Wednesday, 16 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day III: Hiris

Irises have something of a sentimental significance to my family. They were my maternal grandmother's favourite flower, and in turn, one of my mother's. As a child I grew up around bushels of indigo blossoms arranged in vases and growing in our garden, but up until just a few years ago, had you asked me what they smelled like, I sincerely doubt I could have told you. The perfume of a single iris is not the same as that of a single rose, nor of a single gardenia blossom... one cannot get a true sense of iris from one or two stems alone. You must smell them in profusion.

Last September, my wife and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, and to memorialise the day I presented her with 40 irises all on stems of almost a meter long. In the days following, their tight paintbrush-like buds unraveled into spectacular triangular florets of abundant blue. Visitors to our house gasped at the cornucopia of colour as they entered our living room, and many commented on the perfume... one which - as far as they were concerned - they had never truly experienced before.
Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti's spectacular study Hiris for Hermès (launched in 1999) is perhaps the most faithful rendering of irises I've come across to this day.

In 1999, I distinctly recall the Hiris launch at a local department store. A multitude of purple flowers arranged against bright orange Hermès packaging made for a memorable spectacle, but at the time, I found the scent itself a little too mature for my liking. I was perhaps looking at things in a very literal sense: "...this doesn't smell like any iris that I know of!" whereas now - upon reflection - I perhaps should have admired the artistry. You see, Giacobetti's creation is more of an impressionistic oil painting of irises - full of vivid hues and broad strokes... a 'sketch' of sorts. One of those renderings where one must put some distance between themselves and the canvas (as I have, over time), to make the overall picture become clearer or sharper.

Hiris now in 2013 somehow feels more relevant than it did in 1999. Today, in a world full of countless perfume launches, complicated press releases and serpentine explanations, Hiris is now something of a standout. Once the frequently-overlooked orphan amongst its older and younger siblings, it actually represents the first and most enduring soliflore in the history of Hermès, proving that often, simplicity is key, particularly when handled in a luxurious and carefully-considered manner. If Hermès and Giacobetti deemed the iris worthy of their examination and reflection, then so should we!

Hiris is classified as a floral green fragrance, and to my nose, it's bang on the money. Many scents using iris as a starring note tend to focus on or exaggerate the dry, powdery qualities of the root... bringing out a lipstick / face powder facet that does not always sit well with everyone (Dior Homme, I'm looking at you)! With this Hermès creation, Giacobetti has recognised the husky nature of iris, but has given it a real sense of the environment from which it has grown. Iris, carnation, coriander and cedar give a sense of both an earthy springtime dampness: whilst amber, neroli, honey, rose and vanilla; a sunny springtime warmth. The feeling of coldness and austerity common to numerous iris scents is completely absent here... Giacobetti's interpretation incorporates green leafy fronds, speckled sunlight, and morning dew evaporating in the air. As a soliflore, there is nominal evolution from top to bottom, but this, I feel, is to its merit. Hiris is worn close to the skin, just as one might, an exquisite indigo-coloured Hermès carré. I sometimes wonder what other treasures might have emerged if Hermès and Giacobetti had continued to follow this intelligent and enchanting soliflore trajectory.

Few scents have the wherewithal to feel both earthy and grounded and yet infinitely luxurious in equal measures. Hiris dances delightfully between artistry and convention... it feels somehow both introverted and energized.
Re-discover her and you will more than likely succumb to her cultivated charms and whimsy.

Hiris is still available in Hermès boutiques and online at

Tomorrow's post: Eau de Mandarine Ambrée

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