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Saintpaulia

A Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Fragrance on a Limited Budget - Part 1

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I became interested in fragrances last February, five months ago. I have a very limited budget (almost non-existent!) for purchasing scents, and I live in a very small, provincial city. I mention these things to qualify what kind of a beginner I am. I have literally been “just starting out”.

My Wardrobe is composed of 47 small samples with only one bottle in my Collection, Molinard’s Vanilla (a used 120 ml. bottle with about 75-80 ml. still in it). I also have a small assortment of about a dozen essential oils, ranging from true sandalwood (Santalum album) to 10% rose absolute, from orange blossom to Argentinian Yerba Maté (llex paraguariensis), et al. The majority of the samples were gifts from experienced perfumistas who encourage newcomers. One set I bought from Aedes de Venustas and another from The Perfumed Court. All told, I have invested approximately $100 in my Wardrobe. I will return to this amount later.

What I want to do in this essay is to describe how I researched a class of perfumes and eventually made a decision to purchase one brand. I reckoned that this might be of interest to others “just starting out”, as well as, perhaps, a journey down “memory lane” for others.

I have, from the outset, been interested in what are called soliflores. This stems from my background in botany and horticulture. Hence my approach to learning fragrances has been strongly influenced by the species of flowers themselves. I made brief studies of several basic types of scents: vanilla, rose, orange blossom, sandalwood, jasmine.

The class of scent with which I became particularly interested was violets (genus Viola, not genus Saintpaulia). In the course of my research I corresponded with a fellow Basenoter who also had an affinity for violets. She is years ahead of me in her pursuit of fragrances, and hence was a very valuable, experienced reference. I will be quoting some of her remarks. Concurrently, I also did some searches on Google and found a weblog site, Muse in Wooden Shoes, with an essay on violets, “The Big Violet List” (http://tinyurl.com/3aon6ym).

At the outset of my investigation into violet fragrances I had no idea whether I would like them. I really did not know what violets smelled like. The few times I had seen violet plants blooming they were, upon sniffing, found to be remarkably scentless! But since they were such an integral part of many fragrances, I needed to know something about them.

As it happened, violets began their life as a soliflore perfume with the discovery in 1893 of chemical compounds called ionones. Violets are one of those flowers that resist having their scent extracted; therefore, until the discovery of ionones, there were few if any violet-scented perfumes. Afterwards, at the turn of the 20th century, the violet scent became so novel and inexpensive that it achieved its greatest popularity. And this is why, today, the violet scent smells so “old-fashioned” to many noses.

In order to get some idea of just what violet perfumes exist today, I inquired of the veteran Basenoter mentioned above. She wrote a series of private messages to me and from these I made notes. Since I am male we decided to limit our selection to those violets that would not be “too sweet, fruity or powdery for most men to wear”. This still left a sizeable list.

Here are my friend’s recommendations, with short comments:
A. Borsari Violetta di Parma or S(anta) M(aria) N(ovella) Violetta, I would choose the latter if looking for a straightforward violet flower fragrance;
B. Penhaligon's Violetta has the advantage of a violet leaf note (a green note.) This makes it much better for men than any of the preceding ones;
C. There is also Geo. F. Trumper Ajaccio Violets which I haven't smelled in a while-- several years-- but I remember liking it. And that one really is aimed at men. But for me, the GFT one had fantastic top notes but lost some of its charm too fast, while Penhaligon's Violetta goes on for hours;
D. Finally there is the magnificent S(erge) L(utens) Bois de Violette. (It) has a lot of the molecule Iso E Super which gives a cedary, woody note.

So, I took this list of violet scents and began to see what others had to say about them. This led me to the aforementioned weblog site, Muse in Wooden Shoes, with her essay “The Big Violet List”. This authoress aimed to review the following:
A. Borsari Violetta di Parma – an old, old-fashioned, reference soliflore. Very quiet, very powdery, and although the notes don’t list it, I think there may be a bit of rose in there.
B. Berdoues Violettes de Parma – another old-fashioned, powdery violet. I didn’t like it at all.
C. Annick Goutal La Violette – Upcoming review (here).
D. Penhaligon’s Violetta – Upcoming review (here).
And some she did not review but noted in passing:
E. Yardley April Violets – traditional powdery violet
F. Santa Maria Novella Violetta – citrus violet green
G. Devon Violets – traditional powdery violet
H. Molinard Violette – violet woody musk
I. Geo. F. Trumper Ajaccio Violets (discontinued, apparently) – green violet

This was quite a bit larger list. I made note of the violets the Muse mentioned which were also mentioned by my veteran Basenotes friend, and put these at the top of my own list for research. I also reviewed some of those that looked promising but which were not common to both lists.

As it happened, three of these scents were conveniently available by mail order as inexpensive samples from a store in New York City, Aedes de Venustas (Latin for ‘house of beautiful things’): Penhaligon’s Violetta, Santa Maria Novella’s Violetta and Serge Luten’s Bois de Violette. Accordingly I ordered these, thinking they were as good a selection to begin with as any.
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Comments

  1. Twolf's Avatar
    Nice write up, good summary of your personal perceptions.

    How about non-soliflores with a prominent violet note? Borsari Bouquet de Violettes and Guerlain Apres L'Ondee?

    My favorite is Violettes de Toulouse by Masion Henri Berdoues (not di Parma) in EdP form (which is sweeter and longer-lasting than EdT -- lighter and zestier). They also have Violette Cherrie and Violettes Divines.

    Good luck in your search.
  2. Saintpaulia's Avatar
    Thank you. I spent some time on it, so am glad it is appreciated.

    Regarding your "how-abouts", obviously there are many, many more violet scents out there, either "soliflores" or not. It was not my intention to try to "smell every violet in the World", and by the time I figured out how many there are, I saw how difficult it would be to do a good survey. Besides others had already done that (q.v. Muse).

    So I just mentioned some of the ones noted by others, incl. some you cited above. And then transformed the whole excercise into a guide for beginners instead, i.e. 'on how to go about researching any fragrance'. Afterall you know how many posts there are on Just Starting Out that basically ask, "What should I do? What should I wear? How can I make choices? How will I ever figure this out?" etc.

    Thanks for wishing me luck on my search, but that is not really what I am doing now.
    Cheers to you and to all those violet lovers out there!

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