Violet

Ah, sweet violets.  Dainty little sweet-scented purple flowers.  Flower of fertility, in ancient times – and a cure, too:  garlands of violets worn around the head were thought to prevent headaches and dizziness, while in ancient Athens, they drank wine scented with violets.

But although violet has been giving up its sweetness to perfumers since the time of early Arab perfumers, who perfected a technique for distilling the oil, it was Empress Marie Louise Bonaparte who really put Viola odorata on the scent-map, establishing the violet industry in Parma which thrives to this day.  Violets were Napoleon’s favourite flowers.

Violet flowers smell soft, powdery and romantic, a little like iris, and are can be played up to create a very feminine fragrance.  (For more about violet leaf, though, which smells green and aquatic, click here.)  Chances are, though, that the violet in your own perfume – and it probably is in your perfume, even if you can’t pick it out – is synthetic:  the chemists Tiemann & Kruger as long ago as 1893 found a way to separate the aroma compounds in violets, which are known as ionones.  Ionones and methyl ionones have been worked into almost every perfume worn today, and include methyl alpha ionone, which has gorgeous hints of raspberry and woods.

Perfumers have to use ionones with a light touch, though:  they can actually ‘desensitise’ the nose. We like this comment from Perfume Shrine, a great scent blog:  ‘When people complain “I can’t smell a thing!”, it’s not necessarily anosmia, but too much ionones!’

Smell violets in:

Goutal La Violette
Balenciaga Cristobal Balenciaga
Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose
Guerlain Insolence
Penhaligon’s La Violetta
Yardley April Violets

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