If I were to commission a fragrance inspired by the Renaissance, it would certainly star orris butter, if only because of the association of iris with Florence (the best orris butter comes from Tuscany), of Florence with Catherine de Medici, and of Catherine de Medici with the art of perfumery.
It was Catherine who imposed the refined Italian taste in fragrances, in particular the custom of perfuming leather items, to the court of France. René the Florentine, the perfumer who came in her entourage when she was wed to the future Henri II, was famous for his cosmetic preparations -- and, some say, the poison they may have concealed on occasion…
As it happens, it is Queen Catherine’s great rival who inspired Parfums DelRae’s newest release, Mythique. The powerful and beautiful Diane de Poitiers, a patron of the arts, was the educator, marriage-broker and, later, mistress of Catherine’s husband Henri – she famously seduced him, though she was 20 years his senior, after his marriage to the Florentine heiress. Styled the duchess of Valentinois by her royal lover, she received as a gift the castle of Chenonceau, in the Loire Valley – famous for its gardens -- which is where DelRae Roth presented Mythique.
This is the first time Roth has commissioned another perfumer than Michel Roudnitska to compose a fragrance: the young and immensely talented Yann Vasnier, author of many of the Divines (including the cult hits L’Homme de Coeur and L’Ame Soeur, as well as the two new immortelle-laced L’Etre Aimé), and Le Labo’s exclusive for Dallas, Aldéhyde 44.
Vasnier’s delicate style couldn’t be further from Michel Roudnitska’s heroic-scaled compositions for Parfums DelRae. In fact, Mythique is so restrained in its aristocratic poise as to seem almost sullen – but then, the best iris scents tend to be that way, unless they’re treated to a dose of peach lactone (the mythical Jacques Fath Iris Gris), neroli (the lovely Iris Nobile by Acqua di Parma) or white chocolate (the oddly edible Guerlain Iris Ganache).
You couldn’t say that Mythique was cold, though, in the way of Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, though. Its enigmatic, androgynous character – well in keeping with Diane de Poitiers’ mythological counterpart, the virgin hunter goddess Diana – has the warmth and suppleness of a fine-grained skin. Citrus top notes (mandarin and bergamot) and the fruity, rosy, faintly alcoholic muskiness of Ambrettolide brighten it at the outset.
But what really makes it interesting is that the leather-like facet of orris is subtly intensified by the use of a material already featured in Serge Lutens Daim Blond, Suederal (unlisted).
Oddly, this suede note seems to act as a silencer: it tamps down the other accords so that they stay extremely close to the skin (an effect confirmed by Octavian Coifan, who has experimented with the material).
The result is a fragrance almost devoid of sillage that encases the skin as tightly as the thinnest elbow-length opera glove. This pallid, velvety suede is embroidered with green tendrils of ivy and miniature peonies – also a green smell with facets of lily of the valley and rose… The patchouli base adds a dark, radiant camphoraceous lining that seems to shine through the thin leather; sandalwood intensifies the creamy feeling. Jasmine sambac concrete is also listed among the ingredients, but it’s not extremely perceptible to my nose… However, I do detect a soft, almondy roundness that feels like heliotropin – whether it is present or not, it adds to the tender, yielding, intensely tactile texture of the fragrance. Mythique is a composition you can almost touch with your fingertips rather than smell – a little otherworldly, and as dignified and melancholy as the remembrance of a long-gone beauty its name suggests.
Image: Diane de Poitiers, School of Fontainebleau, (1550).