Thursday, May 12, 2005

Iris Perfumes

In Greek mythology, the goddess Iris was the messenger of the gods, the feminine equivalent to Hermes. Romans flavoured their wine with irises, and threw them on their fires to scent the air. The Iris flower, (known as "Fleur de Lis"), has represented the French monarchy since the medieval era. During the Renaissance, gloves were filled with iris powder to scent the air around the wearer. Chinese men took it internally to ensure virility, and women used it cosmetically to enhance their complexions, and to dye kimonos. More recently, irises are found on Florence's coat of arms, in carved bas-relief within medieval churches, and in the paintings of Claude Monet, Van Gogh, and the Dutch Masters.

The iris has hundreds of botanical species and thousands of varieties, but only one is dedicated to fragrance: Iris Pallida. It takes 3 years to turn one ton of fresh Iris Pallida roots into just 50 ml (about 1.7 ounces) of iris absolute, the precious oil used in perfumery

When I bury my nose into an Iris Pallida flower (which is currently blooming in my gardens), I experience the following

  • cold
  • delicate, fragile
  • candy sweetness
  • iris
  • honey
  • soft subtle green (like sweetened moss)
  • sugar
  • hint of violet
  • zero powdery - it sparkles
  • sweet earthy cold clover (like the grass)
  • newness, something brand new and fresh
  • flowery

Notice that my nose doesn't pick up anything warm about an iris flower. This reminds me of why Isabey Gardenia, and JAR Diamond Waters are such incredibly beautiful and superior perfumes: they don't compromise their unique renditions of gardenias and carnations (respectively) by adding the ever marketable, and scent-warming vanilla, amber, or tonka bean additives. Vanilla and amber are not detected in the iris flower (or carnations or gardenias, for that matter) so there is no reason to begin to think along those lines unless of course the perfumer wants to warm and anchor the floral with this sort of basenote.

Another reason we see so much orris (chopped iris roots, not the absolute) mentioned in perfumes is because it's been used for a couple of hundred years as a perfume fixative. Even chopped up and not liquified, orris acts as a fixative to dried potpourri.

Anyway I fell madly in love with my iris flower and wanted to see how the perfumers had lately been treating the dear garden variety iris pallida, in liquid absolute form, as a top and heartnote, so I tested a few iris perfumes. Here is what I found out:

I have spritzed I Profume di Firenze, Iris di Firenze on my right arm. Odd that it smells identical to a fresh bouquet of flowers, including the dewy freshness, watery composition of petals and leaves, the greeness of roots and stems, and the sweetness of the inner iris flower. But the sweetness of the flower seems to be drowned out by the watery green stems. After awhile, that's all I smell! I give this perfume a 1 out of 10 for missing the point.

    What the perfumer says: A uniquely green floral fragrance composed with the symbol of Florence - the Iris. Beautifully fresh.

On my right hand I have dotted Hermes Hiris which is beautiful, but forms an artistic rendition of an iris. It's very cubist. I smell coconut, patchouli, spices, and iris; a very complex mix, yet every note is a carefully plotted bold statement. The perfume smells like Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant to me - beloved, but not an iris perfume, per se. This perfume deserves highest honors, but for my purposes, it gets a 5 out of 10 for its lack of resemblance to an iris flower.

    What the perfumer says: Hiris is a solifloral fragrance, leant a woody undertone from white iris. Hiris opens on a clear, crystalline top note of neroli, rose and coriander, which hint at the iris to come. The heart fully unveils the iris, with its sweet flowers and warm rhizomes. White and black irises mingle, muted by cedarwood and softened with a subtle feeling of linen. The base notes of ambrette, vanilla bourbon and an almond wood chord blend together for a sensuous, yet tender drydown.

On my left wrist I have Frederick Malle Iris Poudre, which went on like a hairy boar in comparison to a flower, but which has dried down to a definite resemblance to the flower - but it's a little too warm. Or maybe it's my skin that's too warm. Something is too warm about it. I think it is loaded with a vanilla bottom note, which makes the perfume more likeable to a greater market, but which removes the entire outdoorsy quality of its floral nature. This is, I suppose, a more sophisticated perfume that should be worn out in the evening, nowhere near the outdoors. Further, the long it remains on my skin, the more perfumey it becomes. I give it a 5 out of 10 and categorize it with another Frederick Malle: Lipstick Rose, which is something a diva must wear to the opera.

    What the perfumer says: Iris expresses raw classical beauty. Tonka bean, musk and vanilla bring softness and warmth, while the base of sandalwood and vetiver adds a melodious resonance. If Pierre Bourdon's IRIS POUDRE were a garment, it would be a cashmere sweater - classic but personal, appropriate for most occasions, something one never tires of. It is a grand floral aldehydic.

Maitre Perfumer et Gantier Fleur d'Iris, on the back of my left hand, is so subtle, my nose has trouble detecting it . . . there it is! It smells like freshly mowed lawn, iris, candy sweetness, a hint of violet, a summer's day. There is even a tiny green quality like one single lily of the valley bellflower. It is not powdery and it's not sharp either. It's a well blended floral. In fact, I think this is very close to the real thing, but it completely lacks the honey, clover, and freshness of the flower, leaving the perfume in a sort of a dead zone. This is a nice perfume, but nothing to write home about. Funny how close it is to the real flower, but completely missing what is most exciting about the real flower. I give this a 6 out of 10 for being a close but boring rendition of iris pallida.

    What the perfumer says: It is the association of a green note on the background of Iris root. Young note. It suits well the active and sporty woman and the one that wants a perfume that holds well while retaining a certain discretion.

Maitre Perfumeur et Gantier Iris Bleu Gris (for men)- This edt goes on just like freshly mowed lawn, a calming soft and balsamic green. Then a lovely candy sweetness begins to surface and the scent of the true iris pushes through. There is an uncanny likeness to the real flower but the perfume isn't quite as fresh, as churchy fresh, as the real thing. (You know how a church smells when you first walk in? All the flowers and incense at the same time? That is a real flower smell, like the iris in front of my nose.) Iris Bleu Gris is incensy in that fresh-flowery kind of way, a delicate sugary floral with that ethereal violet note which makes the flower slightly earthy without being funereal. The freshness seems to be a leathery note, which is smooth and yet has a newness to it. I'm going to give Iris Bleu Gris a 7 out of 10 for achieving the smell of a real iris pallida flower.

    What the perfumer says: The old Iris root gives an essence, which associated with rare essential oils of wood and aromatic plants, translates into a warm and original fragrance. This blend linked to a leather note makes it the perfume of the tuxedo-wearing man, as well as the speed-loving motorcyclist. Worn at 18 as well as at 50, this eau de toilette is the travel perfume whilst retaining a certain romanticism in its seduction.

Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist is a smooth cedary perfume with a cinnamon kick. The iris is right there but the rest of the notes kick it up a few notches into a screamingly woody cologne. This is the equivalent of a Mexican fiesta with sequins, stomping heels, and wild mustachioed men playing trumpets all night. It is also so velvety as to resemble a blast of cold incensed air hitting you in the face when you first walk into a cathedral. Later, after it calms down a bit, it turns soapy and loses some of its edge. I give this an 8 out of 10 for being a very exciting and imaginative iris perfume.

    The notes: iris roots, cedar, sandalwood, incense, white amber, musk, Chinese benzoin balsam

The Different Company Bois d'Iris provides the sweetness of a real iris, including a honey accord, but the woods make it soft and smooth rather than refreshing and dewy. It is the most beautifully blended of all the perfumes I'm testing today, so that all of its notes present one unified accord. This is a Van Gogh painting of dark irises deep into a sunlit woods; deeply iris and earthy and just loaded with bold strokes of color. I'm going to give this a 10 out of 10 for accurately presenting iris pallida and framing it in woods rather than mixing with woods. It has a je ne sais quoi quality that sets it very far apart from all the other iris perfumes and makes it memorable, unique, and utterly stunning while also remaining closely true to the flower itself. This is without doubt, my favorite of all the iris perfumes, and quite possibly my favorite of all perfumes.

    What the perfumer says: The Iris Pallida, the most aromatic of its kind, grows exclusively in this arid, rocky mountain side (of Tuscany), yet where the soil is mild. Unlike the osmanthus flower whose epidermis cells secrete the essential oil, the iris conceals its olfactory wonders within its roots. Olfactory note: Woody, velvety, sweet and green, refind. Main components: iris Pallida (aka Iris Florentina), vetiver, bergamote, cedar wood, narcissus, geranium, musk.


Tania said...

I've just been trying Bois d'Iris in the past few days, coincidentally, and I love, love, love it except for one thing: It goes away so very, very quickly. Of course, I don't know what an actual iris smells like, so it's interesting to know that if I ever actually find an iris to stick my nose into, it might actually smell like Bois d'Iris (minus the woods). Have you tried Acqua di Parma's Iris Nobile? I did. Eh. The topnotes are great, and then it warps into chemical sweetness.

careerlady (on said...

Thank you so much for telling me about Iris Nobile. I will have to try it, if for nothing else, to add to my education. As for Bois d'Iris, it's the one TDC that lasts all day on me - the other TDC's disappear in a couple of hours. I'm so sorry it doesn't last on you.

Dene' said...

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human pheromones said...

Well, its good to know that the iris has hundreds of botanical species and thousands of varieties,thats why its dedicated to fragrance. You have a nice blog so informative.