Thursday, January 26, 2012

Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist: fragrance review

Iris Silver Mist clearly isn't for everyone. Balls to the wall iris, carrot dirt rootiness, bread sourdough and raw potato starch are attached to every drop of this crepuscular, bellowing Lutensian opus, turning urban life into a gothic tale where the heroine is carried away dead in a grand duc. Iris Silver Mist is unsettingly unusual as if you looked into the abyss once and now the abyss is looking at you. How can you not love it?

In a rare dicrepancy with the tenure to follow of Chris Sheldrake at the helm of perfume development at the Salons du Palais Royal Serge Lutens perfumes, perfumer Maurice Roucel was instructed to compose an iris fragrance to eclipse all others.
The year was 1994 and Iris Silver Mist came out on the skies like Phaethon to cast a prolonged, melancholic shadow over mortals. But the perfume is in discrepancy with the Lutensian style up to a point as well; eschewing the opulent orientalia of dried fruits, resins and creamy notes, it goes for a wonderfully weird effect that is loud even though it appears to be the silent type; a sort of Schopenhauer being recited off the rooftops, for modern Emos romanticizing depression.
Years later Lutens softened the pitch and caressed the iris into a greener, silky hush in his enigmatically sensuous Bas de Soie fragrance.

The power of the fragrance is deceptive: you'd think that iris is a shy, pale note that rings metallic and sits meekly at its corner, but no. Orris absolute (the product from the iris rhizome) can run the gamut from floral to woody to gourmand to powdery smelling.
Iris Silver Mist beats with a thunder drum, thick as fog you'd need to cut through with a knife; powdery and cooly rooty, eating away every other scent it co-habitates with, be it skin, potion or foe.

Roucel used not only orris rhizome but also Irival (or orris floraline), a nitrile-containing fragrance compound (a perfumer's base, produced by International Flavors & Fragrances) with a stentorian voice heard over the buzz of common routine; coupled with the scimitar of galbanum, its bitter green resinous facet boosting the feel of the first hour on the skin, and a tiny hint of carnation, iris becomes truly sinister with a yeasty quality about it. The familiar cedar base of Lutens is given an extra austere profile in Iris Silver Mist, with the subdued, cooling woody backdrop of vetiver and the prolonged powderiness of musk, almost a sigh through blueish lips.

Be aware that the Irival base is moderately skin sensitising; Iris Silver Mist, alongside the equally lovely Iris Gris by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, have been the only two perfumes to ever give me a topical itch and redness. Use on clothes preferably.

Iris Silver Mist is a Paris exclusive, circulating in the uniform bell-shaped bottles of the exclusive line (75ml).
The photo depicts the limited edition bell jar (flacon de table) of Iris Silver Mist, showing the beating heart and veins of iris...

"Watching Alice rise year after year
Up in her palace, she's captive there"

photo Ron Reeder "Death and the Maiden V4" via pcnw.org


  1. Your description is, as usual, spot on. Do you have opinions on Luca Turin's update in his new book? He claims that ISM has been toned down and is now just a very good iris. I bought it in december (after the book came out), and found it suitably strong, but I have not smelled vintage.

    As for Bas de soie, I must be hypersensitive to some note, because I find its core swampy, metallic, and revolting - a distant, much lesser cousin of Sec Mag.


  2. Funny - I'm not much of an iris fan at all (I prefer it as a backup singer), but I rather enjoyed ISM when I tried it a few years ago. It seemed... oh, I know I'm going to catch it for this... cheerful. Cool and satiny and a bit earthy, but pleasant and unpretentious as jumping rope with the little girl who lives down the street from you.

  3. K.G.03:45

    Wonderful review/description! ISM is one of my favorites next to vintage Chanel No. 19 and Calandre.

  4. M,

    thanks a lot, glad we agree. I haven't had a new bottle bought and therefore cannot pronounce judgment on 1ml samples alone: the new one smells close to the old one, to me, I don't detect differences, but in a full bottle -as he gets- the differences can be more pronounced; sometimes you need to compare by volume, so to speak.

    Ah, thankfully I don't get the chlorine of SM in Bas de Soie! Thanks heavens!! Imagine it must be atrocious if one does, though. I hear men tolerate better SM than women, and some actually like it, though I have been too chicken to test on my man for fear he might like and wear it afterwards! (@#&%*@ the horrors!!)

  5. M,

    how very interesting, this is iris to the max! You must have some liking for it, deep down.

    Love your picture of it ~obviously, mine is somber, but I love ISM; there's nothing out there like it.

    I find that Apres L'Ondee is rather cheerful thanks to that warm heliotrope but I always hear it refered to as "sad" and "melancholy" and "cool". The new version is certainly more "cheerful" than the old, at any rate.

  6. KG,

    thanks for your kind words. It's a stellar creation and your other favourites are great as well! (Love No.19 and Calandre, so cooling, so aloof!)


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