Saturday, 17 August 2013

The 'Careful Whispers' series: No 1 - Penhaligon's Iris Prima review

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Noboyuki Kayahara
Undina of Undina's Looking Glass recently reported on the upcoming release of a new Puredistance scent, Black, which the company describes as a 'mysteriously charming perfume that is close to the wearer and releases sensual and elegant layers in a whispering way'. Well, as regular readers of Bonkers know, I love perfumes that are subtle, nuanced and quiet. Accordingly I left a comment after Undina's post, exclaiming: 'I clocked the elegant, mysterious and whispering (yay!)', triggering in turn this joky riposte from Undina:

'You and your “whispering” hang-up! :) Are you sure you even need a perfume? No perfume would stay really close to skin, you know. '

This banter with Undina about my predilection for scents that are well-crafted but muted - aka 'careful whispers' (with apologies to George Michael) - has only gone and prompted me to start a mini-series on this fragrance style. ;-) I thought I'd kick off with the newest addition to the Penhaligon's range, Iris Prima, which is due to be released on September 9th.  In collaboration with leading members of the English National Ballet, perfumer Alberto Morillas set out to capture the spirit and grace of the dance in a perfume.

Notes: bergamot, pink pepper, iris, jasmine (hedione), leather, sandalwood, vetiver, amber, vanilla and benzoin

I hadn't actually clocked Iris Prima was by Morillas until I sat down to write this review.  In a past post on Estee Lauder Intuition I dubbed him the master of the 'fuzzy' scent, as in 'blurry and indistinc' (think Armani She White, Armani Sensi, Kenzo Flower Oriental and Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline), and Iris Prima is no exception. Occasionally, as with Intuition, Morillas's creations can be downright fuzzy in a textural way, and the leather note in Iris Prima gives it a bit of that suede undercurrent that characterises Bottega Veneta, for example (though Iris Prima is less sweet and not at all fruity like BV).

Source: Facebook

I get a hint of iris from the outset - and a hint is really quite enough for me - less than in Chanel La Pausa, say, with which it very much shares its indistinct DNA.  And much less so than in the more powdery and spiky iris of Bas de Soie, which in fairness is blended with some prickly hyacinth.

Of the three, Iris Prima is my clear favourite, though La Pausa smells fractionally more niche, possibly because the iris is more prominent, in an old school, melancholic Apres L'Ondee kind of a way.  In my book iris does equate with class to a degree (with a few notable exceptions such as Chanel Chance!), so the more muted the note the more a scent edges towards mainstream territory.  But then I like many high end designer scents and don't get on with a ton of niche stuff, so that in itself is not a black mark in my book.  

And Iris Prima does smell niche - this despite the stated inclusion of hedione, which might have put me off if I had known that nugget on first testing it - for I didn't get on with that particular aromachemical in Marc Jacobs Blush, where it is present in spades. Together with vetiver and amber, the hedione helps to give Iris Prima a warm, luminous, translucent quality.  This is overlaid by just a light dusting of powdery iris, conferring a tender, wistful facet that also keeps Iris Prima from feeling too modern.


My only quibble with Iris Prima, which perfectly lives up to the exquisite balletic imagery which has characterised the launch campaign, is that it doesn't last very long - and coming from me that is saying something!  After two hours it has started to fade, and after four I am struggling to detect it on my skin.  But if you don't mind regularly refreshing it, in terms of how Iris Prima smells I am a big fan.  This is dainty and easy to wear, an elfin slip of a scent.  A whisper that is just a tad too quiet indeed, which brings me to my audibility scale...  

Audibility rating (on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is hard to spot and 10 is foghorn loud): 3.5 

Well, Iris Prima starts out at 3.5, falling to a 1 within a relatively short space of time. And La Pausa is guilty of something similar, while Bas de Soie has more tenacity - those thorny hyacinth molecules don't give up without a fight.


For another - more detailed and beautifully nuanced - review, check out the Candy Perfume Boy's take on Iris Prima.  Whilst he concedes that this scent might be too understated for his tastes, I am surprised that a renowned Angel fan like Thomas does not also report issues with the scent's longevity / audibility rating! ;-) ;-)

PS If the spinning ballerina is inhibiting your ability to read this post, give me a shout and I will relocate her to the end, or - in extremis - despatch her to the wings!

Disclosure: a sample of Iris Prima was provided by Penhaligon's at my request.


  1. He hee, I love Undina's comment to you! And it will be interesting to see if Puredistance Black becomes your favorite in the line (once it's released).

    I've not tried Iris Prima but quite agree with your statement in which you dubbed its perfumer as the master of the fuzzy scent -- which is why I generally have not fallen in love with his fragrances.

    I'm wondering if you've tried Aedes Iris Nazarena? It's what I think of as a textural iris that has a fuzzy warmth as it develops. And it's quiet on my skin, which makes me think you might like it. (It's very nicely done, but not my kind of iris, as I like the note when it's more cosmetic and powdery.)

  2. I've been drawn to more subtle scents lately, and especially to iris scents as the weather is getting cooler here. Therefore I very much enjoyed reading about Iris Prima and how it compares to 28 La Pausa. I'll be looking forward to the next installments of "Careful Whispers" :)

  3. Hi Suzanne,

    I am agog to the try the new PD scent, and am hoping it won't be too manly, like M. Doesn't sound as though it will, mind.

    I must say I am quite a fan of the fuzzy, the muzzy and the nuzzling - Musc Nomade by Annick Goutal is my latest discovery in that vein.

    I have not tried Aedes Iris Nazarena - it is not a brand which is readily available over here - but you describe this scent very much in terms that would appeal.

    My latest and greatest fuzzy lemming (for amber rather than iris) is Ramon de Monegal Ambra dii Luna. How I would love to get my hands on a sample of that one!

  4. Hi flavourfanatic,

    I am pleased to meet another fan of subtle scents! The weather is much cooler of late here though we are promised a return of the hot weather before the month is out - just in time (with any luck) for a visit on Friday by my friend from Stockholm. :-)

    So far I have two other Careful Whisper candidates in mind, and will probably intersperse these posts with other things, so as not to alienate lovers of bolder, ballsier compositions!

  5. Haha.. this is too much of a coincidence. I was just composing a post in my head (I am sick so I have been banned from the comp by the husband..but thought I'd sneak in a comment). So yes- I was thinking of a post on whether there were any quiet scents that I found truly beautiful/loved.A similar post for entirely the opposite reasons (:)) as I tend to favor richer perfumes. I do think I might mean something slightly different by quiet than you do. Not so much 'subtle' as 'non forceful'..(for e.g the OJs seem to have sillage on my skin but I still find them quiet. Maybe what I really mean is elegant)

    Ok..these definitions are confusing me..*off to bed*

  6. I do not mind quiet scents per se: I would gladly get those whispers "for a song" but when it comes to paying niche prices I just cannot justify doing it for perfumes that do not make a statement.

    I spent too much time trying to figure out when that figure changes the spin: we you trying to hypnotize your readers? ;)

  7. Hi Lavanya,

    Sorry to hear you are poorly, and thanks for taking the trouble to comment even so!

    I would be most interested to read the post you are planning, whatever angle it is from. I reckon you do mean something different by 'quiet' but that doesn't matter as perfume language is so personal and subjective anyway. The OJs I would just consider as in the register of 'normal perfumes'! ;-) I suppose Champaca is on the quiet side, but not to the degree I mean here. For me 'quiet' also has this connotation of 'audible' / 'detectable'.

  8. Hi Undina,

    LOL re the bargain whispers! In my next post in this series I will be featuring a scent that has this problem. By comparison, Penhaligon's scents are relatively affordable I feel, even if one were to splash them around a bit.

    Re the spinning figure, she was actually the very first image in Wikimedia Commons which came up when I put in the search term 'ballerina', and I just figured she might add a bit of interest. And I agree that the choreography of her routine is a little hard to fathom. But I promise I wasn't trying to hypnotise you all. ;-)

  9. V,I'm thinking along the same lines as Undina. I was rather lemming this one but if you think it's rather too short-lived I doubt I'd spend the money. Like Suzanne, I'm more on the look out for a cosmetic iris anyway. Le Pausa did not work for me at all, but I tried it years ago.

    Vaara has me intrigued though. It sounds great despite the price. Have you tried it?

    P.S. That spinning ballerina almost hypnotised me too but it's great!

  10. Hi Tara,

    It is short-lived, I cannot tell a lie. On my skin anyway - consistently so on every trial. Let us know what cosmetic iris you come up with in the end! Iris Prima is in a similar style to La Pausa, also as regards longevity, but is prettier and has more floral notes; however, if you found that a little fleeting you may well do with Iris Prima. If it had the tenacity of Elie Saab, they'd be onto a winner! So I guess the market is people who don't mind liberally spraying as though it were an eau de cologne or something...

    I have not tried Vaara, no, but would be curious to give it a go. I was underwhelmed by Peoneve, though I never tried it on skin, admittedly.

  11. I have a theory, entirely of my own devising and entirely related to me, that BECAUSE I'm an introvert I prefer fragrances that make a fairly strong statement. I prefer an olfactory form of self-expression over other forms, apparently.

    Or maybe, like Undina, I get impatient with understated fragrances - niche ones that is - because they do not give me big enough bang for my buck.

    I prefer the first theory because it makes me sound SO much more interesting. :)

    Anyway, Iris Prima sounds nice but not for me. I do actually like skin scents sometimes - as long as they last. I have not tried La Pausa but I loose Infusion d'Iris after an hour or so. Its more extroverted sister, Candy, still wears fairly quietly but lasts nearly all day on me. It has a lovely iris note in its opening stages.

  12. So glad others enjoy subtle scents! Hermes' Hiris hits that note for me in this category, both as an iris and a quiet fragrance. It's powdery, but I'm not sure I'd consider it fuzzy. . .Haven't tried Iris Prima, but for me short lived AND quiet would be somewhat maddening.

    There are interesting articles on Perfume Shrine in this similar line of thought, I think. Perfume as White Noise and another article on Parfums Lingerie. I suspect you might like many fragrances on these lists, dear V. Nary a braying civet in the bunch.

    I like having both ends of the spectrum in my perfume wardrobe :D I just wore Minya's Hedonist to a reunion, and its billowy peachy orange blossom and tobacco notes were loud in a big ballroom, but perfect for the occasion. Be well.

  13. I must admit that some of the words in a fragrance's description that causes me to give it a big 'pass' are those such as - sheer, quiet, spare, transparent & diaphanous.

    It is like spending big bucks for ozone, I don't get it. I don't want anything powerhouse from the 80's, BUT I want to be aware of it and for less than a fleeting few minutes.

    As to iris, which is all too often 'sheer' I am loving my decant of Iris Nazarena. Green, earthy and yet beautifully floral, this is an iris with some body to it, like me :)

  14. Hi annemariec,

    I am fascinated by your theory, and wonder if other fans of strong scents would agree with your premise. I do understand the 'bang for your buck' argument - it is really not on for an expensive perfume to be fleeting.

    I can't remember the longevity of Infusion d'Iris, but have a decant somewhere, so will refresh my memory - and possibly my scent! ;-) I know Undina is a big fan of that one, so am assuming she gets reasonable wear out of it.

    Candy is quite tenacious on me too, and also fits into that nuzzly / fuzzy category I like. The benzoin probably. Not sure I ever spotted its iris note, though it was my joint top perfume release of 2011!

  15. Hi Kathy,

    I hear you...:-) I love this category/style of scent, but do have issues if a perfume is both quiet & restrained AND evanescent. I can deal with 'a slip of a body', but said body must be sufficient to sustain life beyond the first two hours post-spray!

    You are the second person to commend Iris Nazarena too me, though it is a line to which I don't have access here. Must look out for it if I am travelling though.

  16. Hi HemlockSillage,

    Apologies for the fact that your comment didn't register initially, but I have managed to coax it out of its hiding place! ;-)

    Hiris is one of my favourite iris scents - I like the bright bergamot note too, and no, I wouldn't call it fuzzy either.

    I think a consensus is forming that 'shortlived and quiet' is too much of a quiet thing!

    'Parfums Lingerie' is a great heading for these wispy silk slips of scents, and I must seek out Elena's posts - also the one on white noise. I have used that phrase to describe discordantly fuzzy perfumes (Daim Blond on me, sadly), but I gather now that white noise can also be restful whale music, not just the stuff they torture prisoners with, if indeed that is correctly known as 'white noise' anyway!

    I do like some more blowsy, billowy perfumes myself - I am recently come round to 'Y' and I always liked Bal a Versailles (weirdly). On the white floral front, I am a fine with Amouage Honour Woman, By Kilian Love and Tears and Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, none of which are shrinking violets. Or violets at all, for that matter!

    In short, I am becoming more and more of a flittersniffer as I go along, but at bottom I am still a champion of this more understated style...