Chanel’s 28 La Pausa is undeniably lovely. But if fault must be found I’d say it’s a bit too genteel, a bit too fancy. It’s also clearly a perfume in the classic Chanel mold, intended to be effortlessly wearable and unobtrusive. Serge Luten’s Iris Silver Mist is another beast altogether. In so many ways it is the polar opposite of 28 La Pausa: brutal, unabashedly vegetal, and tricky as hell to wear.
Most of the Lutens line is concerned with celebrating the less polite facets of a given natural raw material. Very few–Sarrasins is one exception–smell like conventional perfume compositions. Papa Serge, undisputed king of the kooky perfume mystics, would go even further. He would say that his perfumes unearth the true metaphysical nature of their components. For once, it’s not marketing dreck. Though Lutens has turned out his fair share of crap, the good stuff is truly otherworldly. As one sales associate put it to me, “he lives somewhere between the 13th and 14th century.” Oh, and he hates vaporiser bottles.
None of which really prepares you for Iris Silver Mist. If 28 La Pausa is fancy-aunt-on-the-weekend Iris Silver Mist is villain-in-drag-at-a-funeral. You can practically hear the pipe organ. At least some of its harrowing timbre comes from synthetics, which here act like a sustain pedal, drawing out the chorus until it reaches the rafters. The synthetics in the composition are vital to the overall effect, making out louder, grander, and more poetic than even the best iris could do on its own.
If Lutens wanted an iris to scare the kids by God he got it. He demanded that iris be reckoned with on its own terms, neither succumbing to dreariness nor bent and reformed into luxury. Instead he offers a powdery, shimmering force, beautiful but utterly unsettling. Wearability was therefore not his first concern, and those looking for comfort will want to look elsewhere.
Like any good work of art it does get under your skin. I find myself drawn to it again and again. Not for the pure pleasure of wearing it, although it is pleasurable, but to solve the mystery at its core. In other words, I wear it to learn its secrets. Was there ever a better reason to wear perfume?