My Favorite Iris Perfumes with Real Orris Essence

As I dig for wild orchids
in the autumn fields,
it is the deeply-bedded root
that I desire, not the flower.

Izumi Shikibu (976 AD – 1030, Japan)

Iris, also called orris, is one of the most expensive perfumery raw materials, costing as much as 100,000 dollars per kilogram of absolute. Processing the roots takes a lot of manual labor and time. First, the knobby rhizomes are peeled by hand, then they are dried and left to mature for up to four years. During this time the content of irone increases, and irone is the main aroma-material that gives iris its unique scent of frozen wood and violet petals. It’s a perfume note that can play many different roles in a composition, from floral to woody. It will shimmer in the top notes and linger gently in the drydown. In short, iris is a spellbinding ingredient.

Given the exorbitant cost of natural essence, it’s not surprising that many perfumes don’t include natural iris, but rather a combination of natural and synthetic materials that mimics its scent. Ionones, a class of aroma-materials with a violet-like smell, are commonly used, since they are versatile and inexpensive. Accords based on ionones are vivid and floral, lacking the iced woods facets of iris, but with the addition of cedarwood or other dry woody materials the impression of iris becomes believable. Nevertheless, nothing compares to natural iris when it comes to depth and complexity, and for this reason I decided to highlight a few orris perfumes that include the real thing.

Chanel No 19

This iconic fragrance features iris as part of a green woody combination, and the impression is soft, elegant and polished. The extrait de parfum has the most prominent iris note, but it wears close to skin. The other concentrations include iris in different proportions and they do so masterfully.

Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist

Perfumer Maurice Roucel told me that he became so frustrated with Serge Lutens asking for more and more iris that he added every iris material he could find in the Symrise ingredients catalog to Iris Silver Mist. Or just about. This fragrance is one of the best examples of a classical iris–cool, soft, elegant. The formula is made up of 4.5% iris butter, which has a luxurious creamy accent.

Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre

Iris Poudre is a marriage of iris and rose, and in this combination, iris acquires a pronounced powdery nuance. A beautiful fragrance with a vintage feel.

Parle Moi de Parfum Orris Tattoo 29

Also soft and powdery, Orris Tattoo pairs iris with amber. The combination is elegant, with an interesting warm accent. Created by perfumer Michel Almairac, this fragrance is lingering and yet gentle. Like most iris fragrances, including No 19, it works for both men and women.

Atelier Cologne Silver Iris

Simple and elegant, Silver Iris is almost like a cologne in its effervescent lightness. It has a modest dose of natural iris, but it remains noticeable in the composition. For those who like their iris unpowdered and unsweetened.

If you prefer to listen, please watch my video about iris, in which I talk about these perfumes.

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45 Comments

  • Alityke: I struggle with iris as a note. I found Iris Siver Mist horrifying! I do own No19 EdT from about a decade ago but that’s now more green than iris. I also have Prada Infusion d’Iris but doubt it has real iris butter in it. My favourite iris would be Shalimar Parfum Initial, with the likelihood it did have real iris in it. I’m guessing the Legendaires Initial may not but I’m happy to be proved wrong November 28, 2022 at 9:44am Reply

    • Anne-Marie Conde: I agree that No 19 EDT has lost the polished sheen of iris it used to have, so elegant. It’s greener now, almost bitter. I say this on the basis of having worn it since the 1980s and gone through many bottles. The latest version is lovely but not as good. November 28, 2022 at 6:22pm Reply

      • Alityke: I enjoy the bitterness. I adore Cristalle EdT & No19 is now Cristalle’s sister rather than being cousins once removed.
        I the 80’s I found that sophistication & polish off putting November 29, 2022 at 6:14am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s true. After the recent changes, its character changed somewhat. It’s much fresher. December 7, 2022 at 6:46am Reply

    • Victoria: The current version of Prada doesn’t smell to me like it contains it, but it’s still an excellent perfume and representative of the iris-type fragances. December 7, 2022 at 6:45am Reply

  • Akimon: Th orris centric perfume that I really like, enough to get a full bottle recently, is Irisqué by Providence Perfume Co. It’s an all natural perfume, with different types of orris (pallida and germanica) plus oud, carrot seed and ambrette. The perfumer refers to it as “orris butter bomb”, and I agree. It’s all about orris and it wears beautifully on the skin.
    I do like Iris Silver Mist and it is arguably the reference orris perfume, though I have not smelled its current formula. November 28, 2022 at 9:55am Reply

    • Jana Victoria Menard: Yes, this is the one that came to mind for me as well! Unlike anything else. November 28, 2022 at 12:27pm Reply

      • Victoria: And a vote from you means a lot! December 7, 2022 at 6:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m definitely going to try it. Thank you for mentioning. December 7, 2022 at 6:46am Reply

  • Tara C: 4160 Tuesdays Clouds edp has a nice dose of real iris. I also love ISM, Iris Poudre and Silver Iris. November 28, 2022 at 12:40pm Reply

  • Tati: Have to jump in with my new favorite ( after Iris Nazarena, by Aedes de Venustas ) L’Atessa by Masque Milano. November 28, 2022 at 1:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Another iris I managed to miss. December 7, 2022 at 6:47am Reply

  • Albi: I am dying to try Chanel N° 19. It sounds amazing and unique. However, I have and wear La Pausa from their Les Exclusifs line. Victoria, do you suppose it is worth having both? Which one would you choose? November 28, 2022 at 3:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: I have both, but I’m an iris fiend. December 7, 2022 at 6:47am Reply

  • Mingzhe Wang: I love Iris Silver Mist!! I have Dior Homme Intense 2011 and I think it has orris in it. Do you know if Hermes Iris Ukiyoe or Dior Bois d’Argent (Demachy reformulation) contains real orris? They smell like they do, a powdery and slightly oily feel, but my nose is not so trained that I can tell if it is real. Not that it matters, as long as it smells good! And I love all those I mentioned! 😁 November 28, 2022 at 5:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Iris Ukiyoe contained real iris, but whether it still does, I’m not sure. December 7, 2022 at 6:48am Reply

      • Mingzhe Wang: Thank you!! My bottle is from
        A while ago so hopefully it does! 😊 December 7, 2022 at 9:34am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much for explaining this fascinating material. I enjoy E Coudray Iris Rose, rather a modest composition in which the iris is rather the star. November 28, 2022 at 5:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Iris and rose are a classical pairing. I also like it very much. December 7, 2022 at 6:48am Reply

  • Emily: Mmmm adore all of these – barring the Atelier which I haven’t yet sniffed but assuming they’re still accessible outside France will do soon.

    Iris Silver Mist is the signature scent of the alien at the end of Aliens, clinging with all her might to Ripley’s ship in the icy vacuum of space. Perfect for January.

    Masque Milano’s l’Àttesa & Aedes de Venustas’ Iris Nazarena, mentioned above, are also favorites.

    My newest rooty obsession is Slumberhouse’s New Sibet, which with all its layers & nuance simply must have the real butter in it. November 28, 2022 at 7:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your description of New Sibet sounds tempting. December 7, 2022 at 6:48am Reply

      • Emily: One of my favorite environmental scents is ancient library stacks. If that sort of musty & dusty appeals, if you dream of smelling like the Bodleian basement, I definitely recommend Sibet. December 7, 2022 at 10:34am Reply

  • Filomena: I love all the above mentioned Iris/Orris based perfumes and always have. This, I have heard this explanation many times, however, your explanation is the best. Thank you! November 28, 2022 at 10:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that it helped! December 7, 2022 at 6:49am Reply

  • Nikos: Dear Victoria so nice to see and hear you. I was hoping to get Iris Silver Mist, there is always a good sale on Lutens site around this time but unfortunately its been out of stock for quite a while now. Sarrassins too among others. I wonder if a reformulation is on the way. I hope not, Silver Mist is just heartbreaking in its beauty. It’s the smell I had in mind when I was reading about De profundis. But De profundis is a cheery morning garden covered in dew to me and Silver Mist is as you so accurately said here a frozen garden. Just beautiful with a touch of melancholy. November 29, 2022 at 3:26am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that it’s only temporary, as these are such excellent perfumes. December 7, 2022 at 6:49am Reply

  • Cathleen Mooney: Greetings! Have you sampled Molecule 01 Iris? November 30, 2022 at 10:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Not yet, but I have a sample somewhere. I must find it. December 7, 2022 at 6:50am Reply

  • Zazie: Thank you for the fascinating excursus on this rooty note. Iris is not a note that moves me, scent wise, though I do appreciate and wear Iris poudre and Chanel 19, which have a whole narrative around the iris note, so they are more to my taste.
    Speaking of Chanel, I smell a strong iris note in Misia and Cuir de Russie – if the note is indeed there, then those “iris” are more up my alley.
    The only iris solinote I love is the crazily priced, pretentiously positioned, Xerjoff Irisss. I refuse to buy a bottle, but I think the fragrance sings to the heavens, and I do think about my tiny sample quite often. Have you or others here tried it? What do you think?
    Oh, I also smell a lot of iris in Neela Vermeire’s Niral, a fragrance that I love, especially in the summer. December 1, 2022 at 5:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Xerjoff is beautiful, but it’s so expensive. For that price, I don’t feel that I need it.

      Niral is lovely. December 7, 2022 at 6:52am Reply

  • Fazal: My benchmark iris fragrance remains Dior Homme original batches from first few years. While I am not that big a fan of Masque Milano, their L’Attesa is probably my second favorite fragrance. However, unlike Dior Homme which I could wear everyday for the rest of my life, L’ Attesa is better suited to occasional wear, too. I feel like I will get bored if I wear it too frequently. December 1, 2022 at 5:53am Reply

    • Fazal: I do have Chanel No. 19 in both vintage edt and parfum concentrations. I must be missing something because I do not really smell iris in it as it’s green side overwhelms everything else. However, next time, I will pay closer attention when I wear it. December 1, 2022 at 5:59am Reply

      • Victoria: You notice it the most about an hour in. The drydown also has iris, but it’s obscured by leather and vetiver. December 7, 2022 at 6:53am Reply

        • Fazal: Thank you for the tip, I will keep your info in mind next time I wear No. 19. December 8, 2022 at 1:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Dior Homme, the original, was one of the best irises. Such a perfect composition. The new version is less elegant, but I still like it. December 7, 2022 at 6:52am Reply

      • Fazal: I don’t like the new version of Dior Homme at all. Even when I try to ignore the name to avoid bias and just focus on the composition itself, I just cannot bring myself to enjoy it. I have a small bottle of it for reference but I wish they had never released it. Not sure how well it is doing in the market sales-wise as Sauvage seems to get all the attention. December 8, 2022 at 1:28am Reply

  • la_ninon: Irisss is my unattainably expensive favorite in this category. I would love to discover other warm, orris-rich irises without overt sweetness. December 1, 2022 at 12:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a beautiful effect and it’s so hard to achieve. December 7, 2022 at 6:53am Reply

  • James Peterson: Has anyone tried Green Iris from Brooklyn Perfume Company? It reeks of iris and orris. December 5, 2022 at 10:29am Reply

    • Victoria: I tried it only once on paper, but I liked it. And you’re right, I recall that the iris note was prominent. December 7, 2022 at 6:54am Reply

  • Glenn: Iris Nazarena by Aedes de Venustas is my only exploration into Iris and I love the scent. I have smelled the Atelier Cologne but am excited for all these other recommendations. Thank you! December 7, 2022 at 10:28pm Reply

  • Daniel: Hiris by Hermes really hits home for me when it comes to iris/orris. Some may find it to “lipsticks” but the dry down comes quickly to reveal a great composition, December 8, 2022 at 7:03am Reply

  • Silvermoon: I find Iris a solemn and calming note, and really love it. I have many Iris perfumes with Iris Poudre amongst those I like best for giving me anyday perfume pleasure. I have a bell jar of Iris Silver Mist, but rarely use it. It’s austere coldness means I seldom want to choose it in the morning after my shower. It’s one of those perfumes that I really liked ten years ago, but its charms have lessened with time. December 8, 2022 at 1:46pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I was able to obtain Musc Pallida by Hermès on Ebay for a reasonable but by no means cheap price. A year ago, I had bought Cardamusc which I enjoy a lot. To MP: it is very much a potent yet clean musk scent. Next, to me there is this pronounced anisic scent; it reminds me of passing a licorice booth at a Christmas Market here in Cologne at the moment. And I guess there is also violet leaf somewhere in there? To be honest, it doesn‘t smell of orris/iris in that classical way. Hiris by Hermès is far more iris-y, the way I know it.
    But what do I know: perhaps this is the very thing? December 8, 2022 at 3:20pm Reply

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