Fascinating Perfumery: How Violets and Ionones Made History

It’s not an understatement to say that without the humble violet we wouldn’t have perfumery as we know it today. At the end of the 19th century when the fashion for violet perfumes was all the rage, several German chemists set out to isolate the aroma-material that gives this flower its delicate and yet persistent scent. Until then violet essence was distilled from the flowers of Viola odorata, a process that required more than 33,000 kg of flowers to obtain a kilogram of violet oil. The search for Veilchenduft, the scent of violet, led to the discovery and isolation of ionones, a class of materials that are sweet and powdery.

In today’s film, I describe how this violet-scented revolution happened and compare different types of ionones. The term ionone is derived from the Greek word “iona,” which means violet, and “ketone” referring to its chemical structure. Several isomeric ionones occur naturally in flowers like rose and violet as well as in different fruit and berries. Fine grades of Japanese green tea are rich in ionones as is milk–if a cow eats ionone-rich alfalfa, ionones will then be found in its milk.

I mention several violet gold standards such as

Coty L’Origan

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

Chanel No 19

Chanel Coco

Rochas Femme

Yves Saint Laurent Paris

Lancôme Trésor

This episode focuses more on the classics, and in the next film I will discuss modern fragrances featuring ionones. Ionones: Sweet and Powdery includes even more perfumes and information on these fascinating materials.

Of course, I would love to hear about your favorite violets, vintage or modern. 



  • Mingzhe Wang: Wonderful episode! This is so informative! I have enjoyed L’Heure Bleue very much even as a guy. Does Dior Homme Intense have ionone? Send et Bois by the Different Company is also wonderful to wear! May 3, 2021 at 9:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much!
      Yes, Dior Homme Intense has ionones. Dior Homme also had a beautiful orris note, but I don’t know if it’s still in the Intense version. May 4, 2021 at 3:01am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Hello Victoria, thanks for another informative and enjoyable video post. Amazing to think 33 thousand kilos of violets only made 1 kilo of violet oil! L’Heure Bleue is probably my favourite (certainly top3) perfumes. I am always fascinated to read about its many facets.

    I very much like perfumes with violet notes/ionones, and look forward to the second instalment on this note. Among them, I have L’HB (of course), but I also really like Veilchen (Frau Tonis), Nightingale (Zoologist), Putain des Palaces (ELDO), Aimee Moi (Caron), Violet Ida (Miller Harris) to name a few off the top of my head.

    I remember having Tresor in my 20s and really loved it then, but not sure if it quite smells the same still (maybe they reformulated it or I misremember it). May 3, 2021 at 9:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Tresor has been changed, and changed a lot. I also haven’t smelled it in a long time.
      L’Heure Bleue is a perfect illustration for many nuances. It’s a masterpiece. May 4, 2021 at 3:02am Reply

  • N: YSL Paris has a lovely violet note. When I think of No 19 I think of iris and ylang-ylang. If I ever try it again I’ll try to notice the violet. A more modern perfume with violet notes I wore maybe a decade ago was Balenciaga Paris.
    The only fragrance with any violet I currently own is JM Poppy and Barley and it is very subtle and blended in with rose and black currant, so I wouldn’t call it a violet perfume really. May 3, 2021 at 10:32am Reply

    • Victoria: The ionones in JM Poppy and Barley push up the berry-rose accord, and as you say, while it’s not a violet perfume, there is an interesting violet twist. May 4, 2021 at 3:03am Reply

  • John: Lots for me to learn here! My favourite is vintage (Cochran-era) Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel. I wore this — my first fragrance! — as a teenager in the mid-1980’s and I am fairly sure I will never find a bottle again. Beautiful.

    My wife wore Trésor in the early 90’s and it was spellbinding. May 3, 2021 at 1:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: Grey Flannel and Fahrenheit are masterpieces too. May 4, 2021 at 3:03am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: Very interesting facts about my favourite perfume note. My favourite Violet perfumes are Chanel’s Misia, Guerlain’s Insolence and Guerlain’s Meteorites (face powder pearls). May 3, 2021 at 3:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: Guerlain does ionones and violets (and iris!) so well! May 4, 2021 at 3:03am Reply

  • Kimberly: I enjoyed your video. Thank you! My favorite violet perfumes are La Violette, Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue. I have Chanel No. 19 and it is a favorite also. Overall it smells green and woody to me. I am still learning about perfumes, and am just barely beginning to be able to parse fragrances and their notes. Now I will to have to see if I can smell the violet in it. I would like to try Bois De Violette but I haven’t found a retailer for it in the US yet. May 3, 2021 at 10:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: To smell violets in No 19, find something green or vetiver-rich to smell. Smell that first and then smell No 19. I guarantee that violets will become clear to you.

      No 19 also has a beautiful orris note, but that’s more obvious in the drydown. May 4, 2021 at 3:04am Reply

    • Kimberly: I have Chanel No. 19 EDP. I recently purchased the No. 19 EDT. I do smell the violet in the opening of of the EDT quite a lot. It’s not as sweet as Apres L’Ondee or La Violette but I certainly do smell it now. It is a beautiful fragrance both in the EDP and the EDT. I’m not sure I know what orris smells like. That will have to be my next discovery. Also the EDT that I have is the emeraled color that you mention in your review of No.19. The EDP (which I purchased in Mar 2021) is not as green and has a hint of a brown color to it also. May 6, 2021 at 3:24pm Reply

  • Wild Gardener: Léonard de Léonard has many of the violet facets you mentioned in the video: powdery-rich, violets, fruity, silky, luminous.
    It’s a bit of a Paris clone but still very beautiful. May 4, 2021 at 5:01am Reply

  • Patricia: Lovely, as always. I think my favourite violet fragrance is Caron’s Aimez-Moi, as it’s so warm and soft. I also love Lalique’s Le Baiser, which is violet and rose, and marginally prefer Parisienne to Paris, as having more violet (in fact, don’t kill me, but I only use Paris as a deodorant). I have Luten’s Bois de Violette, but find it a little too woodsy when I’m in a violet mood, while the soliflores like Berdoues are a bit too simple, but love Grey Flannel. An American friend sent me a couple of lovely Sonoma Scent Studio samples too – Voile de Violette and Wood Violet. May 4, 2021 at 2:00pm Reply

  • Eudora: Thanks for sharing Victoria. Fascinating violets. I just realized that ionones are a leivmotiv in my life. Those candies! For Christmas I bought my daughter Lolita Lempicka and she wears it with pleasure. She is like a powdery-sweet-violet-cherry-butterfly around me all day, delicious. Is it ionones in Lolita? We just watched your film and were talking how my beloved Bulgary au the blue is maybe a little bit like Lolita but without sugar… somehow. Iris and violets and powder… Also those fragances and violets made me very feel very nostalgic. May 4, 2021 at 4:59pm Reply

  • Zazie: Thank you for this new installment!
    My favorite violet perfumes are Chanel’s Misia, Guerlain’s l’heure bleue, and Neela Vermeire’s Niral (I am guessing there is a big violet there, under the roses)…
    Borsari’s la violetta di Parma, which I have not smelled in a looooong time, remains a nostalgic benchmark of the solinote violet frangrance for me…
    As a small kid, I used to collect Borsari’s beautiful retro fragrance miniatures of all the flower notes…
    I loved perfume since I have memory, and la violetta di Parma was my first fragrant possession. It is probably mediocre, but at the time it felt so precious… I owned a perfume bottle! Way before hitting 6! (40 years later I feel the exact same excitement and pride for my perfumes)
    I was too young to be allowed to wear it, but I smelled it and looked at it in amazement (and sometimes dabbed it on, because I loved to break the rules). Their packaging was top notch.
    A quick google search tells me they seem to have a more modern look nowadays… May 5, 2021 at 5:00am Reply

  • Brigitte: Le Dix has always been my favorite violet but it’s been three decades since I wore it. For violet leaf, Grey Flannel which I wore in high school. May 5, 2021 at 5:45am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Rugiadose, odorose
    Violette graziose,
    Voi vi state vergognose
    Mezzo ascose fra le foglie,
    E sgridate le mie voglie
    Che son troppo ambiziose!
    That shy flower made quite a carreer in perfumery!
    My favorite was the dry violets in Vol de Nuit,
    but alas, all lost in the reformulation.
    Now I prefer L’Heure Bleue, the new version as well, edp edt and extrait.
    And Le Dix and Paris edp. May 5, 2021 at 4:43pm Reply

  • Ninon: Thank you, as always, Victoria! So do the ionones account for the milkiness of matcha?

    I have come late to violets (via Jolie Madame), but I also love Niral, which has a velvety quality. May 9, 2021 at 9:05pm Reply

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