Vintage Violets

Swan-down puffs, lace camisoles, ivory fans, tulle skirts, satin shoes… If these words evoke an appealing vision for you, then you’re the right candidate for a Victorian violet perfume. While the 19th century under the reign of Queen Victoria is often described as conventional and stuffy, the favorite aromas are anything but. Despite its reputation for being dainty and demure, violet has a complex scent with a fascinating history. This perfume note is the subject of my latest FT column, Vintage Violets.

I explain how this flower became one of the favorite scents during the Victorian era and what made it even more popular–and ubiquitous–in the 20th century. Then I describe some of my favorite violets, both the sweet and powdery ones associated with the Romantic era and the modern green ones. To read the article, please click here.

As always, I’d love to hear about your favorite violets.

Image via FT

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51 Comments

  • Elise: What a lovely article! Thank you.

    I shared it with a friend of mine, whose daughter is named Violet. She, like me, suffered from postpartum depression. In my case, with a daughter named Iris, wearing iris-scented perfume was one of the few ways I could bond with her and feel positive about myself as a bonus. Yes–perfume helped to heal my PPD! Hoping that this article helps Violet’s mother in the same way.

    Thank you, Victoria. When your iris column came out, I reached out privately to share with you, and you wrote the kindest note in response. Now, I feel healthy enough to be more public about my PPD. We women must support one another. Thank you for supporting me. April 2, 2018 at 8:15am Reply

    • Elise: Oh! And my favorite violet is actually a violet liqueur that blends the lovely smell and also the taste. Another was a kiddo perfume from some little kiddo-makeup from many many years ago. It was pure, unadulterated violet.

      Looking forward to sniffing some of the perfumes mentioned in this column! April 2, 2018 at 12:19pm Reply

      • Emilie: That is a very inspiring and uplifting story to share about you and your daughter 🙂 Also I think it’s quite adorable you and your friend both have daughter’s named after flowers. Violet and Iris… they sound like a storybook girls, or a detective duo 😉

        I love violet liqueur too! My boyfriend who is a horticulturist and into home brewing made me some for our last anniversary because dark chocolate violet creams are one my favourite treats! I was pretty touched and it turned out lovely. Some if his experiments turn out a little more umm, of an acquired taste than others (thinking of a particularly tart fejoa cider!) April 2, 2018 at 6:32pm Reply

        • Elise: Oh, it gets better. Iris and Violet will both be serving as flower girls in a wedding! It is too perfect.

          Chocolate and violet is a combination that I would love to try. My own Iris’s birthday is later this month, and I want to have a flower-themed birthday dinner. Your ideas intrigue me, and I am off to search for more ideas. Thank you very much.

          And you boyfriend sounds like a wonderful treat! April 2, 2018 at 10:27pm Reply

          • Tourmaline: Hi Elise,

            I wanted to add that my favourite chocolates are Beech’s Violet Creams. (You can order the 90g boxes on Amazon or find them in good chocolate shops. They also make rose, lime, lemon and various other flavours.)

            Also, if the violet liqueur to which you are referring is Parfait Amour, it is my favourite too! I am not really a drinker, but I make an exception for the occasional glass of this one. A splash of it in lemonade is also delicious. April 2, 2018 at 10:36pm Reply

            • Elise: Thank you! I will certainly be ordering some of those chocolates. There is a recipe in Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate, which takes place close to my hometown) using rose petals with…quail, I think. Yes, it will be an interesting dinner, and extra special with the love and suggestions!

              Creme de Violette (in that lovely art deco bottle!) is the only one I know, but thanks to you, I’ll have an excuse to check out more. April 3, 2018 at 7:22am Reply

              • Tourmaline: I loved that movie when I saw it at the cinema when it was released; I must buy the DVD and watch it again.

                And I must check out Creme de Violette. Thank you for the tip! April 3, 2018 at 7:35am Reply

          • Emilie: Ahh that is just too sweet! They’re not both wearing purple dresses are they?

            Best of luck with Iris’s birthday dinner. There are lots of wonderful desserts with flowers in them and I’m sure you could find some delicious floral cordials for the little ‘uns.

            Yes, he’s pretty wonderful 🙂 April 2, 2018 at 11:15pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Elise,
      Thanks for sharing. Over the last couple of years, I have suffered from major bouts of depression, but after finding a medication that I can tolerate, I am now fine. I recall one day when I really knew that I was out of sorts; I arrived at a shopping centre and realized that I had forgotten to put on both jewellery and perfume – something that I would never normally do, being such a jewelista and perfumista! April 2, 2018 at 7:42pm Reply

      • Emilie: Tourmaline I like this jewelista term!

        I think you are both very brave and kind sharing your experiences as these are feelings many have but not so many of us talk about.

        I agree that perfume is a wonderful way to re engage with the world after a time of unwanted withdrawal. April 2, 2018 at 8:25pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi Emilie,

          Thank you, I thought the term Jewelista was apt!

          You are very kind. I am a retired psychologist and although I knew about depression from study, nothing prepared me for the horror of experiencing it for myself. It was as though I was operating through grey fog each day – and that was just the start of it.

          Yes, perfume can do wonderful things! April 2, 2018 at 8:35pm Reply

          • Emilie: It is very mysterious and unfair that it can creep up even on someone so well informed.

            I hope the world is bringing you more joy these days 🙂 April 2, 2018 at 9:01pm Reply

            • Tourmaline: Thank you, Emilie. It is indeed! April 2, 2018 at 10:13pm Reply

      • Elise: Oh my! Glad that you found some meds that worked for you, and began to fill your life in color–along with jewelry and perfume, of course!

        Funny–I’m a mental health professional, too! Thank you for sharing your own story. Do sophisticated jewelistas accept e-hugs? April 2, 2018 at 10:24pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi Elise,
          They certainly do; thank you so much! April 2, 2018 at 10:29pm Reply

          • Elise: e-hugs! April 3, 2018 at 7:26am Reply

            • Tourmaline: Thank you – and hugs to you in return! April 3, 2018 at 7:36am Reply

  • therabbitsflower: I’ve been liking violet perfumes more and more since I dove into perfume world 12-13 years ago. My current favorites are in your review – Violaceum and I Miss Violet. I know I tried La Violette many years ago but can’t recall it well. I also like Lush Kerbside Violet, and I’d love to get my hands on a bottle of L’Artisan Verte Violette. When I visited the L’Artisan store in Chicago, prior to its closure, VV was one that stood out as a favorite.

    I also like the violet-iris accord that makes some perfumes smell like makeup. Apres L’Ondee is a favorite with that combo, though I wouldn’t call it a makeup perfume. April 2, 2018 at 10:12am Reply

  • Jeanne: I love Lipstick Rose. I really smell the violet in it. Such a good combination with rose! April 2, 2018 at 10:31am Reply

    • AndreaR: Lipstick Rose is a favorite of mine too. I also enjoy Goutal’s Mandragore and Balmain’s Jolie Madame. April 2, 2018 at 11:09am Reply

  • Bela: One of the notes that make me queasy, unfortunately, which is a shame because the flower is so pretty. April 2, 2018 at 10:52am Reply

  • limegreen: Thank you for a wonderful column, yet again, Victoria.
    I was a latecomer to violets in perfume but have come to adore violets especially in combination with leather.
    Glad you gave I miss Violet a shout-out, it is such a beautiful fragrance, with a touch of green and suede. April 2, 2018 at 11:03am Reply

    • limegreen: Does Dans Tes Bras count as a violet? It’s not not only a favorite violet, just plain old favorite. April 2, 2018 at 9:40pm Reply

      • OperaFan: I think it does, and I love it also. 🙂 April 3, 2018 at 10:48am Reply

  • Joy Erickson: I so enjoyed your column today, Victoria. It is quite nice at this time in Spring to have some new fragrance ideas.
    I recall last or previous spring your column on lily of the valley.
    I love the violet in No. 5 and L’ eau 1000. Your explanation on the type of violets that emit fragrance was interesting. The violets that grow outdoors in gardens and in the woods in the Northwest do not have fragrance. I have wondered how such a fragrance could come from them. April 2, 2018 at 11:40am Reply

  • Austenfan: I love la Violette by Goutal, and I also enjoy another Doyen violet, The Unicorn Spell, which she created for LesNez. It’s even greener.
    I also love the violet notes in Paris, Drôle de Rose, Une fleur de cassie, Mandragore and Misia. Violet does translate as slightly nostalgic even old fashioned even (in the best possible sense) to my mind. Thanks for the reminder of this underappreciated note! April 2, 2018 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Mare: I enjoyed your violet article very much. Recently, I have loved wearing Providence Perfume Co. Violet Beauregarde. I also love the soft violet notes in Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. April 2, 2018 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Sandra: I just checked my little perfume stash, and I don’t own a single violet fragrance. Must change this April 2, 2018 at 3:07pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: Violette was the very first perfume I purchased, I think I was 10 years old. It was a small white opaque bottle with tiny purple violets painted on it, and the very sweet perfume was slightly purple as well. I don’t think it had a name.
    Now I like Goutal’s Violette very much, but my best loved violet is Sultan Pasha’s Violette Noyee. A very beautifully layered attar. A little (just a tiny drop from a paperclip) goes a long way. April 2, 2018 at 4:16pm Reply

    • Debby: That sounds like Devon Violets to me, was it a tiny barrel shaped bottle? My mum still has one like that, I have another vintage heart shaped glass one with violets painted on. You can still get it in the south west of England, though the bottles aren’t so pretty now. April 2, 2018 at 7:47pm Reply

      • Hamamelis: Nice to read there is still something like them! I think the one Tourmaline describes is exactly like I remember mine, with three sides and one dimpled withou a label. How does your mum’s one smell? April 3, 2018 at 4:00am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Hamamelis,

      I wonder whether the fragrance you are recalling is Victorian Violets. Many years ago I bought a couple of small, 10 ml bottles of this fragrance, labelled “Original Victorian Violets Eau De Parfum”. The bottle had three sides, the two without the label having deep dimples in them, and it was made of transparent, colourless glass. Both the lid and the label were white, and there was a little violet satin bow around the neck.
      A few years later, I found what appears to be an original bottle like the one you described. It was of the same size and shape as the other, but was made of opaque, white porcelain with violets painted on the front, no label or words at all, and the violet ribbon. I discovered it in a jewellery store named Panda Pearls in Brisbane. This shop was (and still is) decorated in quite a unique way, with items including a taxidermied peacock and a zebra’s head (draped with pearls) hanging on the walls, paintings and miniature perfume bottles. The little bottles were for sale, and from that shop I bought my first bottle of Chanel No. 5 – a 5 ml concentrate, along with minis of Angel, Antilope and a few others. I still don’t know which company produced Victorian Violets; I’ve googled it to no avail. April 2, 2018 at 7:49pm Reply

      • Hamamelis: Hi Tourmaline, it was exactly like the second one you describe, three sided, two with deep dimples, no label or words. I can’t recall the ribbon. I now also remember a piece of soap coming with it, or maybe I bought it with a second bottle, I was quite besotted with them! How incredible you found it in Australia, as I bought mine 45 years ago in the Netherlands! The shop sounds like a treasure trove! April 3, 2018 at 4:07am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi Hamamelis,

          I’m glad I’ve identified the fragrance you remember. I guess it was sold all over the world!

          Yes, the shop is indeed a treasure trove. It also sells vintage clothes and ornaments, along with lots of pearls, which are the main feature, along with gorgeous pearl necklace enhancers with a variety of gemstones. April 3, 2018 at 4:36am Reply

  • Emilie: Many of my very favourite perfumes (such as Après l’Ondée and Kenzo Flower) have a whisper of violet in them, however I find many perfumes heavy on violet difficult to wear. I love how they smell on paper but I don’t have skin chemistry with them. YSL Paris and Chanel’s Misia are two that I wish meshed better with me because I admire them so!

    I think underneath all those layers of starched petticoats the Victorian’s were a bit of a mischevious bunch! This is how I tend to characterise violet in my mind too 😉 April 2, 2018 at 6:44pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Thanks for another lovely article.

    My favourite violet scents are

    – April Violets (Yardley 1913) – the first violet fragrance I ever purchased, as a teenager, hence a sentimental favourite, although (annoyingly) they keep changing the actual aroma;
    – Violetta (Penhaligon’s 1976);
    – Les Météorites (Guerlain 2000);
    – Violette (Molinard, ?) – I am a sucker for sweet violets and this one is very sweet and musky;

    I also love the violet in Le Dix, L’Heure Bleue, Insolence, Paris and Lipstick Rose. I appreciate the violet scent in Guerlain makeup, and I lament the passing of Cyclax makeup, which had a wonderful scent that I suspect was a mix of violet, vanilla and a dash of rose. I still have a Cyclax lipstick that I keep in the fridge and take out to sniff occasionally, partly to enjoy the fragrance and partly to check that it hasn’t changed!

    The other violet scents that I have collected over the years are

    – Violetta Di Palma (Borsari, 1870);
    – Violet (The California Perfume Company/Avon, year?);
    – Devon Violets (Aidee Bovey Tracey, ?);
    – Violettes de Toulouse (Henri Berdoues, 1936);
    – Violette (Clos D’Aguson, ?);
    – African Violet (Spiritual Sky 1970s);
    – Raining Violets (Avon, 1972);
    – Violet (The Perfect Potion, 1980s);
    – Violet (Woods of Windsor, 1998);
    – Violet (Paris, ? );
    – Somersby Violets (Frostbland, found 2011); and
    – Venetian Violet (Crabtree & Evelyn, 2014?).

    Alas, I have yet to encounter the viola odorata flower, but I live in hope! April 2, 2018 at 7:47pm Reply

    • Hamamelis: Don’t they grow in Australia? April 3, 2018 at 4:08am Reply

      • Emilie: It is not native but sweet violets (viola odorata) have been introduced to Australia. I live in the hills where it can be quite cool and you do find patches of them every now and then, however I suppose it depends what area you are in.

        We have our own native violet (viola hederacea) though that has the daintiest white and pale purple flowers. They aren’t very highly scented though. April 3, 2018 at 4:26am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Hamamelis,

        Yes, as Emilie said, they do grow in Australia, but only in cooler areas. I’m afraid that here in Brisbane, it is simply too warm. Our winter is really like an English summer.

        Perhaps I’ll try to grow a little viola odorata plant in the cooler months this year, and see what happens! April 3, 2018 at 4:39am Reply

  • Debby: I love violet perfumes, something I share with my mother, maybe because her mother was named Violet. I have violets in my garden that I got from my mother’s.
    I have a few violet perfumes in my collection, I bought Van Cleef and Arpels Feerie EDP mainly for the bottle, but I’ve grown to really love the scent. Very candied and girlish, but so pretty.
    Alaia is one on a different level, a wonderful leather and violet. I do love it, but I find it difficult at times so not one I reach for that often.
    I really want Apres L’Ondee, it is exquisite, but the longevity is so poor I find myself questioning myself every time I consider buying it.
    And just a belated thanks for the roses with a twist article, I already own and love POAL, so was excited to read about Eau de Protection. I got a sample and absolutely love it, and it will be my next full bottle purchase. April 2, 2018 at 7:59pm Reply

  • Ann: I love violet perfumes, the ones everyone’s mentioned plus so many more! For old-fashioned fun I’d add Caron’s Aimez Moi. For a modern youthful twist on the old school violet there is Guerlain’s French Kiss. For sexy walks in the rain violets crushed by bare feet there is Violette Sacree. And for stylish but edgy elegance there is CdG’s Stephen Jones! April 2, 2018 at 8:08pm Reply

  • John: Thanks for this lovely piece of history… The comments are always informative as well. The other day, my wife was working in the garden as it was the first semi-warm day of spring… She pointed to a patch of violets that were being warmed by the sun, so that a little fragrant aura surrounded them. Today, I was wearing Grey Flannel, which, if lightly applied, presents a similar soft warmth… the two experiences, of smelling the violets yesterday and reading your piece today, have helped me to better understand the violet note in GF, which I’d always thought of as more patently synthetic… I had no idea that the use of ionines dated back to the fin de siecle! I now tend to think of Fromentin’s composition as the use of more natural notes (galbanum, petitgrain, vetiver, geranium, etc.) to round out a synthetic centre (ionine)… Perhaps not unlike the way that the naturalistic notes of vetiver and cypress enrich the ISO in Encre Noire? April 2, 2018 at 11:16pm Reply

  • Qwendy: What a moving thread!

    Violet and blue flowers have always been my favorites, rather rare in nature, and violets are so elusive! I also love eating and drinking perfume! I have violet syrup in my fridge, and love the idea of Violet and chocolate! Need to find myself some alpha ionine! I bought a bottle of Rancé violet EDT in Italy that I layer with Incense scents to great effect, which I prefer to the sweeter or greener combos. April 3, 2018 at 2:56am Reply

  • Alicia: In early Spring in Spain appear young women selling small bouquets of violets,’las violeteras’. I used to buy them for my grandmother who adored them. Since then violets are very close to my heart. I wear Goutal’s and also Penhaligon’s. When I want violets with roses I delight in YSL Paris. For something more complex Guerlain’s Insolence. And in the colder seasons one of the fragrances I love the most,woody and like no other violet: Serge Lutens, Bois de Violette. Thank you for the lovely article, Victoria. I enjoyed it thoroughly. April 3, 2018 at 4:33am Reply

  • Figuier: Violets are flowering all around our apartment block gardens – mostly purple, with a few white. You have to get *very* close to smell the perfume, but it’s definitely there.

    I do like violet notes but find them hard to wear. So I have a sample of Les Nez Unicorne that I sniff occasionally, just for the pleasure of it. One violet that I do love is Mona di Orio’s Violette Fumee, which is dusty violet paired with a ‘play-doh’-effect leather. On me it lasts very well, so I need only a dab at a time, but I’ve gone through about 4 samples’ worth over the last year or two.

    I haven’t tried either Violaceum or I Miss Violet – they both sound gorgeous. And they’re beautifully packaged… April 3, 2018 at 5:21am Reply

    • therabbitsflower: Oh yes, how could I forget Violette Fumee? I love it too! April 3, 2018 at 9:28am Reply

  • Mihwa: Great read! My favorite is Bois de Violette from Serge Lutens. After reading your column, I’d love to try Annick Goutal’s La Violette. April 4, 2018 at 9:12am Reply

  • Lily: My violet perfume is Balenciaga Paris. Not flashy, and it took me a while to really fall for – it was one I kind of liked, wasn’t compelled by, couldn’t quite give up on until one day I tried it again and it just *clicked* – but I really love it. I love it for the days I FEEL like a violet, a quiet pretty little flower that can be overlooked or overshadowed but when properly seen is astonishing in its beauty and color, there in the shadows of the quiet woods where no other flowers dare to grow. April 4, 2018 at 9:10pm Reply

  • Aurora: More violets to discover thanks to you, and I found the historical background you give very interesting. I remain very fond of Violetta, now discontinued and I enjoy the austerity of Violet Blonde, and the woody, candy richness of Bois de Violette, I also like Tocca Violette although it’s no masterpiece, I reach for it often. April 10, 2018 at 7:44am Reply

  • Lecia: What a pleasant thread to read! Thank you, Victoria, for a wonderful article, and thanks to all of you gentle readers for such lovely suggestions! I enjoy “Violette in Love” by Parfums de Nicolai. The violet note is prominent and sweet, and it’s a joyful fragrance for spring and summer. April 13, 2018 at 3:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for reminding me of this Nicolai. It’s lovely. April 17, 2018 at 10:46am Reply

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