West Village niche perfume boutique Aedes de Venustas has launched their second fragrance, Iris Nazarena, or their third, if you count the earlier Aedes scent for L'Artisan Parfumeur. Iris Nazarena follows last year's Aedes de Venustas Signature, and I think we can now safely say a few things about the Aedes aesthetic: they like assertive perfumes — hey, meek and wearable are already adequately covered elsewhere, right? — and they like incense, and they seem to know what they're doing when it comes to perfume development.
The perfumer Ralf Schwieger, who had long wanted to offer a contemporary interpretation of iris, was a perfect fit for the project. With Iris Nazarena, he explains he had to confront two major challenges. First, “I had to find a point of difference with Chanel N°19,” the benchmark of iris-based scents and an unsurpassed template since its launch in 1971. Then, “to incorporate transparency” into the somber iris and incense accord that would express the mystical beauty of the Iris Nazarena. [...]
Of course, Chanel No. 19 might be the benchmark, but it's not really my benchmark — my question is the point of difference with my longtime iris staples, namely Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist and Hermès Hiris — and by the way, does anyone wear Hiris anymore, other than me? And then there are my many secondary iris loves, from Chanel 28 La Pausa to Prada Infusion d'Iris (the Infusion d'Iris Absolue variation is probably my most-worn iris these days) to By Kilian Prelude to Love, and on and on and on.
I'm happy to say Iris Nazarena is different enough, and wonderful enough, to join the group. It opens with bold, dirt-caked roots, earthy and dry, and grey enough to justify the bottle color (see below) — it's almost as though it starts with the base notes and then moves on from there. But the heart does take on some lift, first from the juniper berry and star anise (other notes: ambrette, leather, oud, clove, rose de mai, incense, woods, musk and vetiver), which seem to lighten the load, and then from the sheerest of floral rose notes (you won't notice it unless you look for it), before it descends, again, into a dusky blend of earthy-leathery notes: vetiver, a touch of dark woods, a bit of incense, a very smooth suede, with the iris quieter now but still very much in evidence.
It probably sounds heavier than it is; it isn't a light fragrance, but nor did I find it overwhelming in the heat and humidity we're having here lately. It's probably not really what I'd reach for on the hottest of summer days, but you could certainly wear it most of the year. Like Iris Silver Mist, it isn't going for pretty, and if pretty is what you're after, be likewise warned that while it's unisex, it probably tips the scales towards masculine.
Verdict: This is as good a place as any to insert my disclaimer — Aedes is a long time advertiser at Now Smell This, so do keep that in mind.1 Ya'll know you should never buy unsniffed anyway, right? Despite that, I think Iris Nazarena is beautifully done. It's as likely to appeal to fans of woody leather as it is to iris fiends, but it's unusual enough to be a must try for anyone who collects iris. If it came in 15 or 30 ml, it would be on my buy list.
The quick poll: name your favorite iris fragrance, or go ahead and tell us what you have against iris perfumes.
Aedes de Venustas Iris Nazarena is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum, $245. You can buy it from the Aedes website.
1. Just to clarify, we don't take direct advertising from perfume brands for precisely this reason — I'd rather not be in the position of reviewing products made by our advertisers. Since some retailers have started introducing their own branded perfumes, and since I also don't want to ignore great fragrances, which are after all few and far between, here we are. But I will readily admit that if I didn't think Iris Nazarena was wonderful, I probably wouldn't review it at all, so in that sense, I think you can say that this isn't a totally objective review, if such a thing indeed exists.