I have a fair bit of time for Tom Ford. What's not to like about a tall, dark, be-sunglassed man in a sharp suit? Or do I mean smooth? Simultaneously smooth and sharp, even. I also have time for some of his fragrances, though the Private Blends are horribly overpriced and tend to stray into "confusing Stella flanker" territory with their collection of musk scents and those ones with "oud" or "wood" or "bois" in the name - not forgetting the various "noir" things. It wouldn't surprise me to find an "Oud Wood Noir" in there too.
Now I did cop for a bottle of White Suede on Ebay, a steal at £50, and I'd happily pull a similar stunt on Neroli Portofino if the opportunity arose. I have yet to try Santal Blush, but the omens are good, not least because of its beguiling New-England-clapboard-house-paint-shade name.
The standard line is more affordable though, and had I not discovered Black Orchid Voile de Fleur so late in the day, I might have bought that one - you know, in an actual shop. As it is, I traded some Plum with Mals86 for a sizeable decant. I am still not sure about regular Black Orchid, though it gets brownie points for being one of the few perfumes to showcase Quorn.
Then White Patchouli is quite ghostly and atmospheric if a little high pitched, and of course we mustn't forget Velvet Gardenia, which deserves its own post if I ever get my hands on a sample again. I remember it as being a tour de force of loucheness and decay that evoked imagery of those dodgy "Eyes Wide Shut"-type parties in The Magus.
And the bottles in the standard range are also sleek and ultra-stylish. Simultaneously reminiscent of hand bells, salvage yard radiators and ribbed hot water bottles, they are beautiful and tactile, as I don't doubt Mr Ford would be if I were ever fortunate enough to get up that close. (To my chagrin, I missed his promotional appearance in Selfridges one time by just five minutes.)
So on to Violet Blonde... Here are the notes, for starters:
Notes: violet leaf absolute, orris, sambac jasmine, mandarin, pink peppercorn, benzoin, cedar wood, Haitian vetiver absolute, musk, suede leather.
On first applying Violet Blonde I got a strong burst of tingling iris, with violet just behind it, and I was not too sure initially where this was going to go and whether it would be for me. It reminded me of the slightly austere opening of 31 Rue Cambon, which is my least favourite part of that otherwise wonderful scent. It also made me think I should retry Annick Goutal Heure Exquise, as that was also ringing a small hand bell. There was a goodly amount of pepper, which may be a relative Johnny Come Lately in the grand scheme of perfumery notes, but feels like an old friend these days - or a friend you are forever bumping into in town, certainly.
Now the opening tingle must be due to the aldehydes, but they are not as pronounced as in Balenciaga Le Dix, which is the other fragrance that springs to mind if you say "violets" and "aldehydes" to me. Le Dix is like Violet Blonde doing a handstand, with all the aldehydes rushing to its head. I don't have a bottle of Violet Blonde yet, so will have to improvise with Le Dix instead. Let's see if I can coax my bottle to do a handstand too. Okay, we'll settle for the cheat's method in a deckchair, but you get the drift. Lovely as Le Dix is, it is way more of an aldehyde sneezefest to be much of an analogy. For me Le Dix is 80% fizz and 20% "violet and everything else" - and violet may not even be listed, but then again there are no aldheydes listed in Violet Blonde, but we'll pay no attention to that either. Violet Blonde, meanwhile, is 40-20% aldehydes and 60-80% "violet and everything else" (depending on when you catch it in its trajectory).
Apart from the creamy woods of the base, the jasmine is the only other thing I can detect, especially as the perfume wears on, and the drydown is spectacular. The texture becomes smooth as satin, and the violet-iris-jasmine trio is very quiet and heartbreakingly pretty. If I were to compare the vibe of the drydown to the beating of a bird's wing then it would have to be the gentle buzz of a humming bird. As opposed to what exactly?, you might well ask, as the needle on your Purple-prose-mograph gives a sudden lurch. Er...the raucous flap of a crow's wing?, I reply, clutching at metaphorical straws and racking my brain for a really loud violet scent. Insolence? One of those muddling "Aimez" ones from Caron? No, my mind's a blank. But anyway, let's skip the bird's wing analogy, violet-themed scent or not, and I'll just stick with smooth as satin for now; with the best will in the world it seems to be impossible to avoid cliches altogether.
Going back to the jasmine, it dominates the drydown for me, and has a juicy bite to it that is nicely counterbalanced by the primer (as in "more prim", as opposed to a basic textbook or that mysterious layer you are meant to put on under foundation) notes of violet and iris. I don't believe I have ever smelt a violet OR iris scent which is this smooth - maybe SL Bas de Soie, if you judge your moment, or Chanel La Pausa. To achieve that texture with both those potentially dusty/earthy/powdery notes in there is a masterstroke on the part of Yann Vasnier, whom I will forever associate with this scent now, along with his recent series of holiday snaps on Facebook. (At least I think that is what they were - everything flashes past so fast there...)
And what of the violets? In his own review of Violet Blonde, Candy Perfume Boy - who kindly thought to send me this sample - stated that the ones in this fragrance are not like those old-fashioned violet scents worn by the sort of grandma he wouldn't wish to have, namely "the dowdy kind that smells of Parma Violets". This got me thinking back to that childish "sweetie shop" style of violet associated with this retro confectionery line. I do find that the iris (in concert with the aldehydes, jasmine and the vetiver that I don't actually smell in its own right) manages to lift the violet note and makes it much more grown up and not remotely cloying or twee.
This talk of Parma Violets had piqued my curiosity now, so I had to go and buy a packet, didn't I, to see how they are today. Still made by Swizzels Matlow, in a factory tucked away in the heart of the Peak District, and costing a bargain 30p. They double up nicely as breath fresheners if, like me, you don't chew gum or care for the glacial blast of a Mint Imperial and its ilk.
Right, I am sucking on one now, and I have to say it is milder and less violet-y than I expected. Most confectionery - chocolate limes, wine gums, the chew formerly known as Opal Fruits etc - are now more outrageously artificial and strong-tasting these day, unless it is just my palate that has changed with age, though I don't think so. But I can report that Parma Violets today are not as sickly as I remember. That said, they don't resemble the violet note in Violet Blonde either, and still wouldn't be right for a perfume, but I think I have definitely found a successor to a TicTac, not to mention yet another Christmas list lemming...
PS If anyone knows of a violet scent with a rough, crow's wing-like feel to it, I would be glad to hear your suggestions!
Photo of Violet Blonde bottle from fragrantica.com, photo of Tom Ford from askmen.com, photo of bell from brosamersbells.com, photo of Parma violets from bestbritishsweets.co.uk, photo of hair model from hji.co.uk, Le Dix photo my own.