Perfumed pairings are nothing new in the world of fragrance. Pour femme and pour homme, day and night, cologne and extrait de parfum are common ways two individual fragrances might be linked. Over millennia, humans have used perfume (originating from the Latin phrase “per fumum” meaning “through smoke”) as a means to communicate with the heavens. It was here Shalini Kumar found inspiration for her own pairing, Paradis Provence and Iris Lumière, twin cosmic energies, each with their own luminous personality.
For her 4th and 5th addition to the collection, Shalini continued working with Maurice Roucel, the master perfumer who has created perfumes for Frederic Malle, Serge Lutens, Hermes, Gucci and Lalique to name only a few. Shalini has the world’s only collection where M. Roucel has sole credit as perfumer. When I spoke with them individually about their collaboration, it was clearly a relationship based on friendship instead of a transactional one where the perfumer simply responds to the requirements of a client design brief. The result is pure creativity.
Perfume can be sensual, drawing on sexual energies, but these two perfumes tap into a more transcendental energy.
Since their first collaboration in 2004, Shalini has created six perfumes, and a seventh is under development. M. Roucel works with no specific budget and aside from the story Shalini uses to inspire him, he has complete creative freedom. The collection has evolved into something of a catharsis. Shalini’s first eponymous perfume was a white floral scent decorated with delicate, almost virginal musk. For Jardin Nocturne (2017), her white flowers experienced a sexual awakening. Amorem Rose (2018) burns with sensuality and a strength that develops with maturity. Paradis Provence (2019) and Iris Lumière (2020) are a pair, as if two perfumes have found their soulmates. Perfume can be sensual, drawing on sexual energies, but these two perfumes tap into a more transcendental energy. Shalini hints to the idea that her 7th fragrance, the finale in this series, will symbolise the achievement of nirvana, life’s ultimate goal.
Although Paradis Provence and Iris Lumière were launched over consecutive years, they were conceived together. Their bottle is a symbol of their eternal unity. For every perfume, Shalini selects an archival bottle from Lalique. Paradis Provence and Iris Lumière share the same crystal vessel, René Lalique’s “Deux Fleurs”, created in 1935. It could be said that the bottle’s overlapping flowers represent the eternal union of Shalini’s two perfumes just as Zeus immortalised celestial Pollux with his mortal half-brother Castor by creating the Gemini constellation.
Shalini was inspired by our planet’s two luminary sources, the Sun and the Moon. Their relationship intertwined, the Moon depends on the sun for its illuminating power and the Moon calms the Earth with its cooling light following the Sun’s blazing heat as our planet revolves. Paradis Provence is golden light. Iris Lumière is silver light.
Paradis Provence is set in the verdant basin of France’s south. It is a place many have found pleasing to the senses over the centuries, with fresh mountain air mingling with the coastal Mediterranean breeze. Through the different seasons, the scent of Provence is kinetic with jasmine, tuberose, orange flower, lavender, rose de Grasse and an array of aromatic Herbes de Provence. Visually stunning, it’s a colour palette of marine blues, the calming green of cypress trees and olive groves, and rolling purple hills of blooming lavender.
The sun in Provence has a particular light, which inspired many late 19th century Impressionist painters. Home to artists of many generations, Cézanne was born and lived in Aix en Provence and Picasso spent his last years of life in the hilltop town of Mougins. Whichever of the five senses Provence appeals to, its golden light offers peace and tranquillity.
Paradis Provence opens with sparkling citrus fruit and aromatic lavender. The reference to classical French Eau de Cologne is assumed. The fresh, white petal effect of orange blossom is amplified by jasmine de Grasse and a transparent solar accord of sunflower. Maurice Roucel’s radiant floral accords are like Claude Monet’s lilies, he captures the scent of Provençal flowers basking in summer light. The star of Paradis Provence is thyme. This aromatic herb harmonises with lavender and its textured aroma contrasts the smooth, warm glow of the floral notes. While it is an herb that is used throughout the Mediterranean, its invigorating yet calming effect perfectly represents the tenor of Provence. Paradis Provence settles on skin framed by a backdrop of olive wood.
In contrast, the lunar energy of Iris Lumière offers a different temperature of light. Its cool, shimmering light leaves one moonstruck. Like the Moon controls the Earth’s oceans, Iris Lumière creates an olfactory ebb and flow effect that washes over the wearer as though they are bathing naked in the sea under a full moon. It is a sensation that is both luminous and ethereal as well as dark and profoundly introspective. Irises hold significant meaning and symbolism in different cultures. The plant was named after the messenger and Greek goddess, France’s King Louis XVIII believed irises promised protection from death, and in other cultures the flower is a symbol of wisdom, hope and trust. A noble flower in any language, it is the star of Iris Lumière and M. Roucel used an unsparing quantity of orris butter in his formula. Orris butter is a perfume ingredient that takes years to cultivate and extract, making it one of the most costly ingredients in the perfumer’s palette.
Iris Lumière opens under a veil of green galbanum. It’s a flower bouquet one views first from the bottom. You take in the view of the stems and leaves, which are stood in water. Gradually the eye moves higher, revealing a cascade of delicate waxy petals. M. Roucel uses notes of hyacinth and lily of the valley, which have a lush, slightly watery effect on the composition. Galbanum is a tenacious ingredient and its impact, a crisp, green, broccoli-like note carries through the core of the perfume. As the floral notes settle, the orris butter comes into focus. Stoic and majestic, Iris Lumière serenades the skin under a crown made of frankincense.
The pair represent different energies, but together they form something whole. I enjoy wearing them together. For me this creates a balance between yin and yan, black and white, day and night. As humans, we are always more than just one thing.
This article was a finalist in the 2021 Perfumed Plume Awards for Perfume Stories in Mainstream Media - Digital. It was originally published on my fragrance blog - What Men Should Smell Like, which closed in 2021.
Fragrance samples provided by Shalini for review.