The flowers that are supposed to have the strongest scents are white. But the second most wonderfully scented group, to my nose, are the purple flowers. Consider lavender, lilac, violet, wisteria, iris, and heliotrope – all of them are beautiful fragrances, and all of them incidentally, are almost more beautiful in their white forms.
But it’s hard to track down the exact scent of purpleness. Whereas perfumers can tell you that ionone beta is responsible for the smell of yellow in flowers*, there is nothing so homogenous to conjure up the scent of purple. There is ionone, a very early synthetic used to recreate the smell of violets, there is heliotropin or piperonal, a chemical that is responsible for the smell of heliotrope and that’s derived from pepper oil. Notice though that we haven’t accounted for lilac or iris or lavender not to mention wisteria. The smells of purple flowers are diverse.
I think though that just as there are white flower perfumes, there are pink flowered bouquets (Quelques Fleurs Amour Amour), yellow flowered ( Montaigne, Like This) ones, and then there are purple ones (Iris Silver Mist, Drole de Rose, L’Ombre sur L’Eau) just to mention three.
There’s something delicious about these notes. I used to worry about the anise component in many of them, but have decided over time, that so long as they don’t go too heavy on the aniseed, it’s an asset, and not a problem. So I’ve learned to make peace with such perfumes as Aimez Moi, and Lolita Lempicka.
Looking at an obscure Parfums de Nicolai release of the 90’s called Haute Provence, I find it falls into the same category. The notes are a little hard to discover, but the beginning is definitely lavender and then there is a middle section which is herbal, maybe myrtle is in there, over a dry down containing tonka beans. The dry down is vanillic without being strictly vanilla, and the effect is lavender opened up and aerated, like a well cared for linen closet, and it therefore avoids being a do- over of Pour un Homme.
Venturing further out along the purple bouquet spectrum you hit Moment Supreme. I’ve written about this great classic. MS is so hard to find now that I mostly keep my opinion of it to myself, as who wants the last bottles on ebay bid to the sky?
But this perfume begins with lavender, proceeds to a lovely almost unctuous heart of rose and jasmine, then turns right at clove corner and goes straight on till morning. Supreme is opulent, Supreme is lovely, Supreme has an elegance that is missing in many other purple flower perfumes.
Will it ever come back? Doubtful. But if it never does, you still have Je Reviens, which always does, and which along with Blue Grass, owes a debt to Moment Supreme being predicated on a similar formula.
One of the most vespertine bouquets I’ve smelled in recent years though was Violette in Love. The combination of violets and cassis made me think of the old Worth perfume Dans La Nuit, but the de Nicolai was even sweeter and more unabashedly purple than its predecessor, a romantic perfume if ever there was one.
This is the point about the violet and purple range, it appeals to artists and romantics in a bout equal measure. The rest of us may sigh, and we may cry at Beaches (or, if we are me, Old Yeller), but we spritz white flowers or aldehydes or soliflors or a scent that broadcasts something else about us than a willingness to get caught in an April rain. We’re just too practical- more’s the pity.
* Jean Claude Ellena is my source for this piece of info, from his Que Sais Je Le Parfum publication.