A hugely precious ingredient, this – with a heart-stopping price-tag. That’s because the orris – from the rhizomes, or ‘bulbs’ of the iris plant – are odourless when harvested, and take three or four years to mature. (They’re left in a cool, dry place, and need protection against fungus and insect attack which would destroy the producer’s valuable harvest.)
Iris, or orris, has lent its sweetness to perfumery for centuries – as far back as Ancient Rome and Greece, or perhaps even beyond. Back then, it was made into hair and face powders, placed into pomanders, and was the basis for delicious perfumed sachets for wearing on the body. (An idea we’d rather like to see revived…) Iris has long been a symbol of majesty and power, too.
The most sought-after type of orris come from the Iris pallida variety, which flourishes in the warmth of the Mediterranean. Florentine iris ticks perfumers’ boxes, too. After those rhizomes have aged, they’re powdered – and then steam-distilled, producing orris oil, which solidifies into something known as ‘orris butter’ (or ‘orris concrete’), because of its oily, yellow texture and appearance.
It’s been highly fashionable in fragrances for the past few years: sweet, soft, powdery, suede-like – rather like violets, which we tend to be more familiar with as a scent. Actually, iris runs the spectrum from sweet to earthy: it also works brilliantly to ‘fix’ other ingredients, giving a more lasting quality to florals and base notes. Often, only the lightest touch of orris is needed in fragrances – but ‘noses’ wouldn’t be without it, for the world.
Smell orris root in:
Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile
Chanel Les Exclusifs 28 La Paula
Crabtree & Evelyn Iris
Frederic Malle Iris Poudre
Guerlain Après l’Ondée
Jovoy Paris Poudre
Lolita Lempicka Lolita Lempicka
Prada Infusion d’Iris
Tom Ford Violet Blonde
Vivienne Westwood Boudoir
Yves Saint Laurent Paris