Spring special 2023: perfumes with iris

A slender stem and a corolla that, depending on the species, ranges from purple to blue, white to pink, and orange to yellow. The iris owes its name to the Greek word for rainbow, as well as the name of the messenger goddess of Olympus. It is an elegant and majestic flower that has always graced the hills around Florence in spring, therefore no accident that it appears in the city's coat of arms, as well as on the first florins. According to one legend, when in the first century B.C. the Romans came to establish their own colony in the countryside where Florence would rise, they found the area covered with irises in full bloom. Hence the name given to the new Roman city, Florentia.

Iris has always been deeply linked to Florence, as well as to the history of contemporary perfumery, which took its first steps here: it is said that the iris perfume made by the Dominican friars of the convent of Santa Maria Novella was the favorite of Catherine de' Medici, who brought with her the secrets of that fragrant essence and of the ancient Florentine perfumery tradition when she settled in France in 1533 to marry the future King Henry II of Valois. In fact, iris is one of the oldest ingredients used in the art of perfumery, as well as in cosmetics: iris powder obtained from its rhizome was used for wigs and many beauty products. To recreate the same powdery scent, even today the finely powdered rhizome is used to scent talcum powders, as well as toothpastes and laundry bags.

Two are the species of iris used in perfumery: the iris pallida and the iris germanica. During the 18th century the cultivation of this flower - and in particular of a variant of the germanica, iris florentina - began to expand in Italy, especially in the areas around Florence, gaining some fame for its fragrance. Always considered to be of considerable value, in the mid-1800s iris florentina began to be replaced by iris pallida, a variety that provided a higher yield. Although today it is grown mainly in France, Morocco and China, the most valuable specimens of iris pallida still come from Florence, particularly from the San Polo in Chianti area.

In perfumery, the raw material used in olfactory compositions is obtained not from flower parts such as petals or leaves but from rhizomes, or the underground shoots typical of aquatic plants and ferns. It is in them that the irons, molecules responsible for the intense scent that characterizes iris, reside. Obtaining 2 liters of essential oil requires 1,000 kg of rhizome, which explains why iris is considered such a valuable raw material for perfumery.

As if that was not enough, the extraction process is complex and painstaking, requiring the rhizomes to be kept in the ground for at least three years before they are harvested, which takes place between July and September. Once harvested, the flowers are separated from the rhizomes and the latter cleaned and left to dry for another three years: this allows the formation of the irons, and it is their presence and quantity that decrees the quality and worthiness of the final extract. The dried rhizomes are then pulverized, and through a distillation process a substance called “butter” is finally obtained, which is nothing more than solidified essential oil.

The result of these processes is an essence with a complex but delicate scent, among the finest in perfumery. What is special about iris is that, as a raw material, it has a powdery, earthy scent rather than a floral one. Its dusty, almost woody notes make iris perfumes unique and iconic, with a timeless silliage. A velvety freshness for fragrances ideal as a spring and summer scent.

As a perfumery house dedicated to producing unique fragrances following the Florentine perfumery tradition, Aquaflor's collection could not lack a fragrance celebrating the city's most iconic flower. With Giardino di Boboli, a home fragrance born from the collaboration between the Uffizi Gallery and Aquaflor, we wanted to compose a fragrance dedicated to the famous park of Palazzo Pitti, painting an olfactory portrait that recreates its scents.

A walk that goes from the citrus fruits of the Limonaia to the woodland paths with their penetrating green note; in the "Isolotto" we will find an important collection of roses, a quick stroll among the irises in bloom and finally, at the garden of Annalena, we will be intoxicated by the scent of the Grand Duke's Jasmine. An intimate journey, which through art and nature puts us in touch with our emotions.