My Top 3 Perfect Iris Perfumes

The first time I smelled iris absolute, I stood for a few minutes with a paper blotter under my nose before I regained my senses. In one instant, I saw frozen petals and snow covered trees, and while the image of a winter garden that the essence conjured was vivid, I couldn’t easily describe the fragrance of the material in front of me. It smelled like nothing I had encountered before, and pinning down its radiant but surprisingly potent scent proved difficult.

When perfumers talk about the materials in their palettes, they distinguish between those that provide character and those that give effects. Vanilla, for instance, bestows a touch of sweetness onto anything that brushes past it, be it fruit or leather, while patchouli has so many facets that it will change the whole impression of a composition, to the point of drowning out other more subtle notes. In the same vein, even a small dose of iris can change a perfume and lend it polish and elegance.

Iris essence is derived from the rhizomes of Iris Pallida, but Iris germanica can also be used. The raw material must first undergo a lengthy and complex treatment before it can be distilled. The root is dried for 3-5 years, during which time the plant matter oxidizes, increasing the concentration of the molecule called irone that gives iris root its unmistakable scent. Since the yield of oil is quite low at 0.2%, it takes 1 ton of the root to make about 2 kilos of the essence.

For this reason, iris absolute is several times more expensive than gold by weight.  In the concentrated form its smell is reminiscent of carrots that incidentally share several aroma-compounds with iris roots. Diluted, however, iris acquires a haunting, protean character, oscillating between a petal and a sliver of wood.

To see iris in its full splendor, I turn to Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist. It was created by perfumer Maurice Roucel when frustrated with Lutens’s requests for more iris in his new formula; Roucel added every iris aromatic he could find on his shelves, natural and synthetic. Or so he says when he tells the story. The complexity of Iris Silver Mist and its suave character speak of many hours of painstaking work required to balance different facets.

Another iconic iris perfume is Chanel No 19 in which iris is wrapped in leather, moss and salty woods. The brilliant green top note gives a vibrant and assertive character to the iris. The perfume exists in three different concentrations:  the Eau de Toilette is a zesty and green version, the Eau de Parfum is warm and tender, while the extrait de parfum is velvety, with especially pronounced iris notes.

While Iris Silver Mist and Chanel No 19 are saturated and rich, Hermès Hiris is a watercolor etude of iris. Everything is sheer and tender about this perfume, the luminous top notes, the green heart, and the pale cedarwood of the base.  It wears like layers of soft tulle, but it has a surprisingly distinctive and memorable character that makes Hiris one of my most complimented perfumes. Delicate can be dazzling, after all.

What are your favorite iris fragrances? 

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25 Comments

  • Gretchen: Oh, iris, how I do love you! I finally acquired a bell jar of Iris Silver Mist this spring and wow, was it worth the wait. I also love No.19, Angelos Olfactives Irida and Irida Extreme, the new eau de parfum Fath Iris Gris, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir, and like, but not really a fan, of Neela Vermeire Niral. I’m always open to finding more! May 20, 2024 at 9:21am Reply

    • Francesca: Ohh, I love Iris Silver Mist too! May 21, 2024 at 6:11am Reply

  • Nenda Inasa Fadhilah: And somehow I owned 3 of them

    Chanel no 19 EDT is my summer staple May 20, 2024 at 10:01am Reply

  • Perfumelover67: Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, Masque Milano L’Attesa, Hermes Hiris, Chanel No.19, and Imaginary Authors O Unknown are the top 5 iris perfumes in my iris collection. May 20, 2024 at 10:12am Reply

  • Konstantin: I concur with the selection you’ve made and I am also happy to add a couple of others that to me really stand out as well:
    1. Chanel La Pausa (more woody than Iris Silver Mist)
    2. Iris Nazarena (a very unusual green chalky iris)
    3. Iris Poudre (a modernized Chanel N5)
    4. Iris Ukiyoe (a lovely fresh floral iris)
    5. Chanel 1957 (an elegant musky iris) May 20, 2024 at 10:22am Reply

  • Jessica Hillel: I would also add Iris Lumière by Shalini: a silvery composition by Maurice Roucel which has also a wonderful muguet note. I absolutely love it, along with Chanel 19 and La Pausa. May 20, 2024 at 11:25am Reply

  • Dina C.: I love iris and own all of these. Depending on my mood, they are all favorites:
    Chanel No 19 edp
    Chanel Les Exclusifs 28 La Pausa edt
    Donna Karan Iris
    Prada Infusion d’Iris edp
    Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile edp
    PG Iris Oriental
    Ferre parfum
    VC& A Bois d’Iris
    SL Iris Silver Mist May 20, 2024 at 11:28am Reply

  • Kaisa: Lovely write-up, and lovely choices. Iris is one of my very favourite notes in perfumery and I love how it has so many guises. My favourites are (sorry for the long list):

    – Chanel No. 19 (I don’t really think of it as an iris perfume, though of course iris plays an important role. I have this in all versions, an all-time favourite)
    – Chanel La Pausa (a “purer” Chanel iris, I love this one a lot)
    – Aedes de Venustas Iris Nazarena (another one I love a lot)
    – Guerlain Vol de Nuit (again not an iris perfume per se, but I think it is an important note here)
    – Xerjoff Irisss (though I’ll never buy more than a decant of it)

    Runners up:
    – SL Iris Silver Mist (I have to say, I bought it recently and am still getting to know it)
    – Chanel 1957 (again I don’t really think of it as an iris but it is the only one in the “clean musk” genre that I have and I really enjoy wearing it – perhaps iris is the reason why)
    – Guerlain Iris Torrefié
    – Violet Nuée bleue
    – Atelier Cologne Iris Rebelle
    – Nicolai Iris Medicis Intense
    – Maria Candida Gentile Burlesque
    – Ormonde Jayne Tsarina
    – Francesca Bianchi Unspoken Musk and Angel’s Dust
    – Ormonde Jayne Vanille d’Iris, unfortunately discontinued.

    … and I’m just starting to test some Parfum d’Empires with lovely iris notes: Cuir Ottoman, Le Cri, Equistrius. I think iris makes everything more beautiful and elegant. May 20, 2024 at 12:14pm Reply

    • Tamasin: Vanille d’Iris has just been relaunched under as VANILLE DEA AFRIQUES with a very similar composition (more vanilla, less orris butter) May 21, 2024 at 3:18am Reply

      • Kaisa: Oh thanks! I saw it but didn’t make the connection… May 21, 2024 at 9:14am Reply

  • Trudy: Lovely post and comments. I must admit I’m not very familiar with Iris notes however this post has me thinking Iris is something I need to explore. That said, I was reminded that I do have a bottle of Chanel 19 EDT (in the gray opaque bottle) from many years ago. It is tucked away in a drawer and I just pulled it out and sprayed in on the inside of my elbow. First thoughts are that it seems to be what I would consider a “serious” more sophisticated fragrance. My first visual was a beautifully tailored white shirt with maybe just a touch of embroidered lace at the cuff or collar tucked into a navy, gray or black pencil skirt or tailored trousers (or even jeans). Feminine but very chic. It is beautiful. I don’t even remember when, where or why I got it. It has been shamefully neglected! I will put it to good use immediately. Victoria your three favorites, as well as those in the comments, all sound stunning. May 20, 2024 at 1:17pm Reply

  • Aurora: What an inspiring article. Like you I am blown away by iris absolute, my seller had sent my order to someone else while I received theirs, everything was sorted out and to apologize he sent me two little vials of violet leaf which is very interesting too.

    To your list of favorites, I never smelled ISM yet but I will add YR En Avril un Soir which I wore last month, Heure Exquise, I find it so elegant, Parfum Initial l’Eau with a fantastic grapefruit note, the iris is slightly powdery and dry in that one and the note lasts very well, Houbigant Essence Rare, a favorite, Prada Infusion d’iris absolue for a make-up iris, sweetened and rich. May 20, 2024 at 1:21pm Reply

    • Nancy: Love your spot-on description of Prada’s Infusion D’Iris! That’s the only one discussed here that I own and wear with some regularity. It’s like nothing else in my collection, which is why I bought it on a whim after a quick test. I consider it one of my “quiet” scents to wear in group situations where a dominant or projecting scent might not be appreciated. My mom adores L’Heure Bleue, but that doesn’t sing on me like it does on her skin. I’ll have to sample some of the others mentioned here. May 21, 2024 at 6:05pm Reply

      • Aurora: Thank you Nancy😃, l’Heure Bleue is a little grand with its impressive sillage, not as approchable. May 22, 2024 at 12:18pm Reply

  • carole: I love iris fragrances. I associate that note with elegance. I have a couple: Hiris, Iris Silver Mist, Prada, Prada L’eau amber which seems to have a lot of iris, Je Reviens, and contemplated a bottle of Heaven Can Wait-love to know if anyone here has an opinion on that one.

    Once I was driving to a beach in my area and I came across a beautiful field of iris in the wild. It was stunning and so unexpected. I always remember it when someone mentions the word iris. May 20, 2024 at 2:05pm Reply

    • Kaisa: I really like Heaven Can Wait! It seemed like an overdose of clove, but then it developed beautifully. Unusual. Will definitely try it again after the summer. May 20, 2024 at 3:18pm Reply

      • carole: I have a sample, and that’s the same effect I get lol. Maybe I’ll modify my application-hold it further away, so I get a mist. Thank you for the response:) May 20, 2024 at 5:10pm Reply

  • Marian Bancroft: I cannot get past the carrot with Iris Silver Mist.. May 20, 2024 at 2:27pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Hiris by Hermès has been mentioned, not so the „exlusive“ perfume oil Musc Pallida, also by Hermès. (There is also a perfume oil called Cardamusc.) I would be intrigued what others think about Musc Pallida: for me a musc oil, barely an iris! Did I buy a dud on ebay? May 20, 2024 at 2:56pm Reply

  • Fazal Cheema: I had a feeling you would include Hiris in the list. However, I did not anticipate Chanel No. 19, despite how often you have spoken of it. Maybe because I don’t usually think of No. 19 when I think of iris perfumes. I have trouble detecting iris in No. 19 while your nose clearly recognizes its presence in the composition. For me, the answer is same boring one that Dior Homme original 2005 composition remains my benchmark iris perfume. May 20, 2024 at 3:31pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    I still haven’t smelled any of those three perfumes; I have a lot of catching up to do! My only fragrances containing iris notes are Après L’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Insolence, and Iris by Yardley. As always, your descriptions are so evocative that I can’t wait to try each scent.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline May 21, 2024 at 6:57am Reply

  • Sara C: I adore Hermes Hiris. It makes me feel connected to the natural world in a way few perfumes can. It smells like the air in the early fall and spring 🍂 I also love Iris Silver Mist but haven’t been able to justify the purchase because I’m trying to keep my collection more minimal these days and to travel more in the spirit of being a digital nomad. May 22, 2024 at 8:47am Reply

  • Andrew: It has taken me a while to come up with an iris that I like, but I think I finally found one: Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet. I tried it on me a few weeks ago and I don’t see it mentioned in that many fragrance blogs, but it had this powdery iris note that I really enjoy.

    Does anyone else have any experience or opinions regarding this fragrance? May 22, 2024 at 7:19pm Reply

  • Lorna: Here are a few that I have explored by category:

    Straight up Iris: Malle Iris Poudree, Heeley Iris la nuit, Zara Romance d’iris, Prada Infusion d’Iris, Armani Pierre de lune, and Chanel La Pausa

    Fruity Iris: Atelier Cologne Silver iris, (berries), Maison Violet Nuee bleue and Malle Eau d’hiver(both citrus)

    Vanilla Iris:Stephane de Bruijn Le Sully, VCA Bois d’iris, MMM Lipstick on

    Aromatic/Green Iris: Chanel 19, and Dries Van Noten Neon Garden May 24, 2024 at 2:48pm Reply

  • Daniel Kaplan: I love the Hermès Hiris, I got it as a birthday gift this past year and have not stopped wearing it since. I love the base note of cedarwood! June 5, 2024 at 12:59pm Reply

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