Iris Gris by Jacques Fath (1947)

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I own so little of this rare beauty that I treat it like a delicacy, wearing it only on special days. Today I finished renovating the staircase in a 100+ yr old house (which, incidentally, has irises growing in the backyard, just to come full circle with this.), so I dotted some Iris Gris on the top of my wrist, then spent the day happily painting the risers on the staircase, trying to catch whiffs of IG through the paint fumes. The first time I ever inhaled this perfume, it’s dominant accord of sweet, jammy fruit immediately brought to mind a milky pink cough syrup from my childhood, (maybe Amoxicillan?); I took a sniff and my mind exploded with memories of a childhood sick-day with some carnival-pink syrup taking the edge off as I lay on the couch & merrily watched Pinwheel on Nickelodeon channel. Random, I know…Don’t judge me! Champagne, by YSL also evokes this pink cough syrup memory for me. But only those two perfumes. Interestingly, both fragrances feature a so-called “peach” accord, with iris & subtle spice.

OK so, about these fruits in Iris Gris…Although they’re labeled ‘peach,’ they don’t register as peachy to me. I would call them ‘undefined fruits.’ And in the same way that a floral bouquet in perfume can be symphonized by adding aldehydes, or a dish can be made strangely mouthwatering by adding MSG, in Iris Gris the prancing & preening fruit notes are given distinction by their fated partnership with iris, which takes a supporting role for most of the duration. Despite the sugary head-rush of fruit in Iris Gris, the aromachemical Persicol (aka undecalactone, aka peach-aldehyde), which on its own is a bit dusty & harsh, is not overdone in original Iris Gris…unlike the modern attempts to recreate IG where Persicol swiftly overtakes the composition for hours. (I wonder if Osmotheque’s modern reconstruction also features such an overwhelming Persicol note?)

There’s also a subtle spice in IG, maybe a quarter-pinch of cinnamon fairy-dust or something, to deepen its zingy zip. Iris Gris is joyful, bright, spring-like, slightly powdery, sweet, fruity, and icy cool…As it dries down further & further to its namesake accord it begins taking on that singular quality orris has, becoming more & more iron-y as time passes: that spectacular matallic quality that good iris in fragrance possesses, a hint of licking a silver spoon. And unfortunately, you would almost need to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth to afford a full bottle of this stuff.

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Mink & Pearls by Jovan (1968)

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Mink & Pearls by Jovan came out in the late 1960s, my favorite perfume decade. This was the first Isobutyl Quinoline leather chypre that I was able to embrace when I started my vintage journey some years ago – I had found scents like Azuree & Cabochard much too rough for my delicate sensibilities (that has changed, I now adore Bandit & modern Cabochard…but still can’t do Azuree), but Mink & Pearls had all the right moves to hit my sweet spot, perched as it is between rough leather chypre and sweet, narcotic floral. I discovered this scent in 2009 when I acquired a vintage Jovan sample set.

Mink & Pearls features clary sage alongside a  gorgeous, sweet jasmine, plus a slew of animalic chypre ingredients like castoreum, civet, & musk. And of course oakmoss, Isobutyl Quinoline, and woody notes are in there as well, though for me the animalics really are the star of the show. There may be a teeny tiny hint of vanilla in the base as well.  I used to go through my grandmother’s leather purse when I was little and to me, Mink & Pearls really does remind me of that scent memory: like the smell of granny’s leather purse with some random cosmetics, a tiny bottle of Norell, and a stick of Double Mint gum at the bottom.

I have this in the EDT and the pure perfume, and to be honest I favor my darker colored EDT. I somewhat dislike the pure perfume because it’s extremely bright with a celery-like sharp greenness. The EDT I have is darker in color (have the top notes mercifully degraded?) and this darker juice loses the sharp celery-like notes of my pure perfume. I like just a small hint of the sharp green celery-notes, so I spritz a bit of my deeper-smelling EDT, then put a pin-prick dot of the pure perfume on my skin…That way, I’m getting the best of both worlds.

This is such a complex and unique smelling chypre. Sometimes I feel like people are dismissive of vintage Jovan scents just because they became low-end drugstore scents in the 70s. They had some real beauties during that time period though, and Mink & Pearls was one of them. It’s the fragrance that first put Jovan on the map. I hope to write about other lost Jovan scents in future posts.