Well, I was excited to receive my blotters of Iris Gris from the Osmotheque in this morning’s mail—and it took less than a week to arrive from France. Smelling the legendary Iris Gris, after long last, is one of the highlights of my fragrance career. I immediately noticed upon first unwrapping the wax paper that it is soft, smooth, and light—three things we don’t often see with today’s iris fragrances beating you over the head either with synthetic iris (the perfumer thinks you don’t know what iris smells like) or beating you over the head with the real thing—naked, exposed, and bare (the perfumer wants to show you how much natural iris he has used without regard to fragrance itself). I, of course, prefer the latter approach as in Iris Silver Mist.
Iris Gris has large quantities of orris butter and orris CO2 extract, but is it smooth and well integrated with the rest of the scent. Give my experience is strictly from a blotter and not from skin, it will probably vary slightly. I understand the Osmotheque does not allow skin contact with their scents because they do not conform to IFRA standards and they do not want to be liable if someone were to go blind or die because oakmoss touched their skin for a moment.
There is peach, the peach aldehyde C-14 just as I suspected. C-14 is quite potent (my whole house still smells like peach after storing a small blotter of the stuff) so I presume it is light and just enough to diffuse the rough, rooty edge of the orris. I further believe that the orris is smoothed out with a little violet leaf (this is confirmed by Jean Kerleo himself who presumably designed it in a French language interview mentioned in an earlier post). The overall feel of the orris is peachy and rich with a little powder and a slight metallic/cold edge though it remains warm and velvety throughout.
The heart is a white floral bouquet, typical of the time period, using top quality floral ingredients. There is something quite indolic though it never becomes fecal. I suspect this is jasmine grandiflorium, also known as Spanish Jasmine coupled with a conservative dose of tuberose. I never much care for tuberose, but it adds depth and indole in small doses. There is also lilac, muguet, and heliotrope. The heliotrope was the most noticeable of the flowers after the jasmine and tuberose.
The base is more difficult to discern. It is somewhere between a classic chypre and a musky, slightly soapy wood. I would suspect Atlas cedar for depth and a bit of that cigar box smell, a light vetiver accord for a hay-like grassiness, oakmoss, Mysore sandalwood for a rich creamy and buttery texture, a top quality vegetal musk—perhaps ambrette seed or angelica root, perhaps a little cassie oil to give a sweet oily density, a light carnation note for a little spice, and finally, dare I say—Peru balsam to add a velvety texture.
So for a note structure, we have: peach, orris (Florentine presumably), violet leaf, Spanish jasmine, tuberose, lilac, muguet, heliotrope, cedar, vetiver, oakmoss, musk, sandalwood, cassie, carnation, Peru balsam.
To be certain, Iris Gris is great fragrance, perhaps one of the greatest of all time. It was originally released for women, but it could be worn by any gender, so long as the wearer is sophisticated with a sense of tradition and historicity. It does not, by any means, smell old-fashioned or out of date—it smells timeless, sophisticated, and simple. I think a fragrance like this would be popular today even as long as it could be sold alongside other living legends like Shalimar, Jicky, and the like.
Smelling this blotter was the culmination of several months of research into the orris root. Further, a renowned perfume historian recently revealed to me that Iris Gris contained an extraordinarily expensive orris base made a Swiss perfume company. I take that to be either Givaudan or Firmenich. Firmenich makes an expensive base called Iris Rhizome Resinoid of Florentine Orris—perhaps this is it.