Ultraviolet.

For the longest time, I didn't know who was to blame-- violets or me. We tried and tried, but ours was a relationship destined to stall straight out of the gate.

Sure, I liked the idea of violets -- a mysterious carpet of deep purple and green velvet silvered with morning dew. But the reality of violets as a perfumery note left me feeling frustrated and (truth be told) ever so slightly swindled. Après l'Ondée, Cuir Pleine Fleur, Bois de Violettes, Iris de Nuit, The Unicorn Spell... each offered up a scant few seconds of pleasure, then vanished like the aforementioned dew. Yet every time I'd threaten to walk away, some violet femme fatale like Jolie Madame would sashay through the door like trouble on court heels... and damn if I didn't find myself right back at square one.

I can think of at least one other young woman for whom Viola tricolor became an obsession. With the expert assistance of her gardener, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet learned to cross-breed these small, colorful violets to produce larger, showier blossoms with a distinct bearded "face". After Lady Mary publicly introduced her hybrids in 1812, the pansy (from the French pensée, 'thought') rapidly became a favorite among gardeners. Though not scented as prominently as the Viola odorata used in fragrance and confectionary, live pansies have their own shy perfume that smells as good as any fragrance in a bottle... at least for a second or two. And therein lies the rub for this entire species.

I'll let this guy explain it:
A key component of the flower’s scent is a compound called ionone (C13H20O), and in fact it, and the closely related methyl ionones, have been used extensively in perfumes for about a century. But the weird thing is that supposedly ionone temporarily desensitizes the receptors in your olfactory epithelium... so that the smell of a violet weakens after the first sniff. So you can sniff and sniff, but you never smell it any better…
In essence, the violet is Nature's drug dealer. It offers you that all-important first taste, then cruelly withholds the goods. Forced to sniff deeper and more desperately to get your ever-diminishing dose of sweet thrills, in no time at all you're gone, wasted, strung out... on an teenytiny ittybitty flower.*

If there was a support group, a methadone program, a sobriety chip for violet junkies, I'd be twelve-stepping like mad. But cold hard science just keeps enabling me. Here are two violets so dangerous, the DEA should interfere!


Purple Love Smoke Absolute (Soivohle)
Sadly listed as 'no longer available' on Liz Zorn's website, Purple Love Smoke takes bushels of tender blossoms and throws them atop a mountain of lit charcoal briquettes. If you've ever stood over an old-fashioned cast-iron hibachi at the height of August, you know the heat of which I speak. But unless you've seen a flower evaporate in the flame's embrace, what I have to say here simply may not translate. We're talking about a scent that undergoes purgatory for you-- veering between intense sugar and acrid resin for hours on end. When its trials are complete, the perfume that emerges is sweet and pure, all its earthly tethers converted to ash so that it may soar free. As will you.

Scent Elements: Violet leaf and flower, "earth" accord.


Violets & Rainwater (Soivohle)
At first, it really is just what it says it is: a cool, moist scent, almost vegetal, like a pale-green root steeped in nectars from a spring flower's innermost heart. Simple, yes? But after this phase passes, Violets & Rainwater becomes mindblowing. Balsamic smoke from unseen censers fills the air; you might even imagine that you've strayed into a no-man's land between Lutens and Tauer territories, so exotic and austere is the fragrance that envelops you. Against its towering sand dunes, that original "wet" accord is thrown into even higher relief-- and to a desert, rainwater is more precious than gold. They certainly believed so over at ÇaFleureBon, where Violets and Rainwater was voted the Favorite Spring/Summer Scent of 2011. I vote that it remains so for 2012!

Scent Elements: Parma violet, violet leaf absolute, "fresh-turned soil" accord, "rainwater" accord, iris, rose centifolia, patchouli, white musk, labdanum absolute

*If something more official is needed, here's a study conducted by the USDA which showed that the inability to detect β-ionone is fairly common. An estimated one-third of the population can't get past that first sniff; our physiology is no match for a flower's molecules. Well played, you wee purple bastard!