[From the Archives] The Iris Arabesque – Penhaligon’s Iris Prima Perfume Review

The Spirit of the Ballet. Bottled.
The Scent of The Ballet, Bottled

“Editor’s Note: Iris Prima, the latest perfume from Penhaligon’s launches today therefore I thought it prudent to share again with you my review from June. Tell me, what do you think the ballet smells like?”

Perfumers and brands can take their inspiration from a wide variety of mediums when creating a perfume: music, nature, people, memories, places and food; just to name a small few. As perfume lovers we welcome a wealth of muses – after all it’s always interesting to see perfumes based on new and exciting things rather than the usual set of notes and themes.

Penhaligon’s is a brand that seems to have a far reaching nose, in the sense that they like to seek out unusual inspirations and over the years have created a number of perfumes inspired by weird and wonderful things. Take their wonderful Sartorial for example, a fragrance that accurately captures the scent of a Saville Row tailor’s workroom or the equally-wonderful Juniper Sling, a perfect olfactory tribute to the quintessentially English drink of Gin.

For their latest offering, the brand has teamed up with English National Ballet to create a fragrance that captures the spirit of the ballet – a perfume that they describe as being “a work of olfactory choreography”. Having had exclusive access to dancers Nathan Young and Lauretta Summerscales, in addition to behind the scenes visits, perfumer Alberto Morillas has created a beautiful ode to the most graceful of dances.

A film for Iris Prima by Penhaligon’s. Ballet dancers Nathan Young and Lauretta Summerscales talk about the scent of the ballet.

The Notes

Top: Bergamot, Green Amber and Pink Pepper
Heart: Iris Absolute, Jasmin Sambac, Hedione and Paradisone
Base: Leather, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Vetiver and Benzoin

How Does it Smell?

Right from the outset Iris Prima is (unsurprisingly) all about iris. In the opening, bergamot adds sparkle, an effect reminiscent of the hot lights reflected on the sequin-studded costume of the Prima Ballerina at the start of a performance. The iris itself has a dusty quality, evoking the scent of well-trodden and powdered dance room floors.

Things warm up considerably as time progresses and Iris Prima’s heart adds a floating bouquet to its iris dance. The Firmenich molecules of Hedione (florals – namely jasmine – with citrus) and Paradisone (flowers in full bloom) brings flowers to the table in a soft and supple manner, highlighting the sweet, more violet-esque facets of the iris as opposed to simply screaming ‘flowers’.

Most of the warmth lies within Iris Prima’s base of amber and leather. Again these notes are approached with a slight of hand and cast an earthy glow, reminiscent of a well-worn pair of ballet shoes. The base seems to hum away quietly for hours bathing you in a warm and sweet leather dust, creating an aged feel that makes Iris Prima appear as a wise old soul.

Iris Prima is a soft, understated perfume (perhaps a little bit too understated for my tastes) that has air of melancholy to it, with the dance that is being performed before your eyes conveying the story of a love lost. It isn’t quite as bold as I would have expected, or would have liked for that matter, but it is difficult to uphold such a criticism when the perfume is just so gosh darn lovely.

In terms of where Iris Prima sits with the iris spectrum, I would peg it as being somewhere smack-bang in the middle of the suede-like iris of Dior Homme and the sparkling effervescence of Prada’s Infusion d’Iris – taking the best of both and adding a more palpable iris heart for a pretty beautiful take on the note and making it well worth a sniff for any of you iris fiends out there.


Iris Prima is available in 50ml (£85) and 100ml (£120) Eau de Parfum. It is currently exclusive to Harrods and Penhaligon’s boutiques (and online).

Sample via Penhaligon’s. Image 1 via creativereview.co.uk. Video via Penhaligon’s on YouTube. Notes and quotes via press release.