In the video for Penhaligon’s fragrance Iris Prima, artists from the English National Ballet recount the scents of ballet: sweat, tears, dusty curtains, tiger balm, more sweat. “All of the things you don’t see from the front and that we have to endure, but it’s well-worth it,” remarks one dancer. Ballet is about an illusion, lightness, magic. When a ballerina glides across the stage on the tips of her pointe shoes, we don’t feel her pain or her strain. We aren’t meant to. For Penhaligon’s to promise us a scent of ballet is daring. Will we really get the whiff of bodies covered in makeup and sweat, rosin covering the floor, musty shoes?
Not at all, as it turns out. Iris Prima is as prim and graceful as Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty. Sweat, blood, tears? There is hardly a trace. Iris Prima captures the same romantic ballet vision that makes many girls dream of white tutus and satin shoes.
Iris Prima was created by perfumer Alberto Morillas who observed English National Ballet dancers in rehearsals and performances as he worked on his fragrance for the venerable English house. Unlike another recent ballet inspired perfume, Repetto, from the famous shoe and dance accessory brand, Iris Prima avoids anything saccharine and cute. Iris Prima is a blend of sheer, dry woods with a few fluttering petals.
The main floral component in Iris Prima is jasmine, here rendered as a heap of clean, dewy petals. The perfume is off to a zesty start, but it then mellows down to crisp amber and woods. At first, you notice a whiff of pencil shavings and wet soil (with an odd jasmine petal here and there), then you’re hugged by creamy sandawool and sticky vanilla. The iris touch is earthy and green, and it gives a subtle but distinctive cool sensation to Iris Prima. It has impressive tenacity and clings to skin for hours.
Iris Prima is pretty but bland. While I enjoy its understated charm, it doesn’t stand out in the Penhaligon’s lineup. It certainly doesn’t rival my little black dress iris favorite Prada Infusion d’Iris (it also helps that Infusion d’Iris is $40 less expensive than Iris Prima). If you’re truly after sweat and grit, my recommendation would be either Miller Harris’s L’Air de Rien with its sexy twist of dirty orange blossom and sun warmed skin or Serge Lutens’s Muscs Koublaï Khan that smells like overripe roses and salty kisses (or to some, like a horse rider in need of a bath). More tempered but no less seductive is Annick Goutal’s Musc Nomade, a spicy musky potion.
On Hedione and Paradisone
The magazine features on Iris Prima make a big deal out of Hedione and Paradisone, hailing their use as somehow revolutionary. The revolution happened in 1966 when Edmond Roudnitska used Hedione for the first time in Dior’s Eau Sauvage. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a new launch that doesn’t feature this radiant material. Hedione has a very light but persistent floral scent. Imagine a strongly diluted jasmine (minus any dirty, leathery bits) with a twist of lemon. Paradisone is closely related to hedione, but it’s even more blooming, more radiant and diffusive. Both Hedione and Paradisone give a powerful lift to any accord, and you can also smell Paradisone in fragrances likes Acqua di Giò Essenza, Valentino’s Valentina, Carita Eau Parfum (all three were touched by Morillas). On the other hand, it’s refreshing that the brands don’t shy away from talking about synthetics, instead of feeding us the same old line about solar flowers and iced petals.
Penhaligon’s Iris Prima Eau de Parfum includes notes of bergamot, pink pepper, iris, Indian jasmine, hedione, leather, sandalwood, vetiver, amber, vanilla and benzoin. Available at penhaligons.com, Saks Fifth Avenue stores in the US and other big retailers in Europe. 50ml/$125, 100ml/$160