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CUIR D’IRIS AND A PLEA TO PERFUME PRODIUCERS
Perfume evokes. It doesn’t recreate nature and it doesn’t tell stories. Successful perfumery creates richness and a complexity that allows for many possibilities, for varied experiences among wearers.
At the center of Parfumerie Generale’s Cuir d’Iris is an active imbalance, a contest. From start to finish there’s never a blend or compromise. The oil and the water never quite mix. I’m not speaking about the notes, iris and leather, but the forces that motivate this perfume. Together the potent tannic quality of the leather and the forceful, make-up feel of the iris give the scent a playful cruelty that simultaneously draws me in and keeps me at arms-length. Cuir d’Iris implies the savage civility of a kempt, bourgeoise western woman of the 1950s. Hair, make-up, perfume, attire and fur. Maintenance of appearance is just the stage dressing, a simple part of the toolkit of social ambition. For the woman that Cuir d’Iris pushes into my imagination, the fur is pivotal. It doesn’t suggest the necessities of a cold climate. It connotes a symbolic viciousness, the conquering vulgarity of wearing a prize. It’s the draping of status on the body. It’s a warning.
But forget my insipid fantasy. What does a well made perfume do for you?
I tend to love the bolder leathers that others might call harsh. And perpetually forgetting the logic of Knize Ten, one of my favorite fragrances, I imagine the ‘floral leathers’ won’t appeal to me, since the flower will diminish the boldness. Cuir d’Iris is another reminder of this blind spot. I don’t have a specific test to judge a perfume’s success. I’m willing to be convinced. If I had to find the common thread among the successful perfumes, though, it’s that they remain interesting and appealing over hours and years. Each wearing is an interesting experience from start to finish and the perfume keeps me coming back over the years. I might have a story in my head, as the above fantasy/image. I could be relishing a mood. I might simply be enjoying the pleasures of a well-crafted object. The perfume doesn’t supply a narrative, it’s simply rich and well constructed. It’s loaded. Connotation is the key, not story-telling. Cuir d’Iris has a complexity of construction and a range of dynamic qualities that suggests symbolic violence to me---the threat of a slap to the face. It’s enticing. It’s the lure of dangerous pleasure---that something beautiful that just might come back to bite you.
And so, my plea to the perfume producers. Give us perfumes with a richness of ideas. We’ll take care of the rest. I’m far more likely to respond to (note: and buy) a perfume that springs from artistic creativity. I want to get taken for a ride by the perfumer, not the test-marketing group. There is a place for formula and strategy, but they should be tools and not goals. Forget briefs that boil down to: ‘find the balancing point that offends the fewest and that a majority will tolerate.’ Give me the arresting, give me the subtle, but give me a perfume that instigates and inspires. I want a perfume that says more than, “Hey.” I want legibility and nuance. Maybe the preliminary threshold in producing a perfume should be a riff on Tania Sanchez’s rationale for wearing perfume: that it be significantly better than nothing at all.
My plea is for better perfume, not more elaborate marketing. I love Cuir d’Iris though I’ve never seen any advertizing for it. I’m very impressed with Calvin Klein’s CK One Shock for Men despite its perfunctory, factory-formula promotion strategy. Niche perfumery doesn’t solve the marketing dilemma of the mass markets. I see no distinction between the marketing of Beyoncé Pulse Summer Edition (“Life is a flirt. Love is a game.” 1) and Penhaligon’s Sartorial, with notes that, “create the perfect illusion of a tailor’s workroom. 2” In both cases: words and perfume, no intrinsic association.
I recognize that there are market considerations and that on one level, Parfumerie Generale likely wanted a floral leather in their line. Iris aromachemicals were readily available and iris perfumes were in demand. But Cuir d’Iris works not because it filled the right slot. It works because perfumer Pierre Guillaume was in the position to make a perfume composed of precision-made parts and dripping with ideas. Cuir d’Iris is a gorgeous perfume that embodies both the steely and the extravagant. It lunges at you at the outset and although it cozies up to your skin quickly, it growls at you when you don’t expect it.
To summarize, thank you Mr. Guillaume. As I hope you can tell, I’m having a blast with Cuir d’Iris. It captures exactly what I love about perfume.
30th May, 2011 (Last Edited: 27th April, 2012)