Iris Malikhân is immediately two things. It is a leather bundle charred in the grate, so smoky and bitter it short circuits to the word ‘chemical’ in my mind. But equally, it is a thick iris-vanilla cream that fills the room with a haunting sweetness.
It took me ages to figure out that second is causally linked to the first. Unwrap the scorched, blackened skin of the leather bundle, blowing on your fingers for relief, and you reveal the slightly singed, chalky orris roots that lie within, the violence of the char the catalyst to releasing those cocoa-thickened vanilla spores.
For six months, I have struggled mightily with the burnt part of Iris Malikhân. I believed that it was just like any number of other sweetened iris-suede scents out there – Dior Homme Intense (Dior), Bois d’Iris (Van Cleef & Arpels), Vanille d’Iris (Ormonde Jayne) and so on – just not as good or at least more ‘on trend’ in its use of those intrusive liquid smoke aromachemicals that brands like Maison Martin Margiela, seem to be so fond of.
Funnily enough, it was all those upvotes on Fragrantica for Iris Malikhân smelling like Dior Homme Intense that made me revisit the perfume and try to reframe it for myself. Because that comparison definitely doesn’t tell the full story. I’ve smelled Dior Homme knockoffs before (like D600 by Carner Barcelona) and there is more artistry and kink in this one’s little finger than in all of those. The weird Pastis-like note of artemisia or mastic upfront makes this clear.
The moment I was able to mentally reclassify the harshness of the opening accord as part and parcel of a leather tanning process – which in and of itself involves chemicals – was when the clouds cleared and Iris Malikhân clicked for me. Whereas before I was gritting my teeth through one part to get to the other, I now experience the fragrance as a whole, where the tanning chemical front end is key to unlocking and releasing the full fatness of that licorice crème anglaise, infusing it with a hint of anise, bitter chocolate, and woodsmoke. If I squint, I just about get leather. Heck, I can sometimes make out the shape of the purported orris root. But like Dior Homme Intense, Iris Malikhân is so much more than a sum of its parts.
Source of sample: Provided free of charge by the brand for copywriting purposes.