I can’t think of another fragrance that matches the mystique of Jacques Fath Iris Gris. Sure, perfume lovers scramble for vintage Mitsouko and study its qualities by the batch number, but Mitsouko is still on the market, and vintage bottles are relatively easy to find. Jacques Fath, perhaps Dior’s closest competition in the New Look years, died in 1954 at the stupidly young age of 42, and Iris Gris — even the name is mysterious and moody — disappeared soon after. Scent of Hope is a recreation of Iris Gris that indie perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz originally made for a private client.
Perfumer Vincent Roubert developed Iris Gris in 1946, just as France was shaking free of World War II.1 Thanks to Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, I’ve been lucky enough to smell a sample strip dipped in a bottle she bought unopened. I was surprised at how clean it smelled, and how rich the iris was, but of course that bottle was at least 60 years old. I cherish the amber-stained but now-scentless strip as a talisman. But how would Iris Gris smell fresh?
In Scent of Hope, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz includes notes of aldehydes, ambrette seed, bergamot, carnation, grandiflorum jasmine, green oakmoss, ionone, lemon, muguet, musk, Mysore sandalwood, orris, peach, powder, violet, violet leaf absolute, civet and Virginia cedar. To me, the notes that stand out most distinctly are peach, green notes, iris, violet and cedar.
Scent of Hope kicks off with bright peach and crushed green stems almost like cut grass that ease straight into peppery iris. The iris never enters turnip nor floral-popsicle territory, but stays lush and true. It isn’t super rooty, but buttery and fruity, amped with violet as well as peach. Peppery cedar tinged with lemon rind gives the fragrance the structure it needs to avoid melting into a delicious but shapeless flab. Any civet in my sample vial was on the refined side of fecal. To me, Scent of Hope is more timeless than vintage, but it isn't particularly modern.
I’m so happy to smell Scent of Hope, and who’s to say it’s not a dead-ringer for Iris Gris? Very few people still alive have smelled the original fresh as well as Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s modern reproduction, and, of course, it would be impossible to test them side by side. If Scent of Hope is a good approximation of Iris Gris — and there’s no reason for me to think otherwise — then Iris Gris must have stood apart from its peers — Jean Patou L’Heure Attendue, Carven Ma Griffe and Nina Ricci Coeur Joie, to name a few — as smart, clean, and rich. A poised woman’s perfume.
Still, a part of me wants to believe that Iris Gris will never be faithfully reproduced. Way too often, it seems, the dream beats reality. Why not let the dream live a while longer? In the meantime, you can let a few drops of Scent of Hope fire your imagination.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Scent of Hope is only available in Extrait for $227 (15 ml) and $88 (5 ml), both in antique presentation bottles. A sample is $23. Thirty percent of sales are donated to Sense of Security, an organization in Denver dedicated to helping those coping with breast cancer afford their treatment and living expenses. For information on where to buy Scent of Hope, see Dawn Spencer Hurwitz under Perfume Houses.
1. By coincidence, I wrote a short story about Iris Gris, called “In Search of the Gray Iris,” for my newsletter subscribers this month. If you’d like a copy, just email me at email@example.com and tell me if you’d like a mobi copy (for Kindle), an epub (Nook, Kobo, iBook), or a pdf, and I’ll be happy to send you one. The story features the heroine of my two mystery novels and takes place after The Lanvin Murders but before Dior or Die.