Parma violets have existed since the 16th century when Count Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza cross-bred two types of viola strains. Of the two types of parma violet he created, only one remains and it is that one which gives us the most beautiful of all violet scents.
The smell of violet comes primarily from chemicals called ionones which were discovered in the late 19th century by mistake when scientists were investigating the odoriferous compounds of orris root in search of violet. They didn’t find it but their lab assistant did when he washed out their reaction vessels with sulfuric acid. That, of course, brings to mind the other famous perfumery mistake (or more likely myth) in which a wrongly dosed (too high) accord of aldehydes led a lab assistant to accidentally create the now famous top notes of Chanel Number 5 (a tweaked version of Ernest Beaux’s Rallet Number 1, in turn a tweaked version of his earlier Bouquet de Catherine made in honor of Catherine the Great of Russia).
What Makes A Good Violet Accord
Obviously a lot of ionones are necessary to make a good violet accord but there is a tendency amongst perfumers to create accords with far too heavy a dose. This may be in part due to the fact that smelling ionones can cause temporary anosmia (loss of the sense of smell) but most likely it is just because the ionones alone have such a distinct violet smell that it seems to make sense that more is good. On the contrary, while the ionones must be a large part of the accord, the real beauty in violets comes not from a heady dose of ionones but ionones nestled in an accord of other supporting notes. In fact, real violets contain only about 30% ionones.
Boronia (a beautifully scented Australian shrub) contains roughly the same amount of ionones which may well be the reason that it works as such an amazing modifier in violet accords. Alas the cost of boronia absolute (five figures per kilo) means it is pretty much never used these days (much like violet absolute which is now all but extinct due to price)..
Violet Accord Modifiers
Other materials that form part of a good violet accord (parma or otherwise) are cassie absolute, civet, benzoin, costus (banned from perfumery nowadays), guaiac, mimosa, reseda (impossible to find), and the methyl carbonates (octine and heptine – allowed in only the tiniest amounts in perfumery now).
This is my personal parma violet accord which spares no expense in its creation. It is a truly beautiful accord base, in part, on a GCMS of the headspace of living parma violets. It has a luscious green foundation with rich florals (ionones, jasmine, ylang ylang) and highlights from rare natural ingredients. This accord is one of the most expensive I use but it is well worth it.
|250||Methyl Ionone||Firmenich’s Iralia is the finest|
|100||Alpha Ionone||Natural is available|
|40||Benzyl Iso Eugenol||Soft spice|
|20||Orris Butter||A base would work if cost is a problem|
|20||Ylang Ylang Extra|
|20||Violet Leaf Absolute||Undiluted|
|18||Jasmine Absolute||A good Jasmin absolute replacer will work|
|14||Dimethyl Hydroquinone||Grassy/Hay note|
|10||Methyl Heptine Carbonate||Undecavertol or Violettyne MIP can replace this|
|5||Dihydro Ionone Beta|
|5||Aldehyde C-8 10%|
|5||Cis 3 Hexenyl Acetate 10%||Spiciness|