Fragrance Throwdown: Ulric de Varens Pour Elle Versus Frederic Malle Iris Poudre

When I first heard of Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums, it was early in 2009, and the reviews I noticed were for En Passant, the ethereal scent of green notes, lilac, and bread, and for Carnal Flower, the glowing white floral. Someone on Now Smell This mentioned going to the Malle website and filling out a questionnaire in order to receive a sample, and my ears perked up. I don’t live within ten hours’ drive of a location selling Malle fragrances, so I thought I’d try the website. I filled out the very nosy, somewhat incomprehensible questionnaire (“What clothing designers do you favor?” Uh, none.) and received a recommendation for Iris Poudre. I promptly discarded the suggestion: I’m not a big iris fan, and I don’t care for scents that remind me of baby powder, I said to myself. The second suggestion was for Une Fleur de Cassie, but that one sounded difficult too. I ignored the recommendation.

A few months later, after having tried En Passant and found it pleasant but not an emotional experience, I filled out the Malle website questionnaire again. This time the suggestions were for Iris Poudre and Lipstick Rose. I reply-emailed the Malle rep with a question about how I could find samples. “You could order them,” he said. “We sell them on the website.” Uh, thanks for your time, Philippe.

I did finally find a sample of Carnal Flower, and discovered it to be fully as wonderful as I had expected. I tried Lipstick Rose and thought it silly; I tried Lys Mediterranee and liked its salty aquatic lily. Une Rose charmed me at first with its stunningly lovely rose note, and then its woody amber base started chasing me around the house with a machete.

And then a friend sent me a sample of Iris Poudre that hadn’t suited her. I checked the reviews on Iris Poudre, which mostly said things like, “very girly,” “my dressed-up date-night fragrance,” “a pinup scent,” as well as “not very irisy.” I looked again at the notes listed: iris, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean, musk, vanilla. I don’t even like iris that much, I said to myself again. Or vetiver, for that matter. I sighed. I spritzed the sample.

And fell, hard. The snowy sparkle of aldehydes charmed me. The cool-warm character of the woody-vanilla base seduced me. Although no floral notes are listed at all, I seem to smell a faint sweetness of rose and jasmine; the satin of iris hides under the smoothness of sandalwood, tonka and musk. The whole thing is cream-colored and lovely, fluffy as angora. It lasts four to five hours on me, on the short end of average for eau de parfum.

I schemed and planned and finally managed to get my hands on a decant. I love this stuff. The drydown reminds me very much of Mariella Burani, which I also love, without the citrus angle.  (Funny how Mariella Burani seems something like No. 5, and something like Iris Poudre, all at the same time.)

I’d actually been planning a different throwdown for Iris Poudre for some time – versus Mariella Burani – but this comparison popped up out of nowhere when I was reading some older posts at Perfume Shrine. Elena calls her smell-alike reviews “Twin Peaks,” and she suggested that this fragrance I’d never heard of was a pretty good, if cheap, dupe of the wonderful Iris Poudre. I snapped up a small 1oz bottle online for less than $10.

When it arrived in the mail, I opened the box to find a stiff, translucent plastic package encasing one of the most adorable cheapo-bling bottles I’ve ever seen: it is shaped like a handbag. The bottle is glass, with a top made of plastic painted silver; it has a movable handle, cute as all get-out.

Ahem. We never buy for the bottle.

Ulric de Varens is a French company that produces fragrances for sale in what Americans would call “the drugstore market.” Downscale, you’d think, like Parfums de Coeur or Revlon? Pricewise, yes. But several of UdV’s scents were composed by Jean Claude Ellena and Pierre Bourdon. (Yes, I’m serious.) No perfumer is listed for UdV pour elle, which was released in 1999. Fragrantica lists notes of pear, rose, jasmine, lily, and white musk, which really gives no idea what the scent is like. I’d add aldehydes and tonka bean to the list.

Upon first spray of UdV, I can’t help laughing: it smells, unmistakably, of old-fashioned hair spray. The hair spray accord only lasts three or four minutes, and then I get classic soapy-powdery aldehydes overlaid with a light, synthetic pear note that also lasts just a few moments. From there, UdV is very much an aldehydic floral, a classic mixed-floral bouquet with a powdery sparkle. I can’t pick out the floral notes; “rose, jasmine, and lily,” you say? Whatever. It just comes across as just floral. It fades down to a skin scent, scarcely perceptible, after about an hour on me, even using the “sprayed wet” technique. At this point it is at what I’d call its prettiest stage: a soft musk, the powdery remains of the aldehydes, the smoothness of tonka bean, vanilla and woods. This stage lasts several hours on me, eventually fading into a very quiet vanilla-musk with a creamy-powdery texture very reminiscent of Dior New Look 1947.

It does smell somewhat like Iris Poudre, particularly in the aldehydic opening and the soft powdery-creamy drydown. There is an essential cheapness to Ulric de Varens pour Elle, a lack of natural ingredients that nevertheless avoids, to a large degree, the harshness of most drugstore-quality fragrances. The pear note is quite synthetic, and the woods, and probably most of the florals. However, the composition as a whole is very smooth and seamless, with a soft sueded texture that I find very enjoyable.  It also reminds me of New Look 1947, without the white florals – and yet I love Iris Poudre and don’t love New Look.  Couldn’t tell you why one and not the other.

Ulric de Varens is not comparable in quality to the Malle fragrance. And yet if you’re not flush enough with cash for a bottle of Iris Poudre, the UdV scent is at the very least a cheap, cheerful stopgap.

Other comparisons to Iris Poudre seem frequently to mention Ferre by Ferre, the black and gold “grenade” bottle, with the suggestion that the Ferre scent is easier to find and cheaper. Well, that’s not the case at the time of writing: Ferre is available on ebay if you are patient to sort through the Ferre fragrances for the one you want, but not much cheaper than the Malle. I have a mini bottle. It is not in good shape – the aldehydes have deteriorated, so that it smells like nail polish remover – so I have not worn it enough to write a proper review. When I have given it a thorough wearing, I’ll add Ferre by Ferre to the Fragrance Throwdown.

Image of wrestlers from Wikimedia Commons. Fragrance images from Fragrantica.


13 thoughts on “Fragrance Throwdown: Ulric de Varens Pour Elle Versus Frederic Malle Iris Poudre”

  1. I was fascinated by your review comparison. I have spotted Ulric de Varens many times in German drugstore chains but tuned out to it completely for snobbish reasons, unaware of the heavyweight noses behind some of the scents in this line. I will definitely give this one a spin next time I see it, as I love Iris Poudre too. The cute bottle is a lot of fun too!

  2. Oddly enough, the drydown of Iris Poudre reminded me very much of Idole d’Armani — which I inherited from a friend. IdA is not aldehydic but must have the same base structure (vanilla, musk, vetiver). IdA also shares a pear note with the Iris Poudre dupe. The pear note is body/room spray quality — cheap and way too sweet. But the drydown isn’t bad.

    1. I’ve only seen Idole d’Armani at the mall, where I picked it up and sniffed the sprayer. Wasn’t compelled to spritz it on myself.

      I love the Iris Poudre/Mariella Burani drydown. UdV is too faint for love, but it makes me laugh every single time I put it on: so cheesy, so over-the-top girly/makeup-y. That aspect did NOT amuse me in New Look 1947, and it didn’t in Lipstick Rose either, so apparently I *like* my makeup&hairspray scents, but *only* if they’re cheap.

      And thank you very much again for the IP sample. It certainly found a home.

      1. Yeah, that wasn’t a recommendation! It’s an entirely skippable perfume, I just happen to own a bottle, which I occasionally use as a room spray.

        I feel the same way about cheap stuff: I forgive it a lot. If a bottle costs more than $100 I expect a lot more.

        I’m so glad you love the Iris Poudre! I figured you were a good bet for a classy aldehydic.

      2. On the cheap stuff: OH yes. Fancy-pants spendies better be All That, but I have lower standards for scents I spent less than $20 on.

        Just for kicks, I did the nosy questionnaire at the FM website again, and their suggestions were: Iris Poudre, Carnal Flower, and Lys Mediterranee. To which I say, Well, you boys FINALLY got it right! Those are my Malle picks.

        I admit to not having tried all of them yet; would still like to try the Musc Ravageur oil and L’eau d’Hiver… and the Fleur de Cassie sample is giving me pleading eyes from the sample basket.

  3. I was in an antique store today and came across a bottle of Mariella Burani – have never sniffed it and it was in a locked case and I just wasn’t in the mood to go through all that….but you’ve piqued my interest – will check it out. IP doesn’t do much for me, though every now and then I get glimpses of pure genius therein. I don’t get the pinup metaphor at all – to me, it’s almost austere. Obviously I need to revisit!

    I would buy that Ulrich thingy just for the bottle! It’s cute as can be!!!


    1. Hi, A! I love Mariella Burani – not least because it is No. 5-ish without being exactly No. 5 edc, which is the Smell of my Mom… (love my mom, it’s just weird smelling like her – I can wear No. 5 parfum, but only parfum, and only occasionally). Also, the drydown is bertyful.

      However, I remember you hate musk, and there is musk in there with the tonka/benzoin/sandalwood drydown. You can give MB a miss with a clear conscience.

      I don’t get the pinup thing with IP either, although I do find it both very girly and very comforting. (The UdV bottle is Trashy Cute! Saw it in my dresser hatbox this morning as I was picking out SOTD, and had to smile.)

  4. I used to like one of UdV’s fragrances – Isa. It’s still available from the brand’s website but they do not ship to the U.S., so now I’m waiting for the occasion to get it.
    I love Iris Powder and I’m fascinated with finding smell-alikes, so I will try to find UdV’s pour elle and run my own comparison. I also have one more candidate for the same “throwdown” but I need to confirm it for myself once again before “accusing” such a masterpiece as IP.

    1. Hi, U! I’ve never seen any UdVs anywhere except ebay… I see on Fragrantica that they have a LOT of fragrances.

      Will you share what your smell-alike suspect is, or are you going to blog about it? (You blog, right? I have run across several good ‘fume blogs recently that I need to add to my links box, and I think you have one…)

      1. I do blog (well, I try to – just started recently after reading for years other people’s blogs). I do not know why my gravatar sometimes refuses to show the link to my blog, so just in case – . But it’s just to introduce myself, my blog is too young to be getting on anybody’s blog roll yet.

        As for my suspect, I do plan to write about it soon. Being under the influence of this post I decided to wear Iris Powder today and I’m enjoying it immensely. So, thank you.

  5. I took that Malle survey yesterday and cheerfully admitted to getting most of my clothes from charity shops. I wonder what they will make of that. I haven’t tried any Malles yet but I have been eyeing them. Lys Mediterranee could be a good place to start, for my taste.

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