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Nose to Nose – Our Top 10 Scents for May – Iris Notes - April 30, 2014

Photo -Wikipedia - Iris Wattii - by Stan Herbs

Kay: Hey, what’re you doing, Gwen?

Gwen: I’m just planning a new section of garden in the backyard for irises. You know, they are my FAVOURITE spring flower!

Kay: I know they’re your favourite flower. I’ve seen your garden – you’ve already got tons of irises back there.

Gwen: Well, they are my MOST favourite flower. There’s just something about irises that resonates with me. It’s such a majestic plant. Did you know that the fleur-de-lis is a stylized iris? It was adopted as a French emblem in the 12th century by Louis VII and the red fleur-de-lis is in the coat-of-arms of France.

Kay: Iris is a gorgeous note in perfumery too, just look at how many great iris fragrances there are!

Gwen: Yeah, my iris obsession extends to iris frags as well. It’s one my most fave perfume notes, too, and this is the time of year when I really look forward to wearing my irises. Of course, when we talk about iris, we really mean the root.

Kay: That’s true. It’s odd that the blooms are so beautiful, but it’s the aromatic rhizomes from Iris Germanica and Iris Pallida, called Sweet Iris, that make the fabulous scent.  The rhizomes, or roots, are harvested, cleaned, stored, dried and aged for up to five years before being distilled into orris butter, the compound used by perfumers.

Gwen: Did you know that fresh rhizomes are odourless?

Kay: Yep - the aging process is where the divine goodness comes from.

Gwen: You mean that woody, fatty-oily, sweet floral violet-like iris scent? And the dry woody austere ethereal iris scent? Or the green misty earthy scent?

Kay: All of them – isn’t iris amazing? It can be so different, depending on the other notes it’s combined with. So, what are your favourite iris frags?

Gwen: Needless to say, I have more than a few, but since we are limiting ourselves to five each, here’re my current faves:

Iris Nazarena -  Aedes de Venustas

An ode to Iris bismarckiana Regel, such a grogeous iris by the way, I ris Nazarena opens with cool, earthy – dirty or rooty - iris followed by ambrette, its pear, rose and musk facets round out the iris, making it fuller and more accessible. The base of woods, musk and vetiver give it a rich warmth that is sensuous and comfortable without being heavy or dark, making it perfectly wearable in any season.

Iris Nobile Edizione Speciale 2008  - Acqua di Parma

That opening of star anise warming sweet juicy mandarin and bitter bergamot softened with fragrant orange blossom just grabs at my heart. With no harsh blasts of citrus or spicy edges, but a transparency that hints at what’s to come - a floral heart of Florentine iris and exotic ylang ylang.. A note of peach gives it a gentle fruitiness while cumin, slightly bitter and anisic echoes the top notes. Amber and vanilla at the base sweetens it up just enough, and oakmoss and patchouli play the perfect counterpoint to the citrus opening by giving it some depth and darkness.The drydown is like the Florentine iris: regal, aristocratic and elegant.

Iris Silver Mist – Serge Lutens

It opens with galbanum, green and tangy paired with earthy, cold, moist iris. It’s cold, earthy and raw – delicious! Clove appears and for a little while stands right up beside the iris, its warm spiciness playing off the cold rootiness of the iris. Vetiver bolsters the green aspect of the iris, while amber, incense and musk at the base give it a beautiful sheer, resiny drydown. An iris masterpiece!

Infusion d'Iris Eau de Parfum Absolue - Prada

This iris opens with a zing of bitter neroli softened with sweetness from orange blossom. While the top notes linger powdery, dry iris shows up, its cool nobility beautifully playing off the warmth of the orange blossom. The iris here is not aggressive or bold, but intense, rich and luxurious. At the base, it gets romantic real fast as resinous benzoin gives it a medicinal, almost balsamy, note which adds depth. Tonka bean adds a spicy/vanilla dimension that complements the sweetness of vanilla, while white musk gives it an arousing, animalic note. 

Duel – Annick Goutal

Duel opens with a gentle citrus note of petitgrain joined by green, slightly camphorous mate. As it blooms, the maté gets earthier but a smudge of absinth sweetens and lightens it. At the heart, iris root, velvety and cool and appears alongside woody, slightly floral Gaiac wood. All of it resting on a base of soft, supple sensuous leather and animalic musk. I love the smell of this on a man!

Kay: I’ve got a few, too. Here’s mine – some are all about iris, some feature iris in the heart, and they’re all different:

Iris de Nuit­ – Heeley

It opens green, light, and dry, with iris, and angelica, the heart has carrot and iris so it has an anisic sweetness, but the iris carries all the way through the dry-down, with a hint of soft powdery woods from the cedar and amber base notes. Iris de Nuit is the way I imagine iris blooms should smell. Light and pure – not glammed up with florals or spices. It features the natural earthiness of iris.

28 La Pausa - Chanel

Another natural iris created by Jacques Polge in 2007, 28 La Pausa is mainly just iris, pure and simple, with the merest whisper of vetiver in the dry down, making it a soft green floral that smells slightly sweet, cool, and alive. It’s iris, unadorned, clear, and radiantly beautiful in its simplicity.

Cuir de Russie –Chanel

This is Iris and leather, and it has a raw edge to it, so it works for both men and women. Start with the most luxurious of leathers and fizzy aldehydes, which infuse the iris note into the leather, creating a dry sensation. When the iris rises up again, it joins all the other floral notes: jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, orange blossom. When the feminine florals subside, the funky animalics, civet and castoreum mix with the smoky leather, balsam and woods, giving Cuir de Russie its slightly brutish, masculine edge. Divine!

Love in Black – Creed

This opens with violet, a big sweet metallic purple violet note, big and loud, and not what I expect, but I decide to wait, and waiting, I discover, is part of the charm of Love in Black. The dramatic violet note recedes, revealing powdery rooty iris, damp and nutty when mixed with the chastened violet/cedar, with hints of rising bread dough, spices and vanilla. Not at all gourmand or sweet, it’s unique, calming, classic and elegant, and smells like old money.

Après l’Ondée – Guerlain

This is one of my favourite scents that feature the iris note, rather than being all about iris. This classic Guerlain opens with almondy violet notes, pale and spring-like, and then becomes more haunting as the iris note starts to emerge. Aniseed and carnation, then herbs - thyme, rosemary and sage - give this scent weight, and bring it back down to earth before it floats away like a helium balloon. Luca Turin thinks that Après l’Ondée is one of the 20 best perfumes ever made. I do, too - It’s just beautiful.

Gwen: The irises in my garden won’t bloom until the end of May, but I’m already wearing my frags. I want to enjoy them as long as possible!

Kay: Is that why your iris perfumes are lined up on your dresser?

Gwen: Of course! And aren’t they just beautiful? Everytime I walk by, I just grab one and spritz! I’m in heavenly clouds of iris all day long.

Kay: A great idea, BFF. I’m going home to do exactly the same.


Click on the links and read our stories about our favourite "irises". Then try a few, and explore one of the classic notes in perfumery. You won't regret it.