Neela Vermiere’s Ashoka : Another Iris epiphany

irispainting Iris is one of those strange notes that announces its presence by smelling like absence. I am not sure if that makes sense, but most of the time (like I detailed in this post), when I smell Iris- I smell ‘nothing’ and the smelling of that nothing, makes me aware of iris as a note. After some time, the smell of that nothing can get quite addicting. Like a magic trick you really want to figure out.

Like most people, when I started ‘sniffing’ perfume seriously, I spent many hours parsing and smelling scents, driven by the desire to find what I love. Now that I am aware of exactly the kind of notes that draw me in, I find it interesting to turn my attention (and nose) to notes that I have not loved in the past. Just out of curiosity. To be clear, these are not the revolting notes that I am talking about. The kind that you cannot bear to smell but that you will seek anyway to find out what the fuss is all about. No, I am talking about those notes that don’t draw me in, the ones which don’t have me clutching my wallet in anxious anticipation.  Notes that make me tune out of a review when it is its major focal point. Notes like fig leaves, and mimosa and I am almost embarrassed to admit it – but yes, Iris. I often call these notes ‘low notes’ in my head (unlike the bohemian high notes : Jasmine and Rose and lily). Now, I understand that this is an entirely arbitrary and idiosyncratic categorization. But they really do divide up that way to my nose!

Ashoka by Neela Vermiere Creations seems to be composed of all these notes. Those low, soft spoken elegant notes that gently swish between the folds of white dresses. Unlike Mohur and Trayee, I never sought out Ashoka when it was released. However, in an email conversation with Neela Vermiere, she mentioned that I would really like Ashoka because I like Iris Poudre. Now,  Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre, is one of my favorites, but I have never considered it a true Iris. It has all the cosmetic powdery-ness to lift it from the realm of rooty absent irises on the one hand and white tight waisted frocks on the other,  and push it firmly into the territory of purple and maroon silk brocades.  But that is a story for another post.

What I am essentially trying to say in my own unwieldily way is that I did not expect to be taken with Ashoka even though Neela thought I would. But I have to admit she is right  – because I am!  A year or so ago (I have lost track of time so excuse any inaccuracy) , Suzanne sent me some Prada Infusion D’Iris Absolue which I love wearing from time to time and which worked as my ‘gateway iris’, but in Ashoka I think I might have found (as Tara would say), my Iris (not counting Iris Poudre, of course!)*. purpleiris Ashoka begins with a brief swoop of leather. I often miss the leather because by the time I close the sample, and place it back into my drawer, and bring my wrist to my nose, it it gone! After this, Ashoka quickly veers smooth.  I would like to describe the smoothness as that liquid smoothness of a perfect piece of dark chocolate melting on your tongue. Except that, unlike chocolate,  it feels almost weightless. The watery floral notes and iris glide in and out before receding into the background. The last time I tested it I even got a lovely hay note, not unlike the one in PG’s Bois Blond. After this, the perfume becomes progressively  more textured,  yet never becomes overly powdery or cosmetic. The perfume feels cool at this stage but in a very comforting way.

The best I can do to  explain that is by comparing it to a cold comforting hand on a feverish forehead. If you ever come upon some ‘sacred ash’ or vibudi powder in an Indian temple (or I think you might even find some in Indian grocery stores), place a teeny bit on your tongue and taste/smell it. There is just a hint of the taste and smell of that powder at the heart of this perfume. Bertrand Duchaufor (the perfumer behind this line) seems to have a particular talent in evoking far off places without invoking cliches. I remember very vividly one of my earliest ‘perfumista experiences’ back in 2006 or 2007, when I sniffed a test strip sprayed with L’Artisan’s Dzongha. I was immediately transported to a stone step in a temple in Tanjore. Though in the case of the NVC perfumes, the lack of cliche could largely be attributed to Neela Vermiere herself.

Incense flickers in the background before the perfume slowly melts away. This incense is different from that in Trayee: more resinous, less smoky. I can see how the different stages of Ashoka (the perfume) are meant to evoke the different stages of Ashoka (the king). However on me, the whole perfume is so gentle, that in totality it reflects the latter part of Emperor Ashoka’s life (that is, after the Battle of Kalinga when he embraced Buddhism). And that is not a bad thing at all.

As I smell and re-smell my way through the NVC perfumes, I find a pattern in the way the notes are juxtaposed. There is always a sweetish note that rolls around the other, stronger notes, softening them and pulling them closer: The mango fruitiness of Bombay Bling, the milky pudding note of Trayee softening the smokey incense. In Ashoka, that ‘softening’ note is more indistinct as there are not many ‘strong’ notes that need softening. However, there is that gourmand yet inedible sweetness possibly from the vanilla and cassis absolute, that performs this elegant duty of rounding up the other notes :  a gentle shepherdess rounding up gentler sheep (excuse the inelegant metaphor). Ashoka is a very pretty perfume, yet , saying just that is doing it a bit of disservice. Even though it is pretty, Ashoka still manages to be interesting and I find something different happening on my skin each time I bring my wrist to my nose (Which is why I keep hesitating to publish this review incase I discover something new or different the next time I wear it!).

As I have mentioned, Ashoka is softer than the others in the line and is a very comforting perfume. Usually when I describe soft, elegant perfumes like Ashoka, I end up saying how, even though I like it,  it would suit my mom really well (or better). Well, while Ashoka would certainly suit my mother really well, sorry ‘Ma, this one is miiine. {insert evil laugh}

Here is a list of the notes.

* It is entirely possible that with my current ‘iris-curious’ state, I might find more Iris perfumes to love.

Pictures via WeHearIt : here and here
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4 comments

  1. I’ve not tried Ashoka, but how lovely to read your review of it, Lavanya! I really enjoyed your intro (“Iris is one of those strange notes that announces its presence by smelling like absence”) because, yes! There are certain iris-centric perfumes that smell that way to my nose too: it’s as if the iris note creates a negative space within the perfume. Sometimes that works for me, and often times it’s disconcerting (as in Aedes de Venustas Iris Nazarena).

    I share your love of Iris Poudre, which I very much do consider an iris perfume because that cosmetic, powdery aspect is often a key facet of orris root (I’ve read that orris root powder was historically used as a key ingredient in face and body powders), and I actually favor those iris perfumes that are cosmetic leaning. While it doesn’t sound like Ashoka is cosmetic, the elements you speak of – it’s combination with resinous incense and then that “inedible sweetness” you describe near the end of your review – make it sound intriguing. (Plus, the fact that you really love it makes me think it might be my kind or iris, too, since our tastes often overlap.) 🙂

    • Suzanne- yes- you are right, that is true – the cosmetic powderiness *is* a facet of orris root. I should probably not call Iris Poudre a non-iris, but the lack of even a little bit of that ‘absent’ note makes me do so: D That’s why I really enjoyed the Iris Absolue you sent me – It has both facets of Iris. Iris is actually such a fascinating note, when one thinks about it. I feel almost an academic interest in it, even though it is not generally my favorite (Maybe that is why? Unlike tuberose which I have such an emotional attachment to. :))
      Ashoka is not as cosmetic as the other two but I think you will enjoy it (especially sprayed) – there are lots of high, sweet notes.

  2. Ashoka is my favourite NV scent, and it was interesting to get your delicately evocative take on it. To my great shame, I hadn’t even clocked there *was* iris in this – it was all about the fig and general woody milkiness for me – but I sure am going to give it another go now!

    • I can totally see why Ashoka is your favorite, V – it is the most you from the whole collection (though I could see you wearing Bombay Bling too and possibly a very light dab of Mohur as well).

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