Bois de Violette (Serge Lutens)

This is one interesting fragrance. Evidently conceived by Christopher Sheldrake as the fourth variation of Féminité du Bois (which Pierre Bourdon shares credit for), Bois de Violette is also a descendent of Chanel's Bois des Îles, and Caron's Parfum Sacré. 

It stands among Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc, and Un Bois Vanille as a most curious thing, and perhaps the most curious thing ever launched by Serge Lutens Les Salons du Palais Royal Sheseido. It is both beautiful and ominous, a testament to the strength and vitality of contrast in postmodern perfumery. A violet reconstruction has never been more lovingly crafted or better received by fans of things unisex and niche. It is perplexing, unnervingly memorable, and unarguably worthy of the accolades that it receives. Despite its many origins, this fragrance is one of a kind.

When I first wore it, I approached Bois du Violette from the wrong angle. As a male fumehead, my sole point of reference for violet is Grey Flannel. The problem is that Grey Flannel's violet note is also one of a kind. There isn't really anything else like it, and anything that comes close (like the violet leaf in Narciso Rodriguez for Him) is clearly derivative. Its dry and bitter-green casting of ionones emits a salubrious blast of unremitting masculinity - an ironic outcome considering the feminine associations surrounding violets. 

Bois de Violette, however, takes a different route altogether. While not exactly feminine-smelling, the methyl ionone is very sweet, and assumes a pivotal position against a dark and inanimate rendering of cedar and smoky spices. Its violet starts off smelling woody-sweet, then grows progressively sweeter as the minutes pass, until it threatens to become a massive Parma violet candy. Just in the nick of time, the cedar that magnified the woodiness of the initial violet accord returns with a vengeance and attacks Bois du Violette's saccharine center. 

The ashen wood stabilizes the scent, giving its sweetness a sophisticated feel. What once was an explosively feminine violet, now becomes a delectable array of cedar, honey, and spice notes. It's a striking evolution, and an utterly amazing experience.

My struggles with Bois de Violette lie in its crushingly-sweet violet accord, contrasted against the dense, suffocating intensity of Lutens-style cedar. Uncle Serge rules with a heavy hand, and nothing in this perfume is light, airy, or free. Sure, the violet is dynamic, a core component of a complex olfactory machine. Without its intensity, the woods would dominate, and all greatness would be lost. 

But just as the tension between dirty and clean makes Kouros a disquieting masterpiece, the placement of a massive violet reconstruction within a small cedar box is as magnificent as it is frightening. Free association words and phrases come to mind here . . . lost love, . . . frosty November, . . . death, . . . funeral parlors, . . . you get the idea. Not much in the way of purple violet fairies fluttering around. If you could bottle seriousness, Bois de Violette would be it. This fragrance is Russia against the Bolsheviks. 

I'll stick with Grey Flannel, either because I'm not mature enough yet to pull Bois de Violette off, or I'm just not that enthused about wearing something with this much cedar in it (I dislike cedar immensely). I'm not sure I agree with Luca Turin's appraisal of Bois de Violette as "a violet gem around which everything dances", as its notes struggle to shuffle under their own weight, but I agree that it's in the big leagues. 

It always plunges me into deep philosophical thought about the natural world that society has detached from and forgotten. It smells like an olfactory eulogy to a sacred treasure that's been irretrievably lost. They say that with every death comes a birth; Bois de Violette is a sacred treasure unto itself.