The fragrance of violets has always been popular- although surprisingly violet essential oil is extracted from the leaves, not the petals!
There are two varieties of violet used in perfumery; the Victoria Violet, and one you might have heard of, the Parma Violet, which grows in Northern Italy. The Parma Violet is considered to be the best, and can be extracted using volatile solvents; although nowadays violets are not grown commercially for perfumery as they are simply so expensive- vast quantities of leaves are required to produce microscopic amounts of essential oil!
The pure scent of violets has become slightly less common in modern perfumery, as our tastes have become attuned to brasher scents with a greater depth and complexity, and the trend is to pick out and mix up individual Ionones (which are the essential chemical components of a violet fragrance). If you love violets however, the unmistakable note of them can still be detected in perfumes such as “Armani Privé: Cuir Améthyste”, or one of my favourites “Angel Garden Of Stars, Violet” by Thierry Mugler.
Violets traditionally have a haunting and elusive quality. In the past they particularly captured the imagination of the Victorians, who almost made a cult of them; as it was felt that their shy, almost transient scent symbolised the melancholy, changeable nature of love. The violet also represented innocence and fragility, both qualities which the rather prudish Victorians saw as representing the perfect feminine archetype.
Shakespeare himself even mentioned violets, describing them as:
”Forward, not permanent;
Sweet, not lasting-
The perfume and
Suppliance of a minute…”
- Maybe this is where the Victorians got their ideas from!