The Candy Perfume Boy’s Guide to series is an olfactory exploration of individual notes and ingredients that looks at the essential perfumes one must try as part of their fragrant journey. Each episode focuses on a particular note and lists the reference perfumes (i.e. the ‘must sniffs’) within that particular genre.
So far in the series we’ve explored the worlds of; Tuberose, Lavender, Oud, Orange Blossom and Chocolate. Up until now the ‘Guide to’ series has been relatively sporadic but moving forward, the intention is to schedule instalments for the beginning of each quarter – therefore suggestions on which note/genre to explore next are most welcome.
This episode takes a look at the humble violet – a genre that doesn’t quite get the exposure that it deserves. It’s a note that is more likely to be associated with the stiff upper lip of Victorian Britain than the contemporary world of modern perfumery but a number of perfume houses are making solid efforts to change this perception and are making pretty fantastic perfumes along the way.
The violet (or Viola Plant) is a genus of perennial flowering plants within the Violaceae family. Between 500 and 600 species exist and are most usually found in the Northern Hemisphere, however they can also be grown in places such as Australia and Hawaii. 
Violet is perhaps one of the most unmistakeable odours found in perfumery. It can be described as being; sweet green, sugary, earthy, damp, powdery, airy, translucent and just like parma violet sweets.
Much like lavender, It has a tendency to be thought of negatively, with many seeing it as old-fashioned or ‘grannyish’, however this is far from the truth and thankfully the note appears to be undergoing a renaissance with many perfume houses offering new and contemporary interpretations.
In this guide you will find The Candy Perfume Boy’s reference violets – those perfumes within the genre that simply must be smelled before one can consider themselves as a violet aficionado. These perfumes range from the more simplistic interpretations on the note to the complex and frankly downright bizarre.
The reference perfumes that are an absolutely essential part of your violet education are as follows:
Alexander McQueen’s second and last perfume ‘MyQueen‘ is as good a place as any to start a journey of violet discovery. Compared to his infamous first perfume ‘Kingdom‘ (a veritable skank fest), MyQueen seems almost dowdy but to its credit it does have the rather wonderful quality of being one of the best examples of a ‘straight-up’ take on the note of violet.
In MyQueen the violets start out damp and earthy, tempered by just the right amount of parma violet sweetness. Heliotrope gives the entire composition an airy, ethereal quality that works wonderfully with MyQueen’s robust base of patchouli (thankfully not the overly sanitised kind) and delicious vanilla.
MyQueen was created by perfumers Anne Flipo, Dominique Ropion and Pierre Wargnye in 2005, and whilst it may be discontinued now, it is very easy to find on discounter websites. MyQueen may not possess as distinct a character as McQueen’s Kingdom but it does give off a wonderful vibe of old-fashioned romance that makes it something rather special indeed.
Tom Ford’s signature collection consists of bold, buxom fragrances such as Black Orchid, White Patchouli and Sahara Noir – all of which display a certain degree of grandeur. Violet Blonde however, sticks out as a more casual fragrance, almost as if the other three are haute couture gowns and VB is an entirely more accessible piece of pret-a-porter.
Violet Blonde takes the sometime old-fashioned note of violet and brings it bang up to date in a fashionable fizz of aldehydes and pepper. The violet is supported by creamy white flowers (mainly jasmine) and is accented by the lightest sprinkling of warm cumin spice. It also has a slightly damp, earthy quality to it sitting amongst the vanilla in the base, that gives the impression of muted colours and natural fabrics.
To put thing simply, Violet Blonde is one of the easiest violets to wear (and easiest of the Tom Ford Signature scents for that matter) and it strikes a nice balance between vintage and contemporary perfumery, showcasing a surprisingly relaxed and confident attitude – it’s possibly a personal favourite violet in this guide.
Lush’s capsule collection of fragrances – released under the name ‘Gorilla Perfume’ – is absolutely one of the most refreshing lines on the market. Each perfume they release is utterly unique and Tuca Tuca is their take on the note of violet – and as one would expect from the people who do absolutely nothing in a quiet manner, it’s a bold statement.
Tuca Tuca is notable for three particular things; firstly it is incredibly sweet, calling to mind images of parma violet confectionary; secondly, it has a wonderfully dry, dusty quality to it that is not found in any other violet perfume; and thirdly because it has a remarkably vivacious personality that one can’t help but smile at.
Of course, being a Lush perfume means that Tuca Tuca has the lasting power of enriched uranium, however that should not in any way be seen as an excuse not to give it a sniff, as just a few dabs of the stuff will be enough to turn heads whilst not causing unsuspecting onlookers to flee for safety.
Violet Tendencies by Smell Bent’s Brent Leonesio, is a terrifyingly wonderful violet perfume. If one was to describe it in short one would call it the “kitchen knife wielding violet, dressed solely in a bloody rain mac” – an odd description for sure, but then again there is nothing particularly normal about the perfume.
The secret to Violet Tendencies’ murderous rampage is its composition of dank, earthy violets (with the majority of the sweetness removed), PVC and something indescribable yet intensely ozonic. It’s all rather fascinating and one can sniff a thousand violet perfumes and find nothing else remotely like it – thankfully Violet Tendencies is one of a kind.
This animal is a violet pushed right to the very edge of acceptability and it’s a far cry from the demure, prim and proper violets of the past. Exactly how wearable it is however, is up for debate but in terms of one’s ‘violet education’, Smell Bent’s offering is an absolute must sniff. Just don’t feed it after midnight…
Maurice Roucel’s Dans tes Bras (In Your Arms) for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is easily the most ‘high-art’ violet in this guide. It has been bestowed with the moniker ‘the naked violet’ due to the fact that it is successful in evoking the image of naked bodies intertwined.
Dans tes Bras is the earthiest of violets – there is a good degree of sweetness but the main theme is an accord of damp, mineralic earth and soft purple mushrooms. A salty quality gives the impression of cool sweat on naked skin and remarkably it is dirty in the most human and skank-less way possible.
As violets go, Dans tes Bras sets itself apart from the pack due to its introspective and quiet atmosphere. It may sound a tad pretentious to call it the most intelligent of violets, but there is something distinctly academic about it, almost as if its main purpose is to be appreciated from a technical standpoint, as well as to be worn and enjoyed.
Comme des Garçons is known for their high-fashion and sometimes cerebral approach to perfumery. Their 2008 collaboration with British milliner Stephen Jones is no exception to this rule and it takes its place in this guide as one of the notes’ more unusual interpretations – ‘the burning violet’.
My good friend and Fragrant Reviews cohort Nick Gilbert described Stephen Jones Eau de Parfum as “violets on fire”. Never has a more accurate description for a perfume been uttered and Stephen Jones is exactly that – it is the violet comet, burning bright and hot as it enters the earth’s atmosphere.
Stephen Jones displays violet in a setting where it is equally matched by the intensity of cold aldehydes and scorching carnation. Everything about it is fascinating and it feels like a rockstar of a violet that should only be worn with a leather jacket, skinny jeans and a few blingy Butler & Wilson skull pieces.
Tom Ford’s Black Violet was in fact released before Violet Blonde as part of the original series of Private Blends in 2007 and the two are vastly different in style. This darker violet is an essay on how the note can be used as a supporting act rather than the main feature of a composition and it works simply because it conjures up a good sense of old school glamour.
Black Violet is Tom Ford’s ode to Chanel’s Coco and one would class it as the most baroque violet perfume available. Amongst the violet there is citrus, dried fruits, patchouli moss and woods, to create a satisfying (and unusual) hybrid between a dark oriental and floral chypre.
Unsurprisingly, Black Violet is very much in line with Tom Ford’s über glamorous aesthetic and whilst it may not be as heady and intoxicating as the brand’s signature perfume Black Orchid, it does speak of couture-clad femme fatales with exceptional taste and style. This one’s a violet for the modern glamour puss.
Violette Fumée is the latest fragrance from Mona di Orio and for that reason it is the one that has had the least amount of time to make an impression. That said however, in the short time one has had to sniff Violette Fumée it has left enough of a mark to be included here as a reference violet.
Where Violette Fumée is different from other violets is in its green nature. Most violets sit somewhere on a spectrum where the polar ends are ‘sickly sweet’ and ‘fresh earth’, but Mona di Orio’s violet places itself somewhere outside of this spectrum, opting for notes of lavender, rose and violet leaf to give it more of a natural feel.
The composition does become sweeter with time as Violette Fumée settles into its dry down. Pipe tobacco, vetiver and vanilla create an interesting dynamic where a plush texture meets astringent facets and a heliotrope-esque almond tone, making for the a most interesting take on violet. Stay tuned for a full review next week.
Guerlain has a number of violet-centric perfumes, perhaps most notable is their 1906 offering Après l’Ondée, but as that is a perfume every single fragrance nerd should sniff one has decided to omit it here. Instead, and perhaps rather selfishly, one has opted to include his favourite Guerlain violet – the frankly ridiculous Insolence Eau de Toilette.
Insolence is another Maurice Roucel creation and entered the ring in 2006 as a contemporary riff on Guerlain classics such as L’Heure Bleue and Après l’Ondée. It is best described as a big fizz of pink berries, iris and violet that is as dizzy and fun as it sounds, especially in the Eau de Toilette concentration.
The best element of Insolence however, is the gigantic cloud of violet hairspray that is released from the bottle upon spritzing. In this case the violet is light, airy and diffusively powdered to create a mist of purple dust that fragrantly glitters and shimmers on the skin – it is truly wonderful (and sometimes unashamedly gauche) stuff.
Join the Discussion!
What are your favourite violet perfumes?
Do you agree with my ‘reference’ violets?
Which note would you like to see next in the ‘Guide to’ series?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments box below!
Image 1 via bubblews.com [edited]. Image 2 via redbubble.com. Image 3 via parfumurifemei.com [edited]. Image 4 via parfum-store.ro. Image 5 via lushjapan.com. Image 6 via notablescents.com [edited]. Image 7 via laclaireur.com. Image 8 via openingceremony.us. Image 9 via harveynichols.com. Image 10 via maisiqueparfum.blogspot.com [edited]. Image 11 via bloomingdales.com [edited].  via wikipedia.