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Purple Reign – Blue Collar Red Lipstick

Over the last few months I have become fascinated with perfumes — the science, the history, the subculture. As someone who is neurodivergent, I have a deep-seated attraction to the ‘rabbit holes’ of niche interests, and perfume is an excellent exemplar. I plunged head-first, like Alice, into a wonderful adventure. A couple of things became obvious very quickly. One, I can’t actually wear a lot of perfumes; many of them give me headaches and/or are simply not fragrances I enjoy as part of my day-to-day sensory environment. Two, I don’t like spending a lot of money on perfume, and perfumes tend to cost a lot of money. So I decided to bifurcate my hobby. On one hand, I want to develop my “nose” for scent by testing as many perfumes as I can, and reading up on the history and art of perfumery. On the other hand, I want to curate a small collection of perfumes for personal daily use that suit my olfactory preferences. I’ve been posting about the first project on Instagram, as I go through a bunch of perfume samples I’d accumulated over the years, and some I’ve managed to get my hands on more recently. As for the second project … well, let’s talk about it here.

For the second nostalgic addition to my collection, after Calyx, I chose a perfume I wore obsessively in my early 20s (along with D&G Light Blue): Paco Rabanne Ultraviolet. Launched in 1999, it’s classified as an “amber floral” scent. To me, it’s all violet, all the way. It doesn’t appear to be sold here in stores anymore, but I was able to score a bottle on FragranceNet for about $60CAD. It was my first time ordering through that website, and I was pleased with the experience. The perfume is much as I remember it: a sweet violet bomb. I suppose it’s not very sophisticated; perfume aficionada Tania Sanchez wrote of it that “bathrooms in hell smell like this” which made me laugh because it’s so random and pithy and very par for the course — she and Luca Turin almost inevitably hate every perfume I love (apart from Calyx). Anyway, here are my less pithy thoughts on Ultraviolet:

First impression: sweet violet with a little metallic/peppery tang. There is only minimal progression from this, apart from a slowly developing fruitiness (probably from the apricot and amber notes). It’s a very warm and sweet fragrance, but not cloying — equal parts floral and fruity. The candy-like violet remains center stage throughout. The longevity is quite good: 5+ hours on skin, longer if sprayed on clothes.

It shares some DNA with Lolita Lempicka, but it’s more peppery and violet-y and has no licorice. I recently sniffed a magazine sample of Paco Rabanne Lady Million, and was surprised by a slight similarity to Ultraviolet — Lady Million is like a very toned down, less violety version of it. I will need to test it in person to see if that comparison holds up.

My next “purple” purchase was inspired by my husband. Well, by his signature scent, to be precise. He has been wearing L’Eau de Issey Pour Homme (by Issey Miyake) for more than 20 years — though, like me, he stopped wearing scent on a daily basis in the last 5 or 6 years. Recently, he sprayed some, and I was surprised by how much I loved it … for me! It’s an aquatic fragrance, so no real surprise there, as that’s one of my favourite categories of scents. I decided that I would buy the women’s version, which I figured would smell similar but with a slightly less masculine dry down. (I have since decided that I don’t mind Pour Homme’s dry down.) I’m glad I didn’t end up blind-buying it, though — aka buy without smelling first — because when I randomly stopped in at a Shoppers Drugmart that carried the Issey line, and did an in-person sniff test, I found the women’s L’Eau de Issey to be very different. It smelled much more floral and lacks the yuzu note, which is a shame because that’s my favourite element in the men’s version. But while I was at the store, I tried another Issey perfume and fell in love with it: A Drop d’Issey. This one, too, is more of a “freshie” floral than an aquatic scent, but what makes it irresistible for me — and my husband! — is the lilac note. I ended up getting a bottle from FragranceNet as well, for about $60.

First impressions: lilacs in the breeze. It’s making me think of white sheets billowing on a drying line in a garden filled with lilac trees in bloom on a spring morning. It’s very fresh, not powdery at all. As it develops, the fragrance becomes very creamy (there is an almond milk note that complements the lilac beautifully) but it remains light and fresh. And very lilac-y. I love it. After a couple of hours, on the skin the scent fades to a ‘clean’ white floral not dissimilar from Replica Lazy Sunday Morning. I usually only spray directly on my skin, but one time I accidentally sprayed a bit on my clothes as well, and the lilac note lingered all day; I would get whiffs of it every now and then and it was lovely. A little bit definitely goes a long way if you’re spraying clothes.

OK, so we’ve talked about violets and lilacs, and if I tell you there is one more “purple” scent to mention, what comes to mind? That’s right: iris. I love irises and I find their use in perfumery really fascinating. The smell of actual iris flowers is rather sweet, but what’s often used in perfume is iris root (also known as orris or orris butter) which has a very different scent profile — it’s powdery with hints of earthiness. To recreate the smell of iris flowers, a lot of perfumes add violet notes. My understanding is that, at the molecular level, iris and violet notes are quite similar, being different types of ionones. (Fun fact: ionone comes from the Greek work “iona” which means violet.) Iris perfumes are often described as melancholy which I find strangely irresistible as a concept — don’t ask me why! Maybe it’s a Gen X thing. Anyway. I spent WEEKS researching iris perfumes online with the goal of identifying one perfume that would represent that note in my collection, in a way that most appealed to me. I knew I wanted something that wasn’t too dry and powdery, but rather with at least a hint of sweetness to it. Orris is one of the most expensive perfume components, so most of the perfumes commonly listed as the ‘best’ iris fragrances are expensive ones. For example, Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist tops most of those lists and it costs $300USD for 75 ml — far outside my budget; it’s also not easily accessible to test. I am ok with blind-buying fragrances up to a certain price point, but we are talking, like, $50 here, not $300.

After many deep dives, I finally came up with an candidate that looked to fit my profile and budget. The downside? It had to be a blind buy. And it was a teeeeny bit more expensive than my usual blind buys. Oops.

Yves Rocher is a French cosmetics brand whose perfumes aren’t super well-known here, so it was a bit of random luck that (a) I came across some reviews of Iris Noir, and (b) found a brand new bottle on Poshmark. Doubly so since it’s been discontinued. I paid $65 (all in) for a 50 ml bottle, brand new in its original packaging, which was close enough to my blind buy threshold to be acceptable. The note pyramid listed for Iris Noir is intriguing — top notes of coriander and bergamot, middle notes of iris and ambrette, and base notes of patchouli and tonka — but some of the reviews I found referenced violet as well, which convinced me to pull the trigger. One of the other perfumes I had on my iris shortlist was Guerlain’s Insolence, which also pairs iris and violet, and Iris Noir was described as a similar, less sweet version of that. I was down to take a risk. And it paid off — thank god! I love Iris Noir, though it’s not exactly what I expected.

First impressions: slightly powdery herbal floral. By “herbal” I mean sort of green and rooty. But within seconds, the violet hits. It’s not as sweet (or metallic) as in Ultraviolet, but it’s definitely violet. Early on, it’s more creamy than powdery, and quite warm. Honestly, on me, the balance tips more towards violet than iris, which isn’t a terrible thing because I love that note, but I do wish I could smell more of the iris. After about an hour or so, it does become more powdery, though I can still smell the violet. Longevity is so-so; after a couple of hours, what remains is mostly just a “clean skin” kind of smell.

Overall, to me, Iris Noir is like a more elegant and sophisticated version of Ultraviolet and Lolita Lempicka. I don’t find it particularly melancholy, though it does have a low-key seductive vibe about it. Having since smelled a couple of the other fragrances on my iris/violet shortlist, I can also say that it’s (a) less sweet and more reserved than Insolence, and (b) more sweet and violet-y than Balenciaga Paris, which pairs violet with violet leaf (and carnation) for a different effect — a greener and slightly spicier fragrance. (The difference between violet and violet leaf is an important one if you are researching perfumes based on the notes. Violet leaf is less sweet and more unisex as a scent profile.)

I will have to use Iris Noir judiciously since it is discontinued and my chances of finding another bottle are probably slim, but I’m very happy to have it in my collection for now. I think I am also going to keep looking for a candidate to fill the “melancholy iris” spot in my collection. Any ideas? Leave them in the comments.

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