I suppose I could go into a long disquisition on violet scents because the public never seems to tire of them. Famously the violet note is a synthetic developed during the revolution in chemistry of the late nineteenth century, and by 1893 the ionone became one of the common notes in perfumery and thereby made the violet experience- like the aniline dye mauve before it- one that everyone could afford. So much so that it became clichéd : violet perfumes were cheap perfumes. Violet seems to have been, around 1900, the impoverished governesses’ favorite fragrance.
Eventually violet moved up in the world. Respectable houses such as Guerlain made it a centerpiece in such perfumes as Voilette de Madame in 1904 ( although that perfume is rumored to be anything but respectable) and Caron devoted a soliflore to the flower in 1913’s Violette Precieuse, which, by the way, is not the post 2004 version Olenska reviewed at Parfumieren, the squared bottle with the woody violet note. Worth buying if you like it, because the word is that Caron is discontinuing the second version, just as they did the first.
The older Violette Precieuse was a sugary, slightly green perfume that followed the life story of the violets from their arrival at the Paris markets bundled in their own leaves in a flat wicker panier, to the same violets candied and rolled in sugar crystals served on cut glass plates along with marrons glaces. Little edible amethysts, that’s what Violette Precieuse alluded to, and as always, it pays to remember that Paris generally sublimates romance to either food or sex, and in this case it was the desert platter that got the better of the violet.
But the violets that frustrated me the most were the ones I tried to grow in a garden bed. You see I knew the difference between the kind of violet that shows up in your front yard, and the sort that used to be grown for bouquets. Being a romantic/sucker, I ordered some of them from the venerable firm of Logees’ in Danielson Ct. What I bought was viola odorata, a slightly darker purple than the little lawn inhabitant, and I dug it in and I waited.
And I waited, because the sad truth of the matter was that my violet did not take to life in my ex-chicken run garden with the same enthusiasm as say, irises. Life was too cold for them outdoors in a Vermont winter and too warm for them indoors where the house was 68 degrees most of the time, so it took a long while for them to bloom and when they finally did I discovered that the story of ionones anesthetizing your smelling apparatus at intervals of a few minutes is completely true. OMG, there’s a violet on my plant! I’d better go smell it and… nothing.
Did I ever feel like an idiot. Well, the takeaway – if there is one – is that if you can coax that shy violet out from under her leaf you’ll only smell her for thirty seconds anyhow, so stick with whichever violet formula you prefer because in this case there really is better living through chemistry.
Oh, and I candied the violets.