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.