Scent Semantics, June 6

Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for June is “vivacious”, which seems appropriate for the start of summer. One dictionary gives the following definition and example: “attractively lively and animated (typically used of a woman).” E.g.,”her vivacious and elegant mother.” It feels like a slightly old-fashioned word to me, an impression that is reinforced by the name of one fragrance I considered writing about this month, Diana Vreeland Vivaciously Bold. Diana Vreeland was the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine in the 1960s, and before that a columnist and the fashion editor at rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. A famous style-setter, her distinctive, breezy writing style included a vocabulary straight from the 1920 and 30s, her own heyday as a young socialite, often combined into pairs of adverbs and adjectives, and she loved to make pronouncements like ”lettuce is divine, although I’m not sure it’s really food.” D.V., as she was known, was a fascinating, larger-than-life figure in the world of fashion, her career culminating in her 70s when she became the first consultant to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. There, she initiated not only its famously quirky, brilliant exhibitions of fashion, but its even more famous annual Met Gala, a benefit ball marking the opening of exhibitions, which has become the fashion and social event of the year for many celebrities.

Lilly Singh in purple-shaded ball gown
Lilly Singh, Met Gala, 2019; Getty Images

However, just as I was settling down to write this post, a discovery set of Hiram Green’s fragrances arrived in the mail, and it included his 2020 scent Vivacious. I’ve been wanting to try the range of his fragrances, and this seemed like the perfect time to start! So D.V. will have to wait; Hiram Green it is.

Vivacious is presented as an updated violet-focused fragrance: “a violet-themed perfume that takes its cue from those prim Victorians who adored this precious flower so much. Updated for the 21st century, this scent has a happy and carefree flair…  an exuberant and joyful perfume. Perfect to zing your life.” And you know, it actually is exuberant and joyful, but not because of the violet accord. It opens with bright bergamot, and it includes one of my favorite scents, that of carnations, and it is the floral spiciness of that carnation accord that makes my nose crinkle in pleasure. Carnations also evoke summer for me, probably because of Sargent’s famous painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose“, one of my favorite works of art and itself evocative of a fragrance I love, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

Carnation fragrances seemed for a while to have fallen out of favor, but Vivacious was launched in 2020, so maybe they will make a comeback, just as Diana Vreeland had several comebacks in her long career! I don’t want to overlook the lovely violet accord in Vivacious, though, because it is very special and lovely. Violet fragrances became popular at the very end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century because chemists developed synthetic ionones, which allowed for much less expensive perfumes that smelled like violets. Two of the most famous fragrances of the early 20th century, Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Aprés L’Ondée, used synthetic ionones to great effect to evoke the nostalgic scent of violets.

Clump of wild purple violets
Wild violets; image from New Jersey Native Plant Society

They and many other “violet” fragrances tend toward the sweet and powdery, but in Vivacious, Hiram Green has given us a lively violet, true to its name — less candied or powdery, with a freshness and lift from a juicy bergamot opening. As the brand’s website notes, “The fragrance opens with bright and joyful bergamot that seamlessly merges into a floral bouquet of flirty violet and spicy carnation. Waxy orris smoothly anchors this boisterous heart and soft, powdery amber adds a warm and luxurious finish.”

Whenever I think of violet bouquets, I think of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”, selling her bunches of violets outside the opera house in London, then being slowly transformed into someone who looks like the perfect lady but retains her Cockney sass. Vivacious would be a perfect scent for her, once she could afford to buy fragrance later in the story, with its bright bergamot, nostalgic violets, and sassy carnation.

I was interested to learn, while doing a little research for this post, that the chemists who first synthesized ionones apparently did so in part by studying orris root oil, which also contains natural ionones but was less expensive than natural violet absolute. Which brings us back to Hiram Green, who has famously made all-natural fragrances his hallmark, eschewing the use of synthetics. This makes Vivacious a mischievous reference to the start of modern perfumery with the synthesization of ionones, which I find charming. Given the inclusion of orris as a note in Vivacious‘s pyramid structure, I must conclude that he used the natural ionones in orris root to create a vision of violets, which then fades away to reveal iris. If you like floral scents, especially if you like notes of violet and iris, this is one you must try.

As it dries down, Vivacious becomes less lively and more serene. Usually I find lavender scents to be the most calming, but the later stages of Vivacious, still dominated by orris, are just as soothing. There is still a lingering spiciness from the carnation accord, which of course I enjoy, and which I think must be based at least partly on clove oil. I love the way Hiram Green has enfolded the soft violet accord within the bright bergamot opening, the spicy carnation accord, and the warm amber base.

Do you have any favorite violet scents? Or any others that evoke vivacity (def.: ” the quality of being attractively lively and animated; ex.: he was struck by her vivacity, humor and charm”)? Please check out the other Scent Semantics posts from my fellow bloggers!

2 thoughts on “Scent Semantics, June 6

  1. I haven’t sniffed this; enjoy the Hiram Green perfumes that I have tried. I have a bottle of Apres l’Ondee, and both Wood Violet and voile de violette from Sonoma Scent Studio. And Goutal La Violette – so I guess I quite enjoy violets!

    Liked by 1 person

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