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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Of the Green and the Purple: Searching for the Souls of Good Violets


By Alyssa

"Oh, Marilla, it's a perfectly elegant brooch…I think amethysts are just sweet. They are what I used to think diamonds were like. Long ago, before I had ever seen a diamond, I read about them and I tried to imagine what they would be like. I thought they would be lovely glimmering purple stones. When I saw a real diamond in a lady's ring one day I was so disappointed I cried. Of course, it was very lovely but it wasn't my idea of a diamond. Will you let me hold the brooch for one minute, Marilla? Do you think amethysts can be the souls of good violets?"
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Long ago, before I had ever smelled a violet perfume, I read about them and I imagined they would be lovely, glimmering, deep purple scents. My very first order of samples included several named violette-something-or-other, and when they arrived I eagerly opened them and dabbed onto my skin. They didn’t make me cry—there are advantages to being a woman in one’s late thirties instead of an eleven-year-old orphan girl—but I was deeply disappointed by their strange, sticky-sweetness and it took me a long time to push my original ideas aside and return to my search for the souls of good violets.

My mistake was beginning with soliflores. Like most simple things, they are difficult to do well, and violet soliflores are haunted by Victorian ghosts dabbing their pale foreheads with violet-scented handkerchiefs, while they recover from another fainting fit. Much later, I realized there were stealth violets—ionones in their many roles and forms—in some of my favorite perfumes. They were hidden in the velvet heart of my beloved Coco, slipping in and out of Le Parfum de Therese’s elegant layers, blooming in the dark chill of No. 19’s upright spine.

It was another complex scent, the gorgeous Attrape Couer, that gave me my first glimpse of a violet I could love. I dabbed on a few precious drops from a sample vial on a frosty winter morning and took the dog for a walk. Twenty minutes later the initial burst of amber sweetness faded and I was brought up short by the most delicious smoky, deep purple violet imaginable. It wasn’t long before it began sinking back into the husky purr of Attrape’s seamless toffee contralto, but for those moments the dog waited in vain while I stood stock still, sniffing the cold morning air.

Later that spring, when the morning air was still fresh and all the trees were new and green, I had another violet revelation. My sample of The Unicorn Spell came along with the Les Nez sample set I’d ordered to get my hands on more Let Me Play the Lion (do check it out—it’s a real deal). I almost gave it away, but when I opened the vial and sniffed I broke into a grin. No hankies here, ma’am, just snap bean green sweetness that, on the skin, warms ever so slightly into cool violet—the new-leaved trees, their purple shadows and a touch of the cool dirt at their roots in a single bottle. I wore it all through the last precious days of spring before the Texas heat arrived, feeling as though I were inside the lovely world in the painting above and wondering: Was it just this fabulous beast, or had I learned to love violets?

With help from the generous Ms. Colombina, I dug in for a violet testing mini-marathon, working both ends, the green and purple, against the rosy, powdery middle. First I dug up my sample of L’Artisan’s Verte Violette and gingerly dabbed some on. Then I decanted and sprayed. What on earth had I found to dislike about this? Perhaps the fact that I don’t remember is the clue. VV starts out a mild green with just a bare touch of sweet spearmint, rounds into a transparent green violet, and ends a few hours later with a touch of powder. Just a bit of green and purple. The precious discontinued decant of Caron’s Violette Precieuse I received from Ms. C showed me, for an hour or two what VV wants to be when it grows up. The green violet is rounder and more fully present without a trace of powder. Fortunately, given its total unavailability, it dries down to a much more conventional vanillic-musk I also find at the end of the sweeter, but equally gorgeous Aimez-Moi, and which I also wish would stay put in its unabashedly beautiful rosy violet phase. All violets, it seems, must turn into powder, melt into warmth, or simply fade away into nothing…

Speaking of which, I would say Christopher Brosius’ Violet Empire is similar to Violette Verte but I seem to be almost totally anosmic to it. After generous application of the oil I get a burst of sweet spearmint followed by…something. It might be violet. Then again, it could be sweetened cardboard. It was tenacious—I caught a whiff of it hours later—but so slight I could hardly count it as a perfume. Do chime in if this one works for you.

Next up were the cedar-violet heavyweights from Lutens, Bois de Violette and Feminité de Bois, and the amber/incense of Bond’s purple-hearted Silver Factory. God and L.Turin forgive me, but as much as I love and admire Les Bois, and cannot deny that they bring the deep purple, I prefer Attrape Couer’s ambery base to their sweet dense cedar. However, given my compulsive re-testing of Bois Violette, I sense a volte-face in the offing. (You know the drill: I absolutely must sniff that strange, slightly irritating thing one more time...maybe I need a decant.) Once I get past the blaring manly-amber opening of Silver Factory—I have bad-trumpets problems with the openings of nearly all the Bonds—I enjoy the way the violet flavors it’s beautiful smoky incense, but find myself wishing I did not have the Guerlain quite so recently in mind.

I approached the rose-violet family at the heart of the green-purple continuum with trepidation. Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose is not my friend, and every time I approach her for another try I am summarily ejected from her dressing room. I was surprised, then, to find myself thoroughly enjoying the Marilyn-in-angora-sweaters sweetness of Stephanie St.-Aignan’s Le Pot Aux Roses lightly powdered confection and Norma Kamali’s cheerfully trashy burst of soapy raspberry-rose-violets. Happy Birthday Mr. President and sign me up for an occasional go-round.

Two violets Marina sent were simply lost on me—Parfums d’Histoire’s Violette Blanc (no hour of the wolf for me, just burnt vanilla and powder) and Scent Systems Wild Violet, an all natural blend that seems to have achieved a leaden, unfinished quality at great expense. No doubt it’s just me. Drop a note in the comments if you’d like to be in the draw for these, and do share your own experiences with violets—was it love at first sniff? Are you as picky about your posies as I am? Help me understand what I’m missing.

For example, I’m sure you are asking, where is the ur-violet, the Great Classic, Apres L’Ondee? Where is my paen to its melancholy beauty, my admission that it is the one true violet, the indispensable, the nonpareil? I’m sorry, I couldn’t quite hear what you were saying. I seem to have violets coming out of my ears…


Notes

The gorgeous painting, which I’ve had on my desktop for months now, is Reinhold Edelschein’s Rhythm in Green and Violet.

For more on violets please see Victoria’s amazingly compact and erudite essay on ionones over on Bois de Jasmin and Heather Ettlinger’s lyrical and informative reflections on her own troubles with violets on her blog, Memory and Desire.

If you’ve never read the children’s classic, Anne of Green Gables you can, amazingly, do so here. God bless the searchable texts of the web, that passage had been haunting me for months and I never thought I’d find it.

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54 Comments:

Blogger chayaruchama said...

Hello, pretty one -

Is violets coming out of your ears a problem ? [ she asks, bathed in La Mome at midnight]

Miss Lucy [R.] and I adore them.

So many others-
SMN, Bourbon French, Caron [ Aimez-Moi, N'Aimez-Que Moi],Madini, Liz' Domino Viole,Penhaligon [ the ONLY one I REALLY dislike- it smells false to me, somehow], Bois de Violette,La Mome [ probably too sweet and too ambergrisy for you]....

It's midnight; sleep calls.
Dreaming of violets... but you resemble the hyacinthine, with that mass of lovely hair, not unlike a shiny dark halo.

Lots of fun to read !
I miss you...

12:13 AM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada said...

Alyssa, I'm sure you know that there is a strange phenomenon with ionones: after a little while, our nose goes "blind" to them, which might explain why you don't get violets from some violet scents.
I love Attrape-coeur with a passion, but have a lot of trouble picking the violet out, which I attributed to that form of anosmia.
Soon you'll be able to try a new violet scent, Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras by Maurice Roucel.
And there's quite a bit of violet in the new Serge Lutens El Attarine. If you can stand the cumin... It's reminiscent of Bois de Violette, but not quite so heavy on the cedar.

12:48 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about these babies:
Ava Luxe Midnight Violet
I imagine Caron's VP to be a close relation to it ( I haven't sniffed VP yet)
Borsari Violetta di Parma
Parfums Berdoues Violettes de Toulouse.

I never was able to pick out any violet in Attrape Couer, hmm.
Also Genie de Bois is an interesting violet, I'm afraid to admit I like it better then Bois de Violette it's supposed to imitate.

Would love to be in the sample drawing, thanks!
Veronica

12:55 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

I forgot the Midnight Violet !!!
[Veronica- VP is nothing like it- it's very light and green;there's no incense, hemlock, ambergris in VP]

Spectral Violet
Love in Black
Rykiel Woman
Yardley's April Violet

6:56 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of violet but I really like the Armani versions (Cuir Amethyste and Piere de Lune). For some reason Apres L'Ondee isn't that great on me - not sure why but I keep trying since I now LOVE L'Heure Bleue and didn't initially. Please enter me for the draw since I am always willing to try a note I think I don't like - I have been surprised more than once!

8:48 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Chaya--

Well I love ambergris, so perhaps I'll have to try La Mome! I miss you, too. And everyone else in my life. I have been, as my mother says, "under the porch" and on deadline for months at a time now, only coming up for air and perfume...

9:19 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Denyse--

Yes of course, the now-you-see- 'em-now-you-don't aspect of violets is one of my favorite things about them. My problem with the CB is not winking in and out, however, it is total absence! I look forward to the Malle...

9:24 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Veronica --

My mini of Borsari arrived after I sent my piece off to Marina. I was dismayed to find it was one of the original offenders from that first batch of long ago samples. Too sweet! I will have to try that Ava Luxe one of these days...

And you're in!

9:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Chaya -- the list is endless, but I'm taking notes! I have some of the Rykiel and will have to re-sniff.

9:28 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Anonymous -- Let's hear it for trying again -- your in!

9:29 AM EDT  
Blogger judith said...

Alyssa,
I love reviews that include fragrances with the same notes. I have lists of fragrances to try by note.
Stephanie St.-Aignan’s Le Pot Aux Roses and Silver Factor are already favorites of mine. I'm looking forward to sampling more from the list of violets.
Please enter me in the draw. Thank you.

10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

Oh, what a fun review! Violets make me smile. My own favorites include Annick Goutal's Violette, the silly Berdoues violet (EDC?) which is nice to sleep in, and Armani's Cuir Amethyste. Laura Tonatto's Eleanora Duse is also lovely, not overly sweet or powdery.

10:19 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Judith-

Glad you enjoyed it. You're in!

10:41 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

March-

I'm so pleased you liked the review. I am getting a little frightened, though, by the number of violet fragrances being mentioned that I've never heard of...I don't know the Berdoues line at all, and haven't had much chance to explore the Armani Prives or Tonnato's things either. Will definitely keep an eye out.

10:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Billy D said...

I adore Silver Factory (so far the only Bond I can stand, although the new one, Lexington Ave., is doing that same thing you describe with Bois de Violette), but I get no violets from it. I'll have to check again and see if I've missed them--I get lavender and incense and something sweet--wait, maybe that's it!

I know what you mean about being disappointed by the sweetness of violets. As an iris idolator, and having heard that they are often quite similar, I was expecting something cool, dry, and a little sparkly. Instead, even with Bois de Violette, I get sweet sweet sweet. I just ordered a sample of The Unicorn Spell, whose description has been haunting me for months. I love "earthy" smells, and I hope it will work in the Fall.

Please enter me in the drawing, thanks!

11:15 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Billy -- I'll be curious to hear what you think of the Unicorn. Its sweetness is tempered by cool green, and I think of it as morning springtime rather than earthy. It is truly lovely in any case.

You're in!

11:28 AM EDT  
Blogger melisand61 said...

I seem to have a love/hate relationship with violet fragrances. The soliflores are generally difficult for me, but occasionally, I get a whiff of a strong violet and just "have to have it". I have learned to go for decants though, because I can have varying reactions to them from one day to the next. I tend to do better with violets that are well blended or that peek out from a deep base, such as Silver Factory or Attrape Couer, as you mentioned. That said, I keep trying new ones and I would love to be in on the drawing!

12:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Melisand61--

It sounds like we have a similar relationship to violets. It seems appropriate to me that our love is as changeable as they are... You are in the draw.

12:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Oh Alyssa, what a lovely ode to violets! I love the violet scents too as long as they don't get overly powdery.

And may I chime in with my love for Ava Luxe Midnight Violet, it is just stupendous.

(Carmencanada, I am still trying to process the idea - A new Malle violet scent? Be still oh my heart!)

1:12 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I have this instinctive sort of thought that I don't like violet scents, yet when I stop to think about it, I realize I'm really rather fond of a lot of ionine heavy perfumes. I am, thankfully, not anosmic to anything in CB's Violet Empire, which is my favorite violet scent by far. I just get a very lush, velvety leather and violet scent. Happy sigh. After that, the LesNez one is my favorite, although I really dislike the name (makes me think of scented Little Kiddle dolls) and in my mind I continue to think of it as Madame Daemon (the title of a Klee painting), which is one of the original names Rene Schifferle had had for it. I'm also really fond of Attrape Couer, SL BdV, Lipstick Rose and Le Pot Aux Roses. I feel I should exit this world w/ a little note on me to remind the powers that be that in my next inc. I want to come back w/ an ability to appreciate Apres - in this inc. I am afraid I may never manage it. Hmmm...my word verification letters for this comment end in "damd"...is this the cosmos trying to tell me something? I think I may have to work harder to appreciate more violet scents this inc.

1:22 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Just wanted to add that I *love* that painting!

1:43 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Flora -- thank you! Sounds like I'm due for a trip to the Ava Luxe etsy shop...

2:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Elle -- I'm with you on the Unicorn, although I hear it sounds much better in French :-)

Go to the link and check out the painting in a larger image size--it is wonderful.

2:07 PM EDT  
Blogger tania said...

My first experience with violet was not good. As a child I suffered badly from carsickness (still do, just not as bad). My mother gave me a hankie with a few drops of a cheap violet scent on it to sniff, in the hopes that it would help. (The smell of the car made me feel bad, too). Of course, the sickly-sweet Parma Violet perfume made me even sicker, and my stomach still turns if I smell anything like that today!

But that was an obviously fake, crude 'violet'. I have no idea what a real one smells like.

I've tried Unicorn Dream, and liked it a lot.
I agree about the Scent Systems violet. Their site says it is all-natural, but has no actual violet, it uses orris and other essences to simulate the scent. It doesn't work for me. I have their sample set, and I like the rest (Oillet is particularly good) but to me the Wild Violet is a failure.

3:39 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lora said...

I would love to be in the sample drawing - thanks!

4:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Divina said...

This was a lovely read and a lot of great suggestions here also. I have to totally second Neil's Spectral Violet which is my absolutely favorite violet scent ever since I smelled it - I am utterly in love with it. I hope I can buy it later this year when I have a little more money in my pockets :)

4:56 PM EDT  
Blogger TrippleJN said...

This is not about Violets, but didn't Anne of Green Gables just celebrate a centennial anniversary, or something? I could swear they had a special clip on NPR...

I loved your thoughts. I'm just starting (again) with perfume and have sort of been ignoring the idea of violets. :)

5:16 PM EDT  
Blogger the oblitterati said...

It's been a while since I sniffed them, but there were two violet scents that I loved for the moist rendering of petals and their recreation of the lush earth and mosses that surround their velvety leaves.

For me, CB's Wild Pansy and the Different Company's Un Parfum des Sens et Bois both capture the scent of stooping to smell violets in the woods.

5:16 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Tania-

Ugh, I think you're very brave to try again with violets after that. And thanks for the mini-review of Scent Systems, I was curious...

5:37 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Lora,

You're in!

5:38 PM EDT  
Blogger Rachel said...

Hello! Hmmm, the only experience I've head with violets is with Violetta di Parma and Caron's Aimez Moi. And neither of them are dark and glimmering, in my opinion, although the Carons seem to have formed a dislike for me on sight! Anyway, I'd appreciate being in the drawing and the chance to try again. :)

5:38 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Divina,

Have you reviewed Spectral Violet? I'll have to go check your archives, but do think about it if you have not...

5:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Tripplejn

Yes indeed, Anne just turned 100, which I can scarcely believe. She was my childhood friend, so I think she should be exactly as old as I am. I had already written the review when all the celebrating started, so it was just kismet! Good luck with your violet exploring...lots of good suggestions in the comments.

5:41 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Oblitterati--

The CB doesn't work for me, but I will definitely be on the look at for The Different Company, thank you for the rec.

5:45 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Rachel--

I agree with you--neither of those are at all dark. Unfortunately neither are the samples I'm giving away, but if you win, I'll tuck a dark violet in there... Do try SL Bois Violette if you get the chance.

5:46 PM EDT  
Blogger TrippleJN said...

Thanks Alyssa! This blog is like a candy store.

I've never read Anne...maybe next. :)

6:45 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lavanya said...

Loved your review, Alyssa! (i knew I was going to love your review, as soon as I saw that paragraph from Anne of Green gables..:))..

I need to find violet scents that I can smell (and love!)
I don't seem to get violet from Aimez Moi (maybe I need to smell vioets- I am not sure if I've ever actually smelt them- I mean I might have without knowing..:))
Do enter me in the draw!!

6:47 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Lavanya-- I really recommend violet immersion for figuring out what exactly "violet" translates to in perfume. And you are in the draw!

7:07 PM EDT  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

I dream of a wonderful green violet...and find myself suprised every time I thoroughly enjoy the sweet Attrape Couer. (At least, on me it is sweet.)

Ayala Sender is blogging about her efforts at a new lavender-violet...meanwhile, I am reading with much interest the positive words for NM Spectral Violet. I am quite curious about that, and hope to sample it soon at Chicocoa.

Please include me in the draw; I do love sampling!

8:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Scentscelf -- you are in the draw! And do check out The Unicorn Spell if you can, it is the green violet that converted me...

8:41 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lavanya said...

Alyssa- Sometimes when I pass a particular spot on campus, I smell a lovely 'light purple smell'- it smells like perfume..I keep thinking it might be perfume..(but today nobody was actually around me when I smelt it in the breeze) now I'm thinking I might be smelling violets? Especially since after the first few seconds I don't smell anything...and then suddenly it weaves in again..hmmm *wonders*

p.s. Anne used to be my childhood friend too..:)

9:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Lavanya -- Anne was a wonderful childhood friend for us talkative, imaginative readers wasn't she? As for your smell--where do you live? Violets don't grow well or at all in most of the U.S., but they are common in England and Europe. Depending on the time of year you were sniffing you might have been smelling wisteria or mounatin laurel, both of which are sweet and purple and easily carried by breezes...

9:23 PM EDT  
Blogger Rose said...

I'd love to be in your draw, as I've been on a Violet hunt lately. So far I've gotten samples of Aimez-Moi, The Unicorn Spell, Sonoma Scent Studio's Voile de Violette and also her Wood Violet (my fave so far) and I've even tried Violette Angel (I know, I know)... I've got a decant of Norma Kamali Violette on it's way, and I'm trying to get some vintage Devon Violets. Still looking for 'The One'...then I'll go back on the prowl for my Iris.

10:13 PM EDT  
Anonymous minou2 said...

Henry Jacques makes a juicy, dark, powdery violet named after the wife of King Louis XVI- "Marie Antoinette Violette". Perhaps it's name alludes to the Queen's opulence, voluptuousness and enchanting beauty, as this scent is certainly a lusty violet- replete with passion yet haughtily elegant.

Please enter me in the draw. I would love to have some violet scents that have a different personality!
Thanks!

11:42 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lavanya said...

Alyssa- I live in CA so they were probably not violets..:) (none of the flowers around looked like violets..lol)..But the scent was lovely!

2:30 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Violets - hoorah! I love them, whether powdery, green, or parma violet candy sweet... bring them on. It must be the 'Merchant Ivory' side of me. The Unicorn Spell I like, and I was delighted with Genie de Bois which is a sweeter, girlier, much more frivolous Feminite du Bois. And I think violets are the reason why I love Balenciaga's Le Dix - a violet chypre?! I don't think violet is listed as an official note, but everyone seems to believe they're in there. It goes on very soapy but once the violets and sandalwood come out to play it's really lovely. Thanks for your post. - Emma

7:31 AM EDT  
Blogger Amarie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:37 AM EDT  
Blogger Amarie said...

You've inspired me- I've put on N'aimez-Que Moi, Apres L'Ondee and Eleanora Duse just to compare them, then picked some violets that are blooming in my garden.I love them in the garden but it has taken a while to appreciate the note in perfume. Tonight I have really enjoyed all of them, it was so interesting comparing them against each other. Please put me in the draw- I would love to smell more concepts using violets.

8:38 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Rose -- you're in!

Minou -- wow, that sounds wonderful. And yes, you are in the draw.

Emma--I have been afraid of Le Dix, but you make me want to try it.


Amarie -- Ah, that sounds lovely! I have only smelled violets "in person" once, but I think my memory of how lovely they were played a part in my initial round of violet disappointment. And you are in the draw!

12:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Yellow Cedar said...

I'm not a violet kind of gal but I do love my Feminite du Bois & did not realize there was a violet note in it! Please include me in the drawing. Beautifully written review and love that you quote Anne of Green Gables who has been a heroine of mine since girlhood many many years ago.

5:40 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Yellow Cedar -- thank you, fellow Anne fan, and you're in the draw.

7:10 PM EDT  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Well, I never knew Unicorn Spell was a violet sent !I love it, and thought I didn't really like violet, so maybe I need to branch out. I do like A'lO but it doesn't seem very "me."

If I'm not too late, I'd love to be in the drawing!

10:28 PM EDT  
Blogger Divina said...

Hey Alyssa,

yes, indeed I have reviewed it. I am still hoping to get a couple of samples of Midnight Tryst and October later on and hopefully I will review those too, but so far I have reviewed every single sample of Neil's gems that passed through my hands. I have to admit, I am quite enamored with his work!

6:15 AM EDT  
Anonymous Tessa said...

violet was my starting scent and I find myself going back to it whenever possible. I have been dying to try several side by side. I would love to be entered into the draw.

7:20 PM EDT  

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