Blending Black Iris: Part I


Blending Black Iris: Part I

Iris flowers have very little scent. The secret is in the roots, which must be aged for five years to bring out their aroma. Once ground into a fine powder, the roots are distilled to yield a small amount of aromatic “butter.” Perfumers call this “orris butter.”

Orris butter contains up to 22% irones. Irones—there are many isomers—provide the distinct and complex orris aroma of violets and roots. This juxtaposition is a combination so compelling that it’s hard to take one’s nose out of the bottle.

There exists one problem: orris butter costs $600 an ounce. Clearly, the aroma must be extended and modified. This requires naturals and aroma compounds.

I started out with an expensive bottle of alpha irone, but it didn’t have much smell—certainly not as much as the butter itself. (Don’t confuse irones with ionones. Ionones are inexpensive and, while they smell of violets, are less strange and intriguing than real orris.) Alpha irone, the most common form and the only one I had, is insufficient; an exact combination of isomers, most hard to find, is needed to recreate the smell.

Giving up on the alpha irone, I began with the butter itself. My plan was to build up both the rooty and floral aspects without obscuring the orris. I added a tiny amount of angelica seed and a trace of carrot seed to bring the root facets into vivid focus. This left the floral aspects obscured. I restored them with a little heliotropin, forming a stunningly beautiful accord. But the perfume still lacked power and was a bit too somber.

I added some aroma chemicals—boisiris, dihydro ionone beta, orivone were a few—to underline and intensify the orris. Next came some of my own musk as well as indole, with its peculiar and rather disagreeable aroma designed to draw insects, and isoeugenol, which smells like cloves.

Wanting a wood component, I added kephalis, one of my favorite wood molecules, and a lot of fixamber, a woody/violet compound, to lead into the orris. I also added oud for mystery.

We will see if it was enough.