Incredible Irises – Perfume Lovers London, Thursday 22nd November

By Tara

Iris is one of my favourite notes. Its presence can add a touch of class and interest to just about any perfume. I’m obviously not alone in this view because The New Cavendish Club was packed out for the latest meeting of Perfume Lovers London, focusing on iris perfumes.

irises-1889

The group’s organizer, Lila, was our host for the evening and she confided that at first she was unsure about doing a whole event about iris perfumes, because the differences between them can often be slight. However, the aim of the event was to learn those subtle differences and to be able to broaden our range of descriptors for the iris note and for perfume in general.

Lila told us that she feels irises span a spectrum, with powdery, delicate irises at one end and rooty, earthy irises at the other. Traditionally used as a fixative to make perfumes last longer, iris has become more popular as a prominent note since the rise of niche perfumery. Lila likened the use of small amounts of iris in a perfume to adding cream to a sauce in order to give it a velvety quality. It has performed this function in iconic perfumes such as Chanel No.5 and Patou’s Joy.

The process of turning iris roots – or rhizomes – into orris butter takes time and results in a very small yield. The root is left in the ground for at least 3 years and then dried for a further three years before being ground up, diluted in water and steam distilled. One ton of iris root produces two kilos of orris butter, which costs in the region of 100,000€ per kilo.

Interestingly, Lila had two iris absolutes for us to try. Firstly Iris Pallida which was dry and powdery, almost musty, and a bit doughy. Then a blend of Iris Florentina and Iris Germanica which was decidedly deeper and much more rooty, with a resemblance to carrots. Of the two, Iris Pallida came across as more refined. Experiencing these materials would inform our appreciation of the following iris perfumes:

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Irisss, Xerjoff

Irisss features iris butter, carrot seed, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang absolute, violet leaves, vetiver and cedarwood. Available for a whopping 600 euros a bottle, Irisss is a sophisticated, straight-up iris that is on the rooty side but still very wearable. However, for that price-tag I’d want it to knock my socks off and make me dinner. It didn’t do either.

Iris 39, Le Labo

Le Labo only list 10 of the 39 notes; iris, lime, patchouli, rose, ylang ylang, musk, violet, ginger, cardamom and civet. This is a slightly spicy, earthy iris with noticeable patchouli and musk. It sounds interesting on paper but somehow it failed to move me, probably because it has a cold, herbal aspect.

At this point a box of iris roots was passed around the room. They looked similar to root ginger and smelled a lot milder than I would have imagined. Orris is also apparently used as a fixative in gin, so shot glasses of the spirit were passed around for us to inhale and taste. Much chatter ensued, as you can imagine. Some detected a scent akin to iris but just as many did not.

Lila played us some classical music which had just happened to come on the radio while she was organising this event. She felt it chimed perfectly with the romantic and diaphanous quality that iris can sometimes have and I completely agree. The piece is called “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt.

Chanel No.19

No.19 is a green iris thanks to lots of galbanum. A piece of galbanum gum resin was circulated for us to sniff and it really does smell like the very essence of plant-life. Just wonderful.

Lila seemed to be alone in viewing No.19 as a comfort scent. Most agreed it was much more of a “mean bitch” perfume. It may be perceived as austere but it was also described as elegant and classic. I really hope to grow into No.19 one day.

Iris Silver Mist, Serge Lutens

ISM is iris to the nth degree. While it may not be easy to wear, it does smell amazing. Opinions in the room were split owing to the strong earthy, carroty nature of the iris. It smells like turnips and carrots being dug up on a cold, murky morning. Lila read a much more romantic description of it by Luca Turin from Perfumes: The A-Z Guide “…the powderiest, rootiest, most sinister iris imaginable, a large gray ostrich-feather boa to wear with purple devoré velvet at poet’s funeral”.

Iris Ukiyoe, Hermes

This Hermessence created by Jean Claude Ellena features notes of water iris, green shoots, orange blossom and mandarin. JCE was seeking to capture the fragrance of the iris flower, rather than the iris root. It was a lot nicer than I remember on previous testing. It was much more fresh and floral than any of the other irises we tried and had a kind of sparkling quality.

The final iris perfume we tested together was -

Naiviris, Huitieme Art

Pierre Guillaume of Parfumerie Generale is the man behind Huitieme Art. The line uses the minimum of ingredients to create plant-inspired fragrances. Naiviris is a rather powdery iris with a peppery opening and a clean woody backdrop. I can’t say this made much of an impression on me but someone did say it reminded her of the smell of “soft leather hand-bags” which is no bad thing if that‘s what you get from it. It combines Red African Iris and Zebra Wood Essence.

DSC02219

In rounding up, Lila mentioned some irises she enjoys wearing herself including Chanel’s 28 La Pausa (minimalist iris), In Peace by Space NK (fresh and feminine iris) and Infusion d’Iris Absolue by Prada (everyday iris). Lila also pointed to Hiris by Hermes as an iris that she would place in the middle of the spectrum, being neither too powdery nor too rooty.

My current iris of choice is Equistrius by Parfums d’Empire which is a warm iris with a lovely suede-like feel to it and touches of vanilla and chocolate. The colder, slightly metallic irises are not really me. Another great iris gourmand is the now sadly discontinued Iris Ganache by Guerlain.

Happily, there were lots of iris perfumes for us to try once the discussion was over. These included L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Dzongkha (vegetal iris) Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre (chic iris) and Iris Nobile by Acqua di Parma (creamy iris). There was also the leathery, rather masculine Cuir d’Iris by Parfumerie Generale.

It was great to be able to try such a wide range of iris perfumes from so many different brands, all in the one place. No one could have left without a clear idea of what the many facets of iris smell like and the vocabulary to describe them.

Apart from the perfume, the event was a great opportunity to meet up with fellow fragrance enthusiasts. It was lovely to catch up with The Candy Perfume Boy, Nick from Les Senteurs and regular OT commenter and guest poster, Alexandra. It was also a chance to meet the wonderful Lady Jane Grey and perfume blogger Freddie from Smelly Thoughts.

Many thanks to Lila for an enlightening evening and to Basenotes for sponsoring the event.

Have you tried any of the iris perfumes mentioned above? What are your thoughts? What are your favorites?

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47 Responses to Incredible Irises – Perfume Lovers London, Thursday 22nd November

  1. andrea says:

    My favourite note of all time is Iris so this was a really interesting article, I have worked my way through a lot of the above some with success (Iris Ganache, 28 La Pausa) Some with not so much success (Iris Silver Mist, I know I should love it but I just don’t and Chanel No 19, I have tried in every formulation possible and it still does not sit well with me)
    The Irissss I was glad to see that it didn’t blow your socks off, I have been tempted by this one for a long time but the price point is just ridiculous, I will still try it at some point hopefully.
    My favourite Iris perfume though is still La Femme Bleue. :-)

    • Tara says:

      Andrea, I think of a lot of us admire ISM but don’t find it that wearable so you’re not alone. The Candy Perfume Boy feels the same and when B wears it, her family tell her she smells of carrots! You are much safer with the ultra sophisticated but wearable La Femme Bleue.

      You can try Irisss on the 5th floor of Harrods but I’d be surprised if you thought it worth the price-tag, as nice and high quality as it is.

  2. annemariec says:

    What is the Goutal in your photo? Heure Exquise? So lovely. I’ve tried to like Iris Poudre but there is an artificial – ‘superficial’ I think of it – note in it that puts me off. And the cocoa powder in Equistrius distracts me from its other notes. Sigh. Well, there is always Chanel No 19. I would describe No 19 as a comfort scent but only in the sense that I have worn it for so many years and it has been a true friend, if not always an easy one.

    Thanks for the Spiegel im Spiegel. Haven’t heard it in ages.

    • Tara says:

      Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s Heure Exquise, unless someone corrects me. There’s a note that puts me off Iris Poudre too annemarie. I think it’s the ambrette which I don’t get on with in Chanel No18 either. Too bad the cocoa in Equistrius spoilts it for you.

      It’s nice to hear that No.19 has been such a constant companion for you and that you enjoyed the music.

  3. Was lovely to meet you too! :) Was a fun night, in which I got hammered afterwards with Grant, Nick, and a girl I didn’t know :’)

  4. Olfactoria says:

    Thank you for reporting so thoroughly, Tara, I always feel I’ve almost been there. (I still wish I really was though.)
    My favorite iris is La Femme Bleue (then Iris Ganache and Equistrius, I seem to like my iris dipped in chocolate :) ). Another iris-rich floral that is simply gorgeous due to the high quality of the orris used, is Xerjoff Ibitira, which comes quite a bit cheaper than Irisss.

    • Tara says:

      I’m glad I could make you feel as if you were there, B.

      I can totally relate to your fondness of the chocolate and iris pairing. It warms up the chilly iris nicely and it’s such a lovely contrast.

      Thanks for the tip about Ibitira.

  5. Alexandra says:

    Hurrah what a good write up – thank you Tara, and it was lovely to see you too. Iris is never going to be a favourite of mine, but Lila’s fascinating introduction to the absolutes really helped me recognise and understand iris in a way I haven’t been able to before. I have also completely used up my sample of Equistrius since and now can’t decide whether I need another sample or a slightly larger decant!

    P.s. and in other news I have finally decided to wear Mohur to my brother’s wedding, it is just too beautiful for words.

    • Tara says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the write- up Alex! Good to know that Equistrius is growing on you too.

      Mohur is just a perfect choice for your brother’s wedding.

  6. Dionne says:

    Oh, that would have been so much fun to be there! Iris is my favorite note as well, with 28 LP, Equistrius and IdI in my top three, and decants of ISM, Iris 39, Hiris, Mythique and TDC’s Bois d’Iris as part of my collection, and I wouldn’t turn down a decant of Iris Nobile if it came my way. My son and I also share a pre-reformulation bottle of Dior Homme.

    I’ve tried most of the others you’ve listed except for the Xerjoff, which… yeah, probably not going to happen. Because my skin amps sweetness, Iris Ganache and VC&A’s BdI are a no-go, but other than that, no other note works as successfully on my skin. Irises I still want to sample include Iris de Nuit, Terre d’Iris, Iris Bleu Gris, L’Homme de Coeur, Impossible Iris and Odin 04 Petrana.

    • Tara says:

      I wish you could have been there Dionne. So many irises to try. Impossible Iris was there and is in one of the pics but I only tried it on Alex’s arm! I’ve wanted to try Mythique for ages so it’s good to hear you are a fan.

      I’m glad you have a pre-reformulation bottle of Dior Homme, it’s wonderful (or was anyway). I can totally understand Iris Genache being a no-go for someone whose skin amplifies sweetness because it’s very sweet on most people I think.

  7. Kimberly says:

    My only iris centric fragrance is Noble 1942 Ponteveccio W. I got a little sample of this a few years ago and fell in love. I was beside myself until I finally bought the full bottle, but when it came it smelled very different from my little sample, it was very scritchy and scratchy, with none of the rounded softness and grace of my sample. I was incredibly disappointed, but for some reason held on to it anyway. Last summer was so hot, and I didn’t feel like wearing the usual suspects so I sprayed some on. Voila! A mere two years after purchasing (and testing, and comparing over and over to my little sample) it was beautiful! It was exactly what I fell in love with in the first place, and I can’t tell you how happy I was. It is so funny, because two years later it became the opposite of stale. Has anyone else had a perfume that became better after sitting around a while?

    • Tara says:

      Wow, I’ve never heard of a perfume improving with age but anything’s possible. I wonder if it was the hot weather conditions that made it seem different, I’ve experienced that before.

      Anyway whatever the reason, I’m so pleased your story had a happy ending!

    • annemariec says:

      Maybe it had not had enough time to macerate, meaning (I believe) that it had been recently blended and the fragrant molecules had not dispersed sufficiently in the alcohol. I’m no expert, that is just what I have read. (Some people say that the ‘maceration’ concept is hogwash!) Anyway, there is a thread on Basenotes about it. Apparently in some circumstances it is possible for perfume to age well in the bottle!

  8. lucasai says:

    Iris is my far favourite note in perfume and some of those you tried belong to my favourite, some even have a royal title in my collection (like Iris Pallida, Prada Infusion d’Homme, VC&A Bois d’Iris)

  9. Eva S says:

    It must have been a lovely evening, wish I could have been there! Iris is one of my favorite notes, I like my iris both cold and rooty (ISM) and warm with chocolate or leather (Cuir Ottoman).

    • Tara says:

      You would have enjoyed it Eva, I’m sure.

      That’s great that you love iris in all its forms from rooty to gourmand. Cuir Ottoman has a lot of fans but I didn’t know there was iris in there.

  10. Lady Jane Grey says:

    The iris meeting was a great fun and I was so happy to meet you all. I hope to see you again very soon !

  11. What a wonderful write-up! Thank you, Tara. I loved reading more about iris and orris root. I am learning to love iris, but it takes me a little longer to appreciate than other flowers. I would love to try Iris Ganache. I should order a sample . . .

  12. laniersmith says:

    Olfactoria thank you for sharing your night of the Iris with us. I so enjoyed listening to the music that was played at the event while I read it. Almost like being there too. I have not tried any of these Iris perfumes but NO.19 and Equestrius sound really interesting to me.

    • Tara says:

      I’m glad the music helped to make you feel like you there. It was a really fun and informative evening. No.19 and Equistrius are two stand-out iris perfumes, for sure.

  13. Elizabeth Watson says:

    Thanks for this post on Iris. I haven’t tried too many of these, but AG Heure Exquise has to be one of my all-time favorite perfumes. I’ll put some of these on my must-try list.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Elizabeth, I’m glad the post gave you some ideas for new perfumes to try. I hope you find something to love as much as Heure Exquise.

  14. Jackie b says:

    Oooh, Iris, my absolute favourite!
    Have tried most of the fragrances in your review, and have a tiny blob of iris butter, just incredible!
    I envy you your iris evening.
    But you have given me more ideas to feed my addic….er, interest!

  15. Undina says:

    Iris is one of my favorite ingredients as well so I tried almost all of the perfumes mentioned and like almost all of them: Iris Ukiyoe didn’t work on my sking but everything else I enjoy wearing.

    Tara, thank you for describing the event: your reports are the next best thing (I wish I could be there :) ).

    • Tara says:

      I did think of you when this event came up. I know you have a love of iris and I’m not surprised you’ve tried almost all of those mentioned.

      I remain hopeful that you will decide to take a vacation in London one day and come along to a PLL meeting. It would be so good to have you there!

  16. Suzanne says:

    Tara, it’s obvious by your reports that the London Perfume Lovers Group is the place to be. These events sound really nice. I’d have loved to smell the raw materials you talked about.

    My favorite perfumes which feature iris as a prominent note are Frederic Malle Iris Poudre and Annick Goutal Heure Exquise. And like Eva, I find that Cuir Ottoman has a strong emphasis on iris as it dries down … a very powdery iris that develops out of an almost butch leather. Mmm, that one is quite the combination. Overall, I guess I don’t care that much for iris as the star note, but I love it as a key player .. and I guess if I were to pick a favorite, it would be Heure Exquise.

    • Tara says:

      I think I’m probably the same as you Suzanne. I love iris in a supporting role the most. I really must give Cuir Ottoman another go, you make it sound very alluring.

      The meetings really do add another wonderful dimension to this little fragrant obsession and it was a great opportunity to experience the raw materials. The blotters are still by my PC monitor as I type and they smell so good!

  17. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for this very comprehensive report of the night – sounds like you really bottomed out all the facets of the note and got to try an interesting bunch of iris-themed scents.

    Like you, I am still waiting to grow into No 19(!), with the Poudre version being much more my style. I also like La Pausa (which I called “cryogenic iris” once as it is so chilly), and a couple of gentle iris fragrances like Cartier L’Heure Promise and L’Artisan Mon Numero No 8. Oh, and SL Bas de Soie. Rooty, metallic and funereal scents like Iris Silver Mist don’t really do it for me, though it is masterly!

    • Tara says:

      Vanessa, I wonder if we’ll ever get into No.19.

      I totally agree that metalic and funereal is not really what I’m looking for in a personal fragrance!

      I just love that you call La Pausa “cryogenic iris” – that is simply perfect (and witty too).

  18. ava says:

    WOW, so detailed information about iris scents, thank you : )
    I wonder why nobody mentioned Terre d’iris by Miller Harris. Well worth to be included in this exquisite collection here ; )
    A rather creamy but still fresh Iris.

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