Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre (2000)

Frederic Malle's Iris Poudre (100ml)
Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre (100ml) © Victor Wong

Many years ago a date told me that I was not a romantic person. I wasn’t amused, but I knew he was right. (He asked for a puppy on our third date and I said no.) I suspect my friends secretly appreciate that I am not romantic, too – I’ve told them no gifts for my birthday, just show up for dinner and cake, and also no Christmas gift exchanges, etc. (Yes, I consider this a sort of romanticism.) I also told my partner no need for tall roses on Valentines for the cat will knock the vase down. (But I do buy him gifts; I am not a cheapo and/or heartless person.) Now that I have confessed, I might as well tell you that I tested my Frederic Malle samples while sitting in a loo.

Three years ago when my niche perfume obsession had just begun, I didn’t know much, except department stores would not give out samples unless you bought a bottle. I ordered my Frederic Malle samples from eBay, and strangely they were shipped from Poland. Anyway, I was too excited when I received them in the mail, but suddenly I needed to use the washroom, and I took the samples there with me to test. Frederic Malle should take this as a compliment, for I was so eager to test them.

To tell you the truth, at that time, I didn’t find any FM samples particularly impressive, or I should say, they didn’t blow my mind, and it had nothing to do with the aura inside the bathroom. There were some samples that I found interesting, but the one that left me with a strong impression was Iris Poudre. “Wow, this is so granny and simple. It’s just iris and baby powder. It’s nice, but I can never wear this.” I put it back in the bubble envelope.

In fact, after three years of buying countless perfumes and samples, I still have not forgotten Iris Poudre. It is still “granny smelling” to me, but I have never encountered an iris perfume as beautiful and as straightforward as Iris Poudre. When I say straightforward, I mean there is no mistake that iris is the star of the perfume.

To me, Iris Poudre would be a heavy floral if the perfumer didn’t add a hefty dose of aldehyde in it. Powdery amber, musks, carnation, rose, ylang, vanilla, sandalwood, they are all beautiful and sensual, Victorian-esque, decked-up-doll-face-feminine and rich. But with citrus and aldehyde, the perfume suddenly smells airy and atmospheric, like giving life and airiness to some dull egg white by whisking it vigorously.

In retrospect, I don’t enjoy Frederic Malle as much possibly due to the fact that I am not romantic. Frederic Malle’s perfumes are very elegant, non-adventurous, fine-tuned, proper, classically designed, and yes, some quite romantic. If you are a woman who dresses for the occasion and you are wearing Iris Poudre, I can’t imagine any man wouldn’t find you elegant and sophisticated. But between “romanticism” and “please tell me a horror story”, I choose the latter; however, there are exceptions, and Iris Poudre is something that my mouth says no, but my heart says yes.

P.S. I bought my bottle of Iris Poudre in 2016 and I think it’s not as strong and “granny” as the sample I tested years ago. It actually smells “younger”. Maybe a reformulation has given it a facelift.

Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire (2002)

Frederic Malle's Vetiver Extraordinaire © Victor Won
Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire © Victor Wong

A few years ago I joined a Hong Kong tour to Japan. Our tour guide was probably the most memorable part of the tour for she had told us many captivating stories while we sat in the bus going from point A to point B. She told us a story about the head of Japan Tourist Board who paid an official visit to Hong Kong to promote Japan: on his first day, he was graciously welcome by the representative of Hong Kong Tourist Board, who took him to a very fancy Chinese restaurant for dinner. They had a great meal, and the check was of course taken care of by the Hong Kong host. The next day the Japanese man did not know where to go for dinner, so he went back to the same restaurant, and asked for the same dishes he had yesterday without checking the menu. When the check arrived, his heart almost jumped out of his chest for it was a 5-figure bill (USD).

He probably had no clue what he had eaten – the abalones were not ordinary ones but some rare giant ones from the deep seas, the ginsengs used in the soups were some hundred-year-old ginsengs gathered from the top of some steep mountain, and shark fins from a giant shark that probably had killed the wives and puppies of many fishermen… and they all came with astronomical price tags. (The tour guide said that one night a drunken man left that restaurant and threw up in the street, and that pile of puke probably was worth $50K.)

Now, my questions: can you tell if you are consuming something really really good that probably costs a lot? (Assuming things that are good don’t come cheap.) How often do you say something is vastly superior after knowing it has a high price tag despite the difference is subtle?

Frederic Malles’ Vetiver Extraordinaire boasts that it contains the most vetiver one can find in a perfume, and the vetiver used has gone through molecular filtering to remove the undesirable aspects of regular vetiver essential oils. Personally, I can’t single out and tell if the special-treated vetiver in Vetiver Extraordinaire is that marvelous that it deserves a high price tag, but to me, the overall smell of the perfume is quite uncommon due to the huge dosage of vetiver used.

If loving vetiver is loving unhealthy food, Vetiver Extraordinaire is a no-salad fried chicken buffet with mini cheesecakes for half-time. If you don’t like vetiver, please skip this perfume. It is so masculine and spicy, the opening of the citrus notes cannot douse its smoking hot base. Compare to most vetiver perfumes I have smelled, It’s an alien atmosphere with more oxygen than nitrogen, making it borderline too much for me. I once took a sample of VE to work for my coworkers to smell, and a female coworker said it’s one of the sexiest perfumes she had ever smelled (and not to mention both she and her boyfriend are crazy sexy, anything they wear or don’t wear is sexy). She wanted to buy a bottle for her boyfriend but when she googled the price of Vetiver Extraordinaire, she screamed across the cubicle at me, “You are mean!”

Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese by Edmond Roudnitska (2000)

Frederic Malle's Le Parfum de Therese © Victor Wong
Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese © Victor Wong

My coworker’s father was a chef at a Chinese restaurant.

“You must be the luckiest girl in town! Your home-cooked meals probably taste like restaurant’s.”

“I don’t remember what my father’s cooking tastes like.”

“How come?”

“He works for a high-stress restaurant. When he is at home, he rarely touches the stove. My mom does all the cooking.”

“He must have cooked for your mom, at least?”

“Yes, he likes to cook my mom’s favourite dish, scrambled eggs.”

“Doesn’t sound too challenging, does it?”

“It’s no ordinary scrambled eggs.”

And this was one of the reasons why I had always wanted to get a bottle of Le Parfum de Therese, by Edmond Roudnitska. He created this perfume just for his wife in the mid 50’s. Frederic Malle had always wanted to hire Mr. Roudniska to create a perfume for his own line, but it was impossible for he had already passed away in 1996. After he learned about Mrs.Therese Roudnitska’s private blend, he sincerely asked her if he could use the formula under her husband’s name, and she obliged.

I’ve always wondered, under which scenario did Mr. Roudniska create this perfume:

1) He knew what his wife liked, and made it just for her;

2) He wanted to create something not to please his clients, but for himself only, and gifted it to his wife; for all artwork needed an audience.

As a video game artist, 99% of my “artwork” are commercial, and I know creating art for others and creating art for myself are two completely different things. There’s a certain romance and mystery imbued in Le Parfum de Therese.

And the scent itself is really “strange”, by today’s standard and yesterday’s standard. The accords in this fragrance are as weird as the ingredients found in the TV cooking show “Chopped”, where contestants have no idea what the secret ingredients are, and at the end you have to make a meal out of them. In this case, you open the basket and you find: a cantaloupe, some plums, a pair of leather gloves, and a set of dumb bells. Le Parfum de Therese is a metallic melon perfume with rose and patchouli as back drop.

When I first smelled it two years ago, I could not stand it; but I was very attracted to it. After I’ve got Le Labo’s Neroli 36 and conquered the metallic accord, I was ready for Le Parfum de Therese. A year ago I gave my only sample to a friend for I knew I would get a bottle eventually. I even remembered what it smelled like. As always, the price of a Frederic Malle bottle is very prohibitive, but recently I’ve found a reason (sort of) to buy it, and there are no regrets.