Conjecture on a Myth: Iris Gris Part I
Recently, iris scents have gotten my attention and I have devoted much time to research them. The bottom line is that given the high cost of quality orris butter, excellent iris perfumes are few and far between these days. I have sampled several of the presumably best on the market today. In the past weeks I’ve tried 28 La Pausa by Chanel, S.M.N. Iris, D.S.H. l’Eau d’Iris, Hermes Iris Uikyoe, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, Maitre Iris Bleu Gris (I was excited about the name, but not the fragrance), Iris 39, and even the Legendary Perfumes remake called “Iris Gris.”
Each fragrance was interesting in its own right, but none of them came close to my desire to feel close to the mythical Iris Gris. Iris Silver Mist came close in sheer power of the orris butter and orris CO2 extract, but it is overpowering, sharp, peppery, and overly rooty thought the drydown evolves into an excellent iris likely on par with Iris Gris. But fortunately enough for me, the Osmotheque in Versailles has sent me a blotter dipped in Jean Kerleo’s reconstructed Iris Gris. I can assume that if it was made by Jean Kerleo, it will exceed all expectations and be hauntingly beautiful. Mr. Kerleo described the scent in an interview, translated by me very poorly from French, that the fragrance contains great quantities of orris butter and oil [I don’t believe there is an oil, so given my limited French skills, I would guess he is talking about CO2 extract] of the highest quality, but not in the 35% concentration as some have claimed. Mythique Iris Gris, Le Temps.ch, http://www.letemps.ch/Page/Uuid/ea0f8396-9ece-11e1-8a04-3f21f00605c0|3#.Uc87Vm3-p3t.
Further, Mr. Kerleo goes on to state that he received the formula from Vincent Roubert’s son. It is a fruity, floral, and woody fragrance where iris is the star. Id. He further remarks that Iris Gris contains a bit of violet to compliment the orris root. Id. In yet another French source, Iris Gris is described as a light powdery peach that is delicately tinted with citric acidity. Iris Gris, Ambre Gris (March 8, 2010), http://www.ambregris.fr/2010/03/avis-iris-gris-jacques-fath.html. Then, the iris root comes center stage, cold and icy, but never doughy with a minimum of carrot root and earthiness. The orris is powdery and chalky in the fashion of a vintage Guerlain with a hint of metallic sheen. The overall composition is one mostly reliant on the interplay between peach, orris, and a light violet note. Id.
The peach note, as I suspected, is the peach undecalactone known as aldehyde C-14 (though it is not actually an aldehyde), which I smelled upon my visit to Kiler Perfumes earlier this week and confirmed by other sources. Denyse Beaulieu, Iris Gris de Jacques Fath le Myth, Grain de Musc (Jul. 11, 2008), http://graindemusc.blogspot.com/2008/07/iris-gris-de-jacques-fath-le-mythe.html. The article further explains how a famed perfume historian stated that vintage Iris Gris should be in excellent shape because it had not citrus top notes or lavender, which usually go bad with age and a poster on the blog claiming to have smelled the remake and attended lectures given by Mr. Kerleo in the early 1990s, claims it contains some natural gardenia, which is possible as part of the floral heart. Id.
This is a lot of information from sources in languages of than English and hard to draw any conclusions without first smelling the scent. I am usually fairly good at discerning notes and materials in a perfume, so after I sit with the Iris Gris for a few days, I should have a pretty good idea as to its composition. Anyway, here are my thoughts based on the reading I’ve done in regard to note composition:
Iris: obviously we need large quantities of iris, but as Mr. Kerleo implicitly warned we should not substitute quantity for quality. It should be a blend of both orris butter and orris CO2 extract for balance and tenacity. It may also have a little galbanum to provide a chypre punch.
Violet: while violet and orris are commonly mistaken, many authors and commentators seem bent on the fact that there must be some violet here and there may be some discreetly tucked into the orris for complimentary purposes.
Peach: the C-14 aldehyde that was so popular in Mitsouko and Chanel no. 5 would make sense in Iris Gris.
Floral Bouquet: there is a floral bouquet that never overshadows the iris. I would guess jasmine, rose, gardenia, and possibly heliotrope as common floral bases from the time period.
Base: no one has said much in regard to the base. I would guess that it would be light and powdery, but at the same time musky and a little soapy. Mr. Kerleo said it contained wood of some sort. It may contain natural Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, and possibly a light animalic such as civet or ambergris.