Saturday, June 29, 2013

Conjecture on a Myth: Iris Gris Part I

Conjecture on a Myth: Iris Gris Part I

Recently, iris scents have gotten my attention and I have devoted much time to research them. The bottom line is that given the high cost of quality orris butter, excellent iris perfumes are few and far between these days. I have sampled several of the presumably best on the market today. In the past weeks I’ve tried 28 La Pausa by Chanel, S.M.N. Iris, D.S.H. l’Eau d’Iris, Hermes Iris Uikyoe, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, Maitre Iris Bleu Gris (I was excited about the name, but not the fragrance), Iris 39, and even the Legendary Perfumes remake called “Iris Gris.”

Each fragrance was interesting in its own right, but none of them came close to my desire to feel close to the mythical Iris Gris. Iris Silver Mist came close in sheer power of the orris butter and orris CO2 extract, but it is overpowering, sharp, peppery, and overly rooty thought the drydown evolves into an excellent iris likely on par with Iris Gris. But fortunately enough for me, the Osmotheque in Versailles has sent me a blotter dipped in Jean Kerleo’s reconstructed Iris Gris. I can assume that if it was made by Jean Kerleo, it will exceed all expectations and be hauntingly beautiful. Mr. Kerleo described the scent in an interview, translated by me very poorly from French, that the fragrance contains great quantities of orris butter and oil [I don’t believe there is an oil, so given my limited French skills, I would guess he is talking about CO2 extract] of the highest quality, but not in the 35% concentration as some have claimed. Mythique Iris Gris, Le,|3#.Uc87Vm3-p3t.

Further, Mr. Kerleo goes on to state that he received the formula from Vincent Roubert’s son. It is a fruity, floral, and woody fragrance where iris is the star. Id. He further remarks that Iris Gris contains a bit of violet to compliment the orris root. Id. In yet another French source, Iris Gris is described as a light powdery peach that is delicately tinted with citric acidity. Iris Gris, Ambre Gris (March 8, 2010), Then, the iris root comes center stage, cold and icy, but never doughy with a minimum of carrot root and earthiness. The orris is powdery and chalky in the fashion of a vintage Guerlain with a hint of metallic sheen. The overall composition is one mostly reliant on the interplay between peach, orris, and a light violet note. Id.

The peach note, as I suspected, is the peach undecalactone known as aldehyde C-14 (though it is not actually an aldehyde), which I smelled upon my visit to Kiler Perfumes earlier this week and confirmed by other sources. Denyse Beaulieu, Iris Gris de Jacques Fath le Myth, Grain de Musc (Jul. 11, 2008), The article further explains how a famed perfume historian stated that vintage Iris Gris should be in excellent shape because it had not citrus top notes or lavender, which usually go bad with age and a poster on the blog claiming to have smelled the remake and attended lectures given by Mr. Kerleo in the early 1990s, claims it contains some natural gardenia, which is possible as part of the floral heart. Id.

This is a lot of information from sources in languages of than English and hard to draw any conclusions without first smelling the scent. I am usually fairly good at discerning notes and materials in a perfume, so after I sit with the Iris Gris for a few days, I should have a pretty good idea as to its composition. Anyway, here are my thoughts based on the reading I’ve done in regard to note composition:

Iris: obviously we need large quantities of iris, but as Mr. Kerleo implicitly warned we should not substitute quantity for quality. It should be a blend of both orris butter and orris CO2 extract for balance and tenacity. It may also have a little galbanum to provide a chypre punch.

Violet: while violet and orris are commonly mistaken, many authors and commentators seem bent on the fact that there must be some violet here and there may be some discreetly tucked into the orris for complimentary purposes.

Peach: the C-14 aldehyde that was so popular in Mitsouko and Chanel no. 5 would make sense in Iris Gris.

Floral Bouquet: there is a floral bouquet that never overshadows the iris. I would guess jasmine, rose, gardenia, and possibly heliotrope as common floral bases from the time period.

Base: no one has said much in regard to the base. I would guess that it would be light and powdery, but at the same time musky and a little soapy. Mr. Kerleo said it contained wood of some sort. It may contain natural Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, and possibly a light animalic such as civet or ambergris. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Vintage Muguet: Crown Sandringham

Today I am examining a muguet fragrance from different time period: Crown Perfumery Sandringham. Muguet, more commonly known as Lily of the Valley, is a difficult note in perfumery because it often goes too sour, too sweet, too floral, too cloying—yet in Sandringham, it is just right.

Sandringham was originally designed by Crown Perfumery in 1873 in the height of the Victorian Era where powdery, sweet, musty, animalic florals were popular for men (see Penhaligon’s reference Hammam Bouquet—vintage, of course) were all the rage. The world knows nothing of its original form save a few dusty descriptions in old books and witness testimony of persons claiming to have smelled it recollecting decades later. However, the Sandringham of which I speak was released at some point in the early to mid-1980s (the Victorian 1980s as some call them because there was a rebirth in interest in Victorian style scents in the trendier shopping arcades of London) when Crown Perfumery started anew after more than half a century of decay (Tom Clark, Greetings from the Victorian 1980s, State of the Carnation (Aug. 31, 2011),

I know that many men, in this modern era, will look upon muguet “lily” with disdain, but if you stop there, you would be denying yourself an excellent opportunity at a glimpse into the past. This fragrance, while very heavy on muguet, sits effortlessly atop a peppery, herbal chypre that keeps it just masculine enough to wear and just timeless enough to look back to a time when fragrance was a much more unisex affair.

Sandringham is the Edwardian/Victorian British masculine floral personified. It sits poignantly among other greats such as Dukes of Pall Mall Cotswold, Dunhill for Men, Floris no. 89, and even Hammam Bouquet. Sandringham features a realistic--likely natural--muguet note (lily) which is tempered by spices, woods, and musks to keep it safely masculine. Sandringham is an Edwardian dandy's scent (blast that it doesn't have an animalic element though) built around quality ingredients and traditional craft.

Sadly, Sandringham is one of the most difficult Crown fragrances to find and is gone forever as it was one of the first in the line discontinued by Clive Christian likely because of the cost of the muguet. Anglia’s new Sissinghurst is a poor substitute for the old gentleman’s perfume, but will do if you absolutely must. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Visit to PK Perfumes

Today, I visited Paul Kiler, founder of PK Perfumes at his quaint, but exhaustive studio nestled in the brush of southwestern Riverside County. One never imagines that such a curiosity would exist inside an average residential home. Upon first entering, I noticed shelves covered with long lost vintage perfumes and expensive, luxurious fragrance components.

We first decided to smell samples Mr. Kiler had personally chosen as well the samples I had brought. I provided samples of the Dukes of Pall Mall Belgravia, Iris Silver Mist, vintage Fougere Royale, Blue Carnation, Olivier EdT (vintage Creed), and Johann Marie Farina Eau de Cologne. We then proceeded to smell vintage Balmain Vent Vert, Guerlain Djedi (1924 vintage), Coty Bois de Muguet, Coty Chypre, vintage Caron pour un Homme, Mitsouko (1920s), and Creed Vintage Tabarome among other things. I noticed vintage Caron Homme was greatly superior to the current and in line with the stolid Caldey Island Lavender. These vintage perfumes were wonderful and a far cry from their current versions if they still exist.

Next, we moved on to my favorite part, smelling of ingredients. Mr. Kiler possesses a grand assemblage of the highest quality natural perfume ingredients available. We smelled orris butter, natural civet, tobacco absolute, hay absolute, Bulgarian Rose Otto, tonka bean, Spanish jasmine, and 90 year old sandalwood. All of these ingredients were stunningly beautiful and represent the best of natural perfumery.

Mr. Kiler’s fragrances, though largely unknown, are of excellent quality and cover a wide breadth of subject matter and are an exceedingly good value.

Visit PK Perfumes at

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rigaud Eau de Kananga c. World War II Era

Review: Rigaud Eau de Kananga c. World War II Era

Most people will probably not care one way or another for Eau de Kananga, but I am very excited about it. Parfums Rigaud opened its doors in the 1870s under the last years of rule by Napoleon III and Prussian occupation. Rigaud was a great house that made many great Belle Epoch styled French perfumes, but stopped making perfumes altogether in 1951 when the company transitioned exclusively into producing scented candles—how exciting. So, any bottle of Rigaud perfume must have been made before that.

Some minis exist, but the rare 8 oz bottle comes in a black opaque glass bottle with gold trim and screw top. Eau de Kananga is a perfect soapy barbershop fragrance. The opening is a rich citrus with lavender, verbena, and lemon rind. The next stage is the beautiful soapy aspect composed of clove, carnation, ylang, jasmine, neroli, orris, and geranium chased by a simple musk that extends it a few moments longer. This soap is French soap from the 1940s—rich and earthy, but squeaky clean.

Eau de Kananga feature Kananga, the Japanese Ylang Ylang, but it is never sweet or indolic as are so many ylangs; the ylang merely adds dimension and a slighty powdery sweetness that works well with the orris and jasmine. Kananga harks back to the last true era of the French gentleman when one was supposed to smell soapy clean and that is certainly what Kananga does. 

Roger & Gallet Blue Carnation c. 1950s

Review: Roger & Gallet Blue Carnation c. 1950s

After several months of research and sampling, I came to the conclusion that Blue Carnation by Roger & Gallet was the best there ever was. It came down to two finalists, the second be the much vaunted Floris Malmaison. Unfortunately, most carnation fragrances on the market today do the flower little justice: they represent it as fiery, peppery, and over the top clove-laden or as a syrupy and sweet floral; neither of which could be any farther from the truth.

There are some small independent perfumers who still use carnation absolute, but it is very expensive and the better the quality, the more expensive it gets. Most have a tendency to use it in symbolic quantities in the same manner as the mainstream. Even the cheap, readily available carnation substitute, iso-eugenol, is heavily regulated by IFRA and it is difficult to use enough to achieve the desired effect.

Now, onto the scent itself: Blue Carnation was released as a feminine fragrance in 1927 and discontinued around 1973 for a variety of reasons. I believe it was phased out because of the unjustifiably high price of the raw materials and general “unfashionableness” of the genre in the first decade of contemporary perfumery. Others claim Roger & Gallet intentionally took it off the market so that it could be worn exclusively by the Queen of England. I’ve never seen any verification of this claim in writing or from Roger & Gallet themselves. I think R & G was transitioning themselves from a glorious house of yore that perfumed the aristocracy of the XIXth Century to the budget brand (albeit one of the best) they are to today (thank heavens they’ve preserved, at least in part, the flagship Extra Vieille).

Blue Carnation is the carnation to end all carnation. This is the essence of the flower itself. Carnation plays the leading role in the opening and drydown. Nowhere else, save partially in Malmaison, have I ever smelled such a fragrance. The carnation absolute, of the highest quality, sits masterfully over a bed of cinnamon, tonka bean, clove, musk, oakmoss, and bit of vanilla. BC is mildly spicy unlike the spice bomb Caron Poivre or is it over the top floral. It is just right, decent, and above all else, luxurious, not luxurious as in a jet-set DUI-accumulating starlet of today, but luxurious in the sense of old moneyed aristocrats who are not in need of attention. The overall feel is velvety and plush with a dash spice inside the very carnation flower itself.

My bottle is the ribbed rectangular splash from the late 1950s or early 1960s. The juice is a grassy green, which I surmise is the proper color. I’ve smelled similar bottles with dark yellow juice and while still superb, the carnation is not would it should be. BC was available in EdT, EdC, and Parfum concentrations. This review is for the Eau de Toilette. At the time of this writing, the EdT is available for sample purchase on certain decanting websites we all know well.