I am hopelessly sentimental at the best of times and my interest in perfume provides me with endless opportunities to bath in this gooey sentiment. For me, travel is also a passion and often when I smell a fragrance purchased abroad, it has the power to take me back to the places I visited. Experience has taught me that this type of olfactory connection can be unpredictable. I intended Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino to be my “Moroccan holiday scent” but for whatever reason, images of that trip do not flash before my eyes when I smell this opulent Eau de Cologne-inspired scent. Unintentionally I purchased a bottle of Chanel’s Sycomore during my first trip to New York, 6 years ago. To this day, the smell of Sycomore takes my mind back to that summer holiday. Like the days before digital photography when you never knew what your holiday snaps had captured until the roll of film came back from the developer, it’s after the arrival home when it dawns on me which of the fragrances I was travelling with has made a permanent impression. Last year I was again in New York and interestingly, despite buying numerous bottles of perfume, it was a small sample vial that I received from Aedes de Venustas in Greenwich Village, which became my olfactory soundtrack (or scenttrack) for this holiday. After I returned home, the smell of what remained in that vial had the power to take me back to Brooklyn and I could picture myself in the old brownstone apartment where I had stayed. The fragrance in this vial was Iris Nazarena, and my visit coincidentally overlapped with the fragrance’s New York launch. Iris Nazarena was the second perfume created by the Greenwich Village perfumery. I had arranged to meet with the brand’s co-owner, Robert Gerstner as part of my series of New York Scent Adventures. He talked with me about the first perfume he created with Aedes de Venustas co-owner, Karl Bradl and renowned French perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour. For this second fragrance, the pair chose to work with German-born perfumer, Ralf Schwieger. The trio’s muse was the rare Iris bismarckiana, also known as Iris Nazarena as it can be found in the mountains east of Nazareth. Iris root extract is one of perfumery’s most prized raw materials. Robert told me how impressed he was with the quality of iris root extract available from Schwieger’s employer, Mane in Grasse. Three-year-old iris rhizomes were harvested then dried for three years before being considered mature enough to have their scent extracted. This lengthy process attributes to the cost of the extract, which can run as high as €8000 per kilo. Paired with incense notes, Iris Nazarena is strikingly haunting. Whether or not it has anything to do with the trio’s German heritage, Iris Nazarena is not a nostalgic iris as many French perfumes are; its dry, stark appeal is classic German design chic. And thankfully for me, once my sample vial was depleted, I was able to find the Aedes de Vensutas collection at Peony Haute Parfumerie in Melbourne, just an hour flight from Sydney instead of the standard 21-hour flight to New York.
My attraction to Iris Nazarena was initially influenced by the unique composition of notes. The soft and subtle odour of iris root is often illusive. Although its smell is deep and complex, ranging from fruity violet-like heart notes to base notes of wood, powder and depending on the root’s source and method of extraction, it sometimes can have the slightest hint of salt; iris is rarely presented as the dominant note of a perfume – it is too much of a wallflower. For Iris Nazarena, Ralf Schwieger works around the root’s introverted character with touches of anise and cooling juniper berry. The berry’s fruitiness speaks to iris and it also has a camphorous facet, which connects nicely with the bitter leather accord that emerges later. Iris Nazarena’s sharp top notes are smoothed down with ambrette seed as clove and incense bring texture and a modern spiciness. Midway through the perfume, the fading berry notes morph into a trail of luxurious iris and leather notes are given transparency with an overdose of modern molecules, presumably Iso E Super and woody specialities that shift between iris and wood, and subtle hues of sandalwood and cedar. Iris Nazarena has an almost unsettling evolution as it begins with the scent of pale, delicate rhizomes then becomes the scent of cold, stark leather. It’s a remarkable transformation, which is done in clever style.
Olivier Polge famously paired iris with leather for Christian Dior but Iris Nazarena is cut from a different cloth. The absence of vanilla or any oriental notes makes Ralf Schwieger’s creation the non-cuddly type of iris-leather, very different from the boy-faced ad campaign of 2005’s Dior Homme. Iris Nazarena exudes a kind of confident indifference, like those domestic cats that coexist with humans but require no human affection to feel content. Some men are the same and it’s a quality some find attractive and others do not, just as some humans prefer the company of felines and others the company of canines. I imagine Iris Nazarena being worn by such a man who is fiercely independent and a stealthful hunter in life.
Alternatives: Chanel 28 La Pausa, Miller Harris Terre d’Iris, Heeley Iris de Nuit, By Kilian Prelude to Love, L’Artisan Parfumeur Iris Pallida
Perfumer: Ralf Schwieger
Release Date: 2013
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woods