People often speak about iris as one of perfumery’s most expensive materials, but they don’t always talk about its beauty. Despite its expense, iris is one of the most prevalent materials found in perfumes today, precisely because of its beauty and complex odour profile. But where does it come from, and what does it smell like?
Orris, the material used in perfumery, is extracted from the root of iris and not the flower. These roots (or rhizomes) are dried over several years and then ground before the distillation process, at the end of which they become orris butter – a solid, paste-like mixture used in perfumes. Due to the lengthy ageing process and the fact that one ton of iris root produces approximately two kilos of orris butter, orris is one of the costliest perfume materials around.
The odour profile of iris/orris is complex. It has an earthy character, which could be described as vegetal or mineral, evoking the smell of vegetables such as carrots and turnips. It also has a sweetness to it, sharing similarities with violet. Texture-wise, iris can be powdery but also suede-like. It can even feel quite doughy and dense, but it can be weightless in some executions, possessing a smell like a fresh sheet of white paper. It’s a fascinating material that can be pulled in many directions due to its multifaceted scent.
In this guide, we’ve highlighted eight examples of iris perfumes that show just how versatile and luxurious this material is (and yes, these eight icons all featured in our #EscentualScents perfume trial this March…)
Scent A: The Fresh Iris
Tiffany & Co Eau de Parfum
Tiffany & Co’s signature perfume feels as sparkling and flawless as a diamond. The central theme of the fragrance is a translucent, brilliant iris that is softly powdery but, for the most part, showcases the clean, mineral facets of the material. Accented with green mandarin and delicate white musks, Tiffany & Co Eau de Parfum is a beautifully transparent perfume that wears like a second skin. And let’s be honest, what could be a more fabulous accent to your skin than the delicate shimmer of diamonds? Nothing: the answer is nothing.
Scent B: The Suave Iris
Valentino Uomo Intense Eau de Parfum
We often think of iris as a material that’s used to create powdery, floral effects in feminine fragrances – and it often is, but iris is wonderfully versatile and finds its way into many masculine perfumes too. Take Uomo Intense from Valentino, for example. This deeper and richer take on Uomo pairs iris and leather to create a sleek, suede effect that is delicately sprinkled with Uomo’s aromatic, gourmand facets. The result is a fragrance that smells like a sharply tailored velvet suit (Valentino, of course) in an inky shade of black. Yes, iris can be feminine and pretty, but it can also be as suave as hell too!
Scent C: The Powdery Iris
Parfums de Marly Athalia Eau de Parfum
Iris is known for its powdery texture. It’s sometimes used in perfume more for the way it feels, rather than how it smells. Athalia showcases the powdery side of iris, using it as an accent to its other notes, weaving it in with a subtle blend of orange blossom, incense and vanilla to create a fragrance that feels luxurious, supple and smooth. Athalia celebrates the understated luxury of iris – it’s not a note to shout or boast, and neither is Athalia.
Scent D: The Violet Iris
GUERLAIN Insolence Eau de Toilette
There is a lot of overlap in the molecular structure of iris and violets, meaning that the two are the kissing cousins of the perfume world. In Insolence Eau de Toilette, GUERLAIN masterfully weaves the two together, tying the finely milled texture of iris to the sweet earthiness of violet to create a tremendous haze of powder. Red berries intensify the sweetness whilst vanilla in the base creates a sense of warmth. Insolence is a riot of a perfume that knows how to have fun and does so unabashedly, making the statement that iris fragrances don’t have to be shrinking violets at all. They can be huge, skyscraper violets gleaming with impressive beauty.
Scent E: The Warm Iris
Miller Harris Powdered Veil Eau de Parfum
I think we can all agree that Powdered Veil is a wonderfully evocative phrase, and I can confirm that the fragrance more than lives up to its delightful name. This is a warmer take on iris that pulls the spicy, fruity notes of pink pepper into a cuddle of powder, accented by the intimate, skin-like feel of white flowers and the resinous intensity of amber. Powdered Veil makes you think of naked skin dusted lightly with powder – it’s delicate and soft, yes, just like cuddling a loved one, but it’s also a bit animalic too, almost as if whoever you are embracing may have forgotten their clothes….
Scent F: The Cosmetic Iris
Annick Goutal Etoile D’une Nuit Eau de Parfum
We often think of the smell of iris as being reminiscent of cosmetics, largely because it has been used – alongside notes of rose, violet, and berries – in many cosmetic products over the years. The popularity of these products has led to a small but quirky subgenre of perfume, made for those who adore the scent of makeup products – we call these ‘lipstick scents’. One of the best examples of a ‘lipstick in a bottle’ is Etoile D’une Nuit by Goutal Paris. Blending a trio of iris, rose, and raspberry, Etoile D’une Nuit is a fruity, powdery iris that evokes the image of glamorous women languishing at the dressing table.
Scent G: The Spiced Iris
BVLGARI Man in Black Eau de Parfum
Men can wear iris too, it’s true, and BVLGARI Man in Black is the perfect example of a warmer iris that feels more traditionally masculine. Man in Black’s powdery iris accord is accented by a hot crackle of spices and a boozy slug of rum, all of which sits atop a supple leather accord and the warmth of tonka bean. Altogether, it smells fiery and hot, with a wonderful sense of softness and smoothness brought together by the delicious, golden hue of caramel. Every man should own a bottle.
Scent H: The Gourmand Iris
Valentino Donna Eau de Parfum
It’s fair to say that modern perfumery trends lean more towards the gourmand. Everything is much sweeter these days, and it seems that people’s tastes require a sprinkling of sugar or a drizzle of honey in 2022. Surprisingly, gourmand notes and iris go very well together, none more so than in Valentino’s Donna. The heart of the fragrance celebrates the sweetness of rose, accented by the dustiness of iris. Together these two materials create a fizzy, fluffy feel somewhere between rose-flavoured soda or candy floss. The iris is the accent here, bringing oodles of soft texture to the rose note, proving that iris doesn’t have to be old fashioned and powdery; it can be thoroughly modern too.