Posts Tagged ‘Iris / Orris Perfume’


So, where I left off in my last post about making Iris Gris de Fath was in the skeletal structure that I began to test on my client’s skin.  Let’s start there.

As you may have surmised by the description given by Mr. Coifan, the fragrance starts on a cloud of fluffy, soft, creamy lactonic peach (the ingredient is commonly known as aldehyde c-14 but is undecalactone gamma) so I began with that as well.  Of course, the orris absolute and butter came right in next along with the ionones (alpha, and methyl gamma) to color in the correct amount of “grey and purple-y violet” in the heart.  I ended with the addition of musk, ambrette and civet. There is a sheer clean-ness that the musk imparts and the sensual humanity that the ambrette and civet breathe into the base.  As a skeleton goes, this one was lovely with high cheek bones.

When I am creating a bespoke fragrance I always want to get the ‘sketch’ on the skin as soon as I can which will give me some indication as to how the wearers skin will react, and in turn will inform me as to how I need to proceed toward our ultimate destination.  The upside to working on a reformulation is that you have something concrete to ‘match’.   I put a test patch of the original perfume on her skin and a patch of the sketch on the other arm so that I could determine what was happening on both arms.  I was delighted (and rather amazed, really) that at the ‘first fitting’, the sketch was already at least 80% proportional to the original.  I did notice that her skin exaggerated the ambrette and civet in the drydown and would need some extra peach to balance it but it was immediately elating; like hitting the ball right onto the green in the first stroke.




My next step was to expand the design to include the notes that give the perfume it’s nuances: the muguet, carnation (!), jasmine, lilac, and heliotrope in the heart and the oakmoss absolute, cedar, and vetiver in the drydown.  The peach, along with the slightest touch of lemon, bergamot and violet leaf absolute is all that commands the topnote.  This overdosing of peach gives the impression of incredible softness and approachability at first sniff that would just not be the case without it.  Orris can be rather cold, aloof, and as others have also written, quite melancholy.  But Iris Gris is not melancholy or aloof.  It is elegant, to be sure, and so, so beautiful but not in a way that you must admire her from an ivory tower.  Iris Gris comes down to be with you, and hold you close; lovingly.


fath_1949_iris gris _perfume ad


A light touch was needed to balance all of these other notes.  It would be all too easy to overpower that violet / orris heart and put a dent in that poof of peach meringue.  So I went slowly and tread softly all the while keeping the original in mind.  My client came for just two more fittings and we were done.  She beamed so brilliantly as she sniffed both arms, again with the original extrait on one arm and her new perfume on the other.  We both agreed that the only detectable difference seemed to be that the original smelled ‘aged’ and the other, well, new.  This was the moment that she told me that she calls this her “Scent of Hope”.  I was so, so moved by her passion for this fragrance and what it meant to her that I almost cried.  She and I can both relate to medical difficulties and what it means to have something to inspire hope; the hope of a life free from (a lot of) pain, filled with optimism and most of all, beauty.  It was right then that I thought that it would be something great to be able to release what we had made to a greater audience.  When she came back to finally pick up her presentation bottle I asked how she felt about an actual release, with her name for the fragrance, Scent of Hope.  She was not only very gracious, she was delighted to know that she would be instrumental in giving others a deep and meaningful pleasure in the smelling (and wearing!) of this design.




Now our final step is to find a partner organization to give 30% of the proceeds to.  Ideally, we would like to find a women’s cancer organization, perhaps locally, who will help women with the resources they need to handle their treatment and when they are finished, to help them rebuild their lives anew.  We know that after something like cancer, it is a re-building that must happen; there’s no going back to how it was.  So, this is our wish and goal.  The perfume will be released, in extrait only, when we find our ‘mate’.  In the meantime, I will leave you swooning about the chance to wear a legend; the stuff that dreams are made of.  ox


image credits: iris drawing by jan church found here; iris gris vintage ad found here.


ps: So for all of you who have always wanted to smell (and wear!) Iris Gris but won’t be making it to the Osmotheque in Versailles any time soon, now is your chance. 🙂  If you would like to pre-order, you can.  Please just email us at dsh@dshperfumes.com as we can put you on our list.  Nothing will be charged until we are ready to release and ship.


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There are some very exciting things going on in my studio lately.  Of course, as per usual I have about two dozen designs (or more ??) written down in my working notebook for  2014, but after the last four new design launches, I have been busy working with a client on a custom / reproduction.  I should mention that I rarely do this kind of work anymore (reproductions) as they are VERY labor intensive and therefore time-consuming (researching ingredients, many times locating these ingredients is a task in itself; sniffing out and reverse engineering the design, creating samples and getting feedback….).  The cost in time alone can become exorbitant.  In the past, I used to take quite a lot of commissions to do this sort of thing just for the opportunity to see and feel what other perfumers had done, what choices they were making in the constructions, what materials produce what results, etc.  It goes back to the ‘copy a masterwork to learn’ method that I came out with from art school.  But those were the days when I had a fair amount more time to devote to that kind of learning and taking on those clients who just could not let go of their (discontinued) beloved.

I recently made an exception.  Not merely because my client is so lovely and I wanted to work with her, nor because she is battling cancer and this scent is her dream, but because the perfume she wanted to have made is a true gem.  I wanted to work on it purely from an artistic standpoint.  You know by the title which masterpiece of perfume history I am referring to, the incredible and so ridiculously hard to find, Iris Gris de Fath.  This perfume is one of legend among connoisseurs; the proverbial ‘white whale’ among iris / orris perfume lovers in the know.  Any vintage perfume collector can tell you how hard this fragrance is to come by and if you do, how expensive just a sample or decant can be.  I have seen mini *eau de tolette* bottles go on ebay for upwards of $300.  For less than 10 ml, that’s a serious investment.  I happened to get very lucky when I found a partial bottle of the pure perfume for less than an arm and a leg.  It’s one of my “preciouses” that I found for my little perfume museum and it is perfect.


Iris Gris_originalperfume


This commission, too, was really perfect for me in so many ways.  First of all, I love the behind the scenes work of developing my sense of history and working at becoming a perfume historian.  It gets right to heart of my geeky / hermit streak.  You know, I adore the thought of being hold up on a desert island with my museum pieces, notebooks and my computer to just spend countless hours exploring the ins and outs of what’s happening in these precious bottles of living history; what they meant and mean to us now, as well as their construction, materials (many now long gone from the market and use) and the artists intent behind them.  It’s like having conversations with Picasso, Shakespeare, Michelangelo… finding the avenues to their greatness on a trail of crumbs left behind.  It’s pure bliss and I can’t express how much joy these objects contain for me.  But I digress (as I often do).


Jacques Fath Perfumes 1949 Iris Gris French Ad vintage


Can I just say, Iris Gris is magnificent.  Truly.  It’s subtle and bold at the same time; elegant and cool but beneath that haute couture outfit lurks a real, sensuously warm-blooded being.  I love that it feels so timeless as well.  Yes, there is a vintage feel in that ‘they just don’t make ’em like they used to’ vibe but it’s so flawlessly constructed that I believe we would love to smell like this today (and every day).

You may be wondering how I go about deconstructing a perfume in order to create an original formula based on my research and smelling it on my ‘subject’.  Well, it’s just that: smelling.  I don’t use a GC or any kind of computer to detect the chemistry.  I have always felt that the key to getting reproductions right is in the smelling and the human experience that’s in the feel of the perfume, not just its smell.  Another key is to attempt to get into the head of the ‘lover’ (the person who is commissioning the perfume) to understand what they are smelling, experiencing and taking note of.  Everyone smells in a unique way, so what is important in a fragrance or aroma signature to you may not be the points of importance for someone else.  The trick is to get into another person’s heart and mind to find those sweet spots and be sure to hit them in the new design.  Not an easy task, but very worthwhile.  You will learn A LOT about people and fragrances…and so I have.




The first thing I learned was about the construction.   Barbara Herman wrote beautifully about Iris Gris on her blog, Yesterday’s Perfume, and also listed some of the ingredients based on the expert Octavian Coifan’s notes from his now (sadly) defunct website, 1000 fragrances.  Octavian is an amazing resource for the perfume lover / historian and it’s so lucky that Barbara listed the notes that Octavian had published about Iris Gris.  This is what Ms. Herman quoted from Mr. Coifan:

“[C]lean but not soapy, rich but not old-dusty…The perfume (a floral woody fruity but in fact an orris soliflore) is constructed around 2 ideas: orris notes + peach. Because orris and violet molecules are in general metallic/cold and usually express melancholy, the perfumer avoided this tendency with a soft peach note (undecalactone) that evokes a girlish skin complexion. The orris note is composed with all known orris notes (ionones, irones, methyl ionones, natural orris more than 35%). The woody note is mainly cedar-vetiver (their acetates for a light woody note). All other notes (jasmine, lily of the valley, heliotrope-lilac) are delicately drawn to support the floral-orris note and not to show their presence. There is an almost hard to detect chypre note (oakmoss – but I’m still not sure for that) and a light celery note (tuberose aspect and another trendy note in the 40-50’s used in traces) still to check. There is of course musk and a very light carnation like that in l’Air du Temps.  Iris Gris is the breath of angels!”
(From Octavian at 1000Fragrances.)

As I began working on my formula, I did find that some of the true notes in the original formula were not available: the musks would have to be replaced by some slightly more modern musk notes and the civet would need to be synthetic as well.  So, I set to work making a skeletal structure to test on my clients skin…

And that’s where I’m going to leave you for now.  Stay tuned for part 2.  🙂

I hope that imagining what’s happening on the skin sparks your creative juices for today.  I’ll be back with more before you know it. oxox


image credits: photo image by jennie marie schell found here; iris gris drawing found here; iris gris perfume bottle image found here; iris gris perfume ad no.1 image found here.


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