Elegant: 150 posts

Versatile and polished blends

5 Iris Perfumes and One Dumas Novel

Iris has the reputation of being a cold and austere note. Obtained from the roots of iris pallida, rather than flowers, it smells of its source–more like a sliver of frozen woods than petals. (This is why iris in perfumery is not quite a floral note, and it’s classified separately, between woods and violets.) And yet, it’s my favorite scent for winter. It fits so perfectly into the wintery panorama of scents that I can hardly imagine these cold days without an opaline sillage of iris. On the other hand, a beautiful perfume is beautiful all year round, so I’m slowly transitioning to spring with my bouquet of irises.

The indisputable gold standard irises are Chanel No 19, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, and Annick Goutal Heure Exquise. Hermès Hiris is another notable fragrance, often referred to as “a cult favorite,” whatever that means. Although I enjoy No 19, Iris Silver Mist and Hiris, my personal iris cult is more varied, a testament to the allure of this ingredient.

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Cartier L’Envol : Perfume Review

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Despite dire prognoses that perfumery is dying and that “there is nothing good anymore”, this year brought a number of fragrances I was happy to discover, namely, Azzedine Alaia, Galop d’Hermès and L‘Envol de Cartier. I point out these three perfumes in particular, because I not only liked them, I wore them so much that they now can be called staples. That all three are easily available from the department store is a bonus point. I’ve reviewed Alaia and Galop here, while my discussion of L’Envol de Cartier appears in my FT column, Fragrance Inspired by Flight.

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“The idea of a fragrance inspired by flight has two iconic precedents, both from the 1930s. Caron’s marvellous orange chypre En Avion was dedicated to the first women pilots such as Hélène Boucher and Amelia Earhart, while Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit paid homage to the writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. These are fitting associations because flight is key to understanding fragrance – perfume takes off in the air the moment the liquid touches the skin. Perfumers control the effects of their compositions by using materials of different volatilities – citrus and green notes soar in an instant; musks and woods are slower to become airborne.

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Aedes de Venustas Grenadille d’Afrique : Perfume Review

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When Serge Lutens came up with an idea for Shiseido’s Feminité du Bois, he was asked so often about his “vision of a woman” that he got exasperated and said that he wasn’t making a perfume that smelled of any woman, that he merely wanted the smell of Moroccan cedar. That was in the early 1990s. I’d wager that today few briefs will surprise a perfumer, even as in the case of Aedes de Venustas’s Grenadille d’Afrique, the request is for ebony, “from crackling sap to balmy resin and from smoky wood to sun-heated stone… [and] also the primal landscape in which it grows.” For this, we have to thank Lutens and other niche pioneers.

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At first glance, Grenadille d’Afrique is a classical Aedes perfume–dry woods, peppery spices, amber, a hint of incense. With seven fragrances in its collection, the New York boutique has put together a coherent, well-edited lineup. Even if it’s famously enamored with incense, its touch is delicate enough, neither the church nor the ashram. Grenadille d’Afrique, however, brings a new element that I haven’t noticed before–retro glamour.

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Hermes Galop d’Hermes : Perfume Review

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So here it is, the long awaited Galop d’Hermès. Few launches can boast of this much anticipation, save for the new big perfumes from Chanel, Dior or Louis Vuitton, but Hermès is a special house with its unique place in today’s fragrance world. First of all, it realized the idea of creating a truly artistic perfumery team, headed by Jean-Claude Ellena. In-house perfumers are nothing new, but in my view, Ellena is one of the few who actually have an opportunity to pursue his own vision. Second, Hermès is successful.

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This aspect is telling, because it proves that customers can spot quality, and Hermès’s perfumes have consistently been well-crafted and memorable. So, the efforts have been rewarded. Ellena’s work has a distinctive signature of radiance and polish, which over the years made for a coherent collection. Now, it’s time to add a twist, and the task has been given to Christine Nagel.

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The Italians

Some of the most interesting artisanal brands I’ve recently discovered come from Italy. I won’t venture to generalize about this trend, if it can be called so, although what strikes me about the new Italian creations is the freshness of their approach. They pay tribute to classics, but not self-consciously so, and they stay au courant while avoiding the pitfalls of style versus substance. In my new FT column, Italian Perfumes, I focus on two fairly new niche houses, Antonio Alessandria Parfums and Rubini Profumi, and explain what makes them stand out.

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Wearing their perfumes reminded me why I love the Italian take on elegance. It has a sense of humor.

“Classic Italian perfumery has a reputation for flamboyance – embodied by the Cinecittà glamour of Sophia Loren, as well as the gold tan and bleached-blonde aesthetic of Donatella Versace. It may be a cliché, but one need not be a marketing specialist to notice that Italians wear scents differently from the French or Germans. Women enjoy lush white florals with a touch of powder for an enveloping, lingering effect. Men aren’t shy about donning sweet perfumes and using them to make a statement. Encounter such a fragranced denizen cutting la bella figura at an outdoor café some place in Rome or Palermo, and you’ll understand better Italy’s penchant for the baroque. To continue, please click here.”

Do you have any favorite Italian fragrances? Apart from the bottled sort, mine would be the wet vetiver and iris smell of Milan, freshly baked pizza bianca with rosemary, lemon groves off the Amalfi coast, and the shamelessly lush Sicilian jasmine.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved

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