Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 3 : Lily of the Valley and Violet Florals

Irisviolet

Part 1: Florals ~ Rose
Part 2: Florals ~ Jasmine and White Florals
Part 4: Florals ~ Blends
Part 5: Essentials
Part 6: Orientals

Brief explanation: I will indicate the major floral notes (in bold font) with which a fragrance lover should be familiar. The underlined floral notes are related to the major note, and they can be explored after one becomes familiar with the latter.

Lily of the Valley (Muguet)

Put rose and jasmine in just the right combination together and you get lily of the valley. It is a beautiful note with a green, watery character underpinned by a surprising streak of dark indoles and tangy sweetness. Christian Dior Diorissimo is the gold standard of the lily of the valley genre, and according to its creator, perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, it “is a pure lily-of-the-valley scent that also has the odor of the woods in which it is found and the indefinable atmosphere of the springtime.” In contrast to both rose and jasmine florals that have a voluptuous character, lily of the valley is softer and less assertive.

I have written extensively on lily of the valley fragrances in this post, but I just wanted to mention a few excellent compositions. Gucci Envy is one of the best modern examples, where the lily of the valley is framed in a green, metallic accord, which reinforces the icy quality of this flower. Hermès Eau des Merveilles uses a touch of lily of the valley to lighten up its intensely rich amber accord, while Be Delicious by Donna Karan is a crunchy interpretation of an apple, woven out of violet leaves and white flowers. Parfums De Nicolaï Odalisque is a lily of the valley foiled by moss and patchouli, an original composition built on surprising contrasts.

Must-know classic: Christian Dior Diorissimo (if possible, try the parfum or the EDT), Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs

Violet

It made sense to me to pair lily of the valley and violet in the same chapter; while they have different olfactive profiles, they have a similar tender, soft aura. If all of your fragrances are heady and lush, then it might be a good idea to explore something in the opposite register. Violet can assume different forms, and sometimes it is not exactly what the fragrance description suggests. It can mean a violet blossom fragrance—soft, sweet, candy like, or violet leaf, which is reminiscent of cucumber peel and crushed leaves. Penhaligon’s Violetta is an example of the former, while Balenciaga Paris and L’Artisan Verte Violette illustrate the latter. Violetta and Borsari 1870 Violetta di Parma have a retro feel, evoking a Victorian era elegance. For something more complex and unusual, I would recommend Serge Lutens Bois de Violette, Balenciaga Le Dix and Tom Ford Violet Blonde. Two more violets that prove that this delicate flower can be quite a vixen are Caron Aimez Moi and Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Après l’Ondée, Shiseido Féminité du Bois (now sold under Serge Lutens label), Yves Saint Laurent Paris (violet masquerading as a rose), Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel

Iris

Iris roots and violet blossoms contain some similar odorants. Both natural and synthetic iris raw materials are very expensive, while the violet manmade aromas are not. Therefore, whenever iris is mentioned in marketing copies, one should expect a whiff of violet. This connection notwithstanding, iris fragrances have a very distinctive character. The fragrance of true iris is more rooty and vegetal than floral, and its cool, austere aura can be remarkably elegant. The epitome of iris refinement is Chanel No 19, a composition where bitter green notes and leather frame the iris-rose heart. Another beautiful aloof iris is Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist. Prada Infusion d’Iris makes the iris idea airy and appropriate for daytime, while Ferré by Gianfranco Ferré lends a sensual edge to this cold note by twisting it around vanilla and rose. Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile, Donna Karan Iris and Paul & Joe Blanc are easy-to-enjoy iris dominated fragrances where the vegetal richness of this note is rendered surprisingly velvety.

Iris is also featured in modern masculine fragrances, of which Christian Dior Homme is one of the best examples. This composition juxtaposed the cool iris note with the delicious warmth of chocolate, for an original, fire-and-ice effect.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Après l’Ondée, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue (all Guerlain classics have a pronounced iris note), Chanel No 19

Freesia

In simple terms, freesia is a violet with a Concord grape like note and metallic rose overtones. Although it is a modern floral note, I cannot fail to mention it because of one particularly beautiful fragrance–Antonia’s Flowers. It replicates the scent of a florist shop filled with freesia, evoking as much the aroma of fresh petals and crushed stems as the joyful feeling of finding oneself surrounded by flowers. Today, it is used as an accent in many compositions, especially the fruity-floral blends, where it can form a link between the sweet fruity and the crisp floral notes.

Must-know classic: Antonia’s Flowers, Prescriptives Calyx (freesia is used to accent an orange blossom and grapefruit accord)

Mimosa

Soft yellow clusters of mimosa blossoms evoke spring in the Mediterranean, and the scent of mimosa is an exhilarating mélange of honey, violet and cucumber. In perfumery, there are several mimosa related materials: cassie (Acacia farnesiana) is warm and powdery, with a spicy cinnamon. Mimosa (Acacia decurrens) has a beautiful woody-floral, honeyed character. Mimosa is a challenging note, and it is most frequently used as an accent in floral blends. Nevertheless, for someone who wants something different from the usual jasmine or rose like floral scents, I recommend seeking out fragrances where this note dominates.

One of my favorite mimosa fragrances is Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie, a floral that verges on woody and leathery. It is a challenging fragrance, so if you are new to mimosa, L’Artisan Mimosa pour Moi would be the best place to start. Bond No 9 Fashion Avenue makes mimosa heady by pairing it with other lush floral motifs, while Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte unexpectedly layers it with chocolate and black currant for a dramatic effect. Guerlain Champs-Élysées may be much maligned by critics, but I find it pretty and vivacious, which is never a bad thing. Finally, Caron Farnesiana is a classical composition that treats mimosa as a delicious almond macaron.

Must-know classic: Caron Farnesiana

Photograph via wallpaperstock.net.

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44 Comments

  • Andy: Another helpful article from this series. I love making connections between florals—it just helps organize it all for me. December 2, 2011 at 5:46am Reply

  • Lily: Lily in eau des merveilles… Really?! Have never noticed and am even wearing it today. Must have a closer sniff… December 2, 2011 at 6:39am Reply

  • Olfacta: This is a wonderful series. One can never know too much! December 2, 2011 at 7:25am Reply

  • rosarita: This series is so helpful, thank you! I have always been confused by violet in particular, having a strong dislike of the candied powder aspect but a love of green notes. Your description will help me know what to look for in violet fragrances, and in others like freesia. December 2, 2011 at 7:32am Reply

  • Vasilisa: It is such a delight to read these series, this post made my Friday! December 2, 2011 at 8:11am Reply

  • Suzanna: Another wonderfully educational post in this series. I’m enjoying these so much.

    All of the notes featured in this post are difficult ones for me. However, I am devoted to Farnesiana and have worn it for years, both EdP and parfum. And Apres l’Ondee strikes me as treating violet and iris with a chalky, misty veil that renders both “difficult” notes texturally crumbled and slightly obscured–it’s marvelous! December 2, 2011 at 8:47am Reply

  • ewewhojane: I am loving this series, and I am so relieved to see your comment about Champs-Elysees, because I have assumed that my appreciation of it could only be due to ignorance! December 2, 2011 at 9:42am Reply

  • OperaFan: Many wonderful fragrances mentioned here. I also think of Antonia’s flowers when Freesia is mentioned, and find it as pretty and vivacious as your description of Camps Elysees. I love how you describe the simple “recipes” for creating certain notes.

    A question, do you take current versions into consideration when mentioning the classic reference fragances? December 2, 2011 at 9:55am Reply

  • Yelena: So enjoyed reading this article. You have touched on some of my very favorite notes- lily of the Valley and iris. I still remember sniffing the metallic edge of Gucci envy in the 90’s and thinking that it was the modern successor to Diorissimo. Sadly, both are missing from my fragrance wardrobe recently. Also, thatnk you for reminding me about Dior Homme- aother scent that I may need to replenish. Don’t laugh- but a favorite freesia lately is Chanel Beige. True, it’s non-descript and does nto have a lot of character. But for those ‘blah’ days when I don’t have much character, either, it really fits the bill. December 2, 2011 at 10:17am Reply

  • Elizabeth: I want my Diorissimo in the original, hydroxycitronellol-laden formula! I think it’s time to take a page from the current political activism scene and Occupy IFRA!

    Seriously….I loved and wore it for years and I miss it so much. New version is just too thin and flat to do the trick for me. 🙁 December 2, 2011 at 11:01am Reply

  • Victoria: I never fails to amaze me how one create several different floral effects out of the same materials! December 2, 2011 at 1:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is just an accent, but it makes the woods and amber lighter and more radiant. December 2, 2011 at 1:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you! I think so too. December 2, 2011 at 1:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is confusing that fragrance marketing often uses violet and violet leaf interchangeably, especially considering that they smell nothing alike! December 2, 2011 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am so glad to hear it, Vasilisa! December 2, 2011 at 1:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love Farnesiana in the parfum, but the EDP is very good too. And it might actually be easier to wear than the richer parfum. December 2, 2011 at 1:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: I wore it exclusively when it first came out and probably used up a whole bottle. It may not have the original character of Mitsouko, but it is very pretty. December 2, 2011 at 1:56pm Reply

  • Victoria: I try to mention only those fragrances that are not reformulated beyond recognition. Diorissimo though is a tough case. Today, it smells so pale and weak as compared to the original, but it is possible at least to glimpse its former beauty in the parfum. December 2, 2011 at 1:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like Beige! Not the best of Les Exclusifs, but it is wearable and elegant. I find it comforting somehow. December 2, 2011 at 1:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: IFRA…. Sigh… The problem is also with the fragrance brands not wanting to find themselves embroiled in law suits over allergic reactions and also not wanting to scare away the consumers by putting warning labels on fragrance bottles. December 2, 2011 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Bulldoggirl: Occupy IFRA—bwahahahahaha! I hear ya . . .

    I’m lucky to have in my possession a vintage bottle of Diorissimo that belonged to my mother, but do find it rather overwhelming at times. I adore the Lily of the Valley note it in Envy, too, but I think this austere beauty has been discontinued? I can’t find it anywhere.

    Of all flowers, though, iris is my favorite, both in the garden and in perfume. Bearded iris are a garden staple where I live, and they grow easily and with abandon. I can’t imagine my own garden, or perfume collection, without them. December 2, 2011 at 2:39pm Reply

  • behemot: I love the article. I have purchased SL Bois de Violette recently and this is my favorite violet fragrance so far! December 2, 2011 at 4:09pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: As always, a delight to read and contemplate. Victoria, I am begging you to put your collected essays into a book- preferably, a gorgeously illustrated, coffee table book- so we can enjoy them forever. I’d be delighted to introduce you to a very astute and taseful literary agent. Does anyone else agree? Happy Holidays- Lynn December 2, 2011 at 4:53pm Reply

  • Audrey H.: I’m really enjoying this series, thank you! I have a small sample of Guerlain Après l’Ondée and love it. also want to try L’Heure Bleue, I asked if they had it at Macy’s and they looked at me like I had two heads lol
    Maybe I’ll find it at Nordstroms next time I’m out shopping. December 2, 2011 at 6:30pm Reply

  • Musette: Victoria,

    This is an invaluable series! Thank you! I love so few on this list (Diorissimo and Fleur de Cassie are exceptions) but your excellent writing makes me want to revisit a lot of them! You are such a wonderful writer!

    xoA December 2, 2011 at 7:17pm Reply

  • Solanace: Great series, Victoria. Thank you so much for bringing me back my love for perfume. As a teenager I liked Joy, Jolie Madame, Anais Anais and L’air du Temps. Since my first encounter with Calvin Klein Escape in the early 90’s, the early fascination and terrible dispointment with calone based frangrances (now I know ;-), I became increasingly disppointed. When I lived in Paris they were starting to launch that awful pink very irresistible-style crap, and I came back home without a single bottle. (And man, I sniffed stuff!) I thought the problem was me and my old ladysh ways. Now, all I can say is that my future trips to the Louvre will have an extra dimension. Your work has a public utility. December 3, 2011 at 2:12am Reply

  • hongkongmom: Hey Lynn I would definitely buy Victorias book! December 3, 2011 at 6:37am Reply

  • Ann C.: Couldn’t they put a note on the box warning that some people might experience a rash at the application site? I’m frustrated that the overreaction by IFRA is ruining, or at least changing beyond recognition, so many of our favorite fragrances. December 3, 2011 at 7:02am Reply

  • sunsetsong: Must dig out my bottle of Champs Elysees! Pushed to the back of the shelf. Thank you again Victoria, an absorbing read, please do publish!! December 3, 2011 at 7:10pm Reply

  • Nancy C.: Don’t forget Andy Tauer’s ode to lily of the valley…Carillon pour un Ange. It’s not your typically LOV scent and a bit difficult to wrap your head around at first but I think it’s a masterpiece. Andy has captured the essence of the lily of the valley flower as it grows in the garden…the stems, the soil and the flower. It’s amazing. December 4, 2011 at 11:00am Reply

  • Victoria: The overreaction is often on behalf of fragrance brands. They refuse to have certain products in their fragrances, even before IFRA starts to regulate them. December 5, 2011 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: Gucci Envy is still around, just not distributed as widely as it used to. Thankfully, it has not been discontinued. December 5, 2011 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: Mine too! I have a decant in my handbag at all times, in case I want a quick spray of something beautiful. December 5, 2011 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you both! :)) December 5, 2011 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: Macy’s does not carry half of the classics, however it mostly depends on the store location. And the service there is not that great, in my experience. December 5, 2011 at 12:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Anita! I am so glad that you liked the post. I love different floral notes, but I usually prefer more blended fragrances. That is coming up next! December 5, 2011 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: What a lovely compliment! I simply enjoy writing these kinds of posts, but if they are useful to others, it is even more rewarding. I hope that you can find something new to explore. December 5, 2011 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: Isn’t it pretty? Maybe saying that it stands head and shoulders above many new launches is not much of a compliment, but it is nicely done. December 5, 2011 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds amazing! I have not smelled Carillon pour un Ange. I will definitely try it. December 5, 2011 at 12:47pm Reply

  • Solanace: Already finding them. Prada Infusion d’Iris is my new staple. December 6, 2011 at 2:58am Reply

  • GeM: aaah, mimosa… I love them all but specially Une Fleur de Cassie is the best and unexpected take on the flower, recreates its airy and elusive aspect for a short but glorious period, adding a fleshy/carnal twist on it, and for a vintage feel there is Farnesiana (which I consider an heliotrope/almond scent, instead of mimosa: as you’ve said it’s like almond macaron… To my nose, ‘sugared almonds’, similar to Jour de Fête).

    One of my favorite violets: Cuir Plein Fleur by Heeley. More on the masculine side, though. November 15, 2012 at 12:00pm Reply

    • GeM: I use to associate Cuir Plein Fleur with Une Fleur de Cassie in my mind, in the sense they are both leathery, and what mimosa is to UFdC is what violet is to CPF. Except for me, one is femenine and the other masculine. November 15, 2012 at 12:21pm Reply

  • Alison: I just bought Champs Elysees and from the first whiff I detested it. How do I avoid getting something similar? Hope this is not a rude question. March 5, 2016 at 2:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’d recommend buying only after you’ve tested a perfume on your skin. There are sites that offer samples, so it’s always a good idea to check there first. March 7, 2016 at 4:31am Reply

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