Violetta (Penhaligon's)

I have an odd relationship with violets, perhaps because I'm a man who likes how they smell, and doesn't mind wearing them. To me, violets are about green shadows, wet earth, night-blooming romance. They're the stuff of mystery, and the men who build mysteries. When rendered honestly, they smell incredible.

When rendered dishonestly, all the inherent good and evil of violets is tragically undone. It's a fine line because there's very little difference between a good violet scent, and a bad one. The best and the worst smell sweet and green alike, with only subtle variations to distinguish them. A good violet scent - perhaps the greatest available to men - is Grey Flannel. I feel like my soul is connected to my skin whenever I wear Grey Flannel. Swirling remnants of anything that is fair and foul about me manifests in its well-oiled machine of imploded lemon, violet, violet leaf, oakmoss. Any remote fleck of selflessness and personal sacrifice is nicely suited to its sweetness; duplicity and murderous impulses are the shadow matter of crushed greens under its mossy thicket, providing shadow to Grey Flannel's light. There aren't many fragrances that operate this way. While most frags simply accompany me, Grey Flannel becomes part of me.

Not so with Violetta by Penhaligon's. Is it any irony that Violetta was released the same year as Grey Flannel? Perhaps, and the meaning isn't lost on this violet fan. Where Grey Flannel conveys a natural scent profile, Violetta settles on blatantly synthetic aromachemicals to convey an empty expression of "chic." Violets have a natural sexiness built into their fragile scent, and if a perfumer frames their earthbound allure with other natural notes, as Andre Fromentin did, the result is beguiling. If the nose decides "natural" isn't enough, and filters violets through gobs of naked Ambrox and Galaxolide, the result is headache inducing. Needless to say, Violetta is a migraine in a bottle.

Despite its crudeness, I can sense what the perfumer behind Violetta was going for: a crisp, green, dusty violet, with hints of wood and musk as supporting players. Looks good on paper, but in practice it's a disaster. The opening violet note is piercingly bright, sickeningly sweet, and possesses the demeanor of an expensive air freshener - not a fine fragrance. It rapidly becomes obvious that the synthetic violet bombast is playing bicinium to coarse musk. The musk note is almost odorless, yet somehow louder than the violet. It was meant to lend the sweet greenness some loess for relief, but instead just expounds on the already-bad. There are precious few wearable violets for men on the current market, and this one bites the dust. Literally.

I find it amusing that Grey Flannel, at only $12 for 4 ounces, eclipses a $125 perfume by such a wide margin. But as a guy with an eye on quality instead of price, I don't find it surprising in the least. Experienced male fumeheads know how easy it is to smell amazing for under $15 - you just have to know that what feeds the soul usually spares the wallet. With their fragrances consistently underwhelming me, I see no reason to jettison this credo for Penhaligon's, and certainly wouldn't waste another day on something as offensive as Violetta.


  1. Ha! I didn't know that Grey Flannel was a violet fragrance; now I'll have to try it. I love violet, but it doesn't seem to love me back. The scent plays hide-and-seek with my nose, and at times I can be completely anosmic to it. Then the next time I wear it, I smell it and fall in love all over again. The tease! My current fave violet is Caron's Aimez-Moi, have you tried that one? Also, if you have tested Penhaligon's Bluebell, what is your opinion of that?

    1. Violet is certainly a tricky note for a lot of people. I'm lucky I guess - I always smell them, and they love me back! At least, when they're well rendered in a fragrance, as in Grey Flannel. I have not tried Aimez-Moi or Bluebell. My understanding is that the former is terrific, and the latter is the "Ishtar" of the perfume world. I've always wanted to try Bluebell because I understand it's incredibly difficult for people to like, and yet there is a rumor swirling around out there that it's the scent of choice for Kate Moss. I'll have to get down to the Yale Gallery sometime soon and give it a sniff.


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