If most flowers are employed for their petals, in perfumery sourcing (procurement department) Viola odorata has the particularity to be wanted for its roundish heart shaped green leaves from which is obtained Violet Leaf Absolute!
The Violet scent, or accord (theme), is no newbie to the industry. As early as in the 18th century, it was widely used in floral Violet and floral bouquets perfumes. These accords synthetically recreated the scent of this so-called “mute” – unextractable – flower, whose fragrance is not to be confused with that of the leaf, later extracted thanks to modern chemistry.
Both green and leathery – with a distinctive aqueous cucumber note – Violet Leaf’s perfume is completely different from the sweet, reminiscent of candy, floral, and powdery scent of the species’ purple colored flower!
Rose Shot, Iris Shot, and ultimately Violet Shot, is the third fragrance of the Sepia Collection floral trilogy. Last but not least, Violet Leaf is the star ingredient behind Violet Shot, and featured in our latest olfactive blog article!
THERE’S NO LEAF WITHOUT FLOWER
It’s no secret, if you ask anyone about Violet, they’ll surely think of the flower over the leaf. Only perfume aficionados, professionals, and the most curious people know about the leaf and its usage! Happily, though, thanks to aromatherapy widely selling its absolute, more and more of us are becoming familiar with this interesting extract…
Nevertheless, Violet Leaf Absolute would have never existed without its plant’s flower, and we’ve got to give her some credit – or a lot.
Let’s take you back, as our reporting team likes to, into Ancient Times! Yep, everything is about History (with a capital H). Back then, these daintily looking bluish purple to lilac and even white-colored flowers were already popular.
In Ancient Greece, they were a symbol of fertility – dedicated to Aphrodite – and of a very important city where the inhabitants even used it to flavor wine. Can you guess which? Athens! Why so? Because Ion, the founder of the city – whose name also means violet in ancient Greek Ἴων – was greeted by nymphs with violets as they showed him the location where to build Athens.
More East, in the Arabic world, it is believed the flower’s essence was distilled during Middle Ages.
In the Christian tradition, Violet flowers represent humility and fidelity. Why so? Because they’d have blossomed in the Garden of Eden, on the same spot Adam’s remorseful tears fell.
VIOLET LEAF AND VIOLET IN OLFACTIVE STUDIO FRAGRANCES
One of our perfumes explores the facets of Violet Leaf Absolute, and three of them those of the Violet accord.
In this third opus of the floral trilogy of the Sepia collection, our noses immediately perceive the Violet Leaf (Viola odorata) and its green facet. Distant cousin of the Violet accord – typical of the 19-20th century – which interprets the scent of the powdery and slightly fruity-strawberry Violet flower, the Leaf on the other hand has a leathery aspect. Still among the green notes, the Cut Grass accord – composed thanks to the cis 3 hexenol molecule – obviously matches this green vegetal aspect, so natural, of Violet Shot's key ingredient.
At the top, we also feel a fresh and sour touch... It's the Calabrian Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)! The spices do not escape our senses, olfactory family acting as a link between the top and the heart of the fragrance, it's represented by the Pink Berry (Schinus molle) and the Saffron (Crocus sativus). The first, with its zesty and peppery facets, blends well with the Mandarin, as well as with the upcoming woody notes in the base; the second is spicy but also subtly floral matching the floral-Violet facet.
Remember that Saffron originates from the pistils of a flower related to Iris and has a fruity facet through its characteristic molecule, safranal. These two spices are both endowed with great freshness.
The woody facet of Violet Leaf supports the woody base given by Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), also sharing with it a certain earthiness.
The base also includes Labdanum (Cistus ladaniferus), both ambery and resinous. Excellent ally of the spicy notes, another one of its assets is to boost floral notes! The sweet and spicy Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) offers a continuity to the spicy top notes that are found in a warmer form in this ingredient containing spicy molecules such as benzyl cinnamate and anisic aldehyde – cinnamic and metallic. Also used for its ambery note in leathery and floral fragrances – as in Violet Shot – the latter rounds out the base with its balsamic facet.
Did you also notice the delicate leathery aspect in the fragrance? This is due to the presence of several iconic leathery raw materials like the star Violet Leaf, Saffron, and Patchouli, all of which offer elegant leathery notes.
A fragrance with green, woody, floral, ambery and leathery facets, this combination by Dominique Ropion – a perfumer who knows how to handle the art of floral compositions better than anyone else – delights our nostrils with an incredibly original Violet, true to its leaf, whose green and woody facets are given pride of place.
It' s a natural, deep and sensual Violet that Violet Shot embodies.
FLASH BACK IN NEW YORK
In this leathery-woody-spicy fragrance, warm spices combined with the lavender-like and aromatic freshness of Clary Sage (Salvia oficinalis) – due to its linalool molecule - caress our nostrils at first scent. These are Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) – powerful and so characteristic of leathery perfumes – with its powdery and cinnamic facets, and the precious Saffron (Crocus sativus) subtly leathery and fruity. The White Linen accord refers to Musks – synthetic raw materials – which are both soft and floral.
The spices of Flash Back in New York are combined with a floral heart marked by the richness of the Egyptian Jasmine Absolute (Jasminum grandiflorum) with its animalistic and fruity side, and by the powdery-iris facet of the Violet accord - intended to be flowery in this fragrance and not green like its leaf. This accord as well as the leathery notes in the heart are combined with Cumin in the top of the fragrance, often associated with floral-powdery notes.
The base feels warm and comforting, with its predominantly woody and smoky facets. These are due to the presence of two raw materials emblematic of leathery perfumes: Birch Smoke essence (Betula alba) and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoide). The first is very smoky - even reminiscent of the smell of barbecue - and tobacco-like, providing an incense effect (despite the absence of this ingredient), and the second also smoky - more finely - possesses an earthy side. Added to this attractive base is the Tonka Bean Absolute (Dipterix odorata) rounding out the whole, a balsamic raw material revealing honeyed, almondy and tobacco facets.
Composed by New York perfumer Jérôme Epinette, Flash Back in New York surprises noses with its olfactory contrasts, just as this city surprises those who discover it for the first time.
There are no words other than "delicious" to describe Chambre Noire! From the top of the perfume comes the peppery Pink Berry (Schinus molle), with its slight zesty edge. An expensive raw material, it blends well with the woody facet of the perfume, which it enhances thanks to its floral-spicy side. The latter ingredient acts as a junction between the head and the heart.
Base perfume (due to its components), Chambre Noire, quickly reveals its heart with the Egyptian Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) both floral and animalistic, reminiscent of jasmine tea. Papyrus (Cyperus scariosus), from which the fragrant rhizome is extracted (like Vetiver) brings a spicy facet to the woods of the perfume, while matching them with its earthy facet reminiscent of Vetiver (a woody ingredient). Allied to Jasmine is the Violet accord with its floral-powdery side and its tasty fruity-strawberry note.
Incense (Boswellia carteri) is clearly sensed, emphasizing the sensual woody character of the fragrance. It is a very balsamic Incense, a facet supported by the Vanilla Absolute (Vanilla planifolia), itself sweet and creamy. Its spicy side matches perfectly with Pink Berry, and Papyrus, which each have characteristic spicy notes. Rounded by Vanilla, the Prune accord is fruity and sweet, and echoes the fruity side of Violet.
In the base we have the Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) and Sandalwood (Santalum album) couple. The yellow flower facet of Sandalwood resonates with Jasmine (white flower) and its lactonic facet with Vanilla and Musks. The woody-earthy Patchouli and its dark chocolate note combines with the sweet facet of Vanilla to awaken our taste buds through gustatory notes! The association of these two woody raw materials to Incense accentuates its woody-resinous power and gives an Oud effect (Aquilaria malaccensis).
The Musks have a creamy facet that matches the milky Sandalwood, as well as a fruity side reminiscent of red fruits, combining with the Prune accord at heart. Vanilla, with its spicy side, joins the head of Pink Berry, and makes the spices persist in the base. The Leather accord offers an opulent and bewitching base, whose animalistic facet matches that of Vanilla and Musks.
With Chambre Noire, we have a woody-balsamic fragrance, providing a real sensation of vanilla warmth. The ensemble has very oriental aspects with vanilla accents and evoking notes of Oud (a raw material with animal-woody-amber-smoky facets).
During the 19th century, the flower started to be associated to Napoleon. This was due to the emperor’s first exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, after his abdication in April 1814, before which he told his supporters he’d come back to France with the spring-blooming violets. Bonapartists began wearing the flower – along with purple ribbons and silks – as an emblem of their support to Napoleon whom they nicknamed “Caporal violette” meaning Corporal Violet in French.
The emperor’s link to violets is older than his political affairs, as it was Josephine’s – his first wife – favorite flowers. For their wedding in March 1796 the bride wore a gown embroidered with violets.
When Joséphine was coronated empress in 1804, the emperor asked François Rancé – the court perfumer – to compose a perfume for his wife. Combining Violet and Rose, “Joséphine” by Rancé became the empress’ favorite fragrance and participated into making the flower trendy. On an interesting note, the perfume has been reinterpreted by Rancé’s great-great-grand-daughter Jeanne Sarah Rancé and is sold again under the same brand!
When Napoleon died on St Helen Island, his always-worn medallion revealed dried violet petals.
Napoleon and Joséphine’s love of Violet widely popularized the flower’s scent in the 19th century, in France and further throughout European courts. The flower’s fragrance became broadly used in many perfumes and cosmetics.
The peak of Violet flowers fragrant-wise and popular-wise was undoubtedly attained during queen Victoria of England’s reign. Indeed, during the Victorian era the flowers were a symbol of modesty and simplicity.
Renowned for its extremely strong scent and lavender flowers of different sizes, the Italian Parma cultivar – Viola odorata—var. parmensis – originated in Italy in the 16th century. Its lineage is believed to be derived from two distinct Viola alba species, though it’s more similar to Viola odorata
In the middle of the 18th century, the same Parma Violet was used in perfumes and cosmetics. Today it remains the most common variety in perfumery.
This particular cultivar was the one used to obtain the flower’s – now gone – oil in the 19th and 20th century. By the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Violet flower extract production was close to zero for different reasons. The flower fields and their farming had almost disappeared after WWI in the South of France, and the process was way too expensive.
Charabot, an old fragrance house was probably one of the last to produce the overpriced oil – over 50 thousand euros per kilogram – until approximately 1938, by fractionation of the flower’s absolute (or today’s molecular distillation).
They can still be found in some commercial plantations in the South of France.
Another famous Violet is the Violette de Toulouse or “Toulouse Violet” (an important city in the South-West of France), which is believed to have been brought by Napoleon III who introduced the Parma cultivar from Northern Italy to the city and its region.
After its arrival in the second half of the 19th century, the trademark « Violette de Toulouse » was finally registered in 1985. No less than 600 families lived off the culture of Violets in the early 20th century, which they cut in the wintertime to sell them by weight as bouquets. The flower definitely took part in Toulouse’s glory and was exported throughout Europe and as far as Morocco by airmail!
The famous perfume “Violettes de Toulouse” by local perfumer Berdoues – a family-owned business until now – was launched in 1936.
Nowadays the flowers are still part of the city's economy and tradition. A few producers who preserve their legacy still grow a small quantity of Violets, and the "Fête de la Violette" – Violet Celebration in French – takes place each year.
Many shops in Toulouse sell violet-everything products! What does that imply? It mean you'll find in these Violet paradises anything that's related to the flower: scented cosmetics and soaps, fragrances, liquor, syrup, and candy!
The first crystallized flowers were created in the city of Toulouse around 1900! The flower is nowadays mainly dedicated to confectionery – apart from its usage in perfumery and as an ornamental flower – but this usage isn’t recent at all.
In fact, the Greeks and Romans made violet syrup, candy and even conserves! The crystallized version of the petals has been a common dessert decoration for hundreds of years. Vinegar is also made from the flowers, and the leaves are also edible.
VIOLET LEAF AND VIOLET FLOWER IN PERFUMERY
Made up of over 450 species, the Violaceae family is the one Viola odorata or sweet Violet belongs to. You can note the common etymology in both words “Violaceae” and “Viola” by the way!
The whole family comes from and grows in temperate zones – from New Zealand to Patagonia through the Andes up to 4600m – along with tropical and subtropical regions. The peculiar Viola odorata is native to Asia Minor/Europe, where it grows wild in the countryside’s meadows.
Today Violet Leaf is cultivated in big fields in Egypt, France, Italy, North America, and a few countries in Asia. It’s harvested in from December to May.
In France, the culture of Violets for perfumery extracts began in 1867 in the region of Grasse (Provence), nevertheless today’s biggest production takes place on the Egyptian Nile banks.
Violets are cleistogamous, meaning their flowering period takes place in spring and autumn with their seed production happening only in autumn. If you’re looking for their delicate scent, no need to venture yourself in autumnal woods as only the spring flowers are fragrant.
A GREEDY PLANT
The production of Violet Leaves isn’t the easiest as these little green ones need a very rich, humid soil, and appreciates a warm weather. The Egyptian Nile delta is a perfect example of ideal settings for such culture!
In the land of Cleopatra and the great Pharaohs, the leaves are either hand-picked or using a sickle – a crescent-shaped knife. During one harvest – up to four are conducted each harvesting season – ten leaf tons can be plucked within a one-hectare area!
Extracting the fresh leaves happens right after their cut, or the next day: Violet Leaf concrete is first obtained by two consecutive volatile solvent extractions after which it’s diluted in ethanol for the waxes to precipitate. The absolute is collected after filtration and evaporation of the alcohol.
The concrete’s low 0.09% yield explains the important worth of this raw material.
THE VIOLET ACCORD…
As mentioned in our introduction, Viola odorata is a fragile flower whose petals’ extraction yield – whichever the process – is too low to generate a financially viable Violet flower extract production. To obtain such product, an unsustainable number of flowers is needed!
The latter was produced in the past and popular in perfumes, but Violet Leaf absolute, and synthetic Violet notes – like ionones – and Violet accords have definitely taken over since the early 20th century.
You may be asking to yourself what we mean by “accord”. Introduced in previous articles from our blog, “accord” is the French word for “chord”, and was borrowed from the music vocabulary to be part of the perfumery one. Because the same way different music notes are associated to create a unique sound, several perfume notes, or raw materials can be combined – with harmony and balance – into a new scent
For math lovers, here’s the “accord equation”: [A(note) + B(note) = C(accord)]
The Violet flower accord is very common and important in rose bouquets such as Paris by Yves Saint-Laurent.
A « natural » Violet accord or bouquet possesses an undeniable green-watery facet due to the presence of Violet Leaf Absolute.
Violet Leaf Absolute is a top/heart note belonging to the green olfactive family, and which shows off its interesting cucumber-like, herbaceous, floral, woody, leathery, and earthy facets.
An absolute over an essence? Why so? Because all absolutes such as Violet Leaf absolute are obtained using the volatile solvent extraction method using butane or propane instead of hydrodistillation. In this case the roots are obviously extracted. Jokes! The leaves are extracted into a dark green liquid.
More profitable than the flower, sure, but still expensive, the cost of a kilogram of this absolute is over 1000€. If you’re saying to yourself “oh my gosh, that ridiculously overpriced!”, you must know approximately 2300 kilos of hand-picked leaves are needed to yield a single kilogram of absolute.
Used in very small quantities, it brings naturalness to the Leather and Violet accords, and violet notes such as Methyl Octine Carbonate, Undecavertone, and in general. Interesting with Iris, and to make an Iris accord. You can find Violet Leaf Absolute in traces in a Tea accord. It's also interesting in marine, and watermelon notes for its seaweed facet, as well as in a Mimosa accord.
The IFRA has restricted Violet Leaf absolute because it contains some allergens such as D-limonene, and regulated molecules like benzyl alcohol. Perfumers also have to beware of the intense color of this absolute!
Like all natural raw materials, this leaf extract contains synthetic molecules naturally contained in its absolute.
To mention some, you’ll find trans-2-cis-6-nonadienal (1%), trans-2-cis-6-nonadienol (a specific and highly diffusive green cucumber note), cis-3-hexenol, cis-3-hexenyl acetate (0,5%), linalool, linolenic acid (2%), and linoleic acid (1%).
As introduced earlier, the scent of Violet flowers is often seen as quite tender and romantic, with its soft floral and powdery notes.
Shakespeare mentioned Violets eighteen times in his work! In Hamlet, Laertes says:
“A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and supplicance of a minute;
He refers to the fleeting scent of the flowers. Indeed, once they’ve been picked, the flowers tend to wilt quickly, and along with them their elusive scent.
What you might not be aware of is that this di-scent-ppearing is explained by chemistry (it had to be!), and most specifically a type of ketones: ionones!
These ingredients created thanks to the wonders of chemical synthesis allow the scent of Violet flowers to be interpreted and recreated in many fine fragrances, niche perfumes, and Violet bases.
Famous Violet notes include methyl octine carbonate, undecavertol, folione, and the impressive ionones!
The three first ones belong to the green olfactive family and share violet leaf, watery, and floral facets, whereas the last family of molecules belongs to the woody olfactive family.
The name of the chemical components of the flower “ionones” is derived from Io, Zeus’ lover, whom he turned into a white heifer (young cow) to protect her from his jealous wife. Zeus made sweet violets spring into the animal’s field, linking her to the flowers.
So, what’s the drill with ionones? They diminish the sense of smell by desensitizing olfactory nerve receptors, therefore generating "temporary anosmia" – the total or partial loss of sense of smell.
As you may have guessed, ionones possess a scent with facets which can go from soft, floral-violet, to woody. Three isomers exist: alpha, beta, and gamma ionone.
They were isolated by chemists Tiemann & Kruger in 1893, as the product of the reaction between either Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) or Litsea cubeba’s citral, and acetone.
These compounds play a key role among perfumery synthetic raw materials, not only for their odor but also for their chemical properties! Indeed, ionones act as a bridge between heart and base notes.
The more faceted methyl ionones were synthetized not long after, another type of Violet notes, softer than its ionone cousins.
According to the French Society of Perfumers, a perfumery base is an: “Elementary olfactory structure. It constitutes a pre-composed element facilitating to the creator the elaboration of a perfume.”.
Many old – now gone – firms, along with more recent, ones have used bases for decades for their convenience. We can cite – from the archives of perfumery – “Bois de Violette” a Robertet base used by Chanel in the past, «Violette Blanche» from De Laire, and «Violette Invar» from Roure.
FAMOUS VIOLET LEAF AND VIOLET PERFUMES
Let’s mention some Violet Leaf – and Violet accord – perfumes from past and contemporary centuries!
In 1892, Roger & Gallet launched Vera violetta. At the beginning of the following century in 1913, the renowned house of Caron created Violette Precieuse, by nose Ernest Daltroff who put together top notes of Violet Leaf, Violet, and Iris, with heart notes of Lily-of-the-Valley and Jasmine, and a base of Vetiver, Nutmeg, and Sandalwood.
The trend went on in the 20th century during which Houbigant, a very famous perfume brand at the time, launched Quelques Violettes. The 1962 women’s perfume had Violet Leaf, Aldehydes and Green notes as top notes, a floral heart of Violet, Ylang-Ylang, Rose and Tuberose, and a base combining Musk, Cedar, and Sandalwood.
In 1988, one of the most famous masculine aromatic fougère perfume – an olfactive family – was composed by famous perfumers Michel Almairac and Jean-Louis Sieuzac. Its fresh Lavender, Mandarin, and Lemon top notes marry a heart of Violet Leaf, Jasmine, Cedar, Sandalwood, and Nutmeg, allied to a base of Tonka Bean, Vetiver, Patchouli and leathery notes! Have you guessed which? The one and only Farenheit by Dior!
Twenty years later in 2008, Marc Jacobs launched Daisy, a feminine floral woody fragrance created by Alberto Morillas. Winner of the FiFi Award “Fragrance Of The Year Women`s Luxe”, Violet Leaf is found among its top notes, with Grapefruit and a Strawberry accord, Violet in its floral heart along with Jasmine and a Gardenia accord, enriched by a base of Vanilla, Musk, and Woods.
An ingredient with so many facets as Violet Leaf has surely been explored by niche brands – apart from Olfactive Studio – like Serge Lutens who commercialized Bois de Violette in 1992, created by the nose Christopher Sheldrake.
Violet flowers and leaves have been praised for their healing virtues for a good while now. Pliny the Elder advised a violet root and vinegar balm for mood disorders and appetite, and a violet garland to cure for dizziness and hangovers.
Monks used the flowers as a treatment for some eye diseases during the medieval era. Nowadays it can be employed for many kinds of health issues such as bronchitis – since it’s a natural expectorant – and other respiratory diseases, as well as for skin problems liked cracked skin.
Syrup made from violets has the benefits to reduce fevers, coughs and detoxify the liver. Moreover, anxiety and sleeping disorders can be remedied thanks to violet tea!
Many of these virtues can be explained by the flavonoids violets contain. These compounds have anti-inflammatory, soothing, and cholesterol-lowering properties.
On a more aesthetic note, the Celts used to mix the flowers with goat milk as a beauty recipe! We still wonder if the result was a pretty purple-toned skin...
Anna Grézaud-Tostain for Olfactive Studio