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31 Days of Iris: Day One and Iris 39

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My spring rotation is not made up exclusively of iris perfumes, but between its large selection of iris options, and all the other irises I have in FB and samples, I think I can manage an iris a day. So I will use this space to post some sort impressions or thoughts, as best I can, from day to day.

Today's choice is Le Labo Iris 39. It is a green iris, with a very attractive cold musk providing a base coat. Everything smells like "iris," the green iris queens like Chanel No. 19, and maybe YSL Y, but not quite so brutal I suppose the musk acts as a softening agent, and also adds another layer of something that gives an iris "impression" without requiring the ,actual, expensive, complicated, waxy, paradoxcially warm real orris butter stuff, with its almost amber-inflected qualities.
Instead, Iris 39 pays stylized tribute to delicate vintage style cold green spring compositions that were themselves inspired by iris, from aforementioned Y and No.19 to 21st century creations including Papillon's Dryad and Maxque Romanza.

Iris 39 is about 20 percent less frigid than those, perhaps because it doesn't utilize narcissus absolute with the same aggressive abandon as these other uncompromising interpretations of classic green scents. Much as I like them, I prefer vintage Y to get my icy green kicks. Compared with these, Iris 39 has a distinctive prettiness, as it is smoother, softer on the edges, less "realistically" floral, and thus, perhaps, has less (I loathe to use this wold) "grandma" associations. Like many of its Le Labo sisterwives, it doesn't really smell like its namesake material, but rather offers tribute to green and/or iris perfumes, past and present, including contemporary classics like Prada's Infusions--both the elegant, dry original and its opulent Absolue flanker--as well as Elizabeth Arden's brilliant (and Francis Kurkdjian-composed) Green Tea and Green Tea Intense. Iris 39 wraos all these together into a marvelous, crisp but silky whole, less aggro than many of its green family members but still true to the genre's uncompromising fierceness.

If I had to choose some particular plants that Iris 39 reminds me of, I would lean more toward dark green house plants--ferns, ivy, bu then also the dark green stalks of irises and other plants that grow from bulbs. Iris 39 has all the freshness one would expect from a perfume that identifies as green, but it isn't so much a blast of outdoors air, as it is a botanist's catalog or greenhouse. Le Labo doesn't (to my knowledge) provide a list of the ingredients that it uses in its numerically-titled compositions, and even if they did, I wouldn't really know how to decipher the recipe. I don't even know if there are any real iris materials in here.

Iris 39 has been a long-coveted item I've wanted for my collection since I first read about it in the 06 Sanchez/Turin edition of the Guide. That book set me on a path that I suspect will involve a lifetime of chasing iris in whatever forms I can find it. I sampled it enough times to know I would love and treasure it, but have also learned that I have many more iris loves that use the raw material in more raw, more decadent, more expressive ways that it is here. It has helped me further understand Le Labo's famously oddball compositional style, especially its highly stylized interpretations of its titular ingredients. Sanchez/Turin claim that Le Labo's perfumes never smell like their namesake materials, but I think that's not exactly the case; rather, I think the house uses their purportedly highest-concentration ingredients as a stylistic and compositional starting point, a more interesting approach than creating perfumes that allegedly smell exactly like their titular ingreditnt. How many drawn-from-life Orange Blossoms do we really need? And where is the fun in that? Give me LL's wacky, salty, ozonic, watermelon-flecked Neroli anytime--a more effective expression of the time of year when I (and presumably others) want to wear neroli anyway.

Iris 39 feels polished, professional, well-groomed--an acknowledgement that iris perfumes historically have been worn for office wear (Chanel 19's perception as the ultimate Boardroom Bitch speaks to this). I don't have enough room and time to explore why the limpid cool of iris fits that particular environment, other than to comment that its smooth unobtrusive presence has a discreet quality that fits such places better than any other scent, aside perhaps from some iterations of blackcurrant and citrus. Iris's chilly quality also broadcasts the opposite o sexy come-hither, not that those vibes don't happen in professional work environments, but in those places, image is everything.

So why would a person who doesn't work a day job in a law firm or accounting agency want to wear something like Iris 39? Perhaps because it's spring, pale little leaves are springing up everywhere, and even my herb plants seem to be emerging from the dry, leaf-covered, and until recently frozen flower beds. The mint, which I thought I had lost, seems to be emerging in cute little double-leaved sprouts, poking from among the dead and crisp leaves, the surest sign that life springs eternal regardless of how recently, or how brutally, winter threatens its emergence. Iris 39's cool assurance is a lovely way to feel protected from, and hopeful about, our collective emergence from yet another winter.



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