Busting a Mauve

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.

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17 thoughts on “Busting a Mauve

  1. So many of my favorite flowers are in the lavender-to-purple range. I also love the fragrance of violets, lilac, wisteria, heliotrope. I’m fatigued with lavender because I OD’d on English Lavender in my youth. No opinion on iris, since I’m not well-versed on that note. However, the synasthete in me equates the following fragrances with a range of purples (regardless of the flowers contained within): Aimez-Moi, Highland Lilac, Poison, Pur Desir de Lilas, 1740 Marquis de Sade, L’Heure Bleue.

    1. May not always want to wear purple in clothing, but in scents, definitely yes. There was a crisis yesterday morning when the cat nearly ate my pampered heliotrope, and had to be carried away and fed catnip ASAP. I have to overwinter my heliotrope so as to have lots of little heliotropes in Spring.

      Highland Lilac I haven’t smelled, and I’m curious, because doesn’t it contain actual lilac? The Desir de Lilas I have a decant of (courtesy Undina)so I will be having a lilac fest soon. Poison I didn’t think of as being purple, but it does have some of those violet/purple notes. L’Heure Bleue definitely. Currently don’t have an iris fave either, but am thinking of looking into irises (irae?) soon.

      1. HL does apparently contain real lilac, from the Highland Gardens in Rochester, NY. A new batch is made each spring. Which kinda sorta makes them the Chanel of Rochester, harvesting their own flowers!

        1. Real lilac! Yes it does sort of make them the Chanel of Rochester. Got to love it, and does it smell like real lilacs? I sincerely hope so.

  2. Great title and image to go with it!
    Lavender and I do not get along, so more MS (which I had never heard of ) for you!
    I do love violet , iris, and heliotrope.

    1. Lavender does do a number on a lot of folks! Been slapped in the face by it a few times myself, but Moment does it nicely.
      Iris and heliotrope are so lyrical as ingredients, that I always hope the perfumers will keep on using them, and ease up on some of the current cliches. More pretty and less predictable please!

  3. I’m also a big fan of purple scents 🙂 There is a broad spectrum, I get dark amethyst out of Lutens Bois de Violette and Sonoma Scent Studios Voile de Violette. Etat Libre d’Oranges Putain des Palaces is a smeary rich lilac, while Puredistance Opardu is a much more delicate lilac, almost white. Drole de Rose is somewhere in between, also on the delicate side but leaning more towards pink.

    I’m doing a series of perfumes associated with colors over at my blog and if you’re ok with it, I’d love to link to this post when my purple post goes up (it will probably be a couple of weeks, though) 🙂

    1. I would love to do a link! How nice!
      And you’re another person who thinks about perfume in color, which so many of us do. Certainly do myself. Drole de Rose is pink, and pale pink too. But you’ve piqued my interest with Opardu because white lilac scents are irresistible to me, and haven’t come across one in years. Mary Chess used to do a White Lilac that was supposed to be wonderful, but it was gone before I could find any good examples to try.

  4. For me purple collor is lilac -so that’s the closest scent association for me.

    Iris Silver Mist in my mind’s pelette is grayish rather than purple.

    1. Some of the Lutens perfumes are hard to peg as colors. If Iris Silver Mist is a purple, it’s a pale grayish shade, and has a metallic sheen, which explains the use of the word silver in the name, I guess. Then there’s his Gris Clair which is sort of gray, and smells ashen to me, like incense that’s all burnt out.

  5. No doubt this is entirely off topic but where I live, purple irises smell exactly like Welches grape juice. It’s lucky they’re so pretty.

    1. Really? Grape juice? You know, I kind of like the smell of Welches.

      We had all sorts of bearded irises in Vermont. You couldn’t kill them. They even wedged themselves partially under the barn foundation, and I had to prize out the tubers with a crowbar. I just shoveled them back into a coroner of the vegetable patch and next year, there they were again! Completely unfazed.
      Oh and by the way they all smelled of lemon drops. You know the kind the French sell in tin boxes-those? That’s what they smelled like.

        1. Well we had so many irises. Now there’s an odd complaint, it’s like saying there was too much chocolate, but I was young and foolish and didn’t know the trouble that so many gardeners take over iris. My reward was that they flourished for me, most unfair, when I can’t have a single one now.

    1. Siberians have no smell. At least none of mine ever did. The Japanese weren’t much better, a small refined honey smell is what I remember from them.

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