Here are some highlights.
The evening began with a smell from two natural materials kindly supplied by the Laboratoire Monique Rémy based in Grasse. The first was derived from Iris Pallida and grown in Italy. This was a rather refined, powdery iris. The second extract was grown in Morocco and was a blend of Iris Germanica and Florentina varieties. This mix was much more earthy and rooty, with overtones of carrots and parnsnips dug from the earth. The idea was to get a sense of the iris 'spectrum', with powdery, violety at one end and rooty, full-on, deep notes at the other.
We then followed this with two perfumes which illustrate how these two types translate into perfume. Irisss by Xerjoff contains a significant amount of Iris Pallida. This was compared and contrasted to Le Labo's Iris 39, which has a much stronger eathy, rooty note and contains Iris Germanica and Florentina.
Iris can either be the main focus of a perfume or appear as a supporting actor. It often acts to lend a velvety quality to the formula, and rather like adding cream to a sauce, it doesn't dominate, but makes the whole thing smoother.
Orris root was traditionally used as a fixative in perfume and was often used to perfume leather. We sniffed some leather opera gloves that had been perfumed with orris and jasmine, a popular combination in times gone by.
Orris root from this year's harvest, grown on a Tuscan farm was also passed round during the evening. The root, which is the part of the plant used, must be at least 3 years old, after which it is left to dry and cure for another 3 years. It's eventually ground into a powder and steam distilled, with the result a thick concrete known as orris butter.
The fixative qualities of orris are also utilised in the making of gin, where orris works to stabilise and enrich the quality of the other botanicals. One of the finest gins with an orris note is William's Gin made by the Chase distillery in Herefordshire. We sipped on and sniffed this gin which has a very slight, pleasant doughy, earthy quality from the orris.
A moment's pause for thought while we sipped. Lila has been thinking about synesthesia while putting together the perfumes for the evening and had happened to hear a piece of music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt on the radio. Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror) seemed to be a very apt olfactory representation of Iris Pallida and it's fine, delicate, romantic smell.
From here we went on to smell a number of iris perfumes as a group and individually:
- Lightscape Ulrich Lang NY is new for 2012. A very wearable, beautiful, sheer perfume with iris that was universally liked. Liberty
- In Peace by British Perfumer Azzi Glasser has a chic, subtle suede note to it. It has become the top selling perfume of the year at Space NK
- Infusion d’Iris Prada escentual.com
Not particularly iris-like, but still a big hit for Prada. For a more pronounced iris not see the powdery and smooth Eau de Parfum Absolue (listed below).
- Impossible Iris Ramon Monegal New kid on the block, Ramon Monegal, released his eponymous line this year, but is actually a fourth generation perfumer from the distinguished Spanish house of Myrugia. A delicate woody base underpins this 2012 release.
- Faithful Rendition:
Irisss Xerjoff The Rolls Royce of our perfume collection. This perfume most closely resembled the powdery, violety, doughy, delicate Iris Pallida that we began with. (Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie)
- Hiris Hermes Somewhere in the middle of the whole iris spectrum. Olivia Giacobetti's creation retains some of the earthy strength of iris, but also a delicate sophisticated air. escentual.com
- Iris Donna Karan Selfridges
- Chanel No. 19 Described by Luca Turin as a cold hearted, pencil-skirted iris. This classic first released in 1971 is as wearable today as it ever was. Liberty
- Naivirs Huitieme Art Bloom A sweet and very subtly doughy perfme from Pierre Guillaume.
- La Vie Est Belle Lancome The Garden Pharmacy Released this year, easy to wear, mainstream yummy iris.
- Infusion d'Iris Absolue Prada This moderately powdery, classic perfume is more iris-like than its EDT cousin. escentual.com
- Iris Rose Coudray Les Senteurs The latest release from Coudray is for anyone who loves powdery scents. Delicate rose and iris create an impression of freshly bathed skin.
- Iris Nobile Sublime Acqua di Parma escentual.com New from ADP, less powder and a touch more iris, perfect.
- Heure Exquise Annick Goutal escentual.com Like time travel in a bottle, Heure Exquise takes you back to an era of classic perfumes. Not something for jeans and a t-shirt - think sequined gown or traditonal tailoring.
Iris with Violet
- Apres L’Ondee Guerlain escentual.com Delicate iris with violet note, evoking a stroll after the rain. Subtle classic.
- Equistrius Parfums d’Empire Liberty Described by Olfactoria's Travels as the best iris in existence. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato adds a touch of violet and chocolate to the central theme of iris.
- Violet Blonde Tom Ford The Garden Pharmacy
- Iris Poudre Frederic Malle Liberty This is another reference iris. Created by Pierre Bourdon and livened with aldehydes.
- Bois d’Iris The Different Company (Liberty)
- Iris Ukiyoe Hermessence (Hermes Boutiques)
- Iris Silver Mist Serge Lutens
Challenging to some, the ultimate iris to others. Serge Lutens
- Bois d’Iris Van Cleef & Arpels escentual.com
Equally good on men or women.
- Dzonghka L’Artisan Parfumeur
- Terre d’Iris Miller Harris
Light, citrus top, woody, ephemeral. This has recently joined the main collection after being part of the exclusive Miller Harris line.
- Cuir d’Iris Parfumerie Generale Les Senteurs and Bloom - This was a much requested sample of the evening by a group of over excited perfume lovers who likened it to a 'sexy dungeon with a steak house on the top'. A fetching leather softened by the iris.
An Air of Velvet
- 28 La Pausa Chanel (Selfridges) Iris with a heart of white florals, so delicate and beautiful but still This would be an ideal for a bride, innocent, but as some pointed out, with a sexy kick to it too.
- Danger Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie Harrods
- *Amyris Francis Kurkdjian Liberty
One of the most accessible from the MFK collection, this was very popular on the night.
- Ferre Gianfranco Ferre (Discontinued) On-line discounters
- Chanel No. 5 Liberty
Rooty, Earthy Iris
- Le Labo Iris 39 Liberty - A marvellous, full-on rooty, earthy, carrotty iris with a kick of civet after a couple of hours. Not for the faint-hearted, but spectacular nevertheless. Not an 'easy' perfume by any means, but very worth-while getting to know.
- FitzRoy Fueguia 1833 This Patagonian company based in Buenos Aires specialises in using local flora and unusual notes in perfumery.
- Iris Oriental Parfumerie Generale Les Senteurs The iris here is acts as a foil to the spicyness of the perfume tempering rich notes like cardamon.
- Orris Noir Ormonde Jayne A spicy oriental that uses black orris, the national flower of Jordan. Outstanding, like all the OJ line.
Iris for Men
- Iris Bleu Gris Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier
A powdery iris for men, the favourite of the night for Grant Osborne!
- Dior Homme escentual.com
A men's classic. Bertrand Duchaufour says he used to wear this.