Cologne Intense Iris and White Musk by Jo Malone from the new quatuor of Colognes Intenses opens on an olfactory oxymoron: the scent of a dirty white musk. For an American nose, the musk here will probably be most reminiscent of the musk cocktail found in Alyssa Ashley Musk at this stage at least. The perfume suggests initially an overbearing violent animalic musk but which is at the same time clean and snow-capped thanks to cool Polar aldehydes. There is a good amount of Animalid, Galaxolide, with nuances of Lactoscaton and Cetalox, and more, to create this feral intensity. The iris note at this point mostly seems to be present to offer a textural effect creating a glacé, frosty finish to the perfume. It makes one think of a road covered by chilly snow drifts but where the macadam would smell of musk and white soap (and later, face powder.) The fragrance after some time seems to release some discreet fizzy soapy bubbles which shed further light on the clean facet of the nether-regions musk accord. As the name of the perfume indicates, a "white musk" thematic (see here also) was deliberately sought out but it is one which interestingly has been vilified more than is usual and stripped off its most commonly accepted nuance of fake innocence thanks to perfumer Christine Nagel's interpretation. Here the musk is white but not coy. If anything, the soap is overtaken by the furry note in the battle of clean against dirt...
The fragrance then becomes meeker or more refined with the development of a powdery note rendered vaguely aqueous thanks to a rooty iris effect as if the flower's bulbs were not completely dehydrated and borrowed from the nature of a water plant like lotus. Besides the floral note of the iris, there is now another floral scent which at first seems to be the pungent scent of narcissus but which is in fact described as a Calla-lily note per the press materials. The floral accord is folded into the sharp musk rather than the converse and it all borders on a shrill quality of intensity but stopping just short of it. It is just that when you prolong the accord in your head, you see how high-pitched it is and where it is headed. It smells like the piercing top notes of Habanolide.
Iris and White Musk appears at first to be a simpler, less ornamented composition than Rose Water and Vanilla reviewed yesterday, yet it is still very sophisticated, a trait which is more clearly perceptible in the longer drydown which smells moneyed and expensive.The iris note brings a pre-packaged, so to speak, sophistication to the perfume but the whole composition tends to resolve for a good while into a linear soapy musk perfume which was made more intense and more expensive-smelling than average. It is interesting how the scent fluctuates between making you think of the natural scent of the fur of a big white mountain feline and that of a pungent old-fashioned soap on the side of a bath tub in the style of Cashmere Bouquet. For a musk thrill seeker who can never get high enough on musky notes, this is probably going to be a scent worth test-driving. But then, its theoretical opposite, the soapy note lover might also want to give it a try.
Although I was tempted to say at first that it is more a perfume for musk lovers than for iris lovers unless you like your iris very soapy (but not in a Prada-Infusion-d'Iris way as Nagel has her own personal ideas about the concept), I have to realize that the longer drydown will probably delight noses who look for typical notes of expensive iris-scented rice powder, lipstick, tweed with silk lining, pearls on skin and the scent of privilege in general.
Iris and White Musk does not feel particularly Middle Eastern in a traditional sense although there is the merest whisper of incensey oud, or perhaps mossy note à la Eau de Rochas. Certainly not like Musc Nomade by Annick Goutal which is, I discovered, like the headspace of women veiled in black from the Gulf region. My most immediate reference in this case tends to be drugstore America due to the Alyssa Ashley reference but with a measure of Old European elegance thanks to the iris. I also further think of old-fashioned nitro musks, of Quelques Fleurs d'Houbigant which inspired the composition of Chanel No5. But I don't think of the Orient at all.
To me, if there is a story to this scent, it would be that of the ascent of Coco Chanel from cabaret singer dabbing on cheap Eau de Cologne (you know what I mean if you have seen the movie by Anne Fontaine, Coco avant Chanel) to the manufacturer of modern elegance and new-moneyed privilege wafting of old money. If anything, Iris and White Musk is a homage to Chanel and possibly to the iris and sudsy facets of her most iconic perfume, No5 (there is also iris in No.19 said to be her most personal perfume). She said herself that No.5 was inspired by the scent of soap and cleanliness.
Now, I know for a fact that during the 1970s Ma Griffe by Carven would be bought by the gallons by the rich wives of oil-magnate sheikhs who in reality and not just metaphorically would bathe in it. If you told me that No.5 served the same purpose, then I would see where the cultural bridge between the Middle East and Europe stands in this case. But other than that, it does not smell of otherness, rather more of the international jet set of self-made personalities with a certain connotation of rags to riches.
Photo credit: Snow Tiger via Justin.tv