Normally, I would keep my distance from a perfume house like XerJoff. I mean, why break my heart? Even XerJoff's refill bottles start at $270 for 50 ml, and let's not even get started on the cost of the quartz or Murano bottles. At these prices, Amouage begins to look like a bargain. But fate intervened when XerJoff asked me to help write copy for their new brochure. Not only did I get to sample all of the XerJoff fragrances, I was paid in perfume. Two bottles of it. I chose Irisss and one of the new releases, Richwood.
Over the years, I've learned that things that are truly beautiful evoke a physical response. Who hasn't hovered on the brink of tears at a moving piece of music or gasped at a turn in the road revealing a breathtaking sweep of scenery? Even the mundane can be beautiful that way: Just last night I had a bite of roast lamb with truffled leeks and parsnips that made my heart beat faster. For me, both Irisss and Richwood elicited the sharp, physical thrill of beauty when I first smelled them.
Jacques Flori, the nose behind Etro Messe de Minuit, Etro Shaal Nur, and Amouage Opus IV, composed Irisss Eau de Parfum. Its notes include Florentine iris butter, carrot seed, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang absolute, violet leaves, vetiver, and cedarwood. To me, Irisss is a Monte Carlo showstopper of an iris — almost bigger and more lush than real life. In short, Irisss is to iris as Guerlain Nahéma is to rose.
Just as in Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, Irisss shows the earthy, root vegetable aspects of iris, but Irisss balances its rootiness with a tingling whisper of jasmine. It is less minty than Iris Silver Mist and builds on the refined, velvety side of iris butter. That said, it isn't as sweet or smoothly driftwood-inflected as Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d'Iris, nor is it as powdery as Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre. Irisss is thick and palpable, not the thin iris of Prada Infusion d'Iris or Hermès Hiris that can on a bad day remind me of dirty hair. Irisss's genius is that it takes iris butter to the extreme, luxurious edge without coming off as a parody of iris.
To get an idea of the tightrope Irisss walks, imagine almost psychedelic visions of 1930s Hollywood — Jean Harlow in bias-cut silk charmeuse drowning in diamonds and yacht parties crowded with iced Champagne and cold pheasant under glass. Think of Edith Head's designs for a pre-code movie about Louis XVI with an unlimited budget. Still, Irisss being all about iris, intelligence and elegance underlie this hedonism. When Irisss's jasmine fades, a hint of powder appears, but it is as fine grained as air. Irisss has moderate sillage and lasts a day at work and longer.
Richwood Eau de Parfum is another of Jacques Flori's compositions. Its notes include Mysore sandalwood, citrus, cassis, rose, and patchouli. In some ways, Richwood reflects the sensibility of many of the XerJoff fragrances more than Irisss does. It shares the high quality of Irisss's ingredients, but is warmer and inflected with amber. Although I might love Irisss just a shade more than Richwood, it is Richwood I get the most compliments on.
To me, Richwood smells like the depths of a winery, underground where the barrels of fruity, deep red wine age. Except, for Richwood the barrels are made of sandalwood — real, sweet sandalwood — not oak. I smell earth and wood stained with port-like, red fruit. Rose lightens the fragrance and keeps it from getting too thick. Still, if you didn't make a point of thinking of the rose, you might not notice it. As Richwood wears, amber begins to warm its wood. Richwood has terrific lasting power. A spritz before breakfast will last you well into dinner. If you get some on your sweater, you'll smell it (lucky you) into the next day.
All in all, none of XerJoff's fragrances smell wildly revolutionary. XerJoff isn't going to supplant Comme des Garçons or Etat Libre d'Orange for creative perfume. But have you ever examined an expensive, Italian-made sweater? At first glance, it looks like any other, say, long-sleeved, V-necked sweater. Look more closely, and you see it's subtly shaped to broaden the shoulders and hug the waist. Touch its fabric, and you touch strength, resilience, and a softness that compels you to brush it against your cheek. This sweater is the perfect nexus of craft, quality, and design. Suddenly you understand how a simple sweater could be worth $600. That's how I think of XerJoff Irisss and Richwood.
XerJoff Irisss is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum, $715. It can also be found in handmade 20 (550€), 30 (400€) or 50 ($1788) ml Murano glass bottles in a variety of colors, or in a 50 ml refill ($270), or in a Rutilated Quartz bottle (special order, 12,000€). The image just above shows the 20 (at right) and 50 (at left) ml Murano bottles, not true to relative size. I assume Richwood is in similar sizes/options, but will update when I know for sure. For information on where to buy, see XerJoff under Perfume Houses.
Oops: there are several bottles in the Quartz series besides the Rutilated Quartz, including Rose, Lemon or Smoky Quartz (8498€) among others, and all of those come with 15 ml Perfume Attar.