Hermes Iris Ukiyoé

Nobody was more excited than I when Hermes announced the release of Iris Ukiyoé in the Hermessence series, with the scent allegedly based on the iris blossom rather than orris.  Orris butter – the source of “iris” in many iris scents – is made from the iris rhizome, which is akin, sort of, to making “rose” scents by macerating the roots of a rosebush rather than its flowers.

Fragrances that purport to be rose-scented are all over the place in terms of quality (and smell) but there’s a general concept of “rose-iness” that most reasonable people could likely agree on, be it spicy or more powdery or with animalic accents.  Orris fragrances are lovely; my personal favorite is probably Chanel 28 La Pausa.  Lovely as they are, however, they don’t really smell like the blooming flower of an iris.  It’s one of my great unfulfilled desires in the perfume world.

Many people are unaware that some (but not all) iris blossoms even have a scent, or that irises might be cultivated for their aroma.  My own introduction to the smell of iris took place in New Mexico in the early 1990s, when I was invited along by a curmudgeonly neighbor – who had a fantastic garden – to visit an “iris ranch” half an hour outside of town.  For a few short weeks a year during their bloom, you could come to look, sniff, and purchase the rhizomes, which would then be dug up and delivered later.  I didn’t know a thing about irises, but it sounded like fun, so I shrugged and said, sure.

It was a typical high desert day, sunny and dry.  We bumped down an unpaved road, parked in the dusty lot and trooped toward the uneven plots carved out of the countryside, surrounded by chamisa and cactus.

And then the smell of those acres of iris blooms hit me.

Irises don’t all look or smell the same, any more than roses do.  Some iris varieties are short and dainty; some are tall and bearded and almost obscenely lush.  But the intense low hum of bees and the perfume of thousands of blooms in that hot, still August air will stay with me forever.  The generalized iris smell is, to my nose, a unique combination of the spiciness of carnation, the sweetness of honeysuckle, and the deep, rooty richness of magnolia and dirt, with a hint of silver spoon.  There is simply nothing else like it.  I was transfixed.  These things … they smell like that? How did I not know this?

I bought a bunch of them to plant.  They grow like the dickens in Santa Fe, thrive on sun and neglect, and they are one of the few things I am sorry I left behind, although where I live now the deer eat the blossoms so aggressively it’s probably for the best.

So, Iris Ukiyoé, with the scent of the iris blossom.  How could I resist?  Fingers crossed, I bought one of the small 15ml travel bottles that have popped up on eBay, figuring I was overdue for an unsniffed purchase.

This scent doesn’t draw any immediate comparisons to any existing iris scents I’m aware of.  It has a deep, rose-y sweet-sourness and a watery lushness right from the get-go, without smelling like a rose.  It seems both “warm” (floral) and “cool” (vegetal), and there’s something about it that makes me think of going out barefoot onto the wet grass right at dawn.  It is lightly spicy, and like Vanille Galante it has quite a bit of a dewy, watery freshness.

And this is, unfortunately, where things sit for me.  I’m going to quote from Octavian’s extensive, enthusiastic review here:

“But this time, Jean Claude Ellena did not consider the particular scent of a specific orris flower, nor did he invent a new ‘orris flower’ type. It was his olfactory research, the emotion and the surprise of a warm scent set in a cold majestic blue flower. It is about those ephemeral moments of emotion captured on the petal with a drop of dew.”

To me (and I am very much in the minority on this one so far), it is mostly about that water-color impressionism, and not so much iris – or any particular flower at all, really.  I was told by a perfumer once to avoid fresh notes and aquatics.  Iris Ukiyoé seems to confirm that advice.  But if you’re looking for a different take on iris, and not expecting to be beaten over the head with it (this is a Hermessence after all) Iris Ukiyoé is a new direction that doesn’t conjure the clichés of violets or damp earth.  In the meantime, for those of you who’ve never smelled an iris and wonder what I’m obsessed with — next time you pass a tall stand of iris in bloom, on the street or in a neighbor’s garden, bend down and stick your nose in there.   If they’re scented, you may develop an obsession of your own.

Sample source: 15ml travel bottle which (full disclosure) has already gone to a more deserving home.

Image: Iris Flowers and Grasshopper, woodblock, Hokusai (1760 – 1849), source: wikimedia

88 Comments

  1. That “silver spoon” metallic quality is important, I think. I smell it in Iris Silver Mist, just for a moment. This one sounds like a miss for me.

    • It might depend on how you feel about the Hermessences. I didn’t put it in the review, because it sounds like whining, but I’ve yet to fall in love with a Hermessence to the point of needing even a decant. (Osmanthe Yunnan would probably be the one.) JCE’s style in the line is just not for me.

      Iris Silver Mist would likely be on any “must smell” list I was making for a new, curious perfumista.

  2. I’m practically foaming at the mouth trying to smell this one but the woman who orders perfume for my local branch hasn’t even heard of it. She guesses it’s coming out this spring. Which, I’m thinking, “Not really, but whatevs.” I’d buy a 15ml of it if I could find one but a search of Ebay (which I’ve got to admit, I NEVER use) didn’t bring up anything. Pewp. :<

    • I think later this year in the US? And the travel bottles on eBay are going more or less instantly (Buy it Now.) I paid $54, and then there were some for $64. I resold mine in about 15 minutes.

  3. Oh my. Have been lurking here for a while. LOL what draws me out is not the perfume, but the ‘Iris ranch’. I’d love to see it or at the very least get some of the iris cultivars. I love iris and have found most perfumes to be pale imitations in the end, really. I DO love Serge and Prada’s and the other, but just not the same as a real iris.

    • Thanks for delurking! Iris cultivars you can definitely develop an obsesssion about, like roses or orchids. I liked the taller, more vulgar ones (big surprise). I don’t think the iris ranch exists any more, which is very sad. I looked for it last summer and nobody knew what I was talking about.

  4. Oh, that is a little sad! Nontheless, I will still give it a try when it reaches HK!!I have never smelled the iris flower as such! Sounds like the most incredible olfactory memory, I think it would be impossible to recapture it in a perfume….too perfect a smell in your life a G-d created smell. Some things are better left in their perfection…that is why i don’t like to paint realistically. Your writing about the experience is beautiful

    • Please, if you ever get a chance … sniff some blooming iris, the scented varieties are more common than you’d think, I run across them all the time around here in May(ish). Most people probably never notice. And we could go on forever, but I think I have the same problem with rose fragrances. I love the smell of roses, grow them for their smell, but am not fond of rose frags.

      And thanks for the kind words.

  5. Oh, my! What a lovely olfactory image of the Iris Ranch. Though the name makes me think a bit of Nevada… ; )

    I am quite unsure I can smell iris at all. I certainly am fairly anosmic to many “iris” fragrances, with a few exceptions-Iris Poudre, the iris in Ferre by Ferre, and bready iris of Bois Farine. Others, not so sure-though likely what I’m trying to smell is orris, not the flower. Some others fade in and out with *something* pleasant, but I’m not sure I could say definitively that’s “Iris”.

    Sooo-I’ll still likely give this a sniff. Several of the Hermessence series please me, and Vanille Galante never fails to surprise me. I like it, I really do! Even the wateriness of if works for me. And the Nazgul-I love my cozy apple pie on cold days.

    So sorry this didn’t work for you, doll ; (

    • See, if you like the VG, I’m thinking this will work, even though they’re not the same smell. (It makes me nervous comparing disparate frags; they have the same feel, to me.) And you know, your anosmia isn’t, I don’t think, all that uncommon? Wonder what the deal is.

      I have no idea what ranch you’re talking about. 8-| I heard they were trying to open a men’s auxiliary.

    • Loulou! I didn’t know you were anosmic to iris!! Me, too! I can smell a few (I Poudre is one and Iris 39 is another, tho LT says it isn’t Iris so that may be why). Prada? nope. the L’Artisan one? Not a chance….

      somehow I don’t feel quite so ‘alone’ now….:-< we can sit together and whisper whilst others make smoochies over the iris! xo >-)

      • Odd thing, that? Innit. I find that I sometimes can smell zee Iris, and sometime, not so much, even with the same perfume. I asked Dawn Spencer Horwitz about this, and I recall her saying that it’s not unusual. I don’t remember the reason-large molecule, nasal overload? But I feel I’m missing out,
        too ; (

  6. I haven’t seen this anywhere in Germany, don’t know when they’ll release it here. Love Iris Silver Mist and Iris Poudre, though my favorite is Bas de Soie. I really never see the Hermessence line outside of London. They really ought to do more with it, though I was dismayed that LVMH is trying to take Hermes over, that would be a real shame.

    • The only place I see it here is at the boutique, although they don’t have this one yet. Iris Silver Mist is incredible, yes? I still haven’t tried Bas de Soie, shame on me.

      • March! You haven’t tried BdS? It really is pretty! Hey, waitaminit…is THAT iris? huh. see what I mean? hit and/or miss

        xo >-)

        • My nose reads Bas de Soie as hyacinth more than iris, but I can see it being a combo of both. Do you all think it has a dash of galbanum in it, too? I think that’s why I like it. I’m Galbanum Girl. ;-)

            • Update. BdS is pretty but goes SWEET after awhile. I’m thinking plastic pumpkin pie or plastic maple cough syrup? I like the plastic part, though…

              xo >-)

    • It’s very much worth trying, particularly if you like the Hermessences. And as I said in the review, I’m not the prevailing viewpoint on this one.

  7. Oh no, sorry it wasn’t what you’d hoped for. I think I can give this a miss too if it gives the watery impression. My house in washington state has a stream running through it, we call it the swamp, with banks that are filled with 6 feet tall yellow irises. Now, if only they had a scent!

    • Wow, I’d love to see those irises! And I can’t say I was shocked, as the Hermessences haven’t thrilled me.

  8. Hi March. Lovely, lovely post to wake up to on this rainy morning here in the ATL. Glad you sent your spray on to another home — see, eBay isn’t always evil, is it? I’m awaiting a sample of this iris but not sure I will love it either. I am, however, crazy about Van Cleef & Arpel’s Bois d’ Iris. Is the Ukiyoe worlds away from that, do you think? I’m guessing it is, but you never know. Or what about Malle’s Iris Poudre? Just dug out my sample of that. Thanks and have a great day!

    • Oh! I will go dig up BdI. I think that one suffered more by comparison — people were so floored by a couple of others? I wish they’d re-release them, more slowly, so we could reevaluate. I recall the VCA iris as being very nice. The Iris Poudre is extremely powdery and sweet on me. I can’t really compare this one to another iris. In style it’s more like Vanille Galante. If I were forced to choose one word it would be “watery.” It’s not woody, for sure.

      • Thanks, March, I was kind of thinking the same thing. Will have to wait and see …

        • OH MY GOD. All my decant of VCA have EVAPORATED!!! ::sobs:: those g-ddamned uncapped small, chubby atomizers are the worst.

          USE ‘EM UP, FOLKS. Or put them in capped vials.. :((

          • Nooooo (crying right along with you)!!! That makes me absolutely crazy, too. My sample of the Andy Taueur L’Desert one has just done that. Arghhh!! I can send you a little bit of my VCA, if you’d like. Just holler …

              • Electrical/plumber tape, baby! I have been taping all my really important decants/samples, ever since my Diorling decant started looking suspiciously………..low.

                xo >-)

                • Hi Musette, good to know. Would the all-purpose duct tape work as well? :)

                  • it’s pretty much the same thing, except! duct tape is gooier, which is probably not what you want in a covering plus a lot of duct tape has an odor, whereas plumber’s tape usually doesn’t. Plus PT is also way narrower.

                    You can get it (plub/elect) at any hardware store/Wal-Mart.

                    xo >-)

                  • because you have 4 kids, a busy life…:-?

                    that would be MY guess.

                    fwiw, the only reason I did it was I got a TPC decant done thus, ditto a lovely decant from Carol. Figured they must know something…. and it’s not too late! You could have a Taping Part with the kids. Pop some popcorn! Get tape in lovely colors…!

                    xo >-)

  9. I’m one of those iris fanatics you mentioned above, March. Like you, I love 28 La Pausa. Others I enjoy: VC&A Bois d’Iris, Le Labo Iris 39, No. 19, AG Heure Exquise, AdP Iris Nobile, Infusion d’Iris, and the new Bas de Soie. I still haven’t gotten around to trying some of the big classics like Iris Silver Mist, Iris Pallida or Iris Poudre. So, I’ve got lots of happy sniffing ahead.

    I’ve been looking forward to Iris Ukiyoe, too. Does the wateriness in it remind you at all of the fresh, dewiness of last spring’s La Tulipe? Cause that kind of aquatic I can handle, versus the Cool Water kind of aquatic which I think is overpowering and dreadful.

    Thanks for a great post. I have a feeling I’m going to be wearing iris scents this week! :)

    • Okay, I really need to dig up my VCA Iris again… you know, that’s a perfect comparison in watery feel, it does have the feel of Tulipe (the Byredo, right?) Which I also didn’t love, though lots of people did, including Patty. Again, so much wet.

      It seems like good weather right now for iris, doesn’t it? Maybe I’ll go put on the VCA.

  10. Thanks for the review. I wasn’t going to fret about trying this and I still won’t ;-) re your point on the Hermessences. I like a few of them well enough, Brin de Reglisse, Poivre Samarkand (I think?), The Nazgul makes me smile and feel hungry but my favourite is Osmanthe Yunnan except that it is so slight a thing. I used to anchor it to myself by using Patricia de Nicolai’s apricot dry body oil which had a tea feel to it which complimented OY. Now I’ve run out of the oil (and it’s discontinued dammit) I don’t wear OY anymore, not even for the 2/3 hours of loveliness it provides (besides this spring/summer was all about the tubey). So I think I understand. Next time I see a bunch of irises I’m going to try and sniff them. They sound gorgeous.

    • I forgot about Poivre. That one was okay … you know, I liked the one everyone hated, too. The Paprika one. So clearly my taste is in my mouth, as they say. 🙂 Yep, we need a strong apricot tea. Fig/tea smells like that to me, btw. (the pdn)

    • I agree, OY was my favorite, but it lasted all of 15 minutes. They are too ephemeral for the price tag, IMO.

  11. March, loved reading this one. I, too, am crazy about iris–the flower–and the scent of iris is not usually commented on as the attraction. Every Spring I look forward to the smell as well as the visual beauty. Can’t say that I have ever experienced the scent in a perfume. Too bad this one doesn’t do it. Love the name, especially since I’m crazy about Japanese woodblock prints.

    • The name is lovely, and yes — Japanese woodblocks. Have you ever been to the Freer in Washington DC? Among other things they have wonderful woodblock prints.

  12. I love the Hermessences, but can’t say this sounds like something I’ll love. I’ll find out eventually!

    • I can’t decide. You liked the Vanille very much, I think, and I am pretty sure you like iris? So, this might be “you.”

  13. Heh, your feelings on Iris Ooki are like mine.
    I like JCE’s work, I like the Hermessence line, one of my favourites is even Vanille Galante (and I agree with you, they’re clearly closely related), but this Ookithingie just doesn’t work for me. Too sweet, for starters. Can’t honestly articulate why else it bothers me, but this is one scent that almost angers me. I should like it by rights, and I don’t. It bores me. That’s a bigger sin than disagreeing with me, I think.

    • By the way, the iris farm sounds lovely! I’ve only ever “met” one breed of iris, and as I recall, it was scentless. So I don’t really have a reference point for Ooki, anyway.

      • Well, this is interesting, you’ve shot my VG theory to hell 🙂 (that if you liked that, you’d like this.) It wasn’t especially sweet on me, just very … diffuse.

  14. While I’m a bit disappointed about the watery facets of Iris Ukiyoé, I’m really enjoying the discussion about smelling the actual flowers. When I was a kid, there was a small stand of bearded iris (blue, I think?) on our farm, and I remember that they smelled wonderful. I wish I remembered the smell more specifically, but it’s been a while. :-) As an adult, I haven’t run across the scented varieties, but clearly, I need to try harder.

    So, I think I will add fragrant iris to the list of plants to research this winter; I love pondering additions to the garden while it’s all covered in snow! Thanks for the review.

    • And there you have it, you noticed the smell of iris all on your own! The scenting seems pretty random… I’ve never looked, but I assume if you were rhizome shopping online they’d bother to mention if it was scented (I’m guessing with the words “sweetly spicy”).

  15. Love iris blossoms, and love their smell… iris is very nostalgic for me, since my mother and grandmother and mother-in-law all grow them. At our old house, before we built on the farm, I had several varieties, and I vividly remember coming back from my honeymoon, in mid-May, to a bouquet of mauve irises my grandmother had sent me from her yard.

    I think the ones I’m most familiar with are the old-fashioned ones nobody can even identify by cultivar. They all smell largely the same to me – vaguely spicy, vaguely metallic, vaguely like Grape Nehi, but mostly, they smell WET.

    I have yet to smell Vanilla Galante, but I did get the chance to test DSH Perfumes’ Susinon (1000 Lilies), and found it floral and beautifully aquatic, in the same wet-blossom sort of way I think of irises. I’m still thinking Iris Ukiyoe will be up my alley, and I’m looking forward to my decant, whenever it shows up…

    • Heehee! Grape Nehi! It’s … it’s such an odd smell, like trying to describe rose-smell to someone who’s never smelled a rose, you know? I hope you like your decant.

      • I love those! To me, they smell like Grape Nehi and wet dirt – but the emphasis is still on the ‘wet’.

        I just got s couple of rootings from a friend, from her grandfather’s stand of iris. I put them in a place where I think they will really bust a move – right under my dining room windows! 😡 throwing down the chicken wire tomorrow to keep the squirrels out of there – I noticed he’s been eyeing that area…… :-W

        xo >-)

          • You’d think we’d be overrun with deer here, we’re so close to the National Forest and the mountains, especially since we keep seeing deer out in the pastures. But they never bother my plants. Weird.

          • we don’t get deer, thank Floyd. Our yard is enclosed and we have…D.O.G.S. Big’uns. plus there is enough timber around that deer usually don’t need to come into town. Otherwise we’d be eaten out of the garden fo’ sho.

            squirrels, though….:-w

            xo >-)

    • Mals, that’s what most of the irises smell like to me, too! Especially those big, grandaddy purple bearded ones. (The apricot variety lean more towards carnation.) But your description sounds a lot like how March experienced the Hermessence, no? So maybe JCE isn’t so far off? And maybe the flowers smell different in Japan (which he’s clearly referencing) than in the desert in Santa Fe where the heat and dry air make all the herbs, peppers, flowers and so on more concentrated and intense…?

      • This is interesting, because to me they don’t smell particularly wet — spicy and a weird, almost fakey candied sweetness (in a nice way) and vegetal. But not that wetness.

      • Irises seem particularly wet to me when I cut them and bring them in the house for a bouquet – maybe that plays into it, too.

  16. Interesting review, March, and I doubt I’ll even try this one. I find that I agree with you more often than not and neither am I a JCE fan.

    The iris ranch however, sounded beautiful. I was an iris grower and aficionado for years, so I have smelled a few scented varieties. Like you say, an interesting and hard to describe fragrance. But I’d want an iris bloom fragrance to at least try to approach that – not someone’s “impression” of that smell.

    • Aha, you know the smell then. I think I’d be growing them again here but the thought of battling the deer is too depressing. The deer don’t like the roses, so I stick to those… this JCE is strange. For something that I hoped would smell “more” like a blossom than other iris scents, it smells less so.

      • JCE is having fun with his chemistry set, and that’s okay if you like those kinds of scents.

        I’m surprised that you have so much trouble with the deer as I spent nine years growing iris out in Clarke Co., Va. – plenty of deer, but I never had them eat my irises! Now moles and lily bulbs are another story!

        • Oh, and the hunt coming through and trampling the beds! ARRRGGGG!!

          • I bet you rocked that Blaze Orange. I’m always askeered I’m going to get shot in the head.

            The irises, who knows? We have deer like other people have roaches. Overpopulation, no predators. Plenty of lyme disease … where was I? Oh. Well, they eat the blooms on the neighbor’s irises, along with her daylilies. I assumed it was a deer salad bar item.

            • speaking of ‘hunt’ – we have hunters down here. Folks hunt them and eat them, which is way fine with me (preferable to wasteful trophy hunting). Keeps the pop down and for a lot of poorer folk, it’s the bulk of the meat they will get for the season.

              I’m 😕 you don’t have many of those types of hunters in CC?

              xo >-)

          • You’re talking about fox hunting, right, D?

            We don’t get that around here – too many rednecks. Which I’m allowed to say, since I’m married to a farmer and descended from hillbillies. We get the Blaze Orange kind of Hunt.

    • I am not a JCE fan either, and always feel like I’m the ONLY one. (I did recently try and fall somewhat in love with his Rose Poivree, but it’s very un-JCE, which is to say dirty, not clean.)

  17. Oh wow March, I would love to see a ranch like this. I hear you get that kind of an olfactory blast from a lavender farm as well. Would love to see one of those. Personally it’s a tie in my garden between the Iris, the Lilacs and the Oriental Lilies. I remember walking into a greenhouse and literally following my nose to a group of Oriental Lilies. I walked out with a bunch.

    I’m pretty new to this, so if you all could recommend a scent that’s pretty iconic of the iris fragrance, a place to start if you will, that would be great!

    • Oriental lilies, there’s a lovely smell. Gosh, on the irises — you can scan these comments, and if you want click on the Now Smell This link (she references others.) Everyone would name their favorites. I suppose if backed into a corner I’d go with Lutens Iris Silver Mist, Malle Iris Poudre and Van Cleef Bois d’Iris for three very different takes that would allow you to see different facets of the scent. My personal favorite is probably 28 La Pausa, which I find lovely and soothing and some people find dull. 🙂

  18. Bummer. It’s so disappointing to have a scent in your mind (or in your nose, like our LA jasmine) and have scents that never. quite. get. there…

  19. March, your description and whole review is wonderful, but I have to admit that an impressionistic iris that does not smell of what I love in iris (roots, dirt, earth) does not sound appealing. Ellena at his most impressionistic (like Paprika Brasil) also tends to lose me.
    As for the smell of irises, I agree that they have such a fascinating range of scents, depending on variety, from lemons to candy apples!

    • I hope you try this, I’d love to read your thoughts. It seems mostly wet to me, the way Vanille Galante seems wet, and a diffuse sweetness. But several perfumistas have raved.

      I love that you put candy apples. My favorite kind of iris scent is peculiarly … almost not-found-in-nature. A candied smell, a bit banana-candy-ish, maybe, only wonderful rather than fakey and horrid.

  20. SO sorry this one didn’t work out for you – I know you had high hopes….

    None of the Hermanessences do much for me, except the Poivre Samarcande on a Very Hot Day and the Osmanthus Yunnan, just after a shower, on a warm spring day. JCE’s stuff is becoming so evanescent that it’s gone before it even registers with me!

    :-< oh well, there's always Iris 39, which lasts forever. And ever. and.. xo >-)

    • Oh, I can just get over myself. It’s not like the Hermanessences are all that to me as you know /:) Or you either. And now that I’m wearing 6 other things it’s fine.

  21. Thank you for the description of the iris ranch, March! I went to the Skagit Valley (outside of Seattle, Washington) for Tulip Festival time once, and had a similar revelation about the massed scent of tulips. Not at ALL like the Byredo, to my great disappointment.

    But then, they do vary (tulips and irises) from flower to flower, and as I commented above to Mals, the ones I know best have a scent quite similar to the way you’ve described the perfume. So perhaps you will just have to wait for a different perfumer to tackle your beloved blossom?

    • I think for most people, “tulip” is essentially watery nothing 🙂 so it can become anything. (or more about the color than the smell). Hence the Byredo.

  22. Last Iris Note here: I was rummaging through my samples last night, determined to Wear Something New….stumbled upon a couple of Delraes that I’d sort of pushed to the side….Mythique on one arm and Amoreuse on the other. Amoreuse …..b-( Mythique 😡 rooty, pretty, with that faint plastic note I always associate with iris scents…(I like that plastic note a bit)

    didn’t know it was Iris~ so hey! maybe I CAN smell it!?

    xo >-)

    • Hi sweetie, so sorry the Amoureuse went pfffft on you. I love that stuff — reaching down to retrieve your sample from the trash can :). It really does remind me of San Francisco. Haven’t tried the Mythique yet, but it does sound yummy. I did get a sample of Emotionelle recently and boy — a little too much melon for me, but I’m sure it has its fans, too.

  23. I’d be afraid to try the VCA iris one ever since I tried their lily of the valley: it was the nastiest thing I’d sniffed in a long time. Iris is something I feel I should like, but haven’t found anything yet…

  24. Pingback: Hermes Iris Ukiyoe ~ perfume review | Perfect Fragrances United States

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