--Green by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), from Romances sans paroles (1874)
At this point many avid readers of Perfume Shrine—and my humble blog Les Tuileries—might just know the idiosyncrasy of the paragraph I just composed. By courtesy I should have cited Ellena’s muse, Water Iris and Grasshopper by Hokusai, and based on all official press release to date I doubt my mental short-circuit would be even considered logical by merit—but strangely enough my private recitation of the poem in hindsight is nonetheless a gentle launch pad in order to dive into the diaphanous story. Still, I should probably backtrack myself a bit and talk about how I got there, for the anecdote is probably one of the most bizarre episodes I’ve ever encountered: one could say that I was stranded in Hermès!
To be frank I was prepared to be surprised by the opening of Iris Ukiyoé, but nothing could prepare me for the neo-classical eau de cologne effect of the fragrance opening, complete with a tart green tangerine, petitgrain, neroli—except a mildly bitter vegetal/floral axis kept the whole story on track. And lo and behold the abstract floral effect started to take shape, aided no doubt by a slight aquatic, lily-like effect that Ellena visited in Vanille Galante (2008). Now I should note that the sillage, given its combination of lily and the refreshing bitter elements, reminds me of the original Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey (1990), but done so in a much more delicate, precise manner, meant as an evocation of morning dew instead of a mini zen waterfall.
I would be very hard-pressed to report that orris, the traditionally powdery extraction of Iris pallida, is actively present. And my experience with Hermessence has taught me not to take any launch after Osmanthe Yunnan (2005) at face value: and since Paprika Brasil (2006) was a manifestation of spice via orris, Vanille Galante a study of vanilla from lily I presumed that this iris would come out of cocoa, as Ellena previously stated. The hypothesis, of course, is null. What we have here is an abstract blossom of Iris germanica, modern hybrids to be exact.
So in this sense of hologramism that I consider Iris Ukiyoé true to the original transient nature of its Japense namesake artistic genre: so fragile that it never was, because it was precisely never there in the first place. Behind each ukiyo-e print block is a Buddhist caveat: it’s a painting of the floating world, and with the next turn of the world the picture would be all that remains. Iris Ukiyoé isn’t a realistic decoding of an iris blossom fragrance, nor has that been the point all along: it’s a composition of bubbles threaded together with precision, but done with so much care and quiet observance that one forgets the mosaic tiles, instead marvelling at the hologram.
In fact it’s that exact care coming from Ellena that, at least to me, differentiates Iris Ukiyoé from mass launches: not only there’s cohesion in fragrance development, it feels as if the olfactory structure has been thoroughly hollowed out and knocked down before the whole was put together. To me this is very much a continuation of Ellena’s Hermès survey to the aquatic world ever since Un jardin après la mousson (2008), with a detour at Vanille Galante. But the story is there if one looks for it. The challenge to Ellena, of course, was to create an aquatic without using the traditional aquatic elements—Calone, musks... The master perfumer is averse to both, so a hologram on top of an iris blossom hologram. Still, underneath all that aquatic/ citrus / floral verdency lie a gentle frankness, a tenderness that reminds me of the Verlaine poem above. It’s the syntax after all, perhaps.
But that’s not the end of the story: Irina wrapped up her consultation around this time and apologized again for her delay. (She’s truly one of the best I’ve known.) And without hesitation she gave me samples of Iris Ukiyoé, and since the classic scarf box was out of stock a new rectangular Hermès orange box, enclosed with an additional box in the motif of Mosaique au 24 was given instead. All this was done with more apologies for the delay and the gentle explanation from Wendy that security measures would have to be performed for maintenance items. (I was promptly asked for my ID and my autograph on the official maintenance form.) Without a doubt I replied that, having been working at a major international financial institution for almost a year, while I can appreciate the thoughts behind the idea (God forbid if someone else walks away with my Hermès leather boots—and I couldn’t begin to imagine the horror any sales associate would go through if a crocodile Birkin is returned to the wrong person!) I was never told to bring my maintenance form—and the fact that I was ID-ed from the start from Irina as the right client added a whole new level of mystery to me. But at the end of the day I got everything I wanted: well, almost—I was disappointed that I couldn’t get any new silk tie and cashmere scarf because I already have had at least one of everything (that I like) from this season already. Well, better off since my drawers are already bursting with orange bags & boxes.