I’ve never smelled the legendary Iris Gris by Jacques Fath, but I imagine it to be something along the lines of Belles Rives by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for La Parfumerie Moderne: the dove-grey pallor of orris warmed at the edges by a shimmer of peach.
In The Secret of Scent, Luca Turin compared the effect in Iris Gris to a “gorge de pigeon” taffeta, its color sliding between metal and pink at the turn of an eye; this is exactly the sensation I perceive in Belles Rives. At first, it is all orris, with its lovely freshly-poured concrete smell, stretched out like grey silk on a canvas. But quickly, a flicker of fruity apricot skin – not sweet, but rubbery and warm – licks shyly at the corners. Soon, it is difficult to tell where the cool orris ends and the peachy notes begin.
I can’t adequately describe just how smoothly and quietly all this is brought about. But I can point you to The Slave Ship by Turner, if you know it – a painting where the fog of pale grey sky is punctured here and there by the golden glow of the rising (or setting) sun. In the painting, as in the perfume, everything is blurred; there are no edges clearly delineating anything. However, one can still clearly perceive the total effect, in that it is the brightness of the sun that marks out where the expanses of grey lie, and vice versa.
On their own, both orris butter and osmanthus absolute are surprisingly sturdy materials, strong to the point of being pungent (and not particularly floral in smell). Osmanthus, in particular, has something of the bullying cheesy honk of a fruity Cambodi oud. It can overpower a composition in no time at all. But in Belles Rives, both materials smell equally ephemeral, like a cloud of ethers the perfumer has had to corral into the bottle with butterfly nets.
What orris and osmanthus have in common is a certain skin-like suede note, and this is what’s been emphasized in this fragrance. The iris gives off that faintly bitter, velvety facet of suede, specifically the plushy, brushed surface of the material, while osmanthus has a more rubbery, warm aroma reminiscent of bare skin underneath. In the drydown, although they are quite different fragrances, I spot a kinship with Osmanthe Yunnan by Hermes, especially in the delicately thin (worn) suede aspect.
I love Belles Rives. I love its serene countenance. I love its simplicity, which is not to say that the scent is simple or that it was simple to make (it can’t have been). I love the equanimity between the two main notes, namely, the iris and the osmanthus. Nothing too much has been added in to distract from the wholesome beauty of the main accord. There’s no powder, no smoke, no incense (that I can smell), and crucially, no potent woody ambers to make Belles Rives one of those tiresome things that drone on for 24 hours or outlast a shower. Just osmanthus and iris, pared back, chiseled to perfection, and, still smelling naturally of themselves, set inside a simple framework to shine.
I appreciate the confidence and hard work it must have taken to turn out a perfume like this in the competitive environs of niche perfumery, where there’s a feeling that one can’t just do an iris fragrance – that one must do something weird or obscene to iris in order to grab a slice of the increasingly thin wedge of the pie representing niche buyers’ attention. I hope enough people buy Belles Rives to show support for the idea that perfumer Guy Robert’s mantra that “un parfum doit avant tout sent bon”, or in English, that a perfume must, above all, smell good, is still the only principle that matters.