Why Violet Perfumes Retain Their Timeless Appeal

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 of the period might likewise be seen as uninspiring. Nothing could be further from truth. Despite its reputation for being overly dainty and demure, violet has a complex aroma with a fascinating history–and it retains its timeless appeal.

The Victorian era was a period of great changes in society, and the simple example of a violet cologne is a good illustration for the dynamics of the time. Violet waters became popular long before Victoria was crowned a queen, and they were highly sought after for their sweet scent with nuances of raspberry and rose.  At first, fragrances based on this flower were derived from Parma violets via the painstaking process of collecting tiny blossoms and extracting their essence.  It made violet a costly and luxurious perfume available only to the select few.

Violets and other floral notes were usually blended with musk and amber to give them depth and character. Guides of contemporary etiquette urged women to select light and delicate perfumes, but fragrances rich with sandalwood, balsams, and ambergris were much loved. Queen Victoria herself favored Ess Bouquet, a bold choice that during her 1855 trip to France confounded Parisian mavens. A perfume “with a detectable hint of musk” on a royal persona seemed surprising, risqué, and yet intriguing.

The late 19th century saw a scientific revolution that also changed the art of perfumery. In 1893 two chemists, Ferdinand Tiemann and Paul Krüger, discovered ionones, the class of aroma-molecules that gave violets their distinctive aroma. This discovery had a dramatic effect on fragrance creation, because the violet-like notes could now be made in the lab, without needing to process several tons of flowers. Violet perfumes became more varied and more widely available.

One of my favorite romantic violets is Annick Goutal’s La Violette. It conjures up vintage elegance with its soft scent of Parma violets.  La Violette is not overly complicated, but it has several memorable touches. The top notes are made bright with green leaves, while the velvety softness of the violet is made richer and warmer by rose—and yes, a hint of musk. It’s unlikely to scandalize anyone, but it will delight those who like the scent of Flavigny bonbons and rice powder.

Should you wish for a perfume closer in spirit to the 21th century, then Miller Harris Violet Ida with its radiant combination of amber, violet and iris is a good choice. Otherwise, try The Different Company I Miss Violet that colors its violets green and darkens them with leather.  It might make you understand why Napoleon Bonaparte, a character far from demure and retiring, selected the violet as his signature flower.

Next: What are ionones and why are they among the most important ingredients in perfumery? Read about it in Ionones: Sweet and Powdery Notes.

Of course, please share your favorite violet perfumes.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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45 Comments

  • Maryna: Your article arrived just in time 🙂 I have Insolence by Guerlain in my shopping cart. I am still thinking about it. What do you think of the fragrance? March 15, 2021 at 7:34am Reply

      • Maryna: Thank you! March 15, 2021 at 2:35pm Reply

    • Ina: Apologies to jump in, but I must say the sillage of this fragrance is absolutely lethal. I had to leave theater, restaurant, cross the road and exceptionnaly ask friends not to wear it in my presence. Trying it for a few times before purchasing a full bottle is a must, in my opinion. I should add that I enjoy wearing loud fragrances. March 15, 2021 at 11:22am Reply

      • Maryna: Wow! Thank you ! March 15, 2021 at 2:36pm Reply

        • Ina: You are very welcome. I was talking about the EdP by the way. I have just read Victoria’s review of it and she surely mentions the sillage 🙂 Best wishes. March 15, 2021 at 3:07pm Reply

    • Jackie: Maryna: I LOVE the Edp. best in Insolence One of my favorite perfumes ever. It gets compliments. March 15, 2021 at 4:30pm Reply

    • typeo_girl: I have Insolence and just wore it the last few days. Lovely, powdery, and something mysterious too. March 17, 2021 at 9:40pm Reply

  • Rhinda: Loved the story about Queen Victoria and her Ess Bouquet. I always enjoy your history lessons. March 15, 2021 at 9:15am Reply

  • Matty1649: I have Insolence,I love it X March 15, 2021 at 9:30am Reply

  • Cass: I love Après l’Ondée although the older version smell better. March 15, 2021 at 10:11am Reply

  • Hamamelis: Hiram Green’s Vivacious. March 15, 2021 at 10:13am Reply

  • Filomena: I have Insolence and love it too. I have always loved violet fragrances. March 15, 2021 at 10:18am Reply

  • Tara C: I love violet scents! Olfactive Studios Violet Shot, TDC I Miss Violet, Atélier Cologne Sous le Toit de Paris, Chanel Misia, Guérlain Insolence edp are some favourites. March 15, 2021 at 10:34am Reply

  • Nita: Am delighting in my tiny sample of Le Dix by Balenciaga. Sweet and Violetty in the extreme. Absolutely divine. I have it alongside the Violetta by Penhaligon, the Goutal, Insolence and a twee bottle of Devonshire violets. March 15, 2021 at 11:15am Reply

  • Ugo: I tried a lot of fragrances based on violet theme. Like Apres L’Ondee, Violetta by Santa Maria Novelle, I Miss Violet, Misia and others. This year for the first time I analysed the real flower and I found that the smell is very different from the perfumery reproduction. I know that perfumes don’t want to be faithful to reality because they are just a concept made by the perfumer but I found the real flower very very different from fragrances. Maybe the type of violet I smelled on Italian gardens has a different nuance from the famous violets protagonists of perfumery. However I found the real violets more similar to white flowers, with animalic undertones with powdery aspect. Very beautiful and interesting, delicate but recognisable. The scent I smelled is also a little bit dirty and dense like jasmine. I liked it and I wonder if someone knows a violet perfumes with this properties. Thank you March 15, 2021 at 11:17am Reply

    • Karen: You may want to look at Midnight Candy by Byredo?? March 15, 2021 at 2:25pm Reply

  • Marsha: Queen Victoria was a very sensual person. Great article Victoria! March 15, 2021 at 11:47am Reply

  • Geneviève Léger Fawcett: My favorite Violet scents are Violette Fumée by Mona di Orio, Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens, and Jolie Madame by Balmain. Even though the latter only lists Violet leaf in the notes, I swear I smell violets on this one. It was my Mom’s perfume when I was born, and has always evoked deep feelings when I wear it. Like a memory that I can’t quite put a finger on. But Violet always does this to me… As a note in a perfume I love, it always keeps me coming back in for an inhale, evoking sweet emotions that can’t quite be identified clearly, until it fades away into nothing more than a skin scent and a memory. March 15, 2021 at 12:13pm Reply

    • Ninon: Another vote for Jolie Madame. March 16, 2021 at 3:21pm Reply

  • Karen: Violet is one of my favorite notes. And I love the vintage aspect. On me, it is warm, soft, powdery and a bit mysterious (I like to think). Of violet perfumes, I have Lipstick Rose, Misia, and a sample of Apres L’Ondee. My next purchase is a violet water for the bath! March 15, 2021 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Zazie: How lovely to read about violets today!!!
    Two weeks ago I was in my hometown, in the countryside (30 km from Parma)… there were so many wild violets, of the very tiny, dark purple variety, blooming literally everywhere: scattered in the grass or clustering in purple carpets around the tree trunks…
    Most of the time, they would offer their smell only if you bent over their dark petals;
    but on the right day, at the right hour, their scent would waft so potent, striking and distinctive up to “nose height”.

    I’ve now come back to the city, were no violets are to be seen (the big and colorful ones are impostors, right? I’ve never understood them, though I will eat them in fancy salads).
    I’ve been bathing in Misia every other day,since my return.
    It conjures so perfectly the fragrance of those purple carpets spreading in the dark green shadows of the woods… or starkly lit by the 12 o’clock sun in my grandfather’s tiny front garden.
    Surprisingly, when the flowers decided it was time to waft their scent amplified 10 fold, the location, temperature and time of day seemed to play no role…
    Misia is such a perfect rendition, as it acknowledges how some violets can be anything but shy, and their scent is actually very interesting and…textured, like Misia is. March 15, 2021 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hi Zazie, I enjoyed your story of violets in the countryside near Parma. I very much like violet perfumes, but I need to be in the mood for them. I have several including Violet Ida, Putain des Palaces (ELDO), Nightingale (Zoologist) to name a few. I have tried Misia, and really liked it (although I have not bought it). In fact, the first time I tried it was in Florence. March 15, 2021 at 4:33pm Reply

    • Zazie: How kind of you and what a lovely memory!!!
      I am not familiar with the other perfumes you mention- I’ll seek them out, thank you!:)
      Violet, like rose, I tend to enjoy more in flower form than in fragrance…
      However, when done right, it is quite moving.
      I must say I am loving Misia much more now than before. It was “like” but not “love” at first sniff.
      But it does such a beautiful job in evoking the real flower, with the damp earth and all, while being abstract, complex and elegant at the same time. I seek it these days to bring back that memory…and I fear I may be falling in love, after all! March 15, 2021 at 4:49pm Reply

      • Silvermoon: It’s true that some perfumes you love instantly and others you gradually learn to love. Both paths have their unique joys and pleasures. My main memory of Misia is its elegance. And also of floral beauty. March 18, 2021 at 6:19pm Reply

  • Ruth: Genvieve and Zazie, thank you for sharing your memories – they are so beautiful and evocative! March 15, 2021 at 4:30pm Reply

  • Jackie: I’ve been wearing the last of my Annick Goutal La Violette this week. I love wearing it in the Spring. I can’t find it in the U.S any more 🙁 March 15, 2021 at 4:37pm Reply

  • Caro: My favorite violet perfume is Dans Tes Bras. A slow burning love to me. March 15, 2021 at 7:35pm Reply

  • Annie: Enfleurage: A process of extracting perfumes by exposing inodorous oils or fats to the exhalations of flowers.

    Love to try this at home.

    Violets are blooming all around my house.

    They temp me to take off all my clothes and roll around in them.

    But I must spare the neighbors! March 15, 2021 at 10:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: You made me laugh out loud, Annie! 🙂 The idea (minus the neighbors as Peeping Toms) sounds good, though! March 16, 2021 at 2:56am Reply

    • Carolyn: Victoria, is the Ess Bouquet a Crown Perfumery fragrance from way back when I wonder? If so, it was my first purchase from their then location in the Burlington Arcade – I absolutely loved it! March 16, 2021 at 11:48am Reply

  • Hilde: Such a nice little piece of history you wrote again, Victoria.
    I always have thought that violets don’t smell and I also thought that perfumes wherein ‘violets’ are mentioned, where created with an imaginary violet scent (such as Kenzo Flower uses the picture of a poppy, which also has no scent). I really must seek where I can find the scented sort.
    But besides that, one must admit that it is such a pretty flower. Just as on the picture you posted, I also dried these flowers between heavy books when I was a child.

    I only have one perfume with ‘violet notes’: L’Occitane Notre Flore Iris. It’s lightly sweet and although I don’t like sweet scents, I was attracted by this perfume at the time it came out. I don’t know why. Maybe because it gave me the idea – indeed – of a romantic perfume old style. After I read your description of Annick Goutal La Violette, I am eager to try this perfume. Your reviews have made me let to acquire some wonderful perfumes yet, for which I am grateful to you Victoria. March 16, 2021 at 9:17am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I see dense clusters of violets blooming in the grass of a nearby church. Their dark blue purple flowers really stand out against the green of the grass. Unfortunately, these violets are unscented, but their colour is beautiful.

    My favourite Violet scents are Guerlain’s Insolence, Chanel’s Misia, Frédéric Malle’s Lipstick Rose and L’Occitane’s Arlesienne. My all time favourite Violet scent, is Guerlain’s Meteorites face pearls. March 16, 2021 at 5:42pm Reply

  • Patricia: I have to be in the mood for violet but my favourite is Aimez-Moi by Caron. I also love Jolie Madame and also Grey Flannel, which to me has a strong scent of violet. I also have Bois de Violette but wear it less often, and Berdoues’ Violettes de Toulouse, but that is a little too simple. March 17, 2021 at 4:53pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hi Patricia, oh yes I love wearing Aimez Moi (and remember the pleasure of buying it on a trip to Paris every time I wear it). Strangely I never think of it as a violet but now that you mention it, I suddenly realise it. And like you, I have to be in the mood for violets – as mentioned above – and then really love and enjoy them. March 18, 2021 at 6:28pm Reply

  • Mary: I hesitate to comment here because of my unsophisticated tastes, but I’m a lifelong violet lover who loves both the flower and the fragrance. Years ago I had a small bottle of Devonshire Violets and then a hand-me-down bottle of Violettes de Toulouse, both of which I liked, and later a very small bottle of a simple little scent that was just labeled “Eau de Toilette Violette” from La Lavande in Berkeley. When it was gone, I could not find a way to replace it, as there was nothing else on the label anywhere.

    Last year, driven to find a new simple violet scent and also inspired by Victoria’s post on “kolonya” I started ordering Cuban “violet waters” from Amazon. The first one I ordered was Violetas Francesas, and while it smelled like violet when I opened the bottle, the minute it hit my skin that disappeared, never to return. I ordered a few others, a couple of which I liked a lot, but NONE of which smelled anything like violets, as far as I could tell.

    A friend suggested that maybe I was the one who didn’t know what violets smelled like, but since they’re growing all over my yard, I think I do. Also, while I know there is a range of categories for “violet” scents, there usually seemed to be something uniquely recognizably violet in all of them. I’m wondering if anyone else has experience with these “violet waters” or any recommendations for simple, inexpensive violet fragrances. March 17, 2021 at 6:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Mary, I’m so glad that you’ve commented, and please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts whenever you want. It’s a pleasure to welcome everyone here, and nobody should feel shy. As you’ll see, people in this community wear all types of perfumes.

      Some people experience anosmia (inability to smell) ionones, which are the chief components of all violet perfumes. The scent of real violets is comprised of hundred of materials, but in a perfume accord, ionones dominate. If one can’t smell them, then the impression of the fragrance is skewed. Perhaps, that’s what is happening. March 18, 2021 at 2:09am Reply

    • D: Simplicity can be the most sophisticated tase (and the most difficult to achieve).

      Besides isn’t the point of a blog to learn and to share> March 21, 2021 at 5:36pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Violet perfumes and I don’t get along. Ionone heavy fragrances come across as sour to me, even when in rose centered scents like La Rose de Rosine and Paris. There are always exceptions, of course and I cannot imagine life without Apres L’Ondee.
    Sonoma Scent Studio has a pair of lovely violets: Voile de Violette and Wood Violet. I’m especially partial to the latter, made rich with the addition of plum and sandalwood.
    North American violets have no scent, and they proliferate like weeds. I bought a scented violet plant (Queen Charlotte) and keep it in a pot. The blooms are tiny but they smell like Violette pastilles. I may decide to let these grow wild. March 17, 2021 at 10:13pm Reply

  • Mary: I hesitate to comment here because of my unsophisticated tastes, but I’m a lifelong violet lover who loves both the flower and the fragrance. Years ago I had a small bottle of Devonshire Violets and then a hand-me-down bottle of Violettes de Toulouse, both of which I liked, and later a very small bottle of a simple little scent that was just labeled “Eau de Toilette Violette” from La Lavande in Berkeley. When it was gone, I could not find a way to replace it, as there was nothing else on the label anywhere.

    Last year, driven to find a new simple violet scent and also inspired by Victoria’s post on “kolonya” I started ordering Cuban “violet waters” from Amazon. The first one I ordered was Violetas Francesas, and while it smelled like violet when I opened the bottle, the minute it hit my skin that disappeared, never to return. I ordered a few others, a couple of which I liked a lot, but NONE of which smelled anything like violets, as far as I could tell.

    A friend suggested that maybe I was the one who didn’t know what violets smelled like, but since they’re growing all over my yard, I think I do. Also, while I know there is a range of categories for “violet” scents, there usually seemed to be something uniquely recognizably violet in all of them. I’m wondering if anyone else has experience with these “violet waters” or any recommendations for simple, inexpensive violet fragrances. March 17, 2021 at 11:20pm Reply

  • Michele: I LOVE Bois de Violette and Femininite du Bois by Serge Lutens. What combinations go with violets! March 18, 2021 at 1:54am Reply

    • Aurora: Iris goes very with violet. March 19, 2021 at 6:11am Reply

  • Lily: This inspired me to go ahead and slip my spring perfumes out (I’ve been hanging onto the winter spices) and put on Balenciaga Paris. That’s the only violet perfume I have…I find it a knockout even though it is a quiet scent. But it apparently blends well with my skin bc I ALWAYS get compliments on it! March 18, 2021 at 1:47pm Reply

  • Alessandra: My absolute fave is Bois de Violette, but I also love all the ones you mentioned! I discoverd Violet Ida last year in Covent Garden and did fall in love.

    I also desperately miss AP’s Verte Violette… March 18, 2021 at 2:54pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I love violet fragrances. Goutal’s Violette is a classic beauty. My favorite violet fragrance is Biehl parfumkunstwerke’s eo03 by Egon Oelkers, simply gorgeous. Biehl doesn’t get enough love in my opinion. This house has gorgeous very well made fragrances and I definitely recommend sampling a few.
    I also love rose and violet fragrances like Malle’s Lipstick Rose and Guerlain’s French Kiss. Also Shewood has a lovely violet fragrance for less $. March 24, 2021 at 9:02pm Reply

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