Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Decoding Obscure Notes Part II: Iris, Skin and Powder

The subtlety of musks and their similarity to the scent of the human skin is not unique to musks alone. There are other notes that possess similar qualities – the oiliness of orris butter is reminiscent of the soft and sweet odor of a newborn baby’s head. At the same time, it has a cool, watery and even slightly earthy aspect to it.

Orris root absolute is one of the most precious perfume materials. The roots need to be peeled and aged for a long time before extraction and distillation. It is invaluable in perfumery, for its powdery and delicate aroma and its role in floral compositions (especially those which require a violet-like touch). Orris is also used to soften woody, floriental and oriental compositions. Orris is one of the notes that make the Guerlain perfumes so soft and unique – it is one of the notes in the infamous Guerlinade. It’s role is of particular importance in Apres l’Ondee, Shalimar, l’Heure Bleue and Samsara. Recently, an orris theme has been receiving more attention by niche houses – Hiris (Hermes), Iris Poudre (Frederic Malle), Iris Silver Mist (Serge Lutens), Bois d’Iris (The Different Company), Iris Nobile (Aqua di Parma), Hirisa (Creed), and even the more mainstream Dior Homme released last year by Dior.

But orris is not the only note that has a distinct powdery and soft character that resembles the human skin. Some on their own – and others give this impression off only once they become part of a more complex accord.

From the wild jungle tree of Argentina and Paraguay. The oil is waxy, fatty, almost skin-like, slightly smoky and with a unique tea rose scent. It is often used in tobacco or leather compositions as well as in masculine spicy and woody orientals. I have yet to smell a distinct guiacwood note in a perfume that is not my own, though I am certain and it is not officially listed as a note in very many perfumes.

Delicate and powdery, from the abundant yellow blossoms of the mimosa bush has a fragile top note that is somewhat soapy, reminiscent of cassie and slightly honeyed. Despite its powderiness, it is far smoother and more subtle than orris.

A relative of the mimosa, cassie has a more pronounced floral-powdery scent, and is very delicate floral base note. It is warm, powdery and slightly spicy, herbaceous and warm.

Cabreuva are extremely hard woods from Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Cabreuva has a very unusual watery, delicate floral note reminiscent of cassie, lily of the valley and mimosa. It has a scent that I cannot describe better than “watery”. When I smell cabreuva, I feel as if it gently rinses my brain with water… It feels clear and clean, and strangely soft and warm all at once. It adds those characteristics to perfumes as well – giving off a soapy, clean, watery feel…

Rosewood (Bois de Rose)
A by product of the rosewood furniture industry (steam distilled from rosewood dust). Rosewood contains a lot of linalool, a bright, clean, heady yet soft aroma chemical. Rosewood is a light and floral top note, powdery-smooth and slightly rosy (henceforth the name) and is not unlike lavender, but less herbal and slightly dried than lavender – and indeed often accompanies lavender to create a soft, powdery effect in fougere scents.

While orris and guiacwood have the oily, skin-like and powdery qualities on their own – notes such as mimosa, cassie, cabreuva and rosewood are more often used either as a theme or as a supporting note in a floral composition. Nevertheless, they are responsible for making a heady floral more personable by adding a pulsating suggestion of human bare skin – either freshly showered, or warm and smooth – either way, pulsating with sensuality that is strange and familiar at once…

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At March 02, 2006 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Valnum from Perfume of Life forum. Congratulations for your blog, it's really well done! One question: what is exactly "orris"?


At March 06, 2006 12:15 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Thanks for your visit, Val!
Orris is iris. The roots of Florentine iris are the type that is used in perfumery. The rhyzomes are dried over an extended period of time, peeled and distilled. The oil (also known as "orris butter") is invaluable in perfumery.

At March 07, 2006 7:21 PM, Blogger katiedid said...

I love this post SO much. Wow, so orris butter really does smell like baby heads? And the cool, water aspects, too? Wow... time to get off my duff and order a back up bottle of Ysatis Iris, because I think it might just be more brilliant that I thought it was. I just liked it because, well it had those very same qualities you mention about orris butter. Huh. Food for thought, thanks :)

At March 09, 2006 8:07 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Katie, I don't remembet Ysatis Iris as being particularly iris-y, but than I haven't got to the point of wearing it on my skin... Now I am curious to try it again (on my skin this time!), especially if it smells like baby's head! And yes, orris has it all going, a very subtle and intriguing note. Irreplacale.

At March 09, 2006 12:54 PM, Blogger katiedid said...

Well in truth, I don't think it's super iris-y myself. The dry down is smells so much like the tops of baby heads to me that I can't help but love it. My hunch is that they tried to capture the way a yard full of irises in bloom smells. Which I think they failed on that count, but I can appreciate how close they came. And also, I do love the smell of baby heads, and YI reminds me so much of the way the top of my twins' heads smelled when they were wee. I like it purely for that sentimental reason more than anything.

At March 15, 2006 5:26 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Well, Katie, if YI smells like baby heads in the dry down, I should get some myself! I love this smell more than anything else. I believe that secretly this the only reason why women have babies, despite the pain. Maybe if I keep a bottle around it will keep my mind off it ;)

At January 26, 2014 2:43 PM, Anonymous Souad said...

Bonsoir, j'aime bien vos articles ils sont très instructifs ...Merci pour les avoir partager avec nous
j'ai une question à propos de la teinture d'iris...combien de temps faut il laisser macérer la poudre pour l'obtention d'une fragrance intéressante...Merci de me répondre.


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