I have very strong associations with violet flowers. Most distinctly and intimately, they were my grandmother’s favourite. She once told me a story about having friends over for tea in her youth in Croatia, and apologizing to the group that she didn’t have a matching set of cups. The next day a boy who’d been over sent her a box with a pretty tea set in it, and rather than be buffered by tissue to protect the china, it was filled completely with violet blossoms.
That’s hardly the only violet story out there -- violets are a literary, historic, and mythological stronghold, always bein’ clutched in bunches by myriad woebegone heroines. Persephone was violet picking when Hades abducted her. They were Josephine Bonaparte’s favourite flower. As a motif, violets are perishable, delicate -- earnestly lovely, yet so fragile as to be tragic, crushed underfoot in Goethe’s poetry, tattered in that of H.D.'s.
But violets are still considered a quintessential flower-flower -- getting shout-outs in the latter half of the old “roses are red” verse, identifiable even to the horticulture-ambivalent. Their scent accounts for their cultural longevity; something about it is insane -- fairies, opium, and hysteria insane.
The association that violets are powdery and sugary is a product of an artificial, chemical misinterpretation (like watermelon candy vs. the real juicy deal). Tom Ford’s Violet Blonde adroitly conveys the bewitching, nymph-ish character of violet by engaging the multifaceted qualities of the fragrance, rather than resorting to the candy-clichés of a violet pastille (no diss to violet pastilles) (chic Tic Tacs!).
First off, this scent isn’t unisex, but it's also not particularly feminine; its ambiguity comes from a strong forest component, mainly the result of cedar notes. A base of mossy, green, wet chypre entwines a sweet heart of violet flower and jasmine, the effect of which is compelling and ozonic, like noticing blossoms in the dirt. All flannel sheets and conifers after the rain.
The interesting dichotomy of Violet Blonde is that while it’s definitely got a forest-sprite vibe, it’s just as much denizen of Old Hollywood hotels -- retro and glamorous, as its golden, vintage-looking bottle implies. Super-creamy iris is responsible for the luxe element here, and it plays together with violet perfectly, alighting on just the right amount of powderiness.
(If you’re nostalgic for the days of talcum wafts but can’t deal with the staleness of anything that comes on a pouf, this perfume will probably be your thing. Goes great with Lana Turner waves, especially if a couple twigs and leaves accidentally got caught in them.)
I find the transcendental verdancy of Violet Blonde doesn’t last past an hour, but its lingering complexity remains. And ephemerality is a fitting price to pay for something I imagine is what the scene from Luhrmann’s Gatsby where Jay and Daisy reunite in a flower-filled 1920s forest cottage post-rainstorm smelt like. Tom Ford pretty much hit violets out of the park.
So, violet: old fashioned in the best way? Or the worst?