Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not-So-Square-Roots: Irises for Men

Summer is the playground of mediocre scents. Right now, I’m loving a tube of Versace L’Eau Fraîche shower gel for after the gym. My boyfriend is using Hugo Man. We both have tons of niche to choose from on a daily basis, but much of niche doesn’t have that fresh zip that summer in Manhattan requires (especially, if you’re wearing a suit and tie). But before we go completely off the deep end and start spritzing ourselves with something like I Am King, I’d like to recommend three clean and refreshing iris fragrances that can make it into any man’s routine.

First off, getting the equivalent of four stars in my book, is Heeley Iris de Nuit. Iris by its very nature gives the illusion of coolness. Orris -- the official name of the rhizome that iris flowers grow out of -- comes from under the ground, out of the sun. James Heeley’s interpretation is done with a cedar and angelica root accord that, for some unknown reason, reminds me of licorice. Me suspects some vetiver, but I may be wrong. Despite its name, its the perfect daytime scent: limpid enough to refresh but tenacious enough to not have you spraying yourself as the clock strikes each hour. This is how Prada should have done their iris, but they put their pennies into the packaging instead.

Tied for second are two other irises for the boys: Divine L’Homme de Coeur and The Different Company’s Bois d’Iris. The former, created by Yann Vasnier, puts its iris in a cocktail shaker with some juniper and cypress tinctures for a markedly sexy man effect; the latter, brainchild of Jean-Claude Ellena employs bergamot and narcissus, making it the most perfumey of the three.

If I were to choose the runner-up, it would be Acqua di Parma’s Iris Nobile Eau de Parfum. Sweet, fruity and floral -- and perfectly wearable -- though it leaves me asking: when did you lose touch with your roots, man?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Babylonics: Chaldée by Jean Patou

Here’s some food for thought: In 1930, the House of Jean Patou released “Joy” – right smack at the beginning of the Great Depression. “Joy” was an expensive perfume before the age of perfumes that needed to announce their expense. People were broke and dejected, and there was Patou himself – suffering due to the loss of precious American business – directing perfumer Henri Alméras to create an extravagant blend of 28 dozen roses and over 10,000 jasmine flowers. To this day, it stands as one of the great marketing coups of the last century.

Alméras himself had weathered hardship in 1925, the year his illustrious employer Paul Poiret went bankrupt (along with his beloved Parfums de Rosine label). Patou represented a new start for him. One of his memorable early creations was a complete succès de folie. Patou was banking on the newfangled vogue for sunbathing and tennis, and in 1927 had Alméras create a suntan oil called Huile de Chaldée for the jaunty young flappers who were laying themselves out on yachts and plages across the Mediterranean. The scent of the oil caught on, and later that same year the parfum version was released.

Chaldée was inspired by the ancient Babylonian empire which, I guess, stood out in Patou’s mind as a mythic dream of sun-drenched ruins and cerulean seas. Like Shalimar, which preceded it by two years, Chaldée leveraged the popular opopanax-amber accord in its base. Its formula was deceptively short, with notes of orange flower, hyacinth, jasmine, narcissus, lilac, the aforementioned accord and a warm nuzzle of what can only be (now-illegal) nitromusks.
Unlike other scents that share its birth year – Lanvin Arpège, Caron Bellodgia, Guerlain Djedi and Weil Chinchilla Royal – Chaldée lacks the ubiquitous geranium and rose in its base.

I love it for its jasmine and its long-lived amber core. It is casual for Patou, worlds apart from the opulence of “Joy” – but, then, who needs joy when the party is still in full swing, before the walls of Babylon have tumbled?