Of the many famous flowers in perfumery, iris was never one that interested me very much. My early impressions of it were stamped by “powdery” scents, to which I’m generally not attracted.
That all changed in the first instant that I got to smell real orris butter, about a year ago. I was truly surprised at how smooth, woody, and divinely beautiful it was. The “butter” form made sense by scent as well as by sight. Side by side, I also sniffed Orris Givco® for the first time, and it paled in comparison. It seemed more woody but less complex. A bit biscuity, and got the job done imparting a comforting creaminess in my tea-fruity-woody creation Tea on a Dreamy Afternoon, as I discovered when the blend matured.
In due time—that is, recently, I finally got my hands on some orris butter and Orris Givco. By then I’d read more about the many facets of the distilled essence of this fascinating rhizome: carroty, doughy, floral, green, leathery, powdery, sweet, woody… So I was in for yet another surprise when my tiny vial of orris butter (iris pallida) concrete smelled like a Chinese noodle dish with a vinegar and chili-oil sauce! This is not how I remembered it at all, but its dilution is much mellower and such that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the stock. I can imagine that it’s all the facets amplified and concentrated, because I am able to pick out some carroty, doughy, even spicy notes. The 10% dilution smells rooty and woody, but still doesn’t quite get away from foody to me.
As for Orris Givco 204/2, Givaudan’s synthetic reproduction of orris concrete, it smells woodier and rounder. Like a denser wood, with some astringency that I’ve noticed in certain synthetic woody aromachemicals. It has a caramelized sweetness in the background.
I’ve also been testing a few perfume samples featuring iris/orris (that I either bought or requested with a purchase).
Parle Moi de Parfum Orris Tattoo
This “permanent scented reminder, a universal symbol, a unique self-expression like an invisible tattoo that withstands the test of time” has a sunny and inviting opening, once you get past the initial blast of alcohol. The first thoughts that came to my mind were “young” and “blond,” which seemed oddly specific, but then I realized the adjectives didn’t have to describe a person—rather a space. It feels like stepping into an air-conditioned room with plenty of natural light, minimalist and modern. Soon the violet-green floralcy blooms, and carries on with something mildly boozy. It hovers pleasantly at this stage for several hours.
As I sat concentrating finally on something other than trying to smell the perfume, I thought I caught a whiff of ballpoint pen. Looking around my desk, I realized that I hadn’t been using one. The “olfactory ink” of Orris Tattoo is supposed to be a metaphor, but there it was for a moment getting literal…
The drydown is more woody with less sheen. This is where something chemical becomes more prominent, and the subtle but persistent harsh undertone pushes me away because I want to be back in the airy, smooth, floral stage.
Parfum Satori Iris Homme
This Japanese creation is immediately elegant, in a manner somewhat aloof. It’s silvery and grounded—quiet, but maintains its presence. Lemon is dominant in the opening, flanked by dour cardamom (which I’ve found I consistently dislike in perfumes, although I didn’t recognize it here unaided). Like a guest at an unfamiliar event, Iris Homme scans the scene, seeing and aware it’s being seen, before gently opening its light citrus jacket to reveal a substantial iris, in which it gradually warms to the music of the evening and settles into an understated sandalwood. Lest you think it’s finally let its guard down, it never quite breaks away from its core steeliness.
Etat Libre d'Orange She Was an Anomaly
This one has no reservations—it pulls you right in to its confidences with a powdery, floral greeting. It’s boosted by chemical power, which is as par for the course as electric lighting. Famously created with input from Givaudan’s artificial intelligence (AI)–powered tool, Carto, She Was an Anomaly supposedly features an overdose of iris and another ingredient. It smells a bit vintage by way of cosmetic products, probably due to the vanilla playing tug-of-war with the florals, cedarwood, sandalwood, and musk. Approachable and feminine, veering toward the edge of too sweet for me.
At the end of the day, I don’t think I’ll be seeking out iris perfumes to wear, but I enjoyed this brief exploration.