But don’t assume there’s no romantic connotations attached to this wonderous fleur. It deserves its place as February’s flower, and is perhaps even more deserving than the rose, given the love and attention it demands to produce one of the rarest fragrance ingredients in the world
So, what makes this treasure of perfumery so, well, treasured? Keep reading…
Hailing from Greek mythology, the name Iris is said to come from the rainbow goddess Irida who slid down to earth on a rainbow with messages from the Gods, and wherever her feet touched, iris flowers grew. Pretty romantic huh? Other ancient cultures recognised the beauty of this floral too. There’s evidence it was used as an essential oil for fragrance in Egypt and India and was considered, quite rightly, sacred
Fast forward in time and you’ll find Catherine de Medici ordered the gnarly roots of this delicate flower to be crushed, sieved and mixed with rice powder to scent her majestic wardrobe, and the ‘fleur de lis’- which is an iris - became a symbol of French royalty once King Louis XVIII took a shine to it. The reverence placed on the iris was undoubtedly due to its beauty, but also out of a deep respect for its ability to produce such a desirable scent, if you’d only put the time and effort into coaxing it out. And we’re talking years of love and patience
Sure, scent can be extracted from the petals, but the real prize comes from the knotty roots, otherwise known as rhizomes. The iris must be in the ground for years to mature. Odourless when pulled from their shallow root in the ground, the rhizomes must be cleaned by hand and dried out for preservation. Then get ready for a long 3 years of waiting while they secrete their precious fragrance molecules. And you’re not finished!
After such a long wait the rhizomes are crushed and steam distilled to produce iris butter – not to be eaten, although it sounds kind of delicious – and from this, organic solvents are used to extract the true treasure of the process. Iris absolute. One of the most highly sought after and expensive perfume ingredients you can find, it takes a 3–5-year labour of love to produce just one kilogram! We know, crazy right?
So, what does it smell like? Soft, elegant and floral with a hint of powder (but only if intended that way), perfumers use this elixir most often as a heart note to bring a flavour of femininity to their concoctions. Gone are the days of Catherine de Medici using it to scent her wigs and clothes. Instead, iris, or orris, has become distinctly fashionable among niche perfumers, and you’ll find many scents making use of this magnificent ingredient in different and entirely pleasing ways; like in these perfumes: