Monday, November 11, 2013

Best Soft, Powdery Violet Fragrances (via Reader's Mail Request)

The lovely Margaret sent me the following query in an email and as it touches on a subject I have skimmed when talking about the creation of violet fragrances, it's worth sharing with you for more suggestions and recommendations when searching for the Top Violet Fragrances out there.

"Dear Elena,
I came across Perfume Shrine a few months ago while browsing the " net " trying ( without success ) to find information on making perfume with violets ; that is violet flowers. I find your website fascinating, particularly the history of perfume and your wonderfully evocative descriptions of the perfumes. Do you know of any perfume which is made today with violet flowers?"
via Melissa Frank at Pinterest

Did I know indeed. For all practical purposes, violet flowers are non existent in perfumery. Our back and forth took the direction of an exchange for more info.
I immediately replied to her thus:

"No wonder you didn't find information on perfume making using violet flowers. There is no sufficient cost-effective oil from the violet flower and perfumers routinely use synthetic molecules, called ionones, to render the violet note (The violet leaf note does yield a different oil which can be used, but the effect is different).
There are two main directions in violet fragrances, apart from the violet leaf one (very much in use in masculine fragrances) which renders a watery, lightly metallic note and I gather is not what you're searching for.
Therefore, one direction is sweet violet perfumes reminiscent of Parma violet candies (of the viola odorata kind). The other is more powdery violet perfumes which are sometimes reminiscent of cosmetic products (face powder and specifically lipstick when coupled with rose). I was wondering which is that you're seeking (or another one entirely) as that would help me direct you more accurately."

Margaret was quick to point out that
"Perfumes reminiscent of Parma violet candies sounds a bit too sweet for me ; I think I would prefer the powdery type of violet perfume. As far as I could glean from the internet , violet perfume was once made by the cold enfleurage method , a very time consuming and expensive process Incidentally, I read in a biography of Empress Eugenie of France that violet was her signature scent. As she was such a fashion icon of the era , violet became the scent of the Second Empire To give you an idea of the sort of perfumes I like, they are light floral romantic and elegant such as Diorissimo or the original Fete by Molyneux"..

Indeed the violet flower essence was not cost effective and it had all but disappeared by the time (late 1950s-1960s) that Steffen Arctander was writing his guide to botanic materials.
I then emailed her back with a list of soft violet fragrances, with a powdery undertone in most cases (in fact some are so delicate and feminine that I had included them in the Parfums Lingerie list I coined back a while, you might want to check both lists):

 penhaligon's via pinterest

Balmain Jolie Madame (with a hint of leather)
Borsari Violetta di Parma (soft and quiet, not very sweet)
Bvlgari Pour Femme (the original one in the transparent bottle, but not frosted glass)
Caron Aimez-Moi 
Chloe Love, Chloe
DSH Violetta de Murano
Guerlain Meteorites (discontinued fragrance, but sometimes can be found at discounters and on Ebay; it's a very powdery soft violet reminiscent of the homonymous face powder)
Gorilla Perfumes Tuca Tuca
Kenzo Flower
Laura Tonatto Eleanore Duse (sensual and romantic)
Penhaligon's Violetta (lightly sweet violet)
Sonoma Scent Studio Lieu de Reves
Tom Ford Violet Blonde
Yardley April Violets (traditional soft violets)
YSL Paris in eau de parfum (the eau de toilette is cleaner, the eau de parfum more powdery)

pic via
"I believe you'd find the true "cosmetic" accord a bit thick for your tasting, Margaret, such as the one found in Lipstick Rose by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle which indeed smells like retro lipstick  (so I'm saving you the cost of buying expensive samples!). Possibly Drole de Rose by L'Artisan Parfumeur (in the same category) might be lighter smelling to you nevertheless. I'm just mentioning it because I think it's a very girlish, feminine perfume, softly powdery, like cosmetics.

I'm afraid you won't find a truly 100% all naturals violet fragrance out there that is a violet soliflore. Perfumers need to make conscessions to using synthetics to produce this note. But some are more natural than others (Gorilla, DSH, Laura Tonatto). These brands can be found Googling. All natural violet fragrances that are worthwhile and true smelling include Anya's Garden Moondance, where the violet impression is however injected with a little tuberose."

I was about to mention Guerlain Apres L'Ondee to her, from the classics which intermingle naturals and synthetics, but the newer reformulation of the eau de toilette is warmer with more heliotrope rather than the older balancing act of cool violets and heliotrope-anise, so I refrained.

Of course violet fragrances can run the gamut, with woody-earthy violets (where the note is coupled with the analogous iris), face cosmetics reminiscent rose-violet fragrances (which we skimmed the surface of in this post), sweet style Choward's candy rich sugared violet scents or green, leafy violets full of spring foliage. We will revert with different lists of the top selections in those categories in our Best Violet Fragrances Guide.

Last but not least, one interesting tidbit I found on violets mentions that bisexual women and lesbians used to give violets to women they were wooing, symbolizing their "Sapphic" desire, because Greek poetess Sappho described herself and a lover wearing garlands of violets in one of her poems. The giving of violets was popular from the 1910s to the 1950s.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Violets, violet leaf and ionones (synthetic violet notes)


  1. Anonymous07:23

    I loved reading this, E, as violet is one of my favourite notes. I am quite addicted to Balenciaga's Le Dix (as I think I am always saying!), and am so sad that it is now deceased.

    I was wondering where my love for violet came from, and remembered the "Devon Violets" perfume that elderly aunts would bring back from their holiday as presents for me and my sister when we were little. Far too pungent, of course, but we loved dabbing the purple juice on our wrists from the tiny round bottles!


  2. Elena,

    Somewhat leftfield, but I once had a sample of a beautifully delicate violet-scented fragrance from the Madini perfumery in Tangiers. The fragrance was an oil-based one but no less wonderful. Not sure if you can still get it.

    Great blog!


  3. Jillie,

    thanks for commenting and sharing your memory with all the readers.

    Le Dix is a loss that can't be recuperated from, as there's nothing similar on the market right now. So is Jolie Madame. I don't know whether I should devote a separate space to both, as the pain & trouble of searching for old bottles is too deep sometimes (and risky for novices).

    I too recall the violets of my childhood!!!
    It was the green, three sided small "pinched" bottle with the name "English Violets" on the label and the fragrance itself was green in color. It was a unique smell. I very much nostalgize when our local shops (small perfumeries and cosmetic shops of the neighbourhood rather than the big department stores of today) had such curios hidden in the background shelves, often in small straw baskets weaved with dried flowers on the "handle". *sigh*
    Mine was produced by Lowndes Pateman and I believe is what is more commonly called Devon Violets (I see the bottle here)

    How cute that we share this memory!

  4. Jillie,

    I also wanted to ask: Was the juice really purple? And please define "pungent". Was it greenly pungent, sweetly pungent, oily and thick, what?

    I'm trying to put a chronological context into the producing companies and any changes in formula.

  5. Ian,

    thanks and not leftfield at all. I appreciate your addition a lot! I have tried only a very few things from Madini (their "Himalayan" musk is a favorite) and so I'm always open to finding out more.
    Now the violet one is going on my must sniff list! I will try to find a bit to try out.

  6. Anonymous13:59

    Hi, Elena! Gosh this is fascinating. I remember that very bottle you are talking about and which you have pictured, and think that one was a variation that The Aunts brought home one year.

    The bottle they most frequently gave us was (I think) clear (with maybe violet flowers painted on the glass) and without the dimple; the juice was quite definitely purple. However, my childhood nose found the fragrance within them identical.

    In my mind's nose the aroma was a very deep "green" violet - a bit like those violet cachous (little sweet lozenges), but on mega steroids. Not a hint of vanilla, but overwhelmingly sweet somehow. So - all of your adjectives rolled into one!


  7. Anonymous14:08


    Elena, I just had a really quick search on the internet and found this! It looks just like the bottles we had. I can't tell what colour the juice is, but it almost looks dark green - maybe I had a touch of synaesthesia and imagined it to be purple?

    It was interesting to see the wide variety of decorative bottles used - I wonder if, however, they all contained the same perfume?


  8. oh, violets! they remind me of springtime in childhood...i used to search every day for the first flowers in spring, which, in our yard, was generally violets in sunny nooks. i loved the smell of the round green leaves (still do), and the delicate fragrance of the flowers.

    i think i recall reading that the scent of violet flowers has a curious feature: that we can smell it only briefly, as it has a peculiar interaction with our olfactory sense which causes very quick olfactory fatigue. is that right? i do seem to remember that the smell was fleeting, but returned if you put the flowers down and tried smelling them after some time had passed...

    i love the idea of violet garlands, whatever one's sexual preference! so lovely...

  9. I just bought my first violet perfume yesterday -- Duross & Lengel (a Philly-based company). Sweet but not powdery, though clearly EDT.

  10. Ah, thank you for this! I have samples of Flower by Kenzo and Violet Blonde, and love both. Probably they would be enough to fill the "violet" category in my perfume wardrobe.


    But this list is handy, for you know, just in case.

  11. Jillie,

    thanks for the added info!

    I think we're talking about the same scent, packaged in two different time periods (I believe the hand-painted violets one is older than the pinched green bottle with the purple bow).

    I would also describe it as green and sweet at the same time in a weird (non candied) way!

    Odd little scent, but compelling, especially to a child! :-) ;-)

  12. NFS,

    thanks for commenting!

    You have read about ionones (the prime violet molecules) desensitizing one's nose here on Perfume Shrine on myviolet & ionones article.
    I had also mentioned it in another article about "notes" and actual ingredients, when I mentioned that what sometimes people might think is anosmia to a certain perfume might be too much ionones in the formula or too close contact with them.

    Searching for violets (shy violets!) in spring is such a romantic image that I have been briefly transported to a coming of age novel theme. I needed that right now, thank you!!

  13. Thank you Em for the information and interesting project there. :-)

    I admit I am not familiar with Duross & Lengel, but it merits getting in the know. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  14. Larie,

    you're welcome.

    I hope to compile lists for woody violets and sweet candied violets and cosmetics-reminiscent violets too, so that should be even more handy!

    I love your choices! Violet Blonde is so very fetching to my nose, it has the perfect balance between the woodier elements and the feminine delicate overlay of that silky thing we call "violet" in scents.

  15. annemariec10:19

    Yardley's April Violets is my standard reference for violets. Damp and green, it was my mother's signature scent. I have no experience at all of candied violets or violets that have any foodie facets. Violets to me have a cool, deep, bell-like tone, dewy but necessarily clean. Earthy, not far from the earth from which the tiny flowers grow.

    I recognise the violet note in other fragrances - Flower, for instance - but for me these are defined by being 'not like April Violets'. I've always imagined Devon Violets to be similar, but I have never smelled it.

    But I am aware of the rose-violet smell of cosmetics. Where did that come from? Have you written about it Elena? Was the old Nivea Creme the original rose-violet blend?

  16. What about watery crystal violets such as Balenciaga Paris and especially Balenciaga L`Essence, but also She Wood DSQUARED²? They are not sweet, neither powdery, are they in a league of their own?

  17. I love violet scents too. Among my very favorite are several from Sonoma Scent Studio. To Dream is a great one as is Wood Violet. I haven't tried them all, but the violet scents that I have sampled from her are just beautiful. I keep wanting to say which is my favorite, but I just can't choose between them. Voille de Violet, Wood Violet and To Dream all vie for my attention though.

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  19. AMC,

    I suppose violets for many stand for the candied actual little candies. Have you ever tasted those?
    I agree with YOUR description however of how violet fragrances should smell like, in a Platonic ideal sort of way.

    Devon Violets is a bit pungent, but weird, like stem-green water plus a sweet component and an earthy bit. It's a tripy scent!

    Kenzo is full of powdery violet, very in your face. I think it's the industry standard for violet scents.

    As to the cosmetic accord, I don't recall if I wrote about it in detail (might have in passing), so will make an effort and devote some space separately in my upcoming cosmetics-recalling violets post.

  20. Idomeneus,

    great descriptor: watery crystal violets.

    I agree, these are a league of their own. I think they owe the watery component to violet leaf, rather than ionone or anything else approximating the flowers.
    Should devote a post on those.

  21. KK,

    *smacks forehead*

    Good call! To Dream is indeed among my favorite violets, I forgot to mention it. Very very nice indeed!
    I don't think I have tried Voille de Violette, but I think I tried Wood Violet and remember liking that as well.
    Thanks for the reminder!!

  22. Anonymous21:00

    Dear Elena,your words are so precious to me.For long time,i've been searching for a complete guide to violet's perfume...mny thanks,my spring come sooner...

  23. You're most welcome, glad I helped! :-)
    And thanks for saying so.


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