Exploring Iris Fragrances

The iris flower in all its purple and white glory.

Orris root drying in the hot Tuscan sun.
Image via alcademics.com

A handful of the fragrances mentioned in this post on the counter at our boutique on SE Division Street in Portland.

From time to time we are going to be exploring a different raw material and the fragrances that feature said material. This will hopefully be an ongoing series and, as we grow, we will delve ever-deeper into the void. We begin this series today with one of my personal favorite raw materials, iris. So as you know, the iris is a flower. The varieties used in fragrance are Iris germanica and Iris pallida. One of the things that makes iris such an interesting material is the fact that perfumers aren’t interested in the flower of the iris but the rhizome. The iris bulbs (known as orris root or simply orris) are harvested, cut, cleaned, dried and aged for a period of three to five years. Only after aging does the material reveal its beautiful aroma. Steam distillation of the dried rhizomes produces a thick, oily material known as orris butter.

The laborious nature of the harvest and production of orris butter helps to explain the material’s high price (orris butter from Florence goes for over $30,000 per kilogram) but its intoxicating aroma has made it a staple in fine fragrance for over a century. Due to its prohibitive cost, it was only used sparingly but recent developments have allowed fragrance chemists to artificially age orris root causing orris butter to drop in price and enabling perfumers to use the material in new and interesting ways. Moreover, the discovery and development of dozens of synthetics with iris-like qualities have dramatically expanded the perfumer’s palette leading to more iris fragrances than ever on the market.

Described variously as earthy, rooty, buttery, powdery and bread-like, the aroma of orris root is simultaneously unusual and beautiful. Below I have included a list of fragrances with dominant iris notes. Please comment below and let us know which iris fragrances you love and what you think of this material.

IRIS CÉNDRE. Naomi Goodsir.
ÉQUISTRIUS. Parfum d’Empire.
CUIR OTTOMAN. Parfum d’Empire.
ARZ EL-RAB. Berdoues: Cologne Grands Cru.
CLAIR DE MUSC. Serge Lutens.
ESCENTRIC 01. Escentric Molecules.
ESCENTRIC 02. Escentric Molecules.
L DE LUBIN. Lubin.
ANGÉLIQUE. Papillon.