Papillon Artisan Perfumes Angélique. Perfumer Liz Moores, 2013
Naomi Goodsir Iris Cendré. Perfume Julien Rasquinet, 2015
Masque Milano l’Attesa. Perfumer Luca Maffei, 2016
Iris was a key part of the grand ‘orchestral’ perfumes that are now considered dated if not antiquated. Old-school Guerlains like Mitsouko and l’Heure Bleue nested orris root and iris aromachemicals in complex structures. Modern iris perfumes perfumes highlight the note with less pagentry.
Papillon Artisan Perfumes Angélique, Iris Cendré by Naomi Goodsir and Masque Milano’s new l’Attesa are sophisticated perfumes with strong creative stances. This trio lands at an interesting juncture in perfumery. In the early 2000s new botanicals and aromachemicals made the previously rare iris plentiful. Iris root’s capacity to link to notes like leather, pink pepper, violet, berries and chocolate fit a number of trends of the time: the gourmand iris, the floral-leather, the lipstick perfume. Iris was instrumental in blurring the line between niche and the mainstream and became a signifier of luxury.
Liz Moores’s chameleon Angélique starts with a boozy, acetone topnote. It’s curvaceous but sharp. A ripe peachy note gives the floral topnotes a lilting tone, but Angélique isn’t slack in the least. The fruit fades bit by bit, starting with its sweetness, and the perfume reveals its central woody-floral structure. Angelique becomes more composed, less tipsy than it was in the bubbly topnotes. The lush topnotes belie a melancholic, withdrawn quality to the heart and drydown that gives the perfume a bemused charm. Moores manipulates iris’s inherent wistfulness and makes a perfume that suits a mood of introspection and meditation. Angélique’s throw-back style makes it a bit nostalgic, but the tone is deliberate and there is nothing inadvertent in the composition.
Iris Cendré was a highly anticipated release from an up-and-coming niche house. The Naomi Goodsir brand put itself on the map with Rasquinet’s smoky Bois d’Ascèse. Iris Cendré is the first floral from the line, though traces of Bois d’Ascèse’s smoke can be seen, justifying the perfume’s name, cendre, or ash. The topnotes of Iris Cendré are voluptuous, citric, juicy. The novel pairing of a fatty orris note and citrus create a chewy, honeyed waxiness that give the topnotes a strong, editorial perspective. The waxy opacity highlights the olfactory layering of the composition and gives the perfume a smoldering tone.
Iris notes are famously particular and fragile. Building a perfume around them is technically complicated and finding a new point of view is a creative challenge. Iris Cendré’s approach is to ground the fatty, round orris in a rich orangy citrus accord (tangerine? mandarin?). This juxtaposition shows off the discord/accord implicit in orris root that makes it so compelling. It is powdery but oily, pervasive yet ethereal. The citrus and the iris seem to have the same half-life and both exit the scene in the heartnotes, leaving a lightly smoked, tobacco-tinged woody base. The transition from citric iris to the base isn’t abrupt, but it is thorough. Iris Cendé’s heartnotes gives a disconcerting sensation of the perfume escaping you. What’s left isn’t unattractive, but it’s not what the topnotes promise. It’s an open question whether this transition was the goal or simply the least disagreeable way to manage the half-life of the materials.
Masque Milano have formed their line thoughtfully. Montechristo suited a fad for dark smoky, leathery perfumes when the line (re)launched in 2013, but Romanza’s earthy narcissus showed an admirable disregard for trend. Like Romanza, l’Attesa bucks trend, but remains stylish.
l’Attesa takes the long view of iris, and perfumer Luca Maffei seems to understand his materials intimately. The perfume is exquisitely fine-tuned and detailed. Under the hood, I imagine l’Attesa has as complex calibration, but the experience of wearing it is effortless. It’s not unengaging–not by a long shot. On the contrary, it seems tailored and unadorned in a way that makes it gripping. From the very first sniff, the iris springs forward and surrounds you. The topnotes bear a strong resemblance to Chanel 19‘s papery dryness, but lack the acetone edge that makes 19 so chilly. It’s a smart trick to echo 19’s shape, but alter the tone. l’Attesa diverges smoothly from 19, indicating that any resemblance was more mindful than derivative. Where 19’s stiff iris topnotes eventually fold into a chalky galbanum rose, l’Attesa’s iris remains front and center. It is bolstered by a musky tartness and maintains its shape while leaving plenty of room for development over the course of the day.
Masque Milano’s theatrical and operatic inspiration for their perfumes suits l’Attesa. Like the reinterpretation of a traditional opera, it is grounded in established forms but innovative. The perfume has a stability that hints at tried-and-true methods of building accords, but the perfume’s stylishness marks it as current. The trick seems to be to maintain iris’s fundamental, raw qualities rather than dissect them. Instead of hiding the flat, doughy side of iris, a tart, yogurty note helps to maintain it. The fatty, round quality of the accord is supported by floral notes with a similar register (ylang?) and the dusty roots are buoyed with a touch of powder. I suspect that keeping the integrity of the orris is what gives l’Attesa exceptional endurance and development. The perfume’s beauty aligns it with the lineage of graceful iris perfume, but its inspiration alnd coherence makes it the new reference iris.
The iris might have gone through a fallow period in perfumery’s ramp-up to luxury, but this trio shows the state of the art to be strong.