“Fascinating. Brilliant.” That was my immediate reaction to the opening of Iris Cendré, the newest fragrance from Naomi Goodsir. It begins as a swirling cloud of olfactory and symbolic contrasts, cleverly juxtaposed one upon another in a fragrance that feels like cool, modernistic minimalism with so much more. Elegant, sophisticated, restrained, with deceptive simplicity that masks great depth and an astonishing range of contrasts, Iris Cendré (“Ashed Iris” or “Iris Ash”) had one of the most intriguing debuts that I’ve come across in a while. And I say this as someone who is not an iris lover! I just wish the rest of the fragrance had lived up to that captivating beginning.
Iris Cendré (hereinafter just “Iris Cendre” without the accent) is an eau de parfum that was released about 10 days ago. It was created by Julien Rasquinet who also made all the other fragrances in the line. On her website, Naomi Goodsir describes the scent and its notes as follows:
une FLEUR sacrée,
a FOOLISH heart,
Floral oriental (2015)
A fresh floral tone, led by bergamot, tangerine & spices. A rich incense & powdery heart of violet & iris. Sensuality is enhanced by cistus, tobacco & amber.
The succinct list of notes therefore seems to be:
Bergamot, tangerine, spices, incense, violet, iris, cistus, tobacco, and amber.
Iris Cendre opens on my skin as a play of light and dark, crisp cleanness and dark earthiness, Spring and Fall, and so much more. Ripples of cool greenness are followed by smoke and ashes, singed cedary woods, and warmth. The first wave consists of brisk, chilled citruses that are just lightly sweetened by drops of sweet, juicy tangerine. The second wave is a multi-faceted floralcy that feels rooty and quietly earthy but, also, creamy with the suede-like undertones so typical of iris. Its soft, breathy plushness is elegantly fluid, streamlined, and minimalistic like the inside of a very expensive suede bag.
Moments later, the third wave splatters it with modernistic heapings of ash, smelling like the charred cinders of fresh cedar logs. Layered in-between are sheaves of dark tobacco that are warm, moist, and raw in a way that is almost dirty, but not quite. This is not the sweetened, fruity overtones of pipe tobacco, but something more elemental and earthy. A subtle warmth stirs deep in the base, ensuring that the iris never turns stony, icy, or dank.
Throughout it all, all these different layers are surrounded by a fresh, crisp greenness. It immediately conjures up images of tender spring shoots pushing their way up through dark soil. I think the violet is responsible, even if it’s not a distinct, clearly delineated note. It swirls all around as a shimmering haze of abstract greenness, more like a dewy freshness that evokes dainty four-leaf clovers and budding leaves than anything floral. To my relief, in the first hour, it never emits that excessively sharp, lemony, and metallic quality so frequently found with violet accords. That later changes, but the opening hour avoids anything pointedly synthetic, thin, or sharp in feel.
I find the overall effect to be fascinating and utterly mesmerizing. There are so many contrasts happening simultaneously, layers that don’t typically go together but which are seamlessly juxtaposed here with perfect balance and restraint in a way that really works. I tip my hat to Mr. Rasquinet because it would have been all too easy for Iris Cendre’s opening to be a sloppy, discordant mishmash of inapposite notes, but that is never the case. Somehow, it just feels wildly inventive, original, and elegantly sophisticated. I genuinely like the smell, but I’m also drawn by the intellectual symbolism and disparities involved. There is something so clever about the way the coolness vies with the subtle warmth of the burnt woods; how the spring-like freshness and elements of renewal lie side by side with the symbolic decay implied by ash; the manner in which Iris Cendre bottles not only the whole iris from petals to the roots and earth at its base, but also the forest smoking and burning around it; not to mention the contrast of between a fashionable suede handbag next to rawer, more outdoorsy and primal elements. It’s so artistic — to the point that I felt as though I were wearing an olfactory montage of Georgia O’Keeffe’s various iris series of paintings, spliced together.
It’s also more than the simple “Floral Oriental” that Naomi Goodsir uses to describe Iris Cendre. It’s simultaneously: a dark autumnal oriental; a crisp, spring green scent like the sort Chanel used to make; and a floral woody musk — all in one, the pieces of the puzzle fitting together in a way that makes one wonder why nothing like this has been tried before: an iris surrounded by spring’s budding green leaves, its gnarled roots digging into an autumnal cedar forest’s damp, tobacco-y earth, with creamy suede petals coated by a forest fire’s cinders and splattered with fresh citruses before the whole thing is laced up with ribbons of incense smoke.
How does this all work so well??! It’s utterly brilliant, in my opinion, and I’m neither an iris lover nor a fan of the green genre. I think the key and critical factor here are the dark accords, particularly the smoke and ashes. The latter has been particularly well handled, in my opinion. In some fragrances, the note has skewed towards cigarette ashes on my skin, which I find unpleasant as dirty ashtray tonalities are not my thing. In other fragrances, like several from Andy Tauer, or Monsieur Rasquinet’s own Russian Tea for Masque Milano, the note is primarily cade campfire smoke which frequently wafts a harsh tarriness, almost like the creosote gunk that coats the inside of a chimney. That is also not my thing. Yet, here, the aroma is something completely different. I know this will sound oddly contradictory, but it smells like clean, soft, fresh ashes in a fireplace. Cinderella’s cinders in a good way, if you will. It is far gentler and significantly less arid than the charred wood and black smoke in Monsieur Rasquinet’s Bois d’Ascece for Naomi Goodsir, which makes the note even more appealing, in my opinion. And it’s heaped upon soft, floral, suede-like iris in a way that feels utterly magical.
Iris Cendre starts to shift 15 minutes into its development. The tangerine disappears, along with its subtle touch of juicy sweetness. The iris takes on more buttery qualities in its base, as well as a greater rootiness that works really well with the other notes. The ash begins to lighten and disperses all around, as though it had been scattered on the wind to coat everything more finely. The cedary woods, the musky, raw tobacco, and the sense of dark, loamy earth also start to feel more diffuse. At the same time, the violet turns a hair more lemony, amplified by the growing presence of the bergamot. Not long after, the violet’s amorphous greenness surges forth in even greater strength, increasingly overshadowing the darker elements and leaving a cooler, green-centric iris scent with only a quiet rootiness in its base, subtle floralcy, and slivers of singed woods. The ash and incense smokiness begin to fluctuate at the 30 minute mark, waxing and waning, rippling back and forth over the iris like waves lapping at the shore. One minute they’re in the background; the next, they feel like a noticeable layer atop and under the iris.
For a short while, all the juxtaposed contrasts seem to have faded away, but it’s a brief phase because many of the interesting elements return as the end of the first hour and the start of the second. They’re simply diffused on the air, seamlessly blended until they feel part and parcel of the iris which is now strongly smoky and wrapped with tendrils of incense. There is also a subtle powderiness that is new to the scent, but it’s due to the iris more than any woody cinders. The greenness of spring shoots hovers all around but, like the incense and the quietly smoked cedar, it’s a shimmering haze. The clean, cool suede is less overt, subsumed now in the base where it runs along side a subtle streak of warmth, but neither one is easily noticed unless you sniff hard, up close, and concentrate. It’s the same with the tobacco which now feels simply dry, almost more like a cigar at times, rather than anything raw, musky, or dirty.
All of it feels elegantly cool, minimalist, and unlike other dark iris scents that I’ve tried. Now, I grant you, I haven’t tried a huge number of fragrances in the genre because I’m not the world’s greatest iris lover, but Iris Cendre feels quite unique to me. Consider, for example, some of the supposedly “noir” iris scents like Ormonde Jayne’s Orris Noir. On my skin, there was nothing “noir” about it. Not one single iota. It was primarily creamy Earl Grey tea infused with lemon, pepper, and davana floralcy that later turned into a lemony, jasmine floral woody musk. Or take Aedes‘ Iris Nazarena. I’ve heard some people describe it a smoky, dark, or incense-y iris scent, but it was never so on my skin. No incense at all. To me, Iris Nazarena is far floral than Iris Cendre, particularly at the start. There is citrusy freshness and some greenness but, as a whole, it is a sweeter, mostly clean iris floral woody musk that lacks any of the fascinating juxtapositions found in Iris Cendre’s opening phase.
I wish that opening lasted because the subsequent development of Iris Cendre is not particularly distinctive, interesting, or compelling, in my opinion. By the end of the 2nd hour and start of the third, the greenness returns in full force, accompanied by a clean musk. (Regular readers should see where this is heading.) The ashes and singed woods are so diffused and scattered that they merely hint at a cinder cloud in the faraway distance. The tobacco is barely noticeable but, once in a blue moon, it pops up alongside the ash. The ribbons of incense smokiness are thinner, smaller, and quieter. The iris is nice, though, and now feels more than ever like the softest, plushest suede. More and more, Iris Cendre feels like a hybrid mix of a floral, woody musk combined with a crisp, green scent (like some of the old Chanel classics). The drop in darkness and rise in greenness are matched by the iris’ veil of powderiness, the new spurts of musk, an abstract woodiness that weaves its way all around, and an overall sense of cleanness. It’s too green for me personally from the 2nd hour to the middle of the 4th, but Iris Cendre retains just enough smoky darkness for me to find the scent to still be oddly appealing at times.
I’m afraid that changes. By the start of the 5th hour, Iris Cendre is far too green and with too much clean, white musk for my tastes. The ashes, shadows, and darkness are hanging on by a thread at the furthest edges; the woodiness is wholly generic; the tobacco has disappeared; and the iris feels increasingly faceless and nondescript, like a simple, only vaguely iris-y, clean floralcy with a growing touch of powderiness that sometimes emits a tonka-ish vibe. In essence, Iris Cendre is now a green twist on the basic floral, woody musk genre. Or, put another way, a fresh floral woody musk cocooned in a green haze.
Iris Cendre remains that way for hours to come. The only major change is that the greenness gradually softens after 7 hours, then finally disappears at the end of the 8th hour, leaving a hushed floralcy that only occasionally hints at being iris-ish. It’s fully infused with a clean, woody musk, then dusted with tonka-ish powder. Drops of something vaguely citrusy lurk in the background once in a blue moon, but it’s as ghostly as the whisper of smokiness that passes by even more rarely and fleetingly. For the most part, Iris Cendre is an undistinguished, simple blur of floral, woody cleanness with white musk. It’s not particularly remarkable, but it is significantly better quality than the typical designer or mainstream entries in this genre. That quality is underscored by the genuinely pleasant, soft plushness that arrives in the middle of the 9th hour. It’s a sort of silkiness that is almost creamy and suede-like, but not quite. In its final moments, Iris Cendre is merely a wisp of plush softness with a subtle sliver of warmth about it.
Iris Cendre had good longevity, soft projection, and moderate to soft sillage. Using several squirts from a mini atomizer roughly equal to 2 good, solid sprays from an actual bottle, Iris Cendre opened with about 4 inches of projection and about 4 to 5 inches of a scent trail. The sillage felt soft after 30 minutes, though the fragrance was easy to detect from a small distance until the end of the 3rd hour whenever I moved my arms. The projection dropped to 1 inch after 2.5 hours, but Iris Cendre only became a skin scent on me after 5.75 hours. It took a little effort to detect after 8.5 hours, but the fragrance clung on. In total, it lasted 11.5 hours.
Iris Cendre is too new to have any comments on its Fragrantica page at this time or a lot of blog reviews, but Mark Behnke discusses it on Colognoisseur where it calls it a “unique iris scent” with greenness, and one of the best new releases of 2015. He writes, in part, as follows:
M. Rasquinet opens with a sweet flourish of tangerine and bergamot bolstered with a grace note of spices. Consider it a flamboyant bow as the curtain raises on the star of the show an extremely decadent orris butter. […] Instead of turning into something found on the cosmetics counter it is more like something found beneath the earth as the iris stays much closer to its rooty origination as the rhizome from which orris butter is derived. Early on M. Rasquinet matches the iris with violet adding in the more floral quality of a different purple flower. At this point in any other perfume a descent into powder would be inevitable. Here a clean incense with a slightly metallic character cuts that off at the pass. It picks up the rooty qualities and even makes the violet more astringent. In the base M. Raquinet uses a variation on the cistus, tobacco, and amber construct he used previously in Bois D’Ascese. In that fragrance it was what lurked under the smoke. Here it provides a bit of translucent haze for the final phases.
I agree with him on Iris Cendre’s uniqueness. I may have gotten the Bois d’Ascece notes at the beginning instead of the end of the fragrance, but they were a brilliant, perfectly calibrated, and utterly fascinating addition that made Iris Cendre’s opening (particularly in the first 30 minutes) one of the best that I’ve tried in a long time. I may not have liked the extent of the greenness that subsequently took over, but that is an issue of personal note preferences and tastes. The middle-to-end phases may have felt rather prosaic and unoriginal (which is less of a personal matter), but the Bois d’Ascece parts make Iris Cendre a must-try fragrance if you love smoky florals. The one caveat is that I think you must love a lot of greenness as well. Ideally, you’d also enjoy the clean floral woody musk genre and some powderiness, too. If you normally dislike iris scents, all I can say is that I’m not really an iris lover myself but the Bois d’Ascece version of the flower might blow you away, whether it appears at the start or the end of the fragrance on your skin.
You have no idea how much I wish it lasted all the way through. Those juxtaposed contrasts are symbolically, intellectually, and olfactorily brilliant! What they do to the iris is so mesmerizing, Georgia O’Keeffe would have been inspired to paint another iris series. Hell, I’d paint some smoky, ash-splattered irises myself if I could. In short, Iris Cendre is definitely worth trying if only to experience that remarkable phase for yourself, no matter how long it may last.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.