Ballet Inspired Perfumes

In my FT magazine article Ballet in a Bottle?, I describe several perfumes inspired by ballet or created in collaboration with ballet dancers. The results are fascinating–the spirit of ballet has a lot in common with perfumery, from its ineffability to its complexity.

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This wonderful quote nonetheless misses the mark. Music can be captured in words just as dance can be used to understand shapes and forms. What’s more, perfumers working in collaboration with ballet artists have shown that one can even smell adagios and allegros.

Such was the idea behind Iris Prima, a fragrance by Penhaligon’s. Working with the English National Ballet, master perfumer Alberto Morillas chose iris to evoke the vision of a dancer on stage. An ingredient derived from the roots of iris pallida, at first it suggests the scent of violet petals.  Yet, the delicate opening gives way to frozen woods and intensely green buds. The same juxtaposition of ethereal lightness and strength is the hallmark of a ballet, and Iris Prima captures it perfectly. Its floral softness is challenged by woods and musk, and while the contrast is strong, the result is harmonious.

The White Swan/Black Swan duality is explored by the French niche house Les Parfums de Rosine in their Ballerina series. Even the lightest fragrance of the quartet, No 4, has a dark side. While the perfume unfolds as a slow waltz of white rose, jasmine and tuberose, a faster tempo is introduced by oakmoss and incense. The mood of the composition turns from charming to smouldering, and while Ballerina No 4 retains her feather-like lightness, her presence is dramatic.

In conveying movement through aromas, Russian prima ballerina Polina Semionova set a different and more challenging goal for perfumer Geza Schoen of The Beautiful Mind Series. The London-based perfume company was asked to create a fragrance that not only evoked the grace and elegance of a dancer, but also the cerebral aspect of ballet, its intensity and its search for perfection. Aptly named Precision & Grace, the composition intertwines white freesia with ripe plum. The dusky backdrop of sandalwood allows the fruity-floral pas de deux to stand out. As the composition evolves, a fiery note of pepper takes the stage. Its spicy bite highlights the effervescence of the flowers while giving Precision & Grace depth and mystery. As Semionova says of her perfume, “It’s like the ballet itself: without the hidden strength, you can’t make it light.”

Ballet Dancers by Degas



  • Sherry: FM Iris Poudre? There is something cold and warm about this perfume, but all notes are dancing seamlessly at the same time. A grand Dame only suited for grand occasion like Swan Lake, iris being the leading dancer of course. April 20, 2020 at 9:01am Reply

    • Nora Sz.: Such a beautiful eerie scent. April 20, 2020 at 12:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds lovely too. April 23, 2020 at 4:20am Reply

  • Julie: I recall one called pavlova. Named after Anna pavlova. Lack bottle white and pink flowers? April 20, 2020 at 9:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, yes, you’re right. It’s by Payot, from 1977. April 23, 2020 at 4:21am Reply

      • Julie: Victoria, Just re-read your article and missed the book recommendations last time — how wonderful. I want to read them all and will try to save or email this feature. Meantime, I practiced and adored and still do — all ballet. I took many master classes in Boston — Merce Cunningham, and even waayyyyy back Edward Villela. I also loved Gelsey — her style will never be imitated. In the nutcracker I saw her many times. I loved pointe, and so much posture aligment and grace stayed with me. My old friends know it’s me by the way I move and walk — that is from 30 or more years of ballet through college. We have lots in common, flowers, scent, dance, writing — I write newsletters, photography and poetry and of course nature and the animals of this world. Thank you for all your grace. It comes through. Bless you, Love and Peace, Julie

        note – I finally sprung for Chantecaille “Le Wild” it is a gardenia fragrance but with the green leaves too. Their Frangipane scent is incredible and described by the family as “spiritual” — it grows here in Naples if you can find it. March 2, 2021 at 7:07pm Reply

  • Julie Basile: I miss
    Tatiana by Dvf
    And I still adore my birthday month may for Diorissimo.
    Original Hadrien by Annick goutal. All her fruity grassy ones

    I like oranges lemons blackberries lily of valley and sometimes iris if not too Powdery in perfume. frangipani freesia can be fabulous. Green leaves. No tuberose even though the plant is fascinating.

    Any recommendations? April 20, 2020 at 9:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Antonia Flowers perhaps? April 23, 2020 at 4:21am Reply

  • Matty1649: I though an Iris perfume for Swan Lake. I’ve got Prada and wear it a lot. April 20, 2020 at 10:06am Reply

    • Victoria: Iris seems like such a natural choice, doesn’t it? April 23, 2020 at 4:21am Reply

  • Tara C: Iris is an obvious choice, so I’ll go for something different, Mademoiselle Guérlain. Slightly floral, slightly powdery, very delicate yet with definite presence. April 20, 2020 at 11:06am Reply

    • Victoria: I was thinking of iris too! April 23, 2020 at 4:22am Reply

  • Rachel: Iris Prima was my wedding perfume! I love a good iris and it was a lovely fit for the day and ever since. When I think of dancers I usually think of their athleticism – an ethereal iris layered on something more like the basenotes in Dzing! would capture the physical effort underlying the dance. April 20, 2020 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great wedding perfume choice! 🙂 April 23, 2020 at 4:22am Reply

  • OperaFan: I should like to try Precision and Grace. I love the scent of Freesia and this seems an interesting note combination. I still like wearing Apres l’Ondee when attending a classical ballet performance.
    Polina Semionova became my favorite dancer after Julie Kent retired from ABT. It’s too bad she no longer dances with the company. April 20, 2020 at 4:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: She’s splendid. I was going to see her perform this winter, but then it fell through. April 23, 2020 at 4:23am Reply

  • Bregje: Love love love the topic!
    I have not smelled any of the scents you mention so i have some homework😉
    Powdery is the obvious choice for ballet although i might choose musk over iris, but also leather,wood,velvet and ambergris are scents i associate with dancing.
    Do not have an answer to your question ( yet) because swan lake has so many facets/acts.
    I would also love to match a perfume with firebird. I am going to think it over. April 20, 2020 at 5:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’d love to hear what you ended up picking for Firebird. April 23, 2020 at 4:23am Reply

      • Bregje: I will let you know when i find it😉. May 8, 2020 at 4:41pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I adore Iris Prima and the Rosine ballet series is on my want list. For Swan Lake I would pick Isabey’s Fleur Nocturne for the white swan and Lutens’ La Fille de Berlin for the Black Swan. Lutens’ LFDB would be perfect also for the Firebird in Stravinsky’s Firebird. April 20, 2020 at 8:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: I love these matches. April 23, 2020 at 4:24am Reply

    • Bregje: I was thinking of la fille too😊! May 8, 2020 at 4:43pm Reply

  • Sherine: Replica’s Lipstick On conjures images of ballerinas. April 20, 2020 at 11:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Another favorite perfume. April 23, 2020 at 4:24am Reply

  • Notturno7: My first thought about Ballet and perfume was Chanel Misia, the iris and violet.
    Victoria, I thought of you and this blog a few days ago. I finished reading the book about Virginia Hall, ‘A Woman of No Importance’.
    This incredible woman was an American spy living in France and helping French Resistance during the Second World War. Her face was on Wanted posters and The Butcher of Lyon, Klaus Barbie made it a priority to kill her…. A very inspiring and true story.
    Towards the end of the war, when she slept on plain wood planks or straw, kept moving and hiding on farms, the only luxury she allowed herself was an expensive French perfume! I kept wondering which one a woman like this would pick! Vol de Nuit? Mitsouko? Something from Caron? April 22, 2020 at 3:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, fascinating. I’m going to take a look at the book too.

      My first thought was Caron En Avion. It seems perfect. April 23, 2020 at 4:25am Reply

  • Notturno7: Hi Victoria, En Avion would have been perfect! She organized many airdrops of supplies with British intelligence services via radio signals and was there herself to decide which areas to use and to help mark the ground.
    She had to be very creative with her methods as there were different fractions of Resistance Movement fighting in France and it took a while for some men to accept that a woman can do this work in those times. A lot of ‘machismo’ going on and although she was better with this work, in many ways, it took a few years for Brits and Americans to see that she needed to be promoted instead of being put down in her work. Such an inspiring woman! I’m in awe!
    I’d so like to find out what she picked to wear in those days when a small misstep meant death to you and the whole cell you’re organizing and protecting. April 24, 2020 at 12:39am Reply

    • Victoria: What a story! Thank you so much for sharing. May 3, 2020 at 8:38am Reply

  • Sapphire: J’Adore Voile de Parfum is delicate and powdery and reminds me of all the tutus. April 24, 2020 at 1:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a lovely description. May 3, 2020 at 8:43am Reply

  • Klaas: On another Caron thought……Narcisse Noir? Vintage, luminous and dark at the same time, with incredible drama and character……

    There is this perfume by Ormaie called Toï Toï Toï, named after the wish for good luck before a performance. It’s supposed to smell like rosin, incense and wooden floors…..though nothing smells more like ballet then Elnette hairspray…these chignons must be neat!! April 24, 2020 at 3:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, Narcisse Noir does sound good in this context! May 3, 2020 at 8:45am Reply

  • Theresa: I like a perfume by Olympic Orchids called “Ballets Rouges” – it is very dramatic and intense, so it evokes the spirit of ballet (although I would never actually wear it to teh performance in deference to my seat neighbors!) it is wonderful dark rose scent with an intense wood base. April 26, 2020 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t yet tried it. May 3, 2020 at 8:54am Reply

  • Sowmya Dakshinamurti: Roja Dove’s Diaghilev! Now there’s a powerhouse scent worthy of that legendary name. Managed to snag a bottle (before it became so prohibitively expensive!) when the perfume was first released as part of the V & A Museum’s Les Ballet Russes exhibition. It’s rich, opulent, simply Way Too Much, and occasionally just right. It’s not a pristime tulle tutu – it’s a Baskt or Roerich extravaganza! April 26, 2020 at 3:27pm Reply

  • Silvermoon: Sorry for posting to this entry, given it’s been here some time, but I thought it most appropriate to make my comment here.

    So, this morning, I found a sample of Ballerina No. 3 (perfumes de Rosine) in my sample box. This is the “Black Swan” one. I had not tested it before, so decided to do so. It was surprisingly woody and peppery, and after 2-3 hours was mainly patchouli and sandalwood. I didn’t dislike it (actually it’s quite pleasant and soft), but it did not make me think of ballerinas.

    My ballerina themed day continued, when I came across an article about a YouTube appeal: Swans for Relief. It has a beautiful composite video of 32 ballerinas from 22 top companies around the world dancing the solo “the dying swan”. Amazingly graceful and beautiful to watch. Have you seen it, Victoria? May 10, 2020 at 7:16am Reply

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