Three Ultimate Iris Perfumes

Once, as I was telling Maurice Roucel how much I loved his Iris Silver Mist, a perfume he created for Serge Lutens, he laughed and explained that Lutens kept asking again and again for more iris, so he ended up using all the iris aromatics in the catalogue of his company and essentially “mixing them together.” Roucel can be refreshingly self-deprecating about his work, but I knew that achieving the precise harmony of Iris Silver Mist took much more than just blending all irises in sight. For me, it evokes the cool, frozen beauty of this complex note in a way that few other iris perfumes can.

In my recent FT column, I examine three iris classics, describing what makes them compelling and memorable. Above all, iris as an ingredient deserves attention because it’s one of the most layered, rich but difficult materials available to perfumers.

The first time I smelled iris essence, I stood for a few minutes with a perfume blotter under my nose before I regained my senses. In an instant it conjured up frozen petals and snow-covered trees, and while this image of a winter garden was vivid, I couldn’t easily describe the fragrance. It was like nothing I had encountered before, and pinning down its radiant but surprisingly potent scent proved difficult. To continue, please click here.

What are your ultimate iris perfumes?

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83 Comments

  • rainboweyes: Yes, to me ISM definitely is the mother of all irises 🙂 – and for me, the ultimate iris perfume.
    Followed by Xerjoff Irisss and Hiris.
    And my SOTD 🙂 April 24, 2017 at 7:25am Reply

  • Gabriela: I have a sample of ISM and although I appreciate the composition its just not for me. I think its the carrot in it… I have a carrot essential oil and can’t stand the smell.

    My favorite iris is Channel 19 in all its form and versions. April 24, 2017 at 8:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Carrot and iris root share some aromatics in common, so you’ve spotted the relationship well. April 26, 2017 at 1:18pm Reply

  • limegreen: Oh, Victoria, what a heartmelting column, thank you for talking about iris perfumes. It’s such a spirit lifting joy for a Monday!
    ISM is so gorgeous and I love all the ones you mentioned. It’s because of Dans tes Bras and ISM that I stalk Roucel’s perfumes but I keep coming back to these two as the ones I love most of his work. Thanks for the anecdote — he does sound modest. Is he funny, full of good humor (that moustache!), tell us more! (I’ve watched the video he made for Malle on how he went about creating Dans tes Bras, as a derivative of sorts from Musc Ravageur. And he seems so completely a perfume nerd, someone who would be great to meet!)

    I recently tested Masque Milano L’Attesa which is one of the more interesting new iris perfumes I’ve tested — it opens with that irresistible rooty iris goodness and moves on to floral leather. Another one I tested is Armani Prive Iris Celadon, which is what you would get from starting with a light mist of ISM and finished with a flourish of Coromandel! Interesting combination.
    (Both are on the aspirational pricing end of the spectrum.) Worth smelling but nothing close to the Holy Grail of iris perfumes. April 24, 2017 at 9:53am Reply

    • Victoria: He is! He is a warm, generous person, and he’s funny. Talking perfume about him is the best experience.

      Thank you for mentioning your favorites. April 26, 2017 at 1:25pm Reply

  • WJ: my favorite is Bois d’ Iris by Van Cleef and Arpels April 24, 2017 at 9:57am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: My favorite Iris perfumes are:
    Hermes Hiris
    SL’s Iris Silver Mist
    Heeley’s Iris de Nuit April 24, 2017 at 10:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Heeley’s is such a soft iris, also very pretty. April 26, 2017 at 1:26pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Also:
    Aedes Iris Nazarena
    Prada Infusion d’Iris Absolut April 24, 2017 at 10:05am Reply

  • Nancy A.: Iris holds a great appeal for me. Silver Mist is not a fragrance I’m familiar with and one I will definitely have to explore. Many sales reps thumb their noses (perfume counter) when I mention my taste for Iris and when Hiris was launched by Hermes it didn’t impress me and soon was pushed to the back of the shelf and hard to find except for the boutique, I imagine. Your mention of a difficult material to obtain by perfumers might be an explanation. Recently I tested Jo Malone’s Orris & Sandalwood and the drydown was positive on me. The sales rep mentioned that Iris was the note and with further exploration I learned it was Violette!
    This didn’t change my opinion. So, my question to you are they using different flowers in place of Iris nowadays. The parallel for me is that they can both appear powder-y. However, this wasn’t the case. April 24, 2017 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: They’re using different materials to make iris accords, naturals and synthetics. April 26, 2017 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Gina: I enjoy Annick Goutal’s Heure Exquise, My favorites though are Guerlain Metallica and Santa Maria Novella Iris. April 24, 2017 at 10:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Heure Exquise is one of my own favorites. April 26, 2017 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Tijana: Oh I love iris!!!!! Love, love!!!!

    There is the ultimate, and then what I wear the most or find most wearable on me…

    Probably the most ultimate iris for me is Hiris. And I do find it wearable, although I am not always in the mood for it. I do love Chanel 19, and use to wear it a lot, although these days not as much and when I do, it’s only in the extrait version.

    I have not had a chance to try Iris Silver Mist yet, so it’s hard to comment, but I hear so many beautiful things and I am hoping I will get a chance to test. I just don’t have access to SL bell jars in Toronto so I think on my next trip to NYC, I will need to test.

    In terms of what I’ve loved and worn a lot lately: Atelier Cologne’s Silver Iris, Armani Prive’s Iris Celadon, and Chanel’s La Pausa. Being a huge Chanel fan, I would say any of their compositions with prominent iris are usually right up my alley. And Guerlain’s L’Heure de Bleue and L’Heure de Nuit, and Apres L’Ondee – love, love, love.

    Other notable mentions are where iris plays a role, whether or not very upfront. These I am not always in the mood for though and depending on the day may find them a bit challenging to pull off: Byredo Seven Veils, Chanel Misia, Tom Ford Violet Blonde, Chanel Rue Cambon.

    I also love L’Eau d’Hiver, but it is so soft and fleeting that I cannot justify spending so much money on it.

    LOL – I know you asked for ultimate, but there are so many I love!!!!!! April 24, 2017 at 10:27am Reply

    • Tijana: That should say L’Heure Bleue – without “de” 🙂 April 24, 2017 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re an iris lover, that’s for sure! Thank you for such a great list. April 26, 2017 at 1:28pm Reply

  • sara: My favorite iris scents are: Dior Homme and Chanel #19. I also like another Serge iris that doesn’t get much love–Bas de Soie. April 24, 2017 at 10:37am Reply

    • Phyllis Iervello: Tijana, you are right Bas de Soie does not get much love for some reason, but I like it a lot. April 24, 2017 at 11:04am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Same here. Bas de Soie is a favourite. April 24, 2017 at 1:21pm Reply

    • katherine x: Thanks for letting us know about Bas De Soie. The bad press put me off but you’ve inspired me to give it a try!. April 25, 2017 at 12:46am Reply

    • Patricia: After years of spritzing in department stores, I recently acquired a 10 ml mini of Dior Homme with Sephora points. It’s with my husband’s small collection of various samples to encourage him to wear it, but I borrow it quite regularly! April 25, 2017 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for mentioning Dior Homme. April 26, 2017 at 1:28pm Reply

  • MMKinPA: I like iris and feel I haven’t tried enough of them. I have a sample of ISM and it definitely packs a punch! Just wore Iris Nobile last week and it was nice while it lasted. More sampling needed! April 24, 2017 at 10:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I like Iris Nobile very much. It’s more of a floral bouquet, but the iris is clear. April 26, 2017 at 1:29pm Reply

  • Maria: Hi Victoria and all the readers,

    To your wonderful ultimate iris, I will also ad Infusion d’iris by Prada. Though I believe the smell of orris butter is better treated in ISM and Hiris, I love the way Infusion d’iris develops on skin. Sometimes I think it is already gone, but an hour later I feel it again, light but cozy, and this dance goes on for almost 12 hours on my skin. I find it really beautiful! April 24, 2017 at 10:57am Reply

    • Lydia: Maria, I keep coming across references to the Prada Iris in articles and posts. You and the other commenters here who love it have made me realize I need to seek it out now! April 25, 2017 at 10:03pm Reply

      • Maria: It really is a nice iris!! I also like the Absolue and Iris-cedre versions, but the on and off effect is better done,for me, in the original Infusion d’iris 🙂 April 27, 2017 at 1:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it does have this interesting effect. April 26, 2017 at 1:30pm Reply

  • Rutherford: Naomi Goodsir Iris Cendre is my second favorite iris after ISM. April 24, 2017 at 12:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: Definitely a favorite among many here. April 26, 2017 at 1:30pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: My absolitely most loved iris is ISM. (it is in the Vaporisateur Tout Noir..€ 120).
    Second is Hiris.

    Also:
    Bas de Soie
    Dior Homme Intense
    Pierre de Lune Armani (according to Luca Turin: Raw potato, funny but I don’t agree. Or maybe I love raw potatoes).
    Iris Nobile, although that’s more a symphonic bouquet of flowers. April 24, 2017 at 1:26pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: La Pause by Chanel is—for now—my favourite iris scent. Unfortunately, I do not know Luten’s Iris Silver Mist. And Olivia Giacometti’s Crème pour les mains au beurre d’iris (Frédéric Malle) for the hands. April 24, 2017 at 2:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: La Pausa is gorgeous, but fleeting on me. April 26, 2017 at 1:31pm Reply

  • Hollis Sherman: For me it is Chanel 19 Poudre. I LOVE how it smells and how it makes me feel. April 24, 2017 at 2:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also love it. Soft, powdery, tender. April 26, 2017 at 1:31pm Reply

  • Suzanne: I don’t understand, though. I grow irises that smell like chocolate, soap bubbles, Concord grapes, even root beer! There couldn’t be a definitive iris scent w/ such a copycat flower. April 24, 2017 at 3:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: In perfumery the roots of Iris pallida are used, not the flowers. So when we’re talking about the Iris perfume note, we mean the scent I described above. April 25, 2017 at 4:09am Reply

  • Daisy: My favorite flower! My top three irises are Ramon Bejar’s Magnum Iris, Ombre Mercure by Terry, and I find Byredo 1996 to be quite iris-y. I hope this message finds you well and that you are enjoying spring! April 24, 2017 at 4:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ombre Mercure is excellent! April 26, 2017 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Notturno7: For me, it’s No 19 vintage spray bottle and my extrait bottle. I love, love it! Especially in the hot weather. It makes me feel polished and gives me strength when my work days seem long.
    ISM , despite all the love it gets, doesn’t hit the spot for me. I tried if few times, but it just ‘wasn’t me’. Maybe I’ll ‘fall in love with it in the future.
    The perfumes that I love, and that have the iris note, are L’Heure Bleue, Attrape -Coeur, 31 Rue Cambon, Cuir de Russie, Misia (when are they going to create the extrait, I can’t wait!), Après l’Ondée…. I’m sure I’m forgetting something 😉😅.
    Thank you for the lovely post, Victoria! April 25, 2017 at 4:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Iris Silver Mist can be difficult, and I know many who dislike it, who think that it’s too metallic and cold. April 26, 2017 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Karen A: Until receiving a recent Iris sampler from a generous BdJ regular, I had a bit of a prejudice against Iris perfumes, probably because I, too, was expecting the beautiful sent of the flower. However, now that I’ve tried a wide range of iris perfumes and let go of my expectations, there are several which are loves for me. Iris Nobile heads up the list with Jo Mallone’s Orris Sandalwood. Also, Au Pays Rose Irisée. April 25, 2017 at 6:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Lucky you! How did Jo Mallone’s Orris Sandalwoo smell on you? April 26, 2017 at 1:37pm Reply

      • Karen A: I am enjoying it quite a lot. The sandalwood adds a nice warmth to it without it being overpowering. Lately I’ve been using a rose scented dry oil (it’s quite lightly scented) and the Orris Sandalwood layers beautifully over it. April 26, 2017 at 11:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you. It does sound lovely. April 27, 2017 at 7:22am Reply

          • Karen A: I think it’s quite a subtle, quiet scent and the Sandalwood stays close, but it does last for a while, a plus with Jo Mallone fragrances. The rose just adds another layer. April 27, 2017 at 7:52am Reply

    • SilverMoon: Hello Karen, I think rose and iris stand in counterpoint to each other in perfumery.
      I know you’re a big rose lover, like me, but iris has its own charms. My first iris was also Iris Nobile, many years ago now, and is a great introduction to the note as a way of easing in. I also love Iris Poudre (FM). Among the other iris I have are the Prada one, Iris Silver Mist, Miller Harris Terre D’Iris. And they are all so different. I find ISM grim, elegant, metallic and yet fascinating. I haven’t tried the JM one you mention, and will look out for it. April 28, 2017 at 4:11pm Reply

      • Karen A: It’s been really fun exploring a wide range of iris scents. Iris Nobile is such a beautiful one, I may get a decant to see if it goes on the full bottle list! April 28, 2017 at 4:52pm Reply

  • SophieC: One of my favourite notes – I adore Chanel 19 and also really enjoy Bois D’Iris by Van Cleef. I am taking notes of other iris perfumes from all the comments – the Prada is also beautiful. I must try Dior Homme properly. April 25, 2017 at 6:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Such beautiful choices. Yes, definitely do try Dior Homme. It’s a musky iris with a hint of cocoa. April 26, 2017 at 1:38pm Reply

  • briony: Thanks for this post – iris is my absolute favourite note. I, too, love ISM. I also love Cuir de Nacre but wish it were stronger. It disappears on me almost straight away. I also love Apres l’Ondee, which although considered a violet scent, started my love affair with iris. April 25, 2017 at 7:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Apres l’Ondee is a protean scent, and sometimes it smells of iris to me, but yes, it’s mostly the violet that give it that characteristic note. April 26, 2017 at 1:38pm Reply

  • Patricia: No 19 is my all-time favorite, and I own it in EDT, EDP, extrait, and vintage EDP. I also had the No 19 body cream, but it went off before I could use it up :-(.

    Other lovely Iris fragrances in my collection are Iris Nobile EDT (now discontinued in that concentration), Iris Ganache, Infusion d’Iris and Infusion d’Iris Absolue, and Iris Poudre. April 25, 2017 at 9:08am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Patricia! Could you tell us please what is the difference between edt and edp and the extrait? Are these the current versions? April 25, 2017 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, no! How unfortunate that it turned. April 26, 2017 at 1:39pm Reply

  • Inma: I´ve tried Chanel 19 EDP, at this moment, for me: dry; warm, not hot; tender, not pink; something rough; and, at the end, fresh and clean skin.

    I want to get samples of Iris Silver Mist and Armani Pierre de Lune, I can´t try them here in Sevilla.

    I love Hiris, I knew it for you, Victoria, and olibanum, another beautiful perfume blog. So thank you.

    I love these explorations. Have a nive week, April 25, 2017 at 10:28am Reply

    • Gabriela: Hola Inma!
      In Barcelona you can try lots of perfumes at Regia and El Corte Ingles. Let me know if you ever come to Barcelona! April 25, 2017 at 3:22pm Reply

      • Inma: ¡Hola Gabriela!

        That´s good to know. And, yes, I will let you know so you can tell me where to go, thank you! April 26, 2017 at 5:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Inma. No 19 EDP is a beauty. April 26, 2017 at 1:40pm Reply

    • SilverMoon: Inma, just spent a week during the Easter break in Seville. What a beautiful city! And I wore Seville a l’Aube on Easter morning. It reminded me so much of the incense smoke as the Semana Santa processions past one by. April 28, 2017 at 4:16pm Reply

      • Inma: Silvermoon, I am so happy you enjoyed my city at Easter! And I still have to try that perfume, I feel curious about it. Now we have the Feria, which is the opposite to Semana Santa….From death to life I guess April 29, 2017 at 3:19pm Reply

        • SilverMoon: While we were in Seville, many mentioned the coming feria. Sounds great fun! You should certainly make every effort to try Seville a l’Aube perfume. It is one of my favourites. Orange blossom, incence, and more. Very evocative indeed. I would love to hear what you think of it – as someone from Seville. April 29, 2017 at 3:36pm Reply

          • Inma: Silvermoon, it was great fun….and, yes, I’ll let you know when I try Seville a l’Aube! May 11, 2017 at 9:57am Reply

    • Lydia: Dear Inma,

      I love your description:
      “dry; warm, not hot; tender, not pink; something rough; and, at the end, fresh and clean skin.”

      This way of sensing makes me thing we become a little like infants exploring the world when we focus so deeply on perfume. Exploring scent can be a form of meditation – an altered consciousness. April 29, 2017 at 3:08pm Reply

      • Inma: Yes! Exploring the world like children, that’s so wise I think! April 29, 2017 at 3:24pm Reply

  • Aurora: You write about smelling the iris essence so eloquently, Victoria, I have never smelled ISM.

    My favorite with an iris note of the moment is Yves Rocher En Avril Un Soir, in the tall rectangular bottle. It’s softer than No 19 although less distinctive. I like it very much, also like Cornelia I love Dior Homme Intense and the very simple but so easy to wear Yardley Iris. April 25, 2017 at 4:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yves Rocher En Avril Un Soir is an underrated iris, but it’s very pretty and really well-made. April 26, 2017 at 1:42pm Reply

  • Lydia: I really enjoyed your article and this post – reading through them is a fascinating scent lesson. Vanilla does add sweetness, and has been used so often to that purpose that when a perfume is sweet, I automatically assume it has vanilla even if it hasn’t!
    Patchouli being a matter of character is such an interesting idea, and so true. I’ve rarely encountered a perfume with patchouli that wasn’t mainly a story of patchouli.

    I’m not as clear on the nature of iris, so I pulled out some old samples to compare.
    Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier is powdery and sweet with an odd green note like someone mashed in a few flower stems. It smells like dessert cookies eventually (I prefer the floral opening).

    The Santa Maria Novella dries down to… Sprite – like the soda. How odd. It’s pleasantly summery, but not at all what I was expecting. It does develop a floral note along with the soda fizz eventually.

    Angelique by Papillon, has a dominant mimosa note (a very pretty, sparkly one), but the orris adds a kind of gravitas, like shadows behind bright flowers. (I know that’s a little excessively poetic, but that really is what it smells like to me.)

    But oh boy, the Lutens Iris Silver Mist. My sample is about 8 years old and smells like a floral explosion on hot metal. It’s so intense that after the other more timid inclusions of iris notes, it makes me laugh. I honestly can’t imagine wearing this any place but the opera (gala performance), it’s that grand and chic. And I’ve rarely encountered a perfume that seems to embody the name so well – iris: yes, silver: yes, mist: yes (it evokes spiderwebs).

    Now I want to seek out some Hermès’ Hiris to smell. Thanks for the exploration! April 25, 2017 at 9:57pm Reply

    • Lydia: fyi: The MPG I tried was Fleur d’Iris, not Iris Bleu Gris, if anyone’s curious.
      The Iris Bleu Gris actually sounds quite interesting in reviews, and maybe more iris-y than the Fleur d’Iris. April 25, 2017 at 10:00pm Reply

    • Inma: “like shadows behind bright flowers” I love it… April 26, 2017 at 6:02am Reply

    • Victoria: What a wonderful list with beautiful descriptions. Thank you very much, Lydia. April 26, 2017 at 1:42pm Reply

      • Lydia: Thank you!
        It’s such a pleasure to read everyone’s scent descriptions and lists of favorite scents. I learn so much from reading the posts and the comments with them. April 29, 2017 at 3:03pm Reply

    • Carla: Lovely descriptions! April 28, 2017 at 8:26pm Reply

      • Lydia: Thank you, Carla! April 29, 2017 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Tania: Ha! Roucel told you the same story he told Luca. (I think Luca recounted his version in the A-Z Guide.) So it must be true. 😉 April 27, 2017 at 10:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I wouldn’t put that sort of thing past either Roucel (clever, whimsical) or Lutens (notoriously picky). But in general, if you ask Roucel how he created such and such perfume, he’ll just wave his hand and say something like, “ah, we did it over dinner one evening,” or “I just threw some things together.” He always sounds like he’s having fun. April 27, 2017 at 11:26am Reply

  • Carla: Oh I am not original- Iris silver mist and Chanel 19. They are very different of course. One is dry one is…wet? I don’t know! I just love Iris Silver Mist. April 28, 2017 at 8:19pm Reply

  • Austenfan: Short answer: I don’t know.
    Long answer: Probably ISM (I think of it as turnip surprise, with a slight nod to Baldrick). But ISM is a fragrance I don’t wear very often, even though apart from admiring it, I do really like it as well. Another very rooty Iris is Love les Carottes, but it feels more tongue in cheek.
    Most worn Iris: Heure Exquise.
    Favourite gourmand Iris: Dior Homme. April 29, 2017 at 5:13am Reply

  • maja: I love ISM, Chanel 19, Odori Iris, Mon Cheri Parf. par Camille, La Pausa…ISM is probably my favourite. Such a beauty.
    ps. In Kashan right now. Omg, roses. April 29, 2017 at 1:05pm Reply

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