31 Days of Iris: Day 7 and Insolence EDT

Insolence EDT does not even try to be classy. It represents one direction that the house of Guerlain might have taken: a grand house sans parfumuer en maison that uses guns for hire for its pillars (what was wrong with Marice Roucel? Perhaps he prefers his independence, for which one cannot blame him, as he has done some of his most interesting work outside of the creative restrictions of larger houses, although I would argue that Insolence is an exception, a wild and unfettered creature that somehow escaped the structures of focus groups and marketing suits).

However, Guerlain took a different path, chose the in-house route, and hired Mathilda Laurent. Her work there, and now at Cartier, was, and is, brilliant, and some of her creations for Guerlain are still mourned—Guet-Apens will always be one of my unicorns. I wonder if the problem prior to Thierry Wasser’s hiring had something to do with . . . temperament as much as anything. The house has been discreet about why Laurent left, why Wasser was her chosen successor (other than a decent run of successful hit fragrances, a prerequisite I would expect for anyone even considered by Guerlain), and JP Guerlain was still, presumably, creative-directing at the house until his sad and scandalous departure in 2010. I wonder if the old gentlemen might have been a difficult boss, but this is not, as the kids say, a drama channel, and I am not here for the tea, of which I have none to spill anyway.

Nor am I here to speculate about personalities. So. insolence. Roucel certainly knows his way around nitriles. His Iris Silver Mist is still the nes plus ultra of iris perfume, and it makes sense that he won the brief, when Guerlain decided to do a Purple Perfume. There was a time, when I thought that Poison was the Fragrance than which no other perfume could be more purple, but Insolence is to Prince as every other perfume is to every other purple-loving human that has ever lived. It is purple down to its bones, a fierce concoction of sweet, dense, violet and iris materials, with claws sharpened by the same metallic violet nitrile material that can give “pure” iris perfumes their synthetically silver sharpness. Over sprayed, it will bite. My first experience with it led to an unforgettably fierce perfume headache, as did last night’s reapplication for this review. I clearly did not learn my lesson the first time round. I still love it, but I am also learning to respect its power.

Insolence does not present as smooth, rich, or orris-buttery. My bottle, which is about a decade old, has aged beyond Luca Turin’s famous “hairspray and terror” opening, but it still comes out swinging, in every sense of the word. It has a pretty killer left hook, but it also has a youthful insubordinate sass that reminds me of Meghan Draper (ugh, I know, but stay with me)’s killer paisley Pucci mini from Mad Men’s late-season California parry scene—a visual and olfactory throwback to English mid 60s style—and the post party headaches that must have been part of the experience . I might be stretching this metaphor to its limits, but I like it, and something about Insolence inspires silly prose.

But, the essence of Insolence’s creation—a solid contender for one of the Great Guerlain Classics, as I think its continued popularity over time has begun to demonstrate—is a Mugler-inspired volume of dense, sweet, ethyl maltol candied velvet, pushed up like a Wonderbra,
by layers of fizzy raspberry- and rose-laden aldehydes. Orris provides a sense of almost chocolatey richness (yummm, raspberries and chocolates) to a powder accord that would otherwise be more appropriate on a dressing table, but that doesn’t appear until the perfume begins to dry down—no silken layer of wet orris here, just a subtle trail after the party ends. After all, that much orris would have a dampening effect on the perfume, and the EDT is an absolute projection monster.

Despite its compositional similarity to things like Misia, Insolence could never be mistaken for a proper handbag and lipstick cosmetic iris, not even such a thing in drag. It’s something that I once would have never expected from Guerlain—a true, own the whole damn room, clubworthy scent that can compete with the likes of Angel, which was at its commercial peak when Insolence hit the market. The only other perfume I can think of with the same up to 11 volume is Gucci Rush, and the three of them form a blonde-brunette-ginger axis of trouble that I would not want to find in the same room. Just smelling Insolence starts up a pulsing four-on-the-floor Big Room banger house track in my head, and I can almost smell the spilled liquor and discreet sweat of a long night and a longer after party.

Its name is apt. It’s an irreverent use of one of perfumery’s most sacred materials, and, as Luca Turin noted, an interesting riff on Guerlain’s classic L’Heure Bleue—a club mix, if you will, teetering on its stilettos and starting to dance a little off beat, perhaps tugging more than it should at its mini, and making goo goo eyes at the kind of fellas that your girl squad is there to protect you from after too many Cosmos. Not that a lady can’t let her hair down once in a while, but she also has a missing earring and that might be a hickey on her neck.

So it’s time to step in, swipe the keys, and acknowledge facts. You’re a little drunk, Iris. Let’s get you home. I’ll swipe a bottle of Añejo while we wait for the Uber, and we can finish it in the hot tub at the house. I promise to respect you in the morning, although I might spend the rest of the day in the guest bed rubbing my temples and asking for Pedialyte and Ibuprofen. Which is pretty much what happened last night, and why I am posting this at 6:30 am, and then going back to bed. With naproxen this time. Must remember: two sprays and no more, khanada.

I have heard, or rather read, that Insolence EDP and Extrait formulations do not share some of its more aggressive tendencies. I’ve stuck to my original EDT, so far, because it’s a classic as is, cheap as chips, especially for Guerlain, and it, like a Frankie Knuckles track, always works at the club. However, I plan on obtaining at least the EDP before spring and violet season end, and also while it’s old flying-saucer flacons are still around. I would enjoy experiencing Insolence without the potential hangover, and perhaps that is the way to enjoy it with less risk.

If it is not obvious by now, Insolence is a performer. She’ll project across however much space you want her to with just a couple of sprays, and she lasts well until the next day, even longer on fabric. While Insolence EDT is more about violets than iris proper, it would be impossibly harsh without iris’s calming influence, dampening those projectile materials, and ensuring that, no matter how much fun Insolence can be, she is still a lady at heart. I wish Guerlain had made more of these kinds of classy-trashy creations, rather than the more demure Idylle (Insolence’s follow up). I miss the days when a new designer pillar had the power to polarize, not just between its potential users, but even within the psyche of the same customer. I love Insolence, but like the Añejo I imagine sharing with it, I also have the good sense to treat it with respect. Anyway, I give it a firm five brilliant glittering purple stars, and two Lady Gaga-style metal-junk-bling-laden pointy thumbs up.

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