I have yet to come across a review that captures what Le Labo Iris 39 smells like to me, so I’m going to take a run at it myself. Despite the advertised violets and iris, Iris 39 doesn’t smell sunlit, or powdery, or even floral in the traditional sense. To me, it smells utterly abstract, a nigh-on impenetrable wedge of industrial cement and toner ink mixed with mud-caked flower bulbs, fuzzed up at the edges with a carbolic soap (patchouli-musk) accord that wears on you like a rain-soaked wool sweater.
I’ve noticed that the earlier Le Labo perfumes – Patchouli 24, Oud 27, Santal 33, Iris 39 – all feature this interesting tension between something natural-smelling and something ‘pleasantly chemical’, i.e., the vaporous head-spin of industrial materials like hot glue, ink, magazine paper, or burning rubber. Perhaps this is what makes these perfumes so distinctive. Later Le Labo output (The Noir 29, Tonka 25, Another 13) shoot for the same complexity but lean too hard on harsh woody ambers, Ambroxan, etc., thereby landing on the ‘bad chemical’ mat rather than the ‘good chemical’ one. You know what I mean, right? A good chemical smell to me is the honest honk of fresh newspaper ink or spilled petrol or the school supply closet. A million miles away from those powerful woody ambers like Amber Extreme or Norlimbanol that are (over) used in perfumery these days to make a scent enormously radiant or long-lasting.
So there you have it. Part of Iris 39 that makes me feel like a hippy who’s spent the afternoon planting out tubers in a wet garden, while the other makes me feel like I’m getting a semi-high from hanging around the office printer while they’re changing the cartridges. Mostly, though, I think it’s just one of those thick, murky ‘soups’ of a perfume that are vaguely resistant to analysis, like Mitsouko (Guerlain) or Kintsugi (Masque Milano) – perfumes that are simultaneously harsh and organic. Wearing Iris 39 gives me a physical jolt akin to being so hungry for the first bite of something that, even before it’s fully tasted, your mouth waters so suddenly it’s almost painful.
Source of sample: Various samples, decants, and finally a full bottle, all of which I purchased myself.