The Piano Teacher… Iris Poudre by Frederic Malle The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

He looked up with wide, wide open dark brown eyes.

“Eyes as deep and dark as coal mine shafts” his grandfather said.

Surrounded by childish lashes so long it seemed as though he had been made up in kohl.

So the Indian doctor in the village, immaculate in his pink turban, told him.

Her hair was grey, and white and black, like the ash from the hearth at home.

The room smelt clinical, almost chemical at first.

He knew she doused the keys with an anti-sceptic solution before each tutee.

She still feared the flu that took her husband forty years before, just after he had survived the first war.

And now there had been another one and a winter so cold it carried off almost as many.

“I’m sprinkling the talcum powder on the piano now.”

She spoke in her serious staccato way, understanding the need to rouse him from his reveries as she must do every time if anything were to be achieved.

From a height as high as her elegant slender arms were long she sprang a cascade of white flecks, drew an opalescent curtain across the air between the dark wood panelled walls and them.

“To think…” she reflected out loud and not for the first time, “…this room was once a public house, a cheap piano on this very spot rang out with even cheaper tunes.”

Through the temporary drapes of dust he saw irises on a side table made almost pale and indistinct, their deep rich purple turned a dusky pink.

“Powder on the fingers only. I shall be checking that there are no white marks on your palms or wrists.”

“Elevation. Remember to keep everything aloft.”

“Let’s begin.”

First scales, certain and assertive, then arpeggios, chords and familiar sequences.

Fifteen minutes or so passed, his fingers should be warm by now, but in the cold and amidst the soot and lint and ash he still felt frigid.

She took his frosty hands in hers and turned them over to examine for traces of powder.

She was colder even than him and up close smelt of the same ethereal cleanliness as the piano keys.

Some of the talc had come to rest on the black shawl that shrouded her tiny shoulders, he smelt it now and knew it was a desiccated version of the flowers in the vase by the table against the wall.

“Very good. Nothing on the palms or wrists at all.”

“Even for an eleven year old your hands are small, but your extension is wonderful.”

She thought, but did not say, “Perhaps it is because you have to fight for every note that you play so beautifully.”

Now she spoke, “Brahms today. The waltzes.”

“How to make happy dances sound sad”, he thought.

“Oh but they’re not sad,” she said “…they are wistful, which as you will discover is something altogether different.”

“The waltzes.” He repeated in a whisper.

Composed for four hands originally then rearranged for two.

The single pianist’s pieces came in difficult and simplified versions.

He, of course, would play the harder solo part.

As did she.

Iris Poudre by Pierre Bourdon for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is perhaps the greatest contemporary interpretation of an Iris perfume in the grand mid-Century manner.

Stern and stylish, neo-classical and well-informed it is an intellectual as well as sensual event.

None of which cleverness takes anything away from its angular, fine-boned beauty, which, with age fleshes out to a softer more approachable attractiveness.

Despite what official notes may claim, the opening, in line with convention is aldehydic.

A spry, strict accord that continues structurally well into the perfume, providing an olfactory cantilever for what is to come.

It holds the less concrete notes aloft, a firm adult wrist attached to a juvenile pianist’s malleable young hands.

And what is to come is exactly as the name suggests: iris and powder.

The former less vegetal, less abundantly floral than we may all have become accustomed too. More reserved, modest perhaps, seeking to form part of a composition rather than to stand alone as a singular star.

The powder, supplied by musk, is pure best grade talcum, not so rich nor sweet as makeup.

As such it will divide opinion and have some squeamishly protest ‘old lady’.


Grande Dame’ captures it much better.

This is unapologetically not a modern perfume, it is an older style of great, but restrained, yet utterly romantic scent.

It is a love affair conducted by lengthy letter not a series of speed dates set up on anonymous websites.

In time those letters smell will be transmuted by age and fondness into the same dry down of soft hay-toned paper and light vanilla as the perfume, then a moment later demi-sec dust again, then hay once more.

Like memories of a grand amour twinkling across a universe of time.

Iris Poudre is, in the truest sense, a fine fragrance.

I have heard it remarked that this scent is about as ungentlemanly as one can get.

No doubt that is on account of the associations of aldehydes and musk with the great ‘feminines’ of the past.

For any man unable to break these bounds it will be impossible to wear.

I have no trouble with any of the great irises of olfactory history and quite loved this.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy


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17 responses to “The Piano Teacher… Iris Poudre by Frederic Malle The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. Cheryl

    Oh my! I don’t think you have ‘trouble’ with anything truly beautiful.

  2. Beautiful story, Dandy! Iris Poudre is one of my greatest loves, and in fact the Husband has been known to steal a bit on a Saturday morning while still in his bathrobe. My son takes out the bottle every once in awhile, inhales deeply, and proclaims, “Mmm Mama, this one smells like you.”

    • Dearest Annina
      I’m so glad I’m not alone in thinking that this one is quite the thing for a gentleman, yes particularly one in a weekend bathrobe!
      And it would seem your entire family has excellent taste… perhaps your son is a nose in the making!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  3. aubrey

    How glorious – what distances I travel when I come here!

  4. Mary E.

    Ah yes, it is a Grande Dame indeed! Keep the music playing…

  5. Lilybelle

    I can’t imagine why I haven’t tried Iris Poudre yet. Your review has me longing for it now.

    • Dearest Lily
      It must me said, this one is far from universally adored,
      There are some people with iris aversions, but still more that dislike aldehydes and a lot that can’t stand a fine powdery musk.
      Fortunately for me I’m quite happy with all three and was therefore at liberty to love this… I have a feeling you might too!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  6. Alice

    Gosh, I took a few days away from the blogs and find not one, but three wonderful reviews by you have appeared in my absence. I think I like this one the best!
    When FM first opened in Paris it used to give away miniature bottles, and so luckily I have the cutest tiny bottles of en passant and iris poudre. Although I love the IP, I only dab it very occasionally, and have never bought a FB…I’m only a Grande Dame about 1% of the year!

    • Dearest Alice
      Tee hee.
      This is what happens… fits and starts of creativity chez Dandy at the moment as the world outside is proving somewhat taxing..
      I think I like this little flight of fancy best too…
      And I do adore the perfume too… how lucky of you to have those tiny little momentos of a more generous age!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  7. Dear Mr Dandy

    As a non-fan of Iris, I must step aside here for all you lovers out there. I acknowledge its greatness, but give it the cold shoulder. I loved your review, it was like a stark black and white film with long pauses and significant looks.

    It is important to find perfumes you dislike otherwise you never recognise the ones you love. A bit like saying a little misery is good in order to recognise happiness.

    Superb review as always, and WHERE do you get your incredibly appropriate and brilliant photographs from? I know you are a talented photographer yourself, but you always have a knack of picking the most perfect and appropriate illustrations.

    Your friend

    • Dearest Iscent
      Oh, you know when I was sampling this I couldn’t quite get you and your aversion out of my head, I though what a cruel streak of fate to have prevented my dear friend from appreciating the scent of this particular plant.
      Then, of all things, a line from a 90s chart hit, quite big on ‘the party scene’ at the time came to mind… “If everyone looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other…’
      And it set in my in train of thought, or perhaps a stream of consciousness, that it if we all liked the same scents then we would all smell rather too similar and that frisson of excitement brought by the passing stranger who leaves a trail of something in the air one isn’t quite sure if one loves or loathes would be lost to us forever.
      Now wouldn’t that be a shame.
      So I thought to myself that I was quite happy for you not too like iris, and was even grateful for my own near-phobic reaction to sweetness.
      For if everyone smelt the same we’d get tired of sniffing each other.
      And that what be a dashed poor show.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  8. “How to make happy dances sound sad”, he thought.

    “Oh but they’re not sad,” she said “…they are wistful, which as you will discover is something altogether different.”

    Ahh Lovely!!
    This perfume has always struck me as an easy to wear perfume and the Iris perfume I loved before I was interested in Iris perfumes..:)
    I must spray Iris Poudre on my husband when he isn’t looking. I’d never thought to smell it on a man. I am sure it smells wonderful on you!I especially love its drydown.

    • Dearest Lavanya
      I’m happy to bet that your husband ill quite at home in iris. The most notable recent crossover the note has made into ‘male perfumery’: Dior Homme has been wildly successful.
      So whilst in Iris terms Poudre couldn’t be more different from the sweet almost gourmand quality of the Dior, the flower itself seems to travel very well.
      Keep spraying and very soon I’m sure he’ll want his own bottle too!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

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