium – assured, warm, enigmatic; Abstraction Raisonnée – fashionable but unforthcoming, and Moment Perpetuel – clean, soapy, ‘lovely’, if smiling a bit too incessantly, you wouldn’t mind at all sharing some desk space with and having a late morning meeting over coffee.  You would get used to them. Their perfumes would blend with their personalities. Their scents most definitely become them and they would not offend. At least not most of the time. Still, as you daydreamed from the window, thinking of your perfume collection back home, you would still sometimes find yourself, as the working day progressed , smiling to yourself knowingly, eyes closed as you smelled your wrists- defiantly, surreptitiously – when no one else was looking.


Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers, Iris perfumes, Vetiver, Woods





The perfumes I consider to be my holy grails are quite hard for me to approach in writing. How to do them justice. How to capture their invisible power over me in the right words. I do not want to botch the job, nor drown out their subtleties with my standard, over-enthusiastic, effusions. There is enough hyperbole out there already in perfume; all that hype and purple ‘prose’, most of which becomes so laughable in the face of the actual perfume that it’s an almost constant case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.


Before I go any further, I should probably also say that this perfume is probably unique for me in that it is a composition I cannot describe in metaphor or with allusions the way that I might usually do, with the visual, the psychological, the literary or the musical (as I have done with Vol De Nuit, Calèche and Arpège, for instance), the reason being that, unlike many others, this perfume does not actively remind me of anything, nor send me into reverie.




Nº I9 is not what it evokes, but what it evinces. It is beautifully functional, a smell. A deceptively simple, beautiful, but mysterious composition of such imaginative and (anti)intuitive technical accomplishment that you wonder just how it could work: how the various elements – all essential – could slot together in such an apparently effortless way; how an exquisite vetiver/leather base could meld so fluidly with a pure and plaintive, iris-filled heart;  that orris, which in some batches can be almost heartbreakingly coldly fluid and beautiful  (at one point this was apparently the most expensive perfume in production due to the quality of its ingredients); how that cool, sublimely removed green iris rose could yet then be transfused through a more overtly sensual, brighter floral aperture of vivid neroli and sweet, fervent essence of ylang ylang (sheer genius), but then have its iced heart credentials sealed once again, with that taut, difficult, and spine-tingling, galbanum.







So even though I undeniably do have memories and associations – through other people who have worn her, and they have, over the years (my sister, my mother, close friends both male and female) –  I have yet conquered this perfume so many times in my own way, in my own lifetime now, that all other connected memories are almost obliterated. It is a living entity for me, this perfume, rather than some short-lived, tearful flashback, and, providing I can still get my hands on it, I can quite easily imagine wearing it until I die.



In parfum, the way I wear Nº I9, this androgynous Chanel masterpiece – created the year I was born – is strong, unapologetic, and virile (at times actually verging on too masculine for me in certain moods; ironic (or perhaps not), given that it was supposedly created for the exclusive personal use of Coco herself – that twentieth century ‘exterminating angel’ of mind over matter and art over people , Gabrielle Chanel, who wanted Henri Robert to create a private, inimitably elegant blend that only she could use (it was released to the public after her death). Like the formidable Chanel herself, this perfume in vintage feels self-assured, supercilious, arrogant even, but there is something quite melancholic and regretful in there also. I remember walking into the apartment of a very beautiful and dignified Italian diplomat, Francesca, in an upscale area of Tokyo, one night, and being amazed by her reaction to this scent; she was beside herself – mama mia che buono, che buon’odore –  as she hugged me to her and smelled me up close. I don’t know if her sexuality was relevant, but it did seem that we were both dabbling in unconventional gender conventions, she with her beautiful and expensive dandyish vestments; me in my carefully applied Chanel, and that the poignancy, but seduction, of the perfume I was wearing did seem to transcend some kind of barrier.







Cambridge, far in the past now,  was a maelstrom of sensations and exquisitely, indulgently strung out stresses that have been quite stirred up by Nina’s recent visit and our delvings into some of its powerful emotions and recollections during our late night conversations –  something that D and I seem to have avoided for quite a few years.



It wasn’t just the overwhelming work load – French translation, Italian language, read Flaubert by Monday, write an essay by Wednesday, it was the cultural shift of going from my background of standard comprehensive school education and suburban, lower middle class’normalcy’ and being caterpulted into the rarified private school world of the rich; the ultra-privileged, the literally aristocratic, and being expected, as a green and innocent eighteen year old, to just somehow be able to take it and absorb it; learn to live alone (in impossibly beautiful surroundings; too yearnful for a stripling like me to even function normally, let alone excel academically);  to adapt to this sphere of being I had had no idea existed.


Muddling through the passions of a term or two and making some friends on the fringes, though, I did eventually settle into something like a stride and found myself doing quite well in the Italian department, where I had started anew like all the others and so was at less of an obvious disadvantage, and where I also met a Franco-British, velvet-voiced siren by the name of Kira (who my friends from home just hated: “Is the princess of Paaa-ris still there??” they would inquire sarcastically before coming to see me in my room) but I was still intrigued by our differences, by this new world; would listen patiently to her rich-kid melodramas and ignore her invites to just ‘pop on over to Paris to the weekend’ (er, Kira, not everyone has your kind of money you know…..), but would still sit flagrant, and wide-eyed, and receptive, as she doused herself, as she did constantly, in Chanel NºI9 eau de parfum, the old, rectangular bottle in silver grey and the only perfume she had ever worn – and the only scent she ever intended to ever wear in the forseeable future.


In that vintage edp form, quite different from my more secretive and wise parfum, my new acquaintance smelled quite resplendently standoffish and exhilarating…. I used to adore the way she smelled and  I can still smell her in my mind’s eye by the river at Trinity; a green, biting, iris-clad nomenclature; callous; dry; acerbic, French, floral and bitchy but also with vivacity – that glorious, dismissive self confidence that came both from her upbringing; a private education; the dreadful and total obliviousness of it all, really, but also from the perfume that, at the heart of its unsweetened and brilliantly constructed fleuri boisé bouquet, was really nothing to be trifled with. And neither, ultimately, was she.





That was probably that, then, for that perfume then, just a memory, a perfume I liked, until one fine day, probably fifteen more or so years later, when I was in Motomachi, Yokohama, here in Japan – hot; sunny; mid summer – a dinkily chichi boutiquey and upscale shopping area near the bayside where the big ships from abroad come in; just moseying about, and walking around, when I came across an expensive-ish but affordable parfum spray of N°I9 in a second hand brand designer clothes shop. Although I would never consider buying the vaporisateur format of the vintage now (don’t do it: there’s some chemical that must have been put into these so-called ‘natural sprays’ that significantly deteriorates the delicate balance within and renders the blend strange, with a white, vegetal note that prevents you experiencing the perfume in full. What you want, ideally, is the parfum in bottle form; wax sealed; box-within-box, in that heavenly, fetishistically matrushka manner; untouched and protected by thick, white, paper ( although I bought one of these recently from somewhere only to find that although unopened, and there had been no trickery; there was nothing inside the expected flacon the contents mysteriously evaporated…).


Still….those unappealing top and middle notes notwithstanding, I soon found as I walked along the streets towards the hill overlooking the bay that the scent had melded with my skin in a way I had never before experienced. I remember walking along upwards, up along the confines of the beautiful Yamate Foreigner’s Cemetery, a place of dappling leaves, weeping angels and Russian crosses, and becoming gradually aware that I was smelling something beautiful.


This, then, was my first experience of what I would never have found if I had not on a whim bought that parfum: that hauntingly sinuous end accord that I now so cherish. The extract of this perfume, so much more concentrated, but so much less effusive and mischievous than the more girlish, vintage edt, has the most insistently withheld but yet affecting iris/ vetiver / leather dry down that I have ever encountered, grave and sonorous as a cello.  Pinched and held back by a superb note of citrus, while suspended in blanc nimbuli of delicate, Parisian powder, the scent hovers unhesitantly about your person through the day and long into the night, accompanying you but never intrusive, there, but semi-consciously.


The perfume isn’t always right; it can go too powdery and clogged if I slap it on overzealously like aftershave as I am prone to do when I come across a big vintage bottle here and think to myself why not. This, though, doesn’t ultimately detract from its beauty. If a perfume is so easy and comfortable that it is always suitable- your Dolce Light Blue, your citrussy Jo Malone, then odds are you are probably dealing with a scent that in itself is just fresh and unthreatening, unobtrusive – bland even, which is probably why it can just fade into the background beyond your daily consciousness and you can wear it, day after day, unthinkingly. With vintage Chanel NºI9, however,  we are talking instead about an intuitively crafted, deep and abstractly stunning piece of olfactory art that is what it is – serious; profoundly aromatic, and best of all, enigmatic, so austere and supremely elegant that it simply will brook not shallow miscalculations on your part. To wear the parfum on a day to day basis like a mere quotidian toiletry would just be too frivolous.


This perfume, precious now that the supplies of the vintage will be inevitably dwindling (and they really are – I can feel the difference here in Japan where it used to pop up all the time and now only rarely does), wills you to choose the right moment carefully, or otherwise leave it alone. But then, when that moment is right, as it has been these last few days,  it just lets you sit back and forget, while just subtlely taking over your aura like a twin, lending a grand yet gently dignified atmosphere that yet hints of sex, and shadows.





I knew I was onto a winner in those first months those twelve years ago or so when I first fell for this perfume on a night out with Duncan. Standing out there on the street in Shinjuku and having ascertained that the skin and the perfume had fused in exactly the right way, I  then asked him then to lean in close and smell me.


A person of great understatement, not given to great effusions of praise nor of compliments, Duncan’s one-word reaction,




made me then realize that my instincts about this scent had certainly not been misguided, and many years and bottles later my love affair continues.


I might not wear this perfume all the time, I might go for six months for a time or even a year without putting it on, but Chanel NºI9 vintage parfum, is, in all probability and despite its ‘difficulty’ –  for its sheer olfactive precision, and unparalleled atmosphere, my ultimate holy grail.





Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Exquisite Perfumes, Iris perfumes, Leather perfumes, Vetiver perfumes