Iris, or orris, is many things. It is famously known as the most expensive natural ingredient in the perfumer’s pallet, making it one of the most elusive and luxurious materials out there. It’s also one of the most beautiful and complex ingredients in the perfumer’s magic bag of tricks, allowing itself to be utilised in a vast variety of ways, which gives it this strange shape-shifting ability, whilst also allowing it to remain instantly and undeniably recognisable as ‘iris’ at all times. Iris is also a divisive material – some will dive readily into its often cold and aloof arms, whilst others will simply say it smells like carrots and they wish for it to be moved very far away from them. Both view points are valid of course, but the striking character of iris cannot be denied.
In perfumery it is not the iris flowers that are used, instead it is the root. The roots are dried over a number of years (hence the hefty cost – orris is an exercise in patience) and then ground before being distilled to create orris butter (beurre d’iris). Reportedly, one ton of iris root produces two kilos of iris butter, making for a painstaking process that drives the cost of the material skyrocketing up to the roof and beyond. But is the beauty of the material matched by the price? Well, the answer to that question will certainly depend on your opinion however, the complexity of the odour profile of orris certainly lives up to its value, more so in fact.
The scent of orris is a tricky one to pin down. It is most known for its earthy character, which in extreme can smell vegetal, like carrots and turnips. The scent is mineral but it can also have sweetness, sharing a similar character to violets. If we’re talking texture, orris can be suede-like or powdery, but in some instances it can also appear as doughy and thick. There’s also a woody character to the material and in terms of colour, orris can present hues that range from blue to purple to grey to beige. If you hadn’t guessed already, orris is one of the most fascinating and flexible fragrant materials out there and it has been put to use in thousands of intriguing ways throughout the history of perfumery.
As you may have noticed, National Fragrance Day is everywhere today! It’s a day dedicated to the importance of smell and fragrance. To celebrate, I’ve put together a list of my five favourite fragrance articles from the web over the least year. They’ve all been neatly put together for this week’s Escentual column. Click here to head to Escentual to give them a read. Also, don’t forget to share your scent memories with the hashtag #ScentMemories AND you must take a Smellfie with a favourite scent, tagging it with the hashtag #Smellfie and tagging @theperfumesociety and @fragrancefoundation!
Today is National Fragrance Day and to promote the importance of our sense of smell, The Fragrance Foundation are encouraging everyone to share their most poignant scent memories. Whether there is a particular scent that transports you to a time, place or person, or perhaps an odour that reminds you of something or someone important to you, we want you to share your scent memories. So, in honour of National Fragrance Day I have badgered a few of my family and friends into sharing some of their favourite scent memories. They really are beautiful and I encourage you to share yours too.
Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to ignore Mon Guerlain and unless you’ve been hiding under a (rather fragrant) rock for the last month or so, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll have not seen or sniffed it. This is a Guerlain launch unlike no other – it is literally everywhere and the brand has gone balls to the wall (for want of a better phrase) in terms of promotion. Not only have they chosen Oscar-winning actress, director and human rights campaigner Angelina Jolie as the Mon Guerlain muse (an excellent choice IMHO), they’ve also worked with director Terrence Malick on the accompanying film. Not to mention the huge push in terms of press that the launch has had, which overshadows any other offering from Guerlain in the past. It really is a huge launch.
This post isn’t going to be a review of Mon Guerlain. I’ve already put together my thoughts on the scent, in isolation from its concepts and history for my Escentual column, and you can read those thoughts here. I stand by the fact that I really like how it smells. To me, Mon Guerlain is a novel take on lavender, one that amps up the material’s natural burned sugar notes and folds it into delicious butter candy and musk. It really is lovely, commercial yes, but undeniably lovely and made with top notch materials too. It’s also very Guerlain as well, especially seeing as the house is well know for being the utter dons at making gourmand treats for the nose. Mon Guerlain is no exception and it smells great.
So if this post isn’t a review, what is it? Well, Mon Guerlain is such a huge launch and such a game changer for Guerlain, I wanted to explore the commercial context in which it has arrived and what it may mean for Guerlain going forward. From a house that brought us Jicky, Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit and Chamade (I really could go on and on, and on) with little fanfare, Mon Guerlain says that Guerlain has finally arrived to play with the big guns like Chanel and Dior. And guess what? They mean business.
Much like fashion, the trends of perfumery are cicular and what is in favour now, is likely to be garbage tomorrow. This is the nature of trends – we overdose on the good stuff for a period of time until we get sick of it and something else comes along, and perfume is no different. Just look at the 1980s, when syrupy atom bomb florals existed to; a) be so distinct that one knew what they were smelling a mile away; and b) to terrify the masses. Of course, those scents are as on trend today as leg warmers and zoot suits are, which is to say that they’re not. Heck, one can even look at the ’90s, with its sterile repentance of calone and white musk and see how those things too, are no longer ‘in’. It all comes in to fashion, goes out and then comes back in again in a never ending cycle.
Of course, some trends stick about and the lucky ones take their place in the hall of fame as an entirely brand new genre that constantly develops without falling out of favour. Oud is one such trend – a style that has stuck around for so long now, and in so many guises, that it’s arguably the newest olfactory family. A perfumery trend that has not stood the test of time however, is green. Green was massive in the ’70s and ’80s but fell quickly out of favour. Why? Well, these perfumes have a tendency to be harsh and bossy, rubbing people up the wrong way with sharp edges. Also, as lovely as plants and grasses are, who really wants to smell like them? Exactly. But, as we’ve established, all trends make a comeback and right now we’re seeing a verdant renaissance of green scents both in mainstream and niche perfumery: the new green.
Personally, green has always been the toughest of fragrance families to get on with. There’s just something so standoffish about green scents – something so impersonal and too redolent of nature that puts me off. I admire abstraction in my scents and too often, green fragrances are either too rooted in nature or are simply too harsh. But I’m an evolved perfume sniffer, I can appreciate beauty even in those places where I feel as if I’m likely not to find it. So I’ve put together a list of six green fragrances that actually tickle my fancy. These scents also represent the modern revival of green, which all kicked off with Maison Martin Margiela’s Untitled in 2010. So, Dear Reader, you won’t find your CHANEL Nº19 here nor your Vent Vert, but you will discover six modern green fragrances that will completely destroy that old idiom that says it’s not that easy being green. In fact, for these six scents, to be such a thing is really rather marvellous.
I was approached by GT shopping, the retail arm of Gay Times magazine, to write a few words about my experiences using their site. So off I trotted to the site to have a good look at what they had to offer, focusing as one would expect, predominately on the grooming and fragrances brands. GT Shopping is a lifestyle shopping site that offers the latest and greatest in everything from menswear to technology, including grooming products, sports products and even stuff for the home. It’s a place to find a top up of your Tom Ford as well as to find the perfect outfit to wear with it.
It has been a tense couple of days here in the United Kingdom, what with last week’s referendum and subsequent decision to leave the EU. I understand that this is a divisive issue so I’m not going to go into the politics of the situation and whether the right decision was made or not (democracy has spoken), but I will say that the mood of the country is not jubilant, far from it in fact. There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment and the whole campaign has been peppered with ugliness. So yes, things aren’t exactly ‘Great’ in Britain at the moment.
Feeling a bit fed up, Nigel (Mr. Candy) suggested that we cheer ourselves up by spending some time around beautiful things. This, I thought, was a spiffy idea so I offered up the suggestion of Hitchin Lavender Farm. Nigel agreed and off we went. Now, Hitchin is a small market town just up the road from us on the outskirts of Hertfordshire. Like all places in the Home Counties it’s so scenic it almost hurts and the lavender farm that sits just outside it really is an idyllic English beauty spot like no other.
For a small fee, one can load up a bag of fresh lavender, straight from the bush, as well as some wild flowers too. There’s nothing more pleasant than a summer stroll through rolling fields of lavender blooms. The flowers grow in highways that stretch as far as the eye can see with each lane filling the air with the beautiful smell of lavender soap and caramelised sugar on the breeze. Bumble bees the size of small dirigibles hum as the wind billows. It’s a restorative experience and we had a lot of fun, especially in the gift shop at the end (I splurged). We now have more lavender than we will ever need…