Powder to the people: the many moods of iris

A rather unprepossessing looking root with a heavenly, suede-like aroma, iris is one of the most costly of fragrance ingredients adored by perfumers for generations, but shaking off the unfair grandmas talcum powder reputation it perhaps once was cloaked by, now being championed by ultra-cool niche brands for a new era of purple passion.

Curiosity combined with ingenuity altered the history of perfume forever. Who exactly was the first person rootling around in the earth beneath the gloriously flowering iris, discovering the fleshy, creeping rootstocks (known as rhizomes) that look for all the world like the key ingredient in a fairytales curse, and pondering, what if? Taking those roots, putting them in a cave to age further (the older iris rhizomes get, the more pungent they become), and grinding, distilling and extracting the essence, only then does it transform into the uniquely powdery, skin-like, sometimes almost bread dough-esque scent that lingers and clings low to the skin for hours.

Lauded for centuries as a symbol of majestic power, dedicated to the goddess Juno and revered by Egyptians who placed the flowers on the brows of the Sphinx and scepters of kings the three petals of the blossom supposedly representing faith, wisdom and valor. In both ancient Greece and Rome, orris root was already highly valued in perfumery, with fragrant unguents of iris widely used in Macedonia, Elis and Corinth, for which they became famous.

Iris fragrances can smell as sweetly innocent as freshly laundered linen, or hint at the siren call of the boudoir lipstick, powdered skin and silken underthings that gradually take on the body scent of the wearer. This is an ingredient youll long to snuggle in the bosom of, and once truly appreciated youll never want to be without a new religion, a way of life Okay, Ill go and lie on the chaise lounge for a bit (iris always makes me want to drape myself on plush furnishings, anyway).

I could wax lyrical about its myriad charms all day (and often do, to the delight of my friends), but I want you to go out and allow yourself to be enraptured by some of these suggestions. Join my iris cult swathe yourself in one of these scents, showcasing the many moods of Iris

Refined Iris:

Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile eau de parfum High society swanker subtly wearing amber necklace and oakmoss Chypre fur coat (with silk knickers).

Ormonde Jayne Vanille dIris eau de parfum A rope of creamy pearls knotted over see-through silk blouse, delicately skin-warm from dcollets touch.

Prada Infusion dIris eau de parfum Immaculate white shirt line-dried in Spring, crisp sheets on bare skin: the allure of clean linen waiting to be sullied.

Xerjoff Irisss eau de parfum Warm bread roll joyously ripped asunder and secretly slathered with butter; face re-powdered, pink pout re-applied.

Serge Lutens Bas de Soie Chaste kiss from cool blonde of the Hitchcock ilk, wearing lipstick too expensive to smudge on plebs and silk stockings youll never see.

Romantic Iris:

4160 Tuesdays Paradox eau de parfum Thunderously moody walk in a storm; wrapped in cashmere stole sucking violet pastilles on a comfy sofa, tempers becalmed.

E Coudray Iris Rose eau de toilette A silk wedding dress on a velvet hanger, lovingly stroked by thoughtful bride-to-be at a vintage fair. Loved again.

Huitieme Art Parfums Naiviris eau de parfum Searingly hot love letters liberally dusted with rice powder, sealed with red wax, smuggled in the spicy cargo of a ships belly.

Penhalligons Iris Prima eau de parfum Ballerinas farewell performance, a lithe curtsey as the curtain drops, feathers scatter the stage, tears of joy mingled with makeup.

Aerin Iris Meadow eau de parfum Expensive bouquet tied with silk ribbons, nestled in a jam-jar on a bedroom window-sill, the handwritten card beckoning smiles.

Bohemian Iris:

Atelier Cologne Silver Iris Cologne absolue A purple velvet gypsy-style skirts hem dampened by dew, pale wrists loaded with bangles, reaching for blackberries on a misty morning.

Lartisan Parfumeur Dzongkha eau de parfum Temple stones cool beneath bare feet, chai tea sipped on a verdant mountains terrace, distant bells deeply resonating.

Matre Parfumeur et Gantier Iris Bleu Gris eau de parfum Freshly laundered sheets cannot hide the masculine scent of a Dandys midnight visit, still lingering in the sunlit room.

Sentifique Dangereuse eau de parfum Chanteuse shuns cold weather, languidly stretching golden limbs on tropical sun-lounger, coconut ice cream drips on hot skin.

Vancleef & Arpels Bois dIris eau de parfum Free spirits chasing rainbows, lovers of lemon sorbets, cashmere stoles & black tea sipped from vintage china cups.

Bad-gal Iris:

Etat Libre dOrange Bendelirious eau de parfum Wild child starlet swigging Champagne while chewing cherry-flavoured gum, emerging chaotically from rock gigs dry ice.

Parfumerie Gnrale Private Collection Cuir dIris eau de parfum Leather-bound prayer book stolen from church, smeared with face powder fingerprints. Chocolate-covered illicit kisses confessed.

Juliette Has a Gun Citizen Queen eau de parfum Ms. Capulet rescues herself from tragedy by ignoring poison, a flirty heroine in floral basque and leather jeans.

Miller Harris Terre dIris eau de parfum Hidden doorway leads to secret library, furtive fumblings among dusty tomes, her husbands brother a better lover.

Frederic Malle Iris Poudre eau de parfum Smiling seductress imbued with moral turpitude, impatiently tapping manicured fingernails on glass-topped cocktail cabinet.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

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