Escentia : Iris

Iris. If you truly love nature...

Olimpia Mascolo shares her love for Iris, one of her classic favourites. Let’s find out more about this ingredient that most perfumers seem to love in spite of it not having a scent of its own!

The ‘bearded’ iris, the type famously painted by Vincent van Gogh, grows widely in Tuscany and has been since the Middle Ages the symbol of Renaissance and the emblem of the city of Florence. Ancient Greeks and Romans bottled it as an elixir, innkeepers scented their linens with it centuries ago, but years must pass before it can be bottled and made into perfume.

Fragile, complicated and endangered, this beautiful flower has no scent of its own, yet it gives perfumers one of the most sophisticated absolutes in use and it can cost more than gold.

The iris flourishes in May. Seeing all these hectares of farmland turn blue is a marvellous scenery and yet the rhizome, or root, is the only part of the plant that produces a scent. 

After growing underground for three years, the bulbs are extracted in the hot summer months, washed, strained and shaved, and then dried in the sun for a few days before being hid away for another three years to age. These dried iris bulbs must be protected day and night against fungus and insect attack, which would destroy the producer’s valuable harvest. As they mature, the rhizomes finally produce Irone – the violet-like aromatic molecule responsible for the noble iris scent. 

More than 500kg of dry iris rhizomes are needed to obtain just one kg of ‘orris butter’, the result of a stirred distillation process called ‘turbo-distillation’, but this is not enough, the butter will required to be rectified again in order to yield an absolute with the highest concentration of irone and therefore the richest scent. 4kg of iris butter will give only 1 kg of absolute, making this ingredient one of the most expensive in the perfumer’s palette.

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The name “Iris” came from the old Greek Rainbow. According to the legend, goddess Irida used a rainbow to come from the sky to the earth to bring the will of Olympic Gods to the people. When she touched the ground, beautiful iris flowers came out of her footprints. A Rainbow is the true nature of the aura this ingredient spreads: multifaceted like a diamond, it feels woody, powdery, and reminiscent of innocent baby skin. 

Iris even reveals shades of raspberry and pepper making up a rare scent, as well as natural fixative properties that can prolong other scents. It is used in fragrances to portray a noble, chic and classy personality. It may be mistaken for violet, but its powerful woody soul conquers the territory of a fragrance like an empress… proud, beautiful and majestic.

Natural Iris absolute has made history with iconic classic perfumes such as Shalimar (1925) by Guerlain, Chanel no.19 (1970) to the more recent Iris Nobile (2004) by Aqua di Parma and Infusion d’Iris (2007) by Prada.

If you are looking for something different, Mis’ch by Emarati brand Anfasic Dokhoon presents Iris in a very special way.

Inspired by the Arabian Horse, this fragrance has beauty, endurance and strength. Used on its own, or as a base note for any other perfume, Mis’ch is airy, clean and solar. It reveals its gentle powdery floral note with Lily of the Valley and Iris at first, and finally shows its true colors with its transparent but powerful Musky nature.

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