Dark Violets and Kusmi Tea Violette


I spent the first year of my perfume adventure longing for dark violets. I dreamed of walking through the woods, surrounded by the scent of tiny flowers hidden in the shadows. But every time I opened a sample vial hoping to set out on that journey, I ended up backstage at the follies choking on old-fashioned face powder or sucking on a chalky Choward’s tablet at a bus stop in the rain.


Eventually I found what I was looking for in perfumes like Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette, where the dark violets are paired with a hefty dose of cedar, and another Lutens creation, Feminite du Bois where spiced plums accompany the cedar/violet mix. Creed’s Love in Black gave me a perfect dark violet for the half hour stretch between the opening flourish and the musky/woody drydown. The plush violet smoke weaving in and out of the heart of Guerlain’s discontinued (and much lamented) Attrape Couer taught me that shadow and powder are not always opposites. More recently, perfumer Maria McElroy’s Geisha Violet, showed me that a violet perfume could be candied and dark at the same time. McElroy makes her sweet, dark violets shimmer with a touch of genuine lilac essence–not a watery spring lilac but a warm, slightly spicy summer flower–and then darkens the mix with bitter, unfoody chocolate. The result is odd, compelling, changeable and beautiful.


By the time I heard about Kusmi’s Tea Violette from my friend Jessica, of the charming Tinsel Creation, my love of violet scents had expanded to include delicate green violets and even the occasional Chowards-ish spritz, but what captured my imagination was the thought of black tea and a velvet touch of dark violet. And that, wonder of wonders, is exactly what it is.

I don’t often drink flavored teas. Tea has a startling range of scents and flavors on its own and too often I find added flavorings mask rather than enhance these. (I stopped by a tea shop chain in Manhattan recently that smelled and tasted like a Yankee Candle factory.) But in Tea Violette, the violet brings out the floral aspect of the black tea, while the woody tea, with its hint of tannic bitterness, grounds the violets in much the same way that the cedar and bitter chocolate do in Bois de Violette and Geisha Violet. Sniffed straight from its pretty tin, Tea Violette is a gorgeous dark violet with a touch of powder. On the tongue the violet is more muted, a soft, dark sweetness with just enough presence to transform the good black tea.


I always think of Geisha Violet and Tea Violette together, not only because they share notes, but because I tried them both for the first time in the same whirlwind week in New York–a week full of perfume, friends, and many moments when I had to stop myself and take note that yet another thing I had imagined was now coming to be. Geisha Violet came straight from the perfumer herself, a sample slipped to me at the counter of a bar so glamorous I would never have gone there on my own. I already had my tin of Tea Violette in my bag–Jessica and I had stopped at the Kusmi boutique on our way there. I made my first pot of Tea Violette at the end of that week. It was raining, and I was very content to be alone and quiet in my tiny, borrowed New York apartment, with the scent of black tea and violets all around me. Whenever I drink it now a little of that day comes along with it–a little glamor, a little peace, a little daydream come true.


Image: Edited to be Viola Odorata by the Swedish botanist C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928) because the photo I took of my Kusmi tea tin was so blurry it was making my eyes cross. You can see it on their website.

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  • kathleen says:

    I found my perfect violet, and then I lost it. Ava Luxe Midnight Violet, now extinct. The search goes on.

  • Maria says:

    The tea sounds so lovely. I have to admit that my own taste in violet perfumes is unadventurous. The only one I wear much is Caron Violette Precieuse, the new version.

    • Alyssa says:

      Oh, but I like that one, Maria. It is clear and gentle. Hm. Working on a post right now about tender perfumes, perhaps it merits an honorable mention.

  • ScentScelf says:

    I am STILL looking for the ideal dark violet. Have been down the C.Howard’s lane…a few times.

    Have not tried Geisha Violet, however, and given my deep like veering toward a relationship for Geisha Noire, I raise my head with hope.

    I have tried Violette Precieuse, both old and new. The vintage was…a revelation. One of those things I put on early in my perfume journey, in a dual trial with vintage Jolie Madame. Jolie Madame comes hard and fast out of the gate, so I thought that was going to be the thing. Until I was half an hour into my walk through a beautiful late-autumn day, warm enough at that point to pull off my gloves…and oh! that smell! that glorious smell!!!

    Alas, the vintage is rare enough that even I, with a snail’s patience, have not scored any. I gave up looking after a few years. But I still remember that day.

    Sometimes, I wonder if the chase is part of the entertainment.

    Anyway, I shall be mindful of the Geisha Violet. And find me some of that there tea you mention.

    And note that bar, which looks swell. I think I’ve a better chance of getting there in the next five years than getting another vial of vintage VP. And I can see if the bartender has some Creme de Violette on the shelf.

    • Alyssa says:

      Ha! You have to *ask* if the chase is part of the entertainment? :-)

      I love what you say about Jolie Madame. I snagged a small vial of the vintage parfum early on and just didn’t get it. Then tried again (what was that about the chase?) with the EDT and yes, oh my, after the initial burst of leather/galbanum/aldehydes/fancy lady that smooth leather violet is just divine. I should go put some on right now.

      I should do a follow up post about Creme de Violette, which I have on my shelf right now. Such a pretty, silly drink.

      • Olga (Warum) says:

        Coming quite late to the violet party — just saying, yes, please, I would like to know about that silly drink!

        And while I’m at it, thanks for making a point about Geisha Violet. Yep, Noire was great, time to sample the line.

  • dabney says:

    Alyssa, you always strike my chords.
    I remember ordering a box of Chowards back in ….1973…and have hailed Maria’s Geisha Violet as my favorite perfume, which is a lot for a perfumer to say! I’ve yet to try the tea so here goes!

    • Alyssa says:

      Your enthusiastic endorsement of Geisha Violet is part of what made me eager to try it, Dabney! I hope you like the tea. I bet you could make your own if you have a crop of violets on the property…

  • Elizabeth says:

    I know exactly how you feel about violet. My first experience with the note was a violet-scented soap. I was expecting enchanting woodland flowers, but what I got was the scent of faintly woodsy, green disappointment. The first violet I truly loved was Apres l’Ondee. I discovered it in a sample swap seven years ago and immediately fell in love. I suppose I prefer my violets under a cloudy sky, wrapped up in heliotrope. I have gone through at least three bottles of it since then!
    The tea sounds lovely. I used to love the rose-scented tea at Takashimaya.

    • Alyssa says:

      Elizabeth, I love the way you describe your ideal violets! I so wanted to love Apres L’Ondee–everyone made it sound so beautiful, and there was that name, but for several years I just couldn’t get my nose/head/heart around it. Then a kind perfume friend gifted me with a dab of vintage extrait. What a revelation! It really deserves a post of its own. A truly moving perfume. And it seemed to teach me the outlines of the perfume, the bones of it, so now I have a bottle of the EDT, newish, that love.

  • Katie says:

    Such lovely writing, Alyssa. As a tea lover, I agree that added flavorings can go horribly awry – but this one sounds exquisite.

    • Alyssa says:

      That’s right, you are a tea person! The thing about this one is that the flavoring is such a good match for the tea, and they seem to have balanced it just at the point where it is definitely, satisfyingly present but not overwhelming. Hard to do, judging by the other flavored teas I’ve sampled.

  • kathleen says:

    Caron Aimez-Moi with that hit of anise and mint is certainly sniff-worthy. As is, Creed Love in Black

    • Alyssa says:

      I really like Love in Black for the stretch that I mention above, but the ending disappoints me. And thanks for mentioning Aimez-Moi, I need to give that one another try now that my tastes have expanded–I definitely think of it as a cousin to Apres L’Ondee. Such a pretty thing.

      • kathleen says:

        Oh, yeah, there’s your mention of LiB. Don’t know how I missed it :)

        • Alyssa says:

          It’s a long sentence. :-)

          Meanwhile I went and dug up my Aimez-Moi samp and am very glad to be trying to be trying it again. I still have trouble with the opening–sort of too clean and shampoo-ish for me, but I’m getting more of the anise now that you’ve drawn my attention to it and it is verrry, verrry nice.

  • kathleen says:

    I had to come back, as I thought of 2 more that you should try, if you haven’t already. Roxana Illuminated Perfume’s Gracing the Dawn and Soivohle’s Purple Smoke. These are naturals, I believe

    • Alyssa says:

      I carry a solid sample of Gracing Dawn in my purse for emergencies. I love it, though to me it doesn’t smell dark. I put it in the green category–maybe the name makes it impossible for me to smell darkness in it! Purple Smoke I think I’ve tried. Will have to hunt through my samples…

  • Roxana says:

    Gosh, how I adore a true violet note! In November the violets here will begin blooming again, this year besides the wild variety I will have a true parma to experiment with. Can’t wait!

  • Wendy Turgeon says:

    As a total perfume novice (but new devotee) I relish your descriptions of the stages of a perfume and its sense qualities. I love violets, although lilacs have always been my first passion. Every spring I wait for my lilac bushes to bloom and during their scant season, I breathe deeply and treasure them.
    I do know a bit about tea as a complete tea addict and I do enjoy flavored teas if done right. Upton Tea Importers and Harney’s Tea are top-notch to me. Nowhere near “Yankee Candle” (ugh!) But tea pure and not-so-simple is still the best.
    Now I must find Geisha Violet. Thank you for your delightful tours into the world of scent.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Wendy! I too am a devotee of Upton Tea. I love their Magnolia Oolong and Green Jasmine Pearls. The lilac note in Geisha Violet is subtle and weaves in and out–you have to watch for it–but it’s definitely there. The perfumer told me she uses a natural lilac essence, something I didn’t even know existed. Most lilac perfumes are magic tricks, accords created from other materials. But if you are anywhere near a Barney’s do sniff Frederic Malle’s En Passant. It’s a lilac of the cool, watery type but a very lovely one.

  • Maria McElroy says:

    Thank you so much for mentioning my Geisha Violet perfume Alyssa! I am thrilled that we were able meet at the Nomad, as you know one of my favorite NY haunts and share perfumes, was such fun!

  • laure says:

    Thankyou I really enjoyed your interpretation of walking though the violets…and I remember overhearing an adult in passing as a young 13 year old which never left me, Josephine always carried a cotton hanker chief once dipped in essence of violet by her beau, Bonaparte before flinging himself in yet another battle. And so it is said Violet along with Rosemary hold a special place in human neurotransmission for memory.


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