The price of quality iris root being what it is, it is inevitable that niche brands have all been coming up with showcase irises in recent years. Much of current mainstream perfumery is vulgarizing trash, and the cool, powdered elegance of this material presents the perfect opportunity to make an obvious differentiation – iris is aloof and removed. The flowers themselves are even regal: at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo are the famous imperial iris gardens, which flower in late June, guarding the emperor and his wife – tradition has it they ward off evil spirits.
While many irises are almost odourless, some of the purple, white or yellow flowers have a rich, almost oily, deep violet smell hard to imagine in perfume. In fact the scent of iris is not obtained from the flowers but the roots – a labour-intensive process that takes around eight years, from planting the flowers to obtaining the oil. Three years after the bulbs have been planted, the roots are harvested, washed, and sun-dried on lattice trays (the famous Florentine ‘iris saunas’), after which they are dehydrated for about five years. When deemed ready, the bulbs are ground down and macerated in cold water before being steam distilled. Finally, orris butter, one of the most expensive and coveted essences in perfume, is produced, and ready to be made into scent.