Category Archives: Violet

Fleur Moderne

modernviolet

-       a review of DSH PerfumesVers la Violette from the Passport to Paris Collection

Pity the humble violet. Today, violet perfumes as they were originally made have a slight bashful whiff of Miss Havisham and Victoriana, of simplicity, humility and faithfulness, as if, in other words, the perfumes made from this modest but heavenly scented flower have somehow been imbued by default with all the loaded trappings of Proust’s notorious madeleine – offering nostalgia in a bottle.

It’s hard to imagine in these anything goes days, but once upon a time in the decadent, alluring Belle Èpoque era of Paris with its equally alluring swirling, whirling, dizzying lines and mysterious femmes fatales, with its Symbolist poetry, Pointillist paintings and louche air, back in the day when all the world was perched on the brink of momentous change, that shy little violet ruled supreme in the perfume world. Ladies of distinction and easy virtue alike were so enamoured of its sweetly fragrant, verdant spring air that violet perfumes were in effect the perfume bestsellers of their day.

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No matter what these mesdames and demoiselles of the Belle Èpoque might have thought to the contrary, those beloved, sweetly romantic violet perfumes did not in fact contain a single bloom, but another newly synthesized aromatic component that had recently arrived for the perfumer’s organ – ionone (alpha- and beta-ionone, to be precise). Coumarin may get all the justly celebrated press for Houbigant’s Fougère Royal and Guerlain’s equally revolutionary Jicky, but ionone was just as important, not least for the enormous bouquet of violet soliflore perfumes that began to bloom in liquid at around the same time.

Let those dandies and Des Esseintes-wannabes wear their narcotic ambers and tuberoses, their oh-so fashionable fougères, those ladies seemed to say.

‘Give me la violette and my heart shall always be an eternal Spring.’

I’m not sure about the previous statement, but it is a fact universally proven on this blog and elsewhere – I love violets. The flowers themselves are my favorite part of spring, candied violets do wonders in tandem with dark chocolate (never more so than in that great Baudelaire poem of violet, aroma M’s delicious Geisha Violet), and not a few other violet perfumes have also stolen my own fickle heart – Tom Ford’s Black Violet, Sonoma Scent Studio’s Forest Walk, the neon violet of Guerlain’s Insolence and perhaps my favorite of them all, Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette. I also once managed to imbibe violet (violet liqueur is a thing) in the form of a virulent purple concoction known as Parfait Amour since hope springs eternal, but I didn’t find it there…

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Yet somewhere in those curvilinear, asymmetrical lines of perfume, in the vibrant Pointillist paintings of Hippolyte Petitjean and the overall arc of the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibition now on show, perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz managed to reinvent this now classic perfume trope, le parfum violette, and make it new into something that feels not at all out of place or step with the 21st century.

Her inspiration came from Hippolyte Petitjean’s painting Village from 1893. I’m not sure it’s the painting above, since Google Images was not cooperating, but if Dawn were somehow hoping to translate that hazy, sun-drenched landscape painting into a perfume, she certainly succeeded.

For Vers la Violette is never less than violet, and nevertheless as state-of-the-art modern as this day, this moment, this instant I type away on a machine not even Jules Verne could have imagined. Just as I think I can say with some justification the august Aimé Guerlain could never have imagined anything like Vers la Violette, but if anyone could understand it as something more and more audacious than the mere sum of its parts, surely he would.

In my opinion, no one in perfumery today on either side of the Atlantic can touch Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ innate and slightly uncanny understanding of the historical context of perfumes. Whether recreating some of the fragrances of ancient Egypt or reinterpreting a comprehensive work of fashion as she did for her YSL retrospective, she not only manages to convey precisely what those pivotal perfumes meant and how they were perceived in their time, but also to refine them and improve them, and with Vers la Violette, she gives the world a violet to make the heart sing and the mind dream of purple haze over a country field, of spring and future possibilities.

Except somehow in this pale gold liquid filigree, an urban heart beats beneath it all which gives it an edge on the violet competition and takes it far away from any nostalgic memories of bashful blooms on a forest floor.

Make no mistake – Vers la Violette is also a pun – on ‘vert’, and green is precisely how it starts to sing. I detect bergamot, galbanum and lemon certainly, along with a quite a lot of violet leaf, but there’s nothing at all bashful about this purple flower. She sings a little softly underneath the orange blossom, the rose and the iris to begin with, which makes this about very much more and more multi-dimensional than simply ‘violet’, but when she finally enters the spotlight, she stays. And stays. Winding her delicate vines around that ethereal floral heart and on through a mossy, soft suede drydown with a hint of hot summer concrete splashed by a passing purple-violet thundercloud.

As much as I like violet notes, and violet leaves, and violet leaf perfumes with their grassy-green optimism, it’s this suede-y, violet-flavored wet steamy concrete thing that slays me. It takes a bit more than the mere name ‘violet’ to make me sit up and pay attention to what I’m sniffing, so I’m partial to the unusual, and Vers la Violette, for all its fabled historical associations with ionone, with violets, and with Les Femmes Modernes of Belle Èpoque Paris, is a most unusual violet. I’ve consistently called it ‘she’, but Vers la Violette is easily, breezily unisex and more modern and certainly more elegant than any mere blushing bloom could ever be.

I’m not quite sure how many more ways I can say I love it – most deeply and sincerely – except that sample vial is going fast, for give me a violet, give me this violet and I shall remain forever young…

Notes (from Fragrantica): Galbanum, bergamot, lemon, violet leaf absolute, cyclamen, orange flower absolute, ionone, orris CO2 extract, Bulgarian rose, wood violet, Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, labdanum, suede, civet.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, for which I thank her from the bottom of my hugely grateful heart. 

Baudelairean Blooms


woodviolet – a review of Parfums Serge Lutens’ ‘Bois de Violette’

Among the many blooms adored by perfumers and perfumistas alike – the regal lilies, the imperious irises, the fatal tuberoses, sensuous jasmines, opulent orange blossoms and that Empress of them all, the rose – one tiny, unassuming spring flower stands half-concealed among this distinguished bouquet, not doing much to call attention to itself, unless it is to confer its own sweetly green air of innocence and youth, so charming yet so modest. Or else it reminds us of dear, departed grandmothers and aunts and their fondness for posies and pastilles, candied petals on chocolate cakes and tiny, mauve soaps languishing in a porcelain dish you never dared to use, stamped with ‘Savon Violette’.

There’s a vintage if not old-fashioned aura around the humble violet, something that smacks of nostalgia, bygone eras, scented with a tinge of melancholy and the ephemerality of time. Marry the violet to rose in certain proportions and you get the fragrance and flavor of lipstick, pair it with its companion violet leaf, and you have an approximation of spring-in-a-bottle, all exuberant greens and bashful blooms playing peekaboo among the greenery. Many of those violets are lovely, sugary, as sweet and as substantial as fleeting promises you just know will never be fulfilled.

All the same, something haunts me about violet, something that tugs insistent on the edges of my mind and gives me an urge to bury my face in a tiny bunch of violets in a woodland glade, something that makes me want to grasp that ethereal perfume and bite it…

Which means I’m no fan of those sweet, restrained, grandmotherly violets. I like my violets with a Gothic edge, their dulcet melody of early spring tempered with an alto counterpoint. In other words – a violet that surprises me.

Here is Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette, and as any reader of this blog knows, any Serge Lutens perfume is nothing if not surprising.

Bois de Violette and I did not get along the first few times we said hello. A glorious violet, so said the reviews I read, so I felt more than a little cheated when I smelled the ashen cedar tones of pencil shavings, and nary one violet beneath my nose.

It was a red flag in front of this Bull! When all I wanted to do, just as in the story of Ferdinand the Bull, was to sit in a sunlit spring field and smell the flowers.

Some time ago, a perfumista friend asked me if there were anything I would like to try from her extensive collection, and when Bois de Violette came up in the conversation, I jumped at the chance to finally grasp these elusive blooms and banish the pencil shavings to the cedar box they surely belonged in.

Many have stated that Bois de Violette is the sister scent of Feminité du Bois, and it isn’t hard to see the family resemblance in their structure, or indeed to recognize the jazzy riffs of improvisation over a familiar theme of cedar – and surprises. For all her heritage, Bois de Violette is not another Feminité du Bois and has none of her sister’s plummy, Bourgogne-tinted depths.

Instead, she sings in a different, higher register, and begins her own violet revolution by conjuring forth a fairy forest in emerald tones of green, and somewhere in the background, an intimation of shadows with that pine-cedar accord that never remains too far away. This may be a forest, and fairies may dwell here, it seems to say, but secrets and ghosts lie somewhere just beyond. Heed them well.

Except you won’t, for next thing you know, the fairies arrive, which is to say, the very violets that give Bois de Violette its name, and those memories of old-fashioned, old-school, grandmotherly violets are banished forevermore to that cedar box of mementos they surely belong in.

These violets have other, wilder stories to tell, stories with sweetly worded phrases of twilit purple dreams and candied hexameter breaths of leather and anise that grow darker as the shadows deepen and the violets sing their siren songs of dark green cedar, and you listen enchanted as they fade, and the cedar steps forward again to remind you – the hour is getting very late, and not all that grows in this forest is what it seems, and not all that breathes is as entirely benign as those fairies that sang away the hours on your skin.

In this enchanted forest of Faërie lurks a Big, Bold, Cedar Wolf, and it just might bite if you’re not careful…

Bois de Violette won’t overwhelm your surroundings as you wear it. It stays close to you, but never strays.

Instead, this is what you would choose to wear for your own pensive pleasure, whenever the mood for a little needed introspection with just a touch of joy grabs you, when the melancholy grays of endless rainy afternoons are almost more than you can bear, and you want a peerless, perfumed reminder that some day, spring shall return again, and light and life as well, hidden in a woodland glade to catch you unaware.

As for me, with my predilection for the Gothic in les violettes, I find that Bois de Violette is a liquid bloom that Baudelaire would surely appreciate, if indeed he wasn’t referring to them when he wrote:

Charme profond, magique, dont nous grise

Dans le présent le passé restauré!

Ainsi l’aimant sur un corps adore

Du souvenir cueille la fleur exquise.

Or in a freer translation I couldn’t improve if I tried:

It’s by such charms that Nevermore

Intoxicates us in the Now –

As lovers to remembrance bow

Over the bodies they adore.

Parfums Serge Lutens ‘Bois de Violette’ is available at Luckyscent and directly from the Parfums Serge Lutens website.

Quote from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Un Fantôme’ (1861), translated by Roy Campbell 1953, courtesy of Fleurs Du Mal.

With thanks to two perfume angels who made such Baudelairean blooms – and words! – possible.

A Bloom From the Banks of Lake Eerie


-  a review of Tom Ford Private Blend’s Black Violet

Certain things shall always and forever be perpetually out of my reach. I may, some sunshiney day, become a bestselling writer (here’s hoping!), I may some day aspire to be an inspiration for others, and some day, I may even be able to swan into certain stores in various locations in certain metropolises and airily wave an Amex card with the catch phrase: “Just give me one of everything, darlings!” I may, so I hope, some day be able to kindle desire in another human being, and if I’m very, very lucky, maybe even someone I actually want in return.

But I shall never, no matter what I do, be six feet tall, a perfect size 0, or be anyone so impossibly hip even Tom Ford might think I’m deathless cool.

There’s something about Tom Ford the designer I just don’t get. Which could very well be that I’m not a six foot tall dead ringer for Bianca Jagger in her Studio 54 days. It could also be that my brand of ‘sexy’ doesn’t necessarily imply ‘slit-to-there’ and ‘slashed-to-you’ve-got-to-be-effing-kidding-me’.

Which actually sums up what I thought about his perfume line, too. I’d never tried Black Orchid or any other main line or Private Blend perfumes, and there they gleamed in their classy bottles, like his entire personal aesthetic…just out of reach. I wasn’t a Tom Ford kind of female, more a ‘Anna Sui meets Diane von Furstenberg in a Whitechapel alley with a dash of Rick Owens’… woman. Tom Ford perfumes weren’t sold anywhere within two hundred miles of me. They were probably gorgeous. As it was, I was already ruined for life when I encountered Amouage.

Famous last words. I’d eat them, but that lemon cupcake I just devoured didn’t leave any room, which is yet another reason I shall never be deathless cool – I eat too much. I was resigned to live out my days the perpetual Tom Ford virgin, and it didn’t bother me, any more than never knowing the wonders of Xerjoff bothered me…too much. Still, that niggling pitchfork of curiosity prodded me on occasion. I would read reviews that made me go… ‘hmmmm’. I would wonder. And more to the point, wonder whether I was, in fact, missing out on the Next Great Perfumed Epiphany.

Lo and behold, somewhere in the world are Great Facilitators with Great Big Hearts who take pity on penniless perfume bloggers with Platinum Amex tastes on back-alley thrift store budgets and titanium curiosity pitchforks. Lo and behold, I’m no longer a Tom Ford virgin.

Lo and behold, the world has shifted ever so slightly on its axis, and even if I’ll never be Nadia Auermann, never mind Bianca Jagger, I can certainly wear a Tom Ford perfume and survive. Just don’t tell him I’ll never be that cool.

When the ultra-darling Carlos with the epically sized heart sent me not one, but four Tom Fords, I was rather taken aback, not just by his generosity (which is legendary), but by which one I reached for as if guided by an unseen hand.

It was…Black Violet, from his Private Blend line. There were other wonders in that little sample pack, other marvels I will certainly review, but my inner Gothadelic won out by selecting something I would never have chosen on my own accord.

So is it dark, or even black? Is it even violet? Will I wake up as a latter-day Jerry Hall?

It is very dark. It is definitely violet. And no matter how fever-delirious, I shall never be Jerry Hall. Damn it.

Black Violet is…a shapeshifting, ghostly flower left on the threshold of some equally phantasmagorical portal of the Otherworld. It is quite possibly one of the strangest perfumes I’ve encountered, and trust me, I’m not at all averse to strange, weird or WTF.

Strange in the sense that this is an eerie perfume. From the initial fruity, sweet citrus burst, a fata morgana flower blooms. Not a violet in the sense we usually think of violet, which is often violet leaf with its fresh, grassy-green laugh in the sunlight, this is all about the violet flower, which is to say, if violet flowers grew on the banks of the river Lethe in perpetual twilight, the only burst of color in the shadows. A violet flower wrapped in a sheath of formfitting, moody, dark, dark wood…a wood of weird and wondrous creatures that shift and dance on the edge of your vision, but do they exist or are they mere figments of your overheated imagination?

Violets that glisten in moonlight and dewdrop instead of dappled sunshine, violets that fade to a mere whisper, a ghost of what was, what you surely imagined, but did you really? For now, we’re brought back to the forest floor and that moonlit dark with a plush, earthy, velvet-smooth oakmoss. Oh, yes…oakmoss. Oakmoss which should lead us into chypre territory and so have me at ‘hello and hell, yeah!’, but this is no man-eating beast of a chypre, this is far too understated, far too much a creature of Faërie, dancing on the edge of awareness, leaving only a glimmer of its ghostly beauty behind, but beauty nevertheless.

Black Violet is definitely a haunting, goth, witchy kind of violet, the kind that sneaks up on you and makes you think…yes, I really should own this, I really, truly should and how can I live without it and surely it’s not that expensive and such is the price of haunting these days and…

And somewhere in there, I blink and I’m brought back to real life and a recent memory of another haunting perfume that this resembles very much to my fever/flu-ish nose…and that stops me cold.

On the other hand, how often does it happen you encounter a bloom…from the banks of Lake Eerie?

Nose: Clement Gavarry.

Notes: Bergamot, citrus, fruity notes, violet, oakmoss, woods.

Tom Ford Private Blend Black Violet (2007) is available at Nordstrom’s, Bergdorf’s and other upscale locations.

All thanks to Carlos, who made this happen! :)