Iris has the reputation of being a cold and austere note. Obtained from the roots of iris pallida, rather than flowers, it smells of its source–more like a sliver of frozen woods than petals. (This is why iris in perfumery is not quite a floral note, and it’s classified separately, between woods and violets.) And yet, it’s my favorite scent for winter. It fits so perfectly into the wintery panorama of scents that I can hardly imagine these cold days without an opaline sillage of iris. On the other hand, a beautiful perfume is beautiful all year round, so I’m slowly transitioning to spring with my bouquet of irises.
The indisputable gold standard irises are Chanel No 19, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, and Annick Goutal Heure Exquise. Hermès Hiris is another notable fragrance, often referred to as “a cult favorite,” whatever that means. Although I enjoy No 19, Iris Silver Mist and Hiris, my personal iris cult is more varied, a testament to the allure of this ingredient.
A wispy, gauzy blend of iris, rose and musk, Blanc is an ideal introduction to those who think that iris is the powdered Habsburg royalty of the fragrance world. In Blanc, it adds a touch of elegance, while offsetting the brightness of lychee and pepper.
Parfums DelRae Mythique
If Blanc proves that iris can be lighthearted, Mythique shows that it can also be sumptuous. Folded into the layers of jasmine, patchouli and sandalwood, iris is as baroque as it can be in this exceptional perfume. The contrasting accord of crushed mandarin peel keeps the balance from tipping into complete decadence.
Ann Gérard Cuir Nacré
One of the most natural pairings for iris is not with flowers, but with leather and woods, which shows that it’s olfactory bloodline is more complicated than it appears at first. Ann Gérard is a jeweler, who understands a thing or two about facets, which is why her collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has been so successful. In Cuir Nacré they explore all facets of iris, while setting it in soft leather. Elegant but with a dark twist.
Armani Privé Pierre de Lune
Pierre de Lune is a cologne version of an iris, with green notes emphasizing its cool, lithe form. A touch of violet, on the other hand, brings out the floral layers of this complex note, reminding us of the link between the root and the blossom. An ethereal fragrance that lingers–another surprise.
Yardley Iris and Lavender
Fun, easy to wear and easy to like. Iris and Lavender is a riff on Yardley’s trademark lavender colognes, but with a trendy touch of pink pepper. If you’re looking for a symphony in your perfume, then look elsewhere, but if you need a simple, clean cologne, it’s a good choice.
The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas
Not long ago Amber, one of my reader, sent me several quotes from her favorite novels that includes scent references, and the mention of letters sprinkled with iris powder in The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas caught our fancy. The idea seemed so delightful, even though the only letters I seem to write are to Belgian bureaucrats. Incidentally, Dumas spent a few years in Brussels after Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’état in 1851. The real reason was not political, however, but rather prosaic–Dumas was trying to escape debt collectors.
The Red Sphinx is a sequel to The Three Musketeers, but it was never finished by Dumas. It was published in France only in 1946 and in English last year. Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan don’t appear in this story, but the scheming cardinals, iris redolent queens and handsome counts will be plenty for an entertaining read. The Red Sphinx can be read as a standalone novel.
“Alone in her room, Anne of Austria listened to the receding footsteps of Gaston d’Orléans and of her mother-in-law. When the sound had completely faded, she slowly rose, pushed her petite feet into her Spanish slippers of sky-blue satin embroidered with gold, and sat down next to her vanity. From a drawer she took out a small canvas bag containing iris powder, a perfume she preferred for her clothes above all others, and which her mother-in-law had brought her from Florence. This powder she sprinkled on the blank second page of the letter from Gonzalès de Cordova—just as, by different means, the same result was obtained from the note from Christine to Gaston, and from that of Charles-Emmanuel to the queen mother. Under the powder, letters soon appeared on the sheet sent from Gonzalès de Cordova to the queen.”
I’d love to hear about your favorite iris fragrances.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin