“As violets so be I recluse and sweet”

(‘Who hath despised the day of small things?’ Rossetti)




This is the legacy of violets, in literature as in perfume – the retiring archetype: virginal, breast aflutter. The clasped idealist.

Nestled in their heart-shaped leaves, with heads downturned, these are the flowers that Diane Ackerman, in her passionate sensorial treatise ‘A Natural History Of The Senses describes as ‘burnt sugar cubes ….dipped in lemon and velvet’.

In truth, I can hardly smell them and am definitely slightly violanosmic. Duncan will say wow, violet, and I only get a slight hint of it, which is strange when my sense of smell is usually so sensitive. But since the flowers contain ionone, which we lose the ability to smell after a few minutes, the scent of violets does literally play a kind of hide and seek with our senses. This makes them, then,  the most elusive of flowers, toying with flirtation……………..Now you see me, now you don’t –  which for me only adds to their allure.

The Victorians, of course,  uptight prigs with desire leeching secretly from their tense,  oleaginous pores, loved them. As an antidote to the corrupting dangers lurking among the musks, civets and tuberoses, light violet toilet waters were deemed ‘appropriate’ Victoriana for young women to wear, with their tender, coy privacy.

And although I am not exactly the shy, retiring wallflower type myself ( except sometimes), I do occasionally have a yen for the taste and smell of violette. For personal use, my favourite violet to wear is definitely Caron’s sensational Aimez Moi, although I also, when the mood hits me,  enjoy the ironically chest beating leather of Balmain’s Jolie Madame in vintage extract. Recently in this cold weather in these hard, dizzyingly inexplicable times, I find I am also enjoying Guerlain’s paradoxically soothing, throw-all-caution-to-the-wind  Insolence. , a violet to end all megaviolets.

Violets can smell quite interesting on male skin – a refreshingly ungendered tonic. As a young man I was quite often drenched in Geoffrey Beene’s green violet leaf Grey Flannel as well as Dior’s violet gasoline Fahrenheit, although now in terms of more elegant and gentilhomme-centred violets I think you can’t really beat Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Lavande Velours, in which Duncan smells  exquisite.

There are plenty of other violet perfumes out there on the market now that violet has made a (very minor) comeback, such as The Different Company’s garish  I Miss Violet, or Tom Ford’s anemic (and strangely hideous) Violet Blonde, but below are some more traditional, posyish numbers  and a couple of more modern, violet oddballs as well just for the sake of it- violets that smell mainly just like violets (if you can smell them), that go more for the eye-fluttering, classical route, but as usual with this flower, leave you wondering what is beneath.



Violettes de Toulouse, candied violet flowers preserved in egg white and crystallized sugar, have been made in this French city since 1936. The fragrance of the same name, presented in charming old-fashioned atomiseurs, is apparently made from true violet absolute extracted from flowers that grow on the hills outside. Taking 6000 lbs of violet flowers to obtain just 2.2lbs of essence, the scent of freshly picked violets is enhanced with other flowers (lilac, iris, and cyclamen), almond wood, and musk, for the classic, and pretty,  satin-ribboned posy.


Anne Flipo’s creation for L’Artisan has her trademark fleeting evanescence. Similar to two other of her creations, the beauteous Mimosa Pour Moi and the pale Jacinthe Du Bois, this is a delicate violet with very green top notes. It is perhaps to violet what Hiris (Hermès) is to iris – an alternative to the standard bleeding hearts, powder and musk, if a touch on the precious tip.


For English people like me, ‘Parma violets’ are a confectioner’s curiosity that you either love or hate. They are essentially like sucking on little sugary, perfumed circles of talc. To say they are an acquired taste would be an understatement, but those of a certain generation remember them with nostalgia (they are still made by Swizzels of Matlow, a Derbyshire company whose ‘Refresher’ chews I developed an almost dangerous addiction to when a teenager, only stopping when my mouth was too sore to go on).


The sad thing about the existence of these little discs of powdered confectionery though, with their simple, sucrose and synthetic violet flavouring, is that for those who know them, almost any violet perfume of the classical variety will just automatically remind them of the sweets, and thus smell cheap. I can hear the cry ‘Ooh it smells just like ‘Parma violets’ (done in a thick northern accent), as a British person sniffs a perfume such as this, though Violetta (Penhaligons) might still win the Swizzels trophy.


Violetta. With big, purple velvet bows in her hair, she stares out with mourning, indigo eyes…

Emerging in 1976, when such a scent must surely have been deeply unfashionable (or maybe the vogue for Gothic horror, in movies like Carrie, was the inspiration?) this deliciously candied violet has made into her thirties, and is now apparently a cult, secret favourite of the dandyish Penhaligon’s man.




Depressed Debbie Gibson.

This violet-mint is a strange little thing: powdery and fruity, but with a perpetual frown, like a cabbage patch doll with eyebrows drawn in angry felt pen. Amazingly my friend Laurie got the same on me – petulant teenage girl from the 80’s. We both loved it.



A skunk pissing in a violet, this bizarre salt-floral-musk is seemingly an intellectual exercise from master perfumer Maurice Roucel (creator of Musc Ravageur) and like that fragrance it is a fusion of traditional, romantic ingredients and notes of sweaty warm skin. Dans Tes Bras (‘In Your Arms’) smells extremely synthetic, odd, but riveting: once the sour, mushroomy endocrines of the ‘violets’ fade, you are left with a very personal smell that is unforgettable.




Filed under Violet


  1. A depressed Debbie Gibson- hilarious!
    Curious as to what Mr. Dandy will be presenting…

  2. Dearest Ginza
    What an absolutely choice selection… and the words just wonderful…
    The image of a marvelously striped mephitis mephitis urinating over a neatly kept bed of violaceae, will, for better for worse, stay with me all day.
    I want to try or retry all of these!
    Though as you say, we British are cursed or blessed (depending on our disposition and preferences) with the haunting odour of Parma Violets, lurking in vivid purple at the back of our consciousness.
    I’m not sure which to smell first… French candy, artisanal violet ‘Hiris’ or our dear friend the slack bladdered skunk…
    Ever the game gentleman, I could never refuse such an inviting invitation as yours to have my dance card marked and my muguets will be along shortly.
    I have a further four scents of the spring to come.. I wonder if you can guess what they might be and if we might engage in another polka or waltz?
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  3. Lilybelle

    I love violet. I was always curious about Violette-Menthe. “Depressed Debbie Gibson”, eh? Here, it is Choward’s violet candies in a violet and silver foil packet. I haven’t seen those in ages. I sampled Annick Goutal’s La Violette the other day. That one is sweet and pretty and clear, not so powdery. Next up is Borsari’s. I want to try them all. I think a simple violet fragrance is as addictive as those sweets, and now I know why: the peekaboo ionone. Thank you for that info. I still have my lot of muguet samples to get through. My head is spinning. 🙂

  4. Romana

    Wow, I have just written a poem with a violet energy and looking for a violet image to go with it, I came across this wonderful resource. I didn’t know that perfumers were such poets! This inspired me to pick up my experimenting with essential oils. I have the violet leaf here, took a bath in it yesterday…and today this poem interrupted my bath… I hope it’s ok to share here.

    Conversation with a Heart

    Hugging myself in a bath,
    only the warmth of the water
    is there to remind me
    of your beating heart.

    I ask what to do with this energy,
    the love for your soul
    that I nurtured in my body,
    for which there is no outlet now.

    I open my legs like violets,
    and let it rise up to my heart.
    And it erupts.

    My poor heart,
    you’ve been battered so many times.
    Your walls covered with heavy lead.
    You were never empty.
    And now you crack.
    And whisper ancient secrets to me.
    I feel your breath behind my ear,
    and whisper back:
    open up, my sweet, sweet heart.

    Romana A. Bicanova

  5. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    Is it still actually possible to get bunches of true scented violets?

    • jennyredhen

      Yes it is possible.. but the best thing is to grow your own They are very easy to grow and spread allover so in a few years you will have a mass of them Then you can pick them and put them in a wee vase or just be overwhelmed by the smell when you step outside.

  6. Katy

    I have never seen those bunches of violets in real life, only in old movies. One of the rites of spring in our house, when my daughters were small, was to collect violet flowers from the yard and candy them and them eat them as soon as they dried. The smell of egg and sugar is associated with these little flowers in my scent memory, no violets I encounter in perfumery evoke this precisely!

  7. psammead

    On the unfashionability of violets in 1976, it occurs to me that it was the era of Biba. I remember a lot of extremely beautiful purple and plum shades around, very much influenced by Biba. Plus there was a kind of quirky Englishness in folk and progressive music — Fairport Convention, Viv Stanshall and so on. I can sort of see a romantic violet perfume fitting in there.
    The only violets I see growing are the tiny ones in woods and cemetries. I love the way they cling to the dark, wet, still-waking-up-from-winter earth. Did they really make posies from them? It seems like they’d be proportioned for dolls. (Melancholic dolls mourning the fall of Napoleon Buonaparte…)
    I need to try these perfumes. I only know Annick Goutal’s (which I think is beautiful).

    • So is what you write here; extraordinarily vivid (or should that be Bibid) and evocative. Of course you are right: I suppose I was thinking more of the beginnings of disco and so on but there was all that other side of things going on as well. Velvet, Sandy Denny….

      I see violets often as well, and often in the context you mention them in here. I just have never, to my embarrassment as a perfume scribe, actually smelled a true, pungency scented violet. I would really love to. I wrote about how excited I was last year smelling real tuberoses and ylang ylang flowers for the first time. I think it is time for my violet epiphany.

  8. Tania

    I unfortunately do suffer from Parma Violets Syndrome, so Penhaligons and the other sweet Victorian style violets don’t work for me. But i do like the ionones in scents like 4160 Tuesdays Tokyo Cafe. And i rather like that Violette Menthe, too, though i don’t own it. (Your impressions of it cracked me up – you’re so right!)

    • Really? I adore it when someone gets what I am rambling on about.

      I would never wear a straight violet, I don’t think. I prefer them dressed up like Aimez Moi by Caron. The Tokyo Cafe sounds intriguing, though. Tell me more!

  9. I love violet fragrances and own most of the above. I think that Dans tes Bras and Stephen Jones are my favorites.

    • Forgive my skunk references, then!

      For me, though, that was one hell of a weird perfume, although when I got Duncan to wear it for me (for me it was a scrubber par excellence, as is Musc Ravageur and anything of that ilk) I got to understand the tenderer references. There is something quite lovable and personal in the undertone that was rather attractive. I don’t know the Stephen Jones. Was that the Comme Des Garcons thing?

  10. Gorgeous stuff, Neil. Was waiting for a reference to Le Dix and, not having found it here, searched and found it in a previous entry of yours. Also gorgeous:
    “Such rarified feminine wistfulness was not destined to last in this world of ours, and one can see why Balenciaga would choose to freshen up and purify Le Dix for the modern audience. In any case, the current version is quite captivating, a stunning violet aldehyde with sparkling citrus top notes that you should try if you like others of its type (as a cooler, more contemplative Nº5)…
    The reformulation of Le Dix has a certain sparkling uplift, vivacious, elegant and great for the evening and grand events. But for pure poetry, the vintage – so fine, so knowing and wildly introverted – is inescapable.”

    So true.

    I’m wondering if you’ve tried Maria Candida Gentile’s Exultat or Annick Goutal’s Mon Parfum Cheri, par Camille: two unusual violet blends I really enjoy — and if so, what you think of them.

    • I knew I had forgotten a key one.Yes, Le Dix is really lovely.please describe the Gentile and the Goutsl: I am intrigued. I love the first Camille and Cheri but not that one. Was it a limited edition?

      • They are both worth a try, for sure — I think, anyway.

        Mon Parfum Cheri was composed by Camille Goutal for her mum, Annick, inspired by an unnamed vintage fragrance she wore that was given to her by the French author Collette. It is a bone-dry patchouli-chypre, spare and almost musty, sour from a plum note that reminds me of salted Asian plums, slightly powdery from a very cold iris, barely rounded by heliotrope and edged with icy violet. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it at first but now I sometimes crave it and nothing else comes close to it. It does not smell vintage at all and yet . . . it is like a skeleton of a vintage, stripped-down and odd. Original.

        Exultat is a green, woody, non-smoky Somalian incense that begins with citrus peel and ends with vetiver and cedar, laced with absolute of violet leaf. I remember it as unusual and introverted, fine-boned, on the intellectual side, but it has been awhile since I tried it. I found a bottle and it is coming so I’ll update you when I try it again!

      • The way you describe them I can imagine these perfectly. These bone-dry patchouli chypres can work when you are in the right frame of mind, quite distancing, in a good way.

      • Oh, and I don’t think that Mon Parfum Cheri is a limited edition, but it might not be as easy to find as the bread-and-butter releases.

      • Interesting to read the origins of Exultat, from Grain de Musc:

        Maria Candida Gentile’s Exultat was inspired by hearing a vespers service in the Roman basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina: a candied violet steeped in church incense, embalmed in a cedar box, with an ample, expressive dignity and grace that is characteristic of the Italian perfumer’s work.

  11. Tara C

    I love violet scents, in particular Bois de Violette (which I layer over Penhaligon’s Violetta body milk), Atélier Cologne Sous le Toit de Paris, Dans Tes Bras and Jolie Madame. Lush Kerbside Violet is nice as well as the Berdoues. On my husband I love the gasoline violet leaf of Fahrenheit. Oh, and mustn’t forget Chanel Misia!

    • Sous Le Toit I found pleasant but unenthralling. And in theory I really wanted to like Kerbside Violet buyour Penhaligons/ Lutens sounds heavenly!t in practice there was too much violet leaf, which I find makes me shudder in too large quantities.

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