Perfume review: Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist

Serge Lutens Bell Jar imageSerge Lutens Bell Jar image

Iris Silver Mist was launched in 1994. It is one of the few Serge Lutens fragrances that is not attributed solely to nose Christopher Sheldrake; it was created by Maurice Roucel, either alone or in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake. The notes are iris pallida root, galbanum, cedar, sandalwood, clove, vetiver, musk, benzoin, incense, and white amber.

Iris Silver Mist starts with damp, dirt-caked roots, spicy and peppery, with a touch of dry, mossy green. There is a slightly bitter, vegetal edge to the top notes that has been compared to the scent of raw turnips, and there is a hint of the metallic buzz that frequently accompanies iris. It is earthy, but not earth-bound; it has a sheerness about it that together with the resinous notes and sandalwood perfectly evokes the cold swirling mist implied by its name. The longer it is on the skin, the more vaporous it seems, so that both Hiris and Bois d'Iris seem comparatively heavy and weighted down.

It is an unusual, intensely captivating fragrance. Lutens has described Iris Silver Mist as "a summer scent recalling the smell of white linen", which I find interesting not only because I never reach for it in summer (it works best for me on a cool day in spring or fall) but also because I find it far too ethereal to compare to something so prosaic as white linen. (the quote, and the fragrance notes in the first paragraph, are via Women's Wear Daily, 6/24/1994)

Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, like many of my favorites from this line, is in the "exclusive" range. For buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    And thus the lemming is born…Thank you, R. Must sample this at all costs.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is truly beautiful, yes, but on me — fortunately — it's exactly like Hiris, which I have, so I don't have to pine for Iris Silver Mist! I'm wondering whether you (or others) agree.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It is one of my favorites from this line, but I think I am one of the few people that feels that way…it is rarely mentioned in a “What is your favorite SL” poll on MUA :-)

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have tried this over the years but never cared for it till one day this summer – well ISM and I clicked. I kept retesting because V and I usually like similar fragrances and we both love iris. Now I love it. This is another of your fab reviews R!

    Hope all is well.


  5. Anonymous says:

    They do share some similarities…they are both earthy, they are both somewhat metallic, they both have that vegetal thing in the top notes. But all the same I find them quite different: ISM is much more sheer, cold & dry than Hiris, and more resinous, and less feminine. Will be curious to hear other opinions if anyone else chimes in…

  6. Anonymous says:

    When I first sniffed this I was repelled! It seemed so vegetal and dirty. But since then I've fallen for severar iris scents, so after your review of Hiris and Bois d'Iris I fished out my sample….and it's quite lovely! I'm amazed that I find it so different from my first testing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hi F, it is a very cold scent, much more so than Hiris. So long as you already have an iris to love, why find another expensive one, LOL!

  8. Anonymous says:

    N, then I will have to redouble my efforts on appreciating Farnesiana — just left you a comment on that subject!

  9. Anonymous says:

    N, this happens to me so frequently that I should really make a note to try anything I hate one more time 12 months later. Am currently in the process of falling for L'Artisan Timbuktu, which I quite literally detested the first time.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Oooh, I need to try this. You know, when I, um, get to Paris. One of these centuries.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Yes, one of these days we will do a Perfume Paths tour…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful review, R! I would love to test this.


  13. Anonymous says:

    I am waiting for my tastes to evolve sufficiently to appreciate this reputed beauty. I wanted to love this, but I'm Not There yet. Just as well, as it is hard to acquire.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It took me ages to appreciate Farnesiana – yes it is worth testing away. Carons can take some patience but when it clicks you enjoy it so much more than perfumes that are easy to love and then get bored with! ;D

  15. Anonymous says:

    Must admit I'm not a large Iris Silver Mist fan, but that is one gorgeous advertisment!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful review, R! My favourite iris (along with iris in No 19 and iris in L'Homme de Coeur). It captures the character of iris so well.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Then you should, R!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I know the feeling…there are still quite a few SLs that I admire more than I love :-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    And I must admit that I have no idea which bottle that is!

  20. Anonymous says:

    I love the concept of acquired taste perfumes – perfume is no different from art, music, film, literature, fashion, and food – the best things usually aren't accessible and easy to 'get' right away.

    Yet, as I am new to the SL line, I am finding most of his scents a bit on the spicy, mottled side -a bit baroque for my taste. I adore Tubereuse Criminelle's top notes (I must be one of the few) and can't get enough of them, but the drydown has something resembling ginger in it that just doesn't agree with me.

    Because I know how complex and masterful these creations are, I hope these scents will eventually 'click' with me in the way you mention!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if I will ever fall for Angel!!!!

  22. Anonymous says:

    By some strange coincidence, I have sampled Iris Silver Mist again this morning. I'm not sure I'd smelled it since I got it in 1994. I've since gone through two full bottles of Muscs Koublaï Khan and nearly one whole Tubéreuse Criminelle (and I've got about 12 SL's in my collection). It doesn't help that I live in Paris, barely 20 minutes away from the Palais Royal! Today was a bright, warm day here and I was in the mood for a nearly transparent scent — one of those days, rare for me, when I just don't know what to dab on. ISM was ideally shimmering. Quite cold, I agree. Solitary. Not something I would apply when meeting monsieur. But I've applied it over 12 hours ago and now the white musk is all that remains. It hasn't got a cheap molecule in its body. It's exactly the scent I would want for the “I'm too sensitive for a strong sillage day”. Just wish I could find that haughty musk by itself…

    I've been rambling on, but as I'm new here (though a frequent reader) I thought I should introduce myself!

  23. Anonymous says:

    It is said that most or all of SL's scents were inspired by Morocco (where he reportedly owns several houses), so that probably accounts for the spicy & mottled. Frankly, you will save lots of $$ if you just give up on the whole line, LOL!

  24. Anonymous says:

    I love ISM, but I had to try it several times before I fell for it. Now I crave the smell, sometimes I walk by and just sniff the cap for a quick whiff. I also love TC, especially the wintergreen opening notes. I think my tastes have definitely evolved over the past 2 years – I would never have loved these two before.

  25. Anonymous says:

    So far I've bought just decants from ebay, no full sizes of SL – so for now the $$ part is under control! But thanks for the reminder…of course I would buy a full-size of Criminelle if I had access, just for that crazy opening!

    Morocco – makes perfect sense. I am curious to see if I will grow into these (types of) scents, or if I will just maintain a lifelong aversion to dry woods/nutmeg/incense/candied ginger/etc…I guess time will tell!

    I was thinking about it, and as of now I think my favorite line overall is still L'Artisan. Maybe because it was the first boutique line I was introduced to, or because the bottles really appeal to me…but I think it's really that the scents I love from them – Tubereuse, La Chasse, La Haie, Mimosa, Verte Violette, The Pour Un Ete, etc – have a clean simplicity to them that I find modern and beautiful. I associate all those mixed spices and dusty woods of Serge Lutens (and Caron, and Youth Dew, and most Guerlains, and countless others) with old ladies and the 1980s (the ugly part, not the cool part)!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Another TC-lover! Maybe I should get an ISM decant…

  27. Anonymous says:

    Welcome CC! I so envy you living in Paris, although I would long ago have spent everything on perfume & would be living on the streets. Yes, it is a solitary sort of scent, doubly so in my household as my husband dislikes it. Muscs Koublaï Khan is one that I have only smelled from a wax sample and I must get a “real” sample one of these days.

  28. Anonymous says:

    ISM was the rare scent that I loved at first sniff, but I had already tried & loved Hiris so I think that paved the way. But Rahat Loukoum took me several tries, at least, before it clicked.

  29. Anonymous says:

    L'Artisan definitely has a more modern aesthetic, but don't give up on the classics so soon, they may grow on you!

  30. Anonymous says:

    J, no, of course it isn't that only certain people can appreciate it, LOL! I just find that over time my tastes are expanding, and that I have come to appreciate more smells that aren't conventionally pretty. But there will always be fragrances that I don't like.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I'm curious as to what is going to finish off Iris week. Perhaps Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile?? Such suspense! I smelled Iris Nobile today to familiarize myself more with the Iris note which I actually, much to my surprise, recognized. It was not alien to me at all, so now I'm wondering where and when I was repeatedly exposed to it. As a child? Teen? Interesting. I think it's a rather beautiful note, I didn't know what to expect.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Indeed, I'm hoping that will be the case! (Gingered tobacco, here I come…)

  33. Anonymous says:

    Hello dear T! Hope you are very well. You know how long it took me to love ISM. ;D Love TC too – that was more love at first sniff though!


  34. Anonymous says:

    The fact that SL's perfumes are inspired by Morocco makes total sense to me now. I sampled Fleurs d'Oranger and found it incredibly spicy and heavy. I haven't tried Iris Silver Mist yet, but the accompanying notes don't sound appealing to me. I'd have to concur with the poster above who preferred the clean simplicity of L'Artisan.

    I DID manage to find a tester of Hiris, and found it quite intriguing. I loved how soft and well blended the fragrance seemed. There was definitely an undercurrent of something vegetal in there, which brought turnips to mind (perhaps the carrot flower?). I'm undecided, as I don't really want to be reminded of a root cellar, yet the composition seemed beautifully blended and stayed close to the skin. Will keep sampling those iris fragrances!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Yes I agree that it is really no different from art, music etc. However, I loved a few of SL from the first sniff like Tub Crim, Bois de Violette, Cedar etc. Keep testing and it is bound to click soon!


  36. Anonymous says:

    I've loved some SL's immediately as well!

    Criminelle is my favorite, A La Nuit is breathtaking, Cedre is delicious, and Miel de Bois makes me swoon…

    I think if anything will get me to appreciate the darker/drier/spicier side of perfume, it will be the SL line.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Oops I meant Cedre! :)

    You may love Borneo 1834 and Fumerie Turque. A La Nuit is gorgeous and potent. Try layering A La Nuit and Cedre – it is really stunning.

  38. Anonymous says:

    PS Miel de Bois is not one I like – it sadly smells like Pledge (furniture polish). :(

    Apparently that perfume is not selling well.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I really need to revisit Iris Silver Mist. To me the paper-dry iris notes in it has the same cool, detached melancholy feel as Guerlain's marvellous Aprés L'Ondeé. It's also present in the fleeting topnotes of Dior Homme.

    Thank you for writing about this less talked-about Lutens.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I love Iris Nobile too, and reviewed that back in July. I can't imagine how you would know the smell of iris root unless someone around you wore a perfume with iris in the base? It isn't a smell one encounters in nature.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I am so glad you found a tester of Hiris! The carrot note is admittedly unusual. If it doesn't grow on you, I would guess you really won't need Iris Silver Mist, as it is also vegetal in the top notes.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Ah, my very favorite of the classic Guerlains…and agree completely about the cool, detached melancholy feeling it shares with ISM.

    Have only given the Dior Homme a quick try but mean to spend more time on it today.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I'm glad *you* agree, but there's seems to be a kind of mystique about Iris Silver Mist: some people do believe that it is only accessible to a certain kind of connoisseur and talk about not being somehow worthy of it, or whatever. I've had this discussion before (last year, on the French Serge Lutens forum) and some of what was said then echoed what your commenters have said here. I got a big blast of 'déjà vu'. LOL!

  44. Anonymous says:

    Serge Lutens has been living in Morocco for over 20 years: his aim, he said somewhere, was to recreate *all* the different smells of the place: the orange blossom, the jasmine, the spices of the souks, the woods, etc. – the whole atmosphere of Morocco.

    Fleurs d'Oranger is *the* perfume that gives me most pleasure: I always go “Aaaah!” when I put it on. No other fragrance had ever had that effect on me before – or since, actually.

  45. Anonymous says:

    It must have been. My mother wore Halston. I doubt there's a connection.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Watch out—I hated that one passionately, and it happened to me. (Hint: try the auxiliary products, like lotion. I find I like it better that way, with the giganto-musk middle subdued.)

  47. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tip! Will try the lotion next time I see it…slightly scared though!

  48. Anonymous says:

    Finally tried this tonight. Love the dirty iris roots, but was immediately captivated by the metallic, sulfuous waft, like the smoke that rose off the “cap guns” I played with as a child. Then the clove (which i thought was cinammon leaf) hit. I never find iris scents “cold” as so many have described them. There is a sweetness in here, maybe from some very dark, syrupy vetiver. Oh, here comes the “cap gun” again, 45 minutes after application. I couldn't stand to wear this on my skin because of the benzoin stink, but I do love the iris and sulphur.

  49. Anonymous says:

    LOL at the “benzoin stink”!!! So much for my favorite SL…

  50. Anonymous says:

    One of these days I'll have to create a perfume for you, R…let's see, I'll start with oakmoss, benzoin, iris…fill in the rest of your favorites. Guarantee you'll love it, I won't — we're scent opposites, that's for sure, lol.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Um, just add green notes, incense, citrus, deep woods…maybe not all at once.

  52. Anonymous says:

    It took twenty-two days, but ISM and I have finally come to friendly terms. It was being awfully vegetal and I was being terribly closed-minded. But we're come to an understanding. Now we are friends, just waiting for the cold to come so we can sit side by side on a park bench, wistfully staring at the gray sky as numbness sets into our digits. Or… something…. ;D
    But, seriously, it's so wispy and cold. It's amazing.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Hey, you really stuck at it, then! Glad you guys came around to each other.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Well, I've only tried it on about five times; it's just been twenty-two days since I got my samples. But yes, now I'd be happy to sign your put-Iris-Silver-Mist-into-the-export-line petition and consequently buy a lifetime supply. ;3

  55. Anonymous says:

    I finally worked up my nerve to try my sample of this – every time I sniffed the vial I would recoil. The opening is very rooty indeed but once the clove kind of kicks in it really gets interesting. I don't know if I like it exactly, but I will definitely continue exploring it. I thought of the perfect situation to wear it – the next time I have an art opening! It seems like a very arty smell to me and I think people will be quietly intrigued and vaguely repelled.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Hey, no sniffing the vials, seriously! (listen to me preach, LOL…)

    I think it smells like heaven, but you're probably right that some will be repelled.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the review: this has been my reference ISM review for years now! I just got my sample yesterday as a gift from a lovely friend–ISM smells a bit different from the actual orris butter (I also have a jar of Italian Florentine orris butter, 15% irone grade) but I don't think that's the point. (It's almost as rediculous as saying Van Gogh's sunflower paintings aren't anatomically correct.)

    BTW, just a quick question…how does the SL bell jar engraving works–I mean, are the initials enamelled or is it extra? Just curious but it would be great if anyone knows.

  58. Anonymous says:

    They're engraved into the bottle, and it does cost extra. You can see a picture of a personalized bell jar here:

    I don't know what it costs though!

  59. Anonymous says:

    Oh yes, I remember seeing that photo as well–it does cost extra depending on how many letters…FYI the price is listed on the SL site (the Shiseido one). Thanks anyhow!

  60. Anonymous says:

    I've been trying to pin down what this fragrance reminds me of….and I finally managed. WHEATGRASS JUICE! I'm not sure if I like it, and need to try it a few more times. I keep having to sniff my wrists though, which is usually a sign that I have been piqued and captivated in some way. We'll see……..maybe I like it, but it doesn't necessarily suit me.

    I'm also sampling Cuir Mauresque, which i adore – like Tabac Blond, but with spices and more sweetness in the dry down.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Ugh…that does not sound compelling! Maybe stick with the Cuir Mauresque, LOL…

  62. Honestly, this is one of the worst things I had on my skin. It did not develop or change or had anything to do with smell.
    My friend sprayed it on me without any warning – she thought I would be rather unbiased about it since I like most of the SL.
    This one is really bad… It’s scary.

    • Robin says:

      LOL — one of my all time favorite scents, no less! Ah well, you’ve saved some $.

  63. Jubba says:

    Even though it’s been eons since the last comment, I just needed to say that after sampling this I FINALLY GET IRIS! To me ISM fits somewhere on the spectrum between TDC’s Bois d’Iris & Prada’s Infusion. Whereas, from the former all I get is carrots being juiced (as all I have is a small vial of it), and from the latter the intended veil of the root, from ISM I get an amalgamation of the raw beginning of BdI with the slightly spicy crispness of Prada – in a more concentrated and longer lasting form than Infusion D’Iris. When I asked a coworker who loves the Prada what she smelled on my wrist she said “Prada – the green one.” I guess that’s a compliment to IdI. They share DNA despite being distant relatives…

    • Robin says:

      Yay! I love it when people get iris. Now you must try Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d’Iris, my latest favorite!

  64. KRL says:

    After several days of going through my Ormonde Jayne sampler, and not “getting” any of them – I was feeling disappointed and then somewhat delighted and relieved to get my SL sample from Perfumed Court in the mail this afternoon – somewhat delighted because I didn’t really think I’d like it as I’ve had no luck at all with Iris, and relieved to get out of the Ormonde mode. First spray was on my wrist, and was sprayed from a really close distance, and… icky! Smelled like white rum. Few hours later, I sprayed my entire arm from a little bit of a distance, and god help me, I think I like this very odd perfume.

  65. Robin says:

    Oh, not a single one of the OJs? Oh well, there are whole lines I don’t get either. ISM is lovely at any rate :-)

  66. Blimunda says:

    This is amazingly gorgeous! Would this classify as a Green fragrance? Or a Woody? I would say Green, but would appreciate NST peeps’ opinions…..

    • Robin says:

      Good question. The one classification book I have doesn’t list it, and it isn’t on I would have guessed Michael Edwards would peg it as mossy woods or maybe dry woods, but that’s just a guess! And I do see that he classifies both Hiris and 28 La Pausa as “Soft Floral”. TDC Bois d’Iris he calls a “Mossy Woods”.

      • Blimunda says:

        Thanks Robin. That makes sense, actually. It does seem to defy classification in many ways. I tried a sample two years ago and found it more earthy and ‘rooty’, now it seems powdery and soft! My nasal palate must have changed dramatically, as I don’t think they could have changed the formula!

        • Robin says:

          I hope not, but I don’t know…everything else sure has been reformulated!

  67. kate says:

    Oh My Oh My!! Just sampled this today and have fallen totally in love with ISM. It is just simply beautiful! Amazing! Exqusite! Elegance beyond elegance. I too tried the whole of Ormonde Jayne and found them all too sweet – sold the lot on ebay but Serge Lutens is a Master of Perfumery…his creations will change the way you perceive perfume and you will never ever go back! Just love this – thank goodness that someone out there is doing this sort of thing – otherwise we would all drown in sugar!!

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