Iris Prima launched last fall, one of two 2013 fragrances from British niche house Penhaligon’s (the other was Vaara). I'm always happy to see a new iris, especially a unisex one. Iris Prima, like Vaara, has a great backstory: it was developed in collaboration with, and inspired by, the English National Ballet, and the tag line is "The spirit of the ballet. Bottled." This of course made for all sorts of ballet-related promotional activities, including the lovely "ballet flash mob" at Saks in San Francisco and the liberal use of ballet shoes for displays (see here and here).
That said, Penhaligon's is admittedly not one of my favorite perfume houses. Other than Vaara, which I was lukewarm about, the only other Penhaligon's scent I've ever reviewed was Lily & Spice, which I was, likewise, lukewarm about, and the only Penhaligon's fragrance that has ever made my buy list was perfumer Olivia Giacobetti's brilliant spice-fest Elixir, a modern take on the brand's classic Hammam Bouquet. Like Kevin, I was impressed with the opening of Juniper Sling, but not so enthralled with the dry down.
Iris Prima was developed by perfumer Alberto Morillas, who worked with dancers Nathan Young and Laurretta Summerscales of the English National Ballet. The opening is lovely, if more delicate — and feminine — than I'd have expected from a unisex scent. There is plenty of iris right from the outset, rather green and dewy in the beginning, then lightly spiced and layered under transparent floral notes (the notes: bergamot, green amber, pink pepper, iris, jasmine, hedione, paridisone, leather, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla and benzoin). The base is warmer and drier and woodier, and yes, you could reasonably call it a unisex after an hour or so on skin, as a pale, smooth leather (more like a suede, in perfume-speak) comes to the fore. Still, the base notes are light and mostly clean, and while it's not at all overly sweet, the vanilla and benzoin temper what might have otherwise slipped full-on into masculine territory.
Verdict: Iris Prima is very well done. It's undemanding and easy to wear, but has a polished, low-key sophistication. It came far closer to capturing my affections than Vaara, which I tended to forget as soon as it faded from skin. If you've never found your perfect iris, Iris Prima is certainly worth sampling. Personally, I found it to be tamer than I'd hoped — my typical complaint with Penhaligon's in general, and one which echoes many of the reviews I've read on Iris Prima. The Candy Perfume Boy found it lovely but "perhaps a little bit too understated for my tastes". Victoria at Bois de Jasmin quite rightly points out that you can find the same polished, low-key sophistication in Prada Infusion d'Iris, and for less money; you can amp up the luxury — and still spend less — with Infusion d'Iris Absolue. For a bolder take on a unisex iris, you might try Aedes de Venustas Iris Nazarena.
Have a favorite from Penhaligon's? Do comment.
Penhaligon's Iris Prima is available in 50 ($125) and 100 ($160) ml Eau de Parfum. For buying information, see the listing for Penhaligon's under Perfume Houses.