Stephen Jones EDP with Comme des Garcons (2008) {Perfume Review & Musings} {Violet Notebook}


Stephen Jones EDP is a violet composition from 2008 that I had wanted to add to the Violet Notebook for a while. It, I think, makes its mark thanks to interesting decorative touches rather than an overhaul of the violet fragrance concept. Like the tilted hats of the British milliner, olfactory colors and brush strokes are added to the sides of the scent, on the edge of a form that itself remains traditional. But at the same time, those touches create mini changes of atmosphere like a change of hats. It is not however a revolutionary pamphlet on violets reworked from the bottom up by a perfumer, in this case Antoine Maisondieu of Givaudan who collaborated with Adrian Joffe and Stephen Jones. I think that Editions de Parfums Dans Tes Bras by Maurice Roucel is more structurally re-thought as a violet perfume than this one is.

I was really glad to find an illuminating quote (and then a few more again later on), or so I think, from the brand head himself about Stephen Jones Eau de Parfum (at the outcome of having reviewed the scent) because I could not quite explain to myself why in the most evocative phase of the perfume I saw the crooked steps of an eccentric medieval church ascending towards god knows what, a church high in the air yet undefined, a church tucked on a promontory on the edge of the sea, maybe at the Mont Saint-Michel.

Jones did not hesitate to use the expression "other-wordly" to describe his conception of both millinery and perfumery,

"Millinery, I think, is closer to fragrance than fashion. A hat, like a perfume, is an evocation of something nebulous, ephemeral, and other-wordly." and about his signature perfume itself, he added that there "There's something innocent and romantic and otherworldly, as well.

A perfume, like a hat and a poem, has the power to evoke a whole poetic universe in a very short form. The brevity of the form conditions the possibility of experiencing perfume, again like a hat and a poem, as a shock, an aesthetic experience that unleashes its effect over a very short span of time, like a metallic coil releasing its tension...


Wash and Go by Stephen Jones from the current exhibit at the V & A Hats: an Anthology by Stephen Jones

Billed as a violet perfume, the composition held the promise of being intriguing because it was accompanied by the unusual clue that "It's a violet that's been hit by a meteorite,". It also promised on top of that to deliver the sensation of a "synthesized cyber aldehyde." In other words, one could expect that violet perfume in particular to leave many of its kindred in the dust, thanks in particular to lunar moon dust.

There was also a wave of violet fragrances in 2008 riding on the tail of the iris wave of 2007 ; a panorama of the violets of 2008 would not have been complete without it.

What is most noteworthy from a perfumery only point of view is a violet and carnation accord in the heart of the scent which partly renews the sensation of the violet scent. It makes you perceive the scent to be purple(/mauve) and red(/white) at the same time, a little bit like this Jordan hat below from the Poseur Autumn/Winter 2003 collection hit by a meteorite.


Stephen Jones the perfume at first is a mineral, fresh, earthy violet scent with some more unexpected touches of woody and fruity "lychee skins" and an ensuing major pas-de-deux with spicy clove and carnation - the fruity lychee accents I deciphered later on which explained to me this impression of smelling of something vaguely fruity, woody, with a twist. The perfume reveals its sexiness only at the very end.

The fragrance initially offers the vision of little violet posies that would have suddenly cropped up on the wet, humid and mossy cobblestone steps of an old, quirky church into which you cannot just enter but have to climb into, so steep are the stairs. This sensation is probably due to a sense of airiness. Jones used a phrase for his 2002 spring/summer High collection, inspired by the British obsession with weather, "...wind-blown asymmetry," a movement that is still found in his most recent collection (I picked the Anna P hat from the 2008 Vanda collection that evoked something of the perfume for me before reading that phrase.), and that I think alludes well to this sensation. The perfume feels slightly askew; there are no straight lines in in it, but there is at the same time a ladder trope of some sort. Obviously, air and reaching out to outer space are ongoing obsessions to Jones.


After this initial slightly disorienting stage (you have been metaphorically hit by a meteorite and are seeing churches atop a spiral staircase, or something), a more contemporary touch is present with a white-soapy background which becomes somewhat more prominent after a little while, evoking clean laundry fresh out of the laundromat. Fortunately for people who favor added layers of complexity some clean, green provençal herbs now mingle with the violets, the soap and the mossy stones such as thyme and rosemary nuances. A sort of silent bubbliness surfaces in its turn (aldehydes) evoking slow champagne bubbles gently appearing then dying away on the surface of humid stones.

To simplify, the overall impression is that of a green, leafy violet perfume with a rather pronounced mineral character. It is ever so slightly sweetened by some vanilla but not enough to make it lose its combined transparent and mineral quality.

The development becomes a bit spicier now conjuring up an embrace between green and purple violets and red and white carnations. This floral spicy stage feels a bit quirky like an old-fashioned carnation perfume with discreet powdery and creamy facets modernized by a stay in the fridge, having captured some of its cold and metallic odors.

The ensuing drydown is soapy, fresh and spicy with a nice musky finish. In the longer drydown it smells of hot skin scented by the trace of licking and saliva rather than anything very animalic and zoo-y. The black cumin here only retains its musky facet and has lost its caraway one.

In fact that musky finale is quite sly, one would be tempted to say, with that no-sex-we-are-British attitude hinted at. There are so many English perfumes that have this bent. They appear at first wistful, dreamy-eyed, misty and mystical, dewy, Gaellic, then a bit more blood-and-flesh where one feels the quick of life (through floral notes and enlivening spices -- ah, the colonies, the Empire, the tea, India, the Jewel of the Crown etc. ) and finally, finally, making their more indecent moves in the last stages of the perfume; I am willing to accept them as being trademark British. I am thinking of perfumes like Floris Malmaison and Penhaligon's Bluebell. They are polite, but only in appearance, and wear a flower at the buttonhole, but only for a time.

Take a more Gallic version of the same and you get a pair of drawers waved at your nose, for better or worse (see Agent Provocateur Strip). The national Vivienne Westwood somehow remembered that only prostitutes wore panties in the 19th century and so she doesn't wear any. if you survive, that means that somehow, you are a proud descendant of the Henri the IVths of France and know that bathing will kill the joy. If you don't, then, the less robust version of the sexual perfume can be found in those sly English florals, and I mean that as a compliment and a practical suggestion (and remember, if you don't wear old-school French perfume, don't wear panties either because they smell the same).

Perfume Notes: clove, carnation, rose, jasmine, heliotrope, gaiac wood, magma, black cumin, vetiver and amber.

Pictures courtesy of Stephen Jones and the V & A

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4 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. M-H, you've of course been able to capture much more of this scent than I did. I was quite caught up in the smell of a rock in space -- do you suppose that is what they are calling 'magma'? -- and trying to reconcile that with the rest of what was going on. Dry, and hard to put a finger on; I like your "licking skin" idea.

    I wish I had gotten more green & leafy, and could replace at least some of the meteorite with at least a dollop of good old dirt from Earth. But that would be a scent *I* want to compose, and obviously not what Mr. Jones had in mind.

    I really must get my nose around some Dans Tes Bras; I think I've been afraid I would like it...

    • Yes, I think that's the allusion to it. But while I was receptive to the other-wordly vibe, I did not really experience the shock of a violet hit by a meteorite. In particular, as fragrances now are able to suggest dynamism, movement and spatial orientation in a very sophisticated way (see Guerlain Insolence and Humiecki & Graef Skarb) I think that more palpable effort could have been made in that direction. Also, Un Matin Après l'Orage is a good example of a fragrance with a dynamism to it: while the natural scent of a gardenia flower is ozonic, in the perfume, there was the added impression of a sort of fury or battle of the elements.

      Chant Wagner
  2. This is such an elegant scent and when I smelled the sample vial I got I knew I wanted more!

    • It does have elegance to it.

      Chant Wagner

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