Sunday 19 July 2015

The Vanishing Violet

In 1964 Pete Seeger sang, "Where have all the flowers gone?" Well, for now I'm not concerned with all of them, just one. It was a staple of male and female fragrances as far back as you can remember but this treasure has now sadly fallen out of favour. I am talking about the vanishing violet. This wonderful floral adds a depth to ladies fragrances whilst emanating femininity, hints at a dangerous note in men's scents whilst softening, and in small quantities provides the finishing touch to a perfume by seemingly pulling everything together and then exploding it outwards! It is a truly magical ingredient, so where has it gone?

A very quick history lesson ... Violet was a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte, who loved anything that was expensive! However, in 1893 Tiemann and Kruger managed to separate and replicate a compound called Ionone, which is responsible for the scent of a violet. As the synthetic was much cheaper than the natural oil, "violet" started being used in large quantities and with unlimited abandon.

It is still common to find it in many female fragrances, although not used to the same extent, and you generally get a more powdery candy-like effect, as in Fragonard's Violette. For me one of the greatest disappointments was the re-orchestrating of Evening In Paris in 1991 by Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy. Gone was Ernest Beaux's original sensually supported violet and in its place was a linear harshness with all the subtlety of a crack over the head with a frying pan.

Where violet comes into its own, however, is in men's fragrances. It can add an addictively animalic note and a "ravage me" boldness that is currently reserved for the oud phenomenon, but without the poohy edge (there's no other way to describe it, sorry!) A staple for me was always Penhaligon's Violetta. Worn underneath ANY fragrance it gave you an extra depth and a wonderfully rich effect. However, in their "wisdom" it has been discontinued, although there is still some stock at their Mayfair Boutique in London (if I haven't bought it all by the time you read this!)

Thankfully there is a wonderful alternative in the form of Galimard's Violet Cologne. It works beautifully underneath your fragrance and still manages to give the depth and richness associated with the Penhaligon's classic. Unless we start using this scent again you will see more companies discontinue their versions, and there will be no way back.

So, revisit the violet and see if it can give your favourite fragrance some old fashioned oomph!


  1. I'm a big fan of violet scents. Years ago, when I wasn't wearing Hammam Bouquet, I was wearing Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel. I also love Trumper's Ajaccio Violets. Somewhere in one of my perfume boxes (shoe boxes actually) I have a small roll on of Pateman's Devon Violets.

    1. Hello Barry, I think that everyone has a bottle of Pateman's if they look hard enough! Best, Stephan

    2. I found my Patemans. I don't ever remember it leaving a green stain on my skin the last time that I put some on. Must be because it's an old bottle and the dye has gone a bot darker.