Tom Ford Violet Blonde (2011): The Return of the Violent, Neo-Muscadine Perfume {Fragrance Review & Musings} {Violet Notebook}


Violet Blonde is the latest opus by fashion designer and movie director Tom Ford displayed in his more mainstream collection recognizable at-a-glance thanks to the ribbed, flask-like flacons which distinguish themselves from the apothecary-style bottles of his more exclusive, high-end boutique offerings.

The name of the new fragrance is just great. It mixes glamor, beauty and creative perfumery references while calling attention in the advert to a femme fatale with strange tastes, personified by model Lara Stone. Like for Black Orchid, the story of the scent is at least visually speaking a revisit of the noir atmosphere of the sensual and sensational crime scenes of the golden age of Hollywood in the 1940s. As you can see, the Violet Blonde woman is lying on a bed of violets rather than standing up. For some reason that his psychotherapist can better help him sort out, Tom Ford seems to prefer to see static, almost corpse-like feminine Ophelia figures lying on the ground in virtually all of his ads, from Opium to Black Orchid and Tom Ford for Men...

Givenchy's Ricardo Tisci was also interested in that noir climate and launched a fragrance this fall called Black Dahlia. According to the house of Tom Ford,

"Violet Blonde is an opulent, dressed-up fragrance that revives the glamorous past of perfumery, when the most expensive ingredients in the world were crafted into signature scents of sophisticated beauty. It reinvents violet's classic character by juxtaposing its dazzling energy with the cool sensuality of precious orris root. This unexpected relationship reveals a new facet of violet: ravishing, sensual, elegant."

The fragrance was composed by perfumer Antoine Lie of Givaudan and art-directed by Tom Ford. One thing Violet Blonde succeeds in doing in my opinion is in this sense of establishing an unambiguous signature thanks to its strong personality. Like most of Tom Ford perfumes from the past - at Gucci - and present, this one is no shrinking violet. In fact, Violet Blonde reclaims one of the old perfumes by Ford at Gucci as you will see below. The composition affirms a belief in not only creating a sillage but a clear-cut choice. It is not a commitment-shy perfume, is the impression one gets even beyond the contemplation of its aesthetic qualities. It is this uncompromising, trenchant quality that one can appreciate most with this house, here surfing on the delectable nuances of fresh, inky violets and rhizom-y iris while the Sambac jasmine creates a blonde glow from within.


violet-blonde_Tom_ford_bottle.jpgNotes: Violet leaf absolute, iris, sambac jasmine, Italian mandarin, pink peppercorn, creamy benzoin, ORPUR cedar wood, Haitian vetiver absolute, musk, sueded leather.

Violet Blonde opens on an accord of violets, evolving from floral and leafy to powdery and then kid-leather like. This is quickly followed by a more iris-y accord with both root-y and dewy nuances. Luxurious ingredients of Tuscan orris absolute and Tuscan orris butter were used.

Both violet and iris aromas are closely related yet distinct. Often confused and botched in many an unattentive, or simply uninteresting composition, here the perfumer made a point to pair them by distinguishing them subtly. Thus, the fresh nuances of violets sparkling with mandarin are followed by the flour-y, bread-y but also watery nuances of iris, also called orris. The iris also offers green, vegetal-y nuances.The sueded leather accord emphasizes the textural softeness of iris root while creating the impression of a scented leather glove.

But if you thought that Violet Blonde was going to rhapsodize on the many, ambiguous nuances of violet and iris, you would be proven wrong as the pungent animalic facet of the perfume appears, resting upon both musk and leather. The sensation is one of musky leather, of a kid glove violently scented with musk. The violet at this point seems inky and dark.

Knowing the work of Tom Ford, you know that the designer more often than not likes to lay it out thick. This is done here according to that sensitivity. The fact that there is musk aplenty, to my nose, makes it come across as a neo-Muscadin's perfume, a manifesto of elegance expressing itself thanks to an insensitively overapplied dose of musk. During the Directoire period in France, the streets would reek with such olfactive manifestos. One finds again with some excitement this remnant of a time when the effluvia of a perfume had a political credo appended to it.

The violet accord mingles with the overbearing musk and sweaty cumin as if to signal that this violence is willed as it comes from an aesthete who knows what is a sign of elegance and restraint. In this pairing of two contrasted tonalities, the famously delicate violet is preserving its frail accents behind a barrage of muskiness.

At the same time, now from the depth of the perfume comes a mellower note of orange blossom, a natural nuance of sambac jasmine, and there are herbal, aromatic and spicy nuances. The cumin is one of the giveaways to the scoop: this is the return of a great perfume from the house of Gucci, which had been art-directed by Tom Ford: Gucci Eau de Parfum created in 2002 by perfumer Daniela Roche-Andrier, now the nose to Miuccia Prada. She is incidentally also at Givaudan, like perfumer Antoine Lie is.

Inspired originally by the classic L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain, Cucci Eau de Parfum was a much warmer take on the hazy and dreamy Guerlain. One can find in the base of Violet Blonde, the same warm, spicy notes of Gucci EDP but brushed by the purplish tonalities of violets. It does not smell more like L'Heure Bleue, but like a Gucci EDP with violet inflections. It is perhaps not surprising to see this reclaiming gesture smell like a manifesto of sorts. This is, in other, words the scent of a sef-aware iron-fisted signature in a velvet glove. As the development prolongs itself, the traditional softness of violets becomes more perceptible while the pungent animalic current persists. The woods in the base smell at one point more like the more precious sandawood than cedarwood.

What makes Tom Ford perfumes likeable are their parti-pris. The designer does not waste time staying stuck in the middle of the road. So, it clarifies things for you. Either you will adhere or reject the brand's fragrances.

I think that in order to appreciate the house's perfumes you need to open your mind to a certain level of acceptable olfactory violence. But isn't it true that "violet" and "violent" are almost the one and same word, if you don't pay attention and discard olfactory conventions?

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