Soapy Iris – Review: Le Labo Iris 39

Le Labo, until recently, was a brand I didn’t have much of an opinion about. I knew of it, I was rather indifferent about the branding and positioning of the line and most importantly I hadn’t smelled any of their fragrances. Le Labo is not easy to get here, especially if you want to actually smell it first.

Knowing that I was on a quest for the ultimate Iris, Dee thought I could use a decant of Iris 39 and sent it my way. Thank you again! 🙂

Iris 39 was created by Frank Voelkl in 2006, and as Le Labo fans know, the name of all of their perfumes consists of the dominant ingredient and the number of ingredients in the formula.

The perfume is made up freshly for you at the counter or upon ordering when buying online, the bottle can be customized. I find this whole hoopla to be exactly that – hoopla – that doesn’t serve a purpose other than being a marketing stunt.

Le Labo’s website lists Iris 39’s notes as iris, lime, patchouli, rose, ylang ylang, musk, violet, ginger, cardamom, and civet.

In the beginning Iris 39 smells strangely soapy on me, or maybe aldehydic, in any case there is an artificial touch to it I do not much care for. On some days to the point of really bothering me, on other days I barely register it.

What comes next is a rooty earthiness, a vegetal spiciness, probably the combination of patchouli and cardamom along with the iris. As the scent develops I smell the smooth muskiness of the base and although it is not listed oakmoss is definitely in there according to my nose. (Which doesn’t have any authority whatsoever, it only means that I believe in the existence of oakmoss or what passes for it these days, in the formula ;))

I start to love the fragrance about half an hour into wearing, the harsh top notes are history, smoothness takes its place. Iris 39 balances warm and cool aspects of the iris perfectly, the powdery earthiness of iris and patchouli are warmed by the addition of spices and floral notes. I like the drydown especially, the musk is not too clean, not too bland without being wildly animalic, it strikes the right chord in the middle of my dirtiness scale. (For your orientation: Muscs Kublai Khan is one the one end, Clair de Musc on the other.)

What interests me is that Le Labo offers an alcohol free version of the perfume called Balm, which is a silicone based lotion. Since I sometimes have issues with very dry skin, that is exacerbated by applying perfume, this sounds like an interesting option.

Iris 39 wears well and for a long time, the concentration according to the website for all their scents is a strength ranging from 12-30%. It is available in 15, 50, 100 and 500ml eau de parfum as well as balm, lotion and oil.

Ultimately though, there are too many drawbacks about Iris 39 to get my full approval (it’ll survive ;)). There are many other iris fragrances that I prefer.

Another one off the list, money saved. 🙂

The search continues…

Picture Source:,, some rights reserved, thank you!

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This entry was posted in Fragrance Reviews, Iris, Le Labo, Musk and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Soapy Iris – Review: Le Labo Iris 39

  1. Tara says:

    Like you, I have very dry skin and do worry about the gallons of perfume I inflict on it – often more than once a day. So I’m very interested in the balm option. Seriously considering getting Patchouli 24 in balm form, especially as I’m not sure everyone would appreciate the sillage.

    I’ve tried Iris 39 but Dior Homme is now the iris to beat for me (and it’s relatively cheap – hurrah!).

    It’s so funny, I almost get as much satisfaction from ticking something off the list that I don’t like, as finding something that I do! No doubt it’s becuase of the money saved , as you say.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I tried Dior Homme yesterday because of your recommendation and it is really lovely. Totally unusual for a masculine-marketed scent! I also tested Homme Intense, the EdP version, which jas a strong gourmand angle, it is eerily reminiscent of Iris Ganache, so that is another one off the list since I have the Guerlain.

      The balm option sounds really good, I wish more companies would offer such a skin-friendly option. But I imagine sillage would suffer…

      • Tara says:

        Glad you liked Dior Homme, I’ve been eager to hear your impression. How interesting that the Intense edp is reminiscent of Iris Genache. I prefered the edt version but will re-test just to be sure, especially if the Intense is Guerlain-esque!

  2. lady jane grey says:

    Marketing hoopla can be annoying sometimes, but I have to admit that I’m pretty proud of my own Oud from Le Labo – my ownership is clearly stated on the label.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I probably would love that too, but I have to find a scent by Le Labo I really love first. (Meanwhile I stare in delight at my engraved bell-jar of Iris Silver Mist) 😉

  3. Marina says:

    Yeah, it’s kind of meh 🙂 (not the most intelligent comment I’ve ever left, clearly :))

  4. vanessa says:

    On the face of it, “soapy” and “civet” don’t sound like natural bedfellows. : – )

    I may get to try it later this month at a Le Labo workshop thingy in London I hope to attend. I say “hope”, because they accidentally double booked my place, so I may have to perch on half a seat with a soapy, civet-smelling stranger.

  5. Alice C says:

    You, at least, know what you are looking for…I’m looking for something, don’t know what it is, and am not sure I’ll know if I ever find it! 😉

  6. Victoria says:

    Not a favorite of mine either, now I do not even remember why…

  7. deeHowe says:

    How interesting! The civit reads really strong on me—in fact, I don’t get the soapy side at all. For me, Iris 39 is all skank, all the time! I too like it much better after the topnotes have burned off, but I prefer the dirty-earthy iris’ to the dirty-bum iris.

    I do like civit, but apparently not paired with the gray lady (which is how I think of iris 🙂 )

  8. Pingback: Le Labo Iris 39 « another perfume blog

  9. Luying says:

    I don’t feel it soapy at all, instead, it’s so smooth and elegant. A masterpiece really.

  10. Pingback: Incredible Irises – Perfume Lovers London, Thursday 22nd November | Olfactoria's Travels

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