Another bottle from my Collection Voyage of Miller Harris fragrances is Terre d’Iris. I like it very much but I don’t feel I fully understand it yet. Fragrantica says it “represents a fragrant journey around the Mediterranean. Calabria bergamot and Sicilian bitter orange open the composition leading to the heart of delicious southern herbs such as rosemary from Dalmatia and clary sage, followed by orange blossom and roses from Tunis and Turkey. The base is composed of patchouli, moss, French fir balsam and Florentine iris.”
I definitely get the opening citrus notes, bergamot and bitter orange. The bitter orange in particular is pleasant and strangely compelling. I generally like green fragrances, with their herbal notes, and although I wouldn’t describe Terre d’Iris as a green fragrance, it is certainly aromatic, with a little bite to its opening. Here is its “scent mosaic”, from the Miller Harris website:
It is important that one of the key notes is not just iris, but “Florentine iris.” Florentine iris is one of the few irises that is considered to be an herb, not just a beautiful flower. Rachel McLeod writes in NaturalLife: “The most important herbal use for irises to day is the use of the rhizomes from certain species to make orris root for use in perfumery and pot-pourri. Orris root has been one of the most important ingredients in any scent industry from as far back as the 15th century. The scent is rather like sweet violets but its real value is in its ability to fix other scents…. Orris root comes from three closely related irises – Iris germanica, Iris florentina and Iris pallida.”
Iris florentina is now known to be an ancient hybrid of iris germanica, or bearded iris. It has white flowers flushed with mauve. The flower itself is scented although the main value of this iris to perfumery is as a source of orris root and iris butter, which is painstakingly extracted over a period of years from the plant’s rhizomes. Iris florentina is grown mainly in Italy and southern France, but also throughout the Mediterranean, which is truly the “land of iris”, going back to the Egyptians whose use of iris can be documented. Van Gogh often painted iris flowers in Provence, such as the lovely “Field with Irises near Arles”, above, whose vibrant colors were restored in 2015 by stripping off old, yellowed varnish. Isn’t it clever, how the Miller Harris scent mosaic echoes the colors of the Van Gogh painting? You can still see fields of iris, both in Provence and in the Giardino dell’Iris in Florence, the city for which the iris flower has long been a symbol.
As Terre d’Iris dries down, what I smell is the sweetly carroty note that is supposed to be characteristic of orris root. It is not sugary at all; rather, it is the scent of a freshly dug and washed carrot after you bite into it, maybe even with a little dirt still clinging to it (I’m looking at you, oak moss!). I do not smell powder at all in Terre d’Iris, if you think of powdery as the cosmetic. Instead, there are more dry, earthy, woody, herbal tones that contrast with the citrus opening. If I had to describe the iris heart note using non-flowery words, I would say it is smooth and buttery.
Although my bottle came in a Collection Voyage “Pour Elle” set, Terre d’Iris is clearly a unisex scent, as it is described elsewhere. It may even lean a bit more toward masculine than feminine; it would smell marvelous on a man (really, I’m going to have to start experimenting with some of my fragrances on my husband!) while also smelling lovely on a woman. This is not a girlish fragrance. Very few floral notes, and the ones it has are not strongly present other than the subtle iris. They lend a smoothness and gentleness to the overall experience but I wouldn’t be able to tell that there was any rose in Terre d’Iris if it weren’t listed among the notes. The only fruit notes are in the astringent opening of bergamot and bitter orange.
Will Terre d’Iris become a go-to fragrance for me? Probably not, as I do love my flowers and floral notes. But this is a well-crafted and lovely fragrance that doesn’t smell like anything else out there. It becomes a skin scent pretty soon but I can still smell lingering traces of it on my wrist ten hours after application. I’m so glad to have this small bottle of it!
Iris florentina; illustration by Sydenham Edwards.