There’s a romantic garden at the heart of Violette Noyée from Sultan Pasha Attars, similar to the one in Guerlain‘s vintage Apres L’Ondee. It’s a garden filled with sweet, fresh flowers, laden with dew in the cool morning light, unfurling amidst green vegetation, and then blooming with lush abandon. Violette Noyée (hereinafter spelled without the accent) means “drowned violet,” but that is only one of the many elements at play in this rich, complex tableau. Lilacs, iris, mimosa, jasmine, heliotrope, a wonderful recreation of hyacinths, and other flowers grow far and wide, all set against a rich tapestry of greenness, wet earth, and dark musks. A cool winter light shines upon them, slowly turning warm and golden. Eventually, an ambered haze falls over the garden, first encasing the flowers, then erasing them in waves of brown velvet and musky ambered sweetness. It’s a fragrance that is quite different from Apres L’Ondee in its particular details, its feel, and its development, but the same romanticism is at play in both fragrances, which makes the attar a great alternative for fans of the discontinued Guerlain fragrance.
Violette Noyee is an attar or a concentrated perfume oil (“CPO”) that was released earlier this year. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know all about the Sultan Pasha Attar line by now since I’ve covered more than 25 of them in the last year. Like the others, Violette Noyee has a slew of notes and significantly greater richness than even other attars, so much so that you only need a single drop which the perfumer advises applying with the tip of a paperclip. Like the others, there is such density and such a long note list that if you apply anything more than a drop, even if it’s just two, then you’re likely to end up with a totally unbalanced blanket of dark muskiness in which all the individual notes have been obliterated to hell. Where Violette Noyee deviates from many of its siblings is in the tenderness, delicacy, and softness of its bouquet on my skin, despite the attar having enormous richness at the same time. It’s not an intensely dark scent with a pronounced masculine streak, and it’s far more nature-driven in its focus than some of the others.
Like Apres L’Ondee, Violette Noyee successfully evokes the image of a magical secret garden, but it’s a different garden initially from the one in the other two fragrances. It’s a teaming, wild place untamed by dainty or civilized landscaping, one which grows under a winter’s light before it slowly transitions to spring and, then, eventually, turns autumnal in its ambered muskiness. Violette Noyee’s later stages, its drydown, and its textural weight are also different from Apres L’Ondee.
Violette Noyee has many of the same ingredients as Apres L’Ondee, but not all, and it has quite a few extras as well. There is no lavender, rosemary, or bergamot. There are no aldehydes, either the real sort or some recreated approximation via anise. In fact, there is no anise at all, although the type of hawthorn used here mimics some of its aromas. Aside from the huge quantity of violety orris, expensive iris butter absolute, and heliotrope, Violette Noyee also contains: lilac, lily of the valley (muguet), carnation, a ton of mimosa, ylang ylang, orange blossom, jasmine grandiflorum absolute, Rose de Mai, labdanum amber, ambergris, patchouli, tonka, and Tahitian vanilla absolute. There is sandalwood which is the genuine, rare Mysore variety, and the ambergris is also genuine, not synthetic. In fact, it’s the top grade — white ambergris — which Sultan Pasha macerated by hand. The lemon used is the sweeter, richer Meyer lemon variety. And, while it feels like it to me and on my skin, there is no vetiver but a huge amount of violet leaf instead. (Vetiver is on the Guerlain Perfumes blog’s reformulated note list for Apres L’Ondee.) I’m not normally a fan of violet leaf because it’s usually like a sharp, shrieking, citrusy, green knife blade, but this is the most remarkable one that I’ve ever encountered because it not only mimics vetiver in all its facets but also oakmoss, galbanum, green sap, roots, and so, so much more. Simply exceptional quality.
Violette Noyee attar opens with dewy violets and heady purple lilacs, joined together by jasmine that is fresh, bridal, musky, and syrupy all at the same time. The lilacs and violets ooze bitter green sap from their crushed stems, and there is such a crystalline clarity to the sappy floral greenness that, to my nose, it consistently recreates the scent or impression of hyacinths. If I love lilacs, I’m absolutely crazy about hyacinths which are my second favourite flower both in real life and in perfumery, so you can imagine my delight at the way the notes have come together.
Just as in Apres L’Ondee, there is powdery sweetness here, too, but it doesn’t smell of heliotrope’s meringues. At first, it stems purely from the lilacs and then, quickly, from the mimosa as well. 10 minutes in, the latter swirls in a cloud of bright yellow, its pollen and fluffiness smelling truer, deeper, and more beautiful than any mimosa fragrance that I’ve encountered in years.
Greenness grows in thick, velvety waves all around the flowers, and it goes far beyond the exquisite hyacinth-like floral sap or the crushed stems of the flowers. The remarkable violet leaf mimics vetiver to an astonishing degree, growing lush, piquant, and leafy, wafting the full range of vetiver’s notes from sweet grasses, to damp vegetation, woody earthiness, and mossiness. Even stronger is the sense of rootiness, but I’d swear that it smells more like the vetiver sort on my skin than anything close to iris. The violet leaf is so multi-faceted, nuanced, and complex that it smells as though actual oakmoss were folded within the greenness as well as cool, bitter galbanum.
The intricate nature tableau does not end there. Hawthorn sprouts in large clumps, smelling like fallen, corroded tree trunks lying amidst even more wet leaves on the floor of a forest. Dark, loamy soil and slightly animalic musks rise like steep black walls from a nearby pond, its water almost fetid from its winter blanket of algae, soggy leaves, woody detritus, slightly decomposing flowers, and their chewn, broken stems. Together, the notes resemble water that’s been left in a vase after several days, imbued with green bitterness, sap, and floral staleness, except this version is woody, earthy, mossy, leafy, sweet, and nicely, prettily floral as well.
This teaming, busy garden grows unfettered under a winter sky whose aldehydic light is initially cold and grey. Its speckled with tiny clouds of chilled citruses, stony floral iris, and anise’s crisp, fresh, and slightly herbal green fronds. However, having said that, the sense of anything properly aldehydic is significantly and dramatically reduced as compared to Apres L’Ondee. There neither an olfactory nor a textural lightness to the scent. In my estimation, the strongest component to the cold and wintry feel of Violette Noyee’s opening is the iris, the cleanness which its floralcy often bears, and its profound coolness.
The focus and nature of the garden change, but its feel continues to be different than Apres L’Ondee. In the first 30 minutes, the focal point of Violette Noyee is centered on the pond, its murky green waters, the earthen banks that encircle it, the dark muskiness they exude, and the vegetal detritus strewn all around them. The dominant notes on my skin are the violet leaf and its mimicked, recreated sense of vetiver, galbanum, oakmoss, and bitter hyacinth-like sap oozing from crushed stalks. Peeking out from behind this rich, deep thicket are the purple lilacs and the bright mimosa. The violets, jasmine, and iris are wholly impressionistic brushstrokes that either fill in the gaps or flicker in the background.
In contrast, the opening of Apres L’Ondee skewed differently. In the vintage extrait, it was all about the sense of light recreated by the aldehydes and a garden that was presented in its broadest, most sweeping panoramic view. In the eau de cologne, the brushstrokes, the scope, and the size of the garden may have differed, the subject matter of the painting was basically the same. Neither one included lilacs, mimosa, recreations of hyacinths, or strong touches of jasmine. In addition, the visuals and feel of the two paintings differ. If Apres L’Ondee was painted in pastel colours in the impressionistic style, Violette Noyee is more like one of Gainsborough’s landscapes where there is some light but it’s juxtaposed with darkness and painted in heavy oils.
Violette Noyee changes after 45 minutes. Its focus splits, starting to pan in on the flowers, instead of centering purely on the green accords. The visuals change as a result as well. I can’t get over the stunning recreation of lilacs, the constant whisper of “hyacinths,” and the way the mimosa is simultaneously heady, fragile and fluffy. The other flowers are slowly unfurling their petals at the same time, starting with heliotrope and followed by a liquidy floral whiteness that lies halfway between lilies and orchids. There is a growing floral spiciness, even if it hasn’t coalesced yet into carnation, and also a quiet, soft streak of ylang ylang, wafting a spicy, custardy, floral richness that is lovely. All these flowers are tied together with thick chords of purple, smelling half of fresh, dewy, green-edged violets, half of violet-scented, waxy lipsticks.
The transition is complete by the end of the first hour and the start of the second. The dark earth, damp vegetation, wet leaves, and pond water retreat to the sidelines, leaving only dew and the violet leaf behind on center stage. The latter is a quiet touch that pays obeisance to the series of flowers now dancing in the spotlight, pirouetting one after another. Their growing warmth reaches up to the sky, filling it with rainbow hues that put an end to the winter light, the coolness, and the lingering sense of vaguely aldehydic freshness.
The cumulative effect ushers in Spring in a kaleidoscope where every note is clear, even if their degrees or strength differ, and each one contributes to a large, sweeping, complex, and nuanced panorama that ends up being greater than its individual parts. It’s a tableau painted in vibrant colours but also in the heaviest oils, a mix of neon brightness, pastels, darkness, and musky shadows. All of it has the textural depth and body of sumptuous velvet brocade, rather than the silks, mousseline and chiffons of the two Guerlains.
Violette Noyee changes direction several times in the hours that follow. Roughly 2.5 hours into its development, the painting dissolves into something simpler and hazier, turning into a floral bouquet centered primarily on a duet of violets and spicy, sweet carnations. Green leaves surround them, but they’re shrinking in size and there is now a growing woodiness underlying the scent. More importantly, the various amber notes have risen from the base, enveloping the flowers in a heavy, bronzed muskiness.
By the end of the 4th hour and the start of the 5th, Violette Noyee no longer evokes a garden at all, even though the scent continues to be partially floral in nature. Instead, the fragrance has turned into spicy, musky, brown floral velvet that hovers just above the skin. There are tiny flickers of purple, but they don’t really translate as “violet” on my skin. Plus, they’re overshadowed by the ylang ylang which has returned, imparting a custardy creaminess to the scent which is further amplified by the Mysore sandalwood and the Tahitian vanilla. Everything else is a blur, so blanketed by ambergris and resinous muskiness that their shape is impossible to see through the brown-gold haze.
To my surprise, though, things change when the 7th hour rolls around. For a short while, the notes snap back into focus. The iris and mimosa return, joining the carnation, ylang, and the remaining wisps of violet. Despite the mimosa’s return, there is little to no powderiness about the scent. It’s swallowed up by the layers of rich vanilla which now laps at the flowers’ edges as well as by the haze of musky, caramel-scented ambergris that continues to hang over everything.
Two hours later, around the 9th hour, the drydown begins and the layers dissolve again. Now, Violette Noyee is a simple swirl of spicy, floral sweetness enveloped within musky goldenness. If I bury my nose deep in my arm and inhale, I can just about make out the shape of carnation and ylang under the thick blanket of amber, vanilla, resins, and tonka, but it requires effort. Still, it’s a cozy scent, coating the skin like a silk cashmere pashmina that is three-quarters oriental-gourmand, one-quarter floral spiciness.
What I like most about the drydown is the unexpected nuttiness that slowly begins to emerge around the 10th hour. It smells like toasted hazelnuts. I cannot fathom its source, but it soon becomes a major part of the drydown bouquet, swirling with the labdanum, benzoin, and creamy vanilla in a way that is rather delectable. The ambergris’ golden muskiness remains as strong as ever, but the last traces of spicy floralcy have now disappeared. In Violette Noyee’s final hours, all that’s left is musky sweetness.
Violette Noyee had good longevity, but it was on the lower side for a Sultan Pasha attar, as were its sillage and projection. Some of the really dark SPA attars are powerhouses, even with a small amount, but Violette Noyee is on the softer side on my skin. There is also a very strange paradox where the scent simultaneously felt very rich, heavy, light, and soft at the same time. Using several generous smears of a paperclip tip amounting to roughly 1 and a half drops, Violette Noyee opened with about 4 inches of projection and roughly 5-6 inches of sillage. Roughly 2.5 hours in, the projection was between 2 to 2.5 inches, while the sillage was around 3. Violette Noyee turned into a skin scent on me 5.75 hours into its development. It required a degree of effort to detect from the 8th hour onwards but, in total, it lasted just under 13 hours.
On two occasions, I resisted the temptation to triple my dosage in order to get a really big hit of the glorious lilacs in the opening but, the third time, I gave in and emptied what was left of my sample vial on my arm. It must have been about 2 drops and it had the intended effect of amplifying the lilacs, mimosa, and the “hyacinth,” but only for a short while. As I had feared, increasing the amount did what it always does with the Sultan Pasha attars: it turned everything lopsided, blurred most of the notes, destroyed their complexity and nuances, threw the fragrance’s balance out the window, then rapidly pulverized everything in an intense haze of muskiness. Violette Noyee may not be so dark, dense, and intense as something like Tabac Grande, Ame Sombre, or Pure Incense — attars which are best with only a few light specks of a paper clip — but it still goes haywire if you apply too much and by “too much,” I mean anything more than a mere two drops. These simply are not normal attars, let alone something which can be applied like a traditional fragrance, so please keep that in mind if you are new to the SPA line.
I’d like to share details of other people’s experiences with Violette Noyee with you, but I’m afraid can’t. The Basenotes thread where the early SP Attars were discussed has fallen into disuse since all the discussion migrated to the closed Facebook group for the brand, and I won’t violate their privacy. I can tell you that most fans of Apres L’Ondee adore the attar, but that a handful of Guerlain purists much prefer the original. They find Violette Noyee too musky and too heavy, lacking in Apres L’Ondee’s aldehydic sparkling light, sheerness, delicacy, and pastel hues. The amount of oil that they are applying might possibly be a factor, but only a small one because they’re right, Violette Noyee is muskier, darker, heavier, and denser. It’s neither a sparkling nor a gossamer rainbow of freshness. It’s certainly not the heliotrope powder puff that Apres L’Ondee became in its 1980s EDT version. In fact, I don’t think Violette Noyee is really driven by heliotrope at all. On my skin, Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue were both centered on a central heliotrope-violet-tonka chord from the 1980s onwards, both are described as heliotrope-fragrances by people like Luca Turin, and both are essentially powdery, sweet fluff balls with aromas of meringue, marshmallows, floral-lipsticky violets, and vanillic sweetness.
That is absolutely not the case with Violette Noyee on my skin. It hews closely to Apres L’Ondee in its 1950s vintage extrait form, but, even then, it’s not identical in either scent or emphasis. On me, Violette Noyee has practically no anise and hardly any heliotrope. What powder that it does have is both highly curtailed in nature and different in aroma; it does not skew to meringues or marshmallows, but to iris, lilacs, and mimosa. Plus, the floral emphasis here is on a panoply of flowers, not merely the violets or iris. Even when the latter are at the forefront of the scent, they still feel quite different than the way they are presented in Apres L’Ondee because of the difference in the ratio of the other notes. All of this is quite separate from the minimized “aldehydes,” the hugely increased amber presence, its muskiness, and the way these things impact both the visual/symbolic light in the fragrance and its body.
The best way to explain it is to think of a “cover song” of an old classic. “Covers” can turn into something quite different if the singer changes the melody, his vocal emphases, the tempo, the beat, and the accompaniments. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in the hands of Bon Jovi, or Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life” performed by Gwen Stefani share a broad esprit de corps to the originals, but the details and entire feel of each song has been altered. Apres L’Ondee is the olfactory equivalent of an ethereal chorus singing Hallelujah, while Violette Noyee mixes their refrains with Bon Jovi’s growling voice and rock and roll.
In short, if you buy Violette Noyee expecting either an identical or an extremely close facsimile of Apres L’Ondee, you’re going to be disappointed. “Fresh” and “light” are not the order of the day, neither literally nor figuratively nor on an olfactory basis. On the other hand, if you would enjoy Apres L’Ondee’s garden painted in just as much scope as the vintage extrait, but in rich oils, amber, and earthier hues, if you’d like the scent to feel like thick velvet on your skin, and if you’d hope for greater longevity and presence, then Violette Noyee might suit you very well.
These are the precise reasons why I personally prefer the attar, and why I plan to buy it instead of holding out hope for an eBay bottle of the Guerlain vintage extrait. Violette Noyee suits my personal style and tastes better. I like bolder, more intense, heavier, and richer scents. I’m crazy about hyacinth and lilacs even more than I like heliotrope, and amber wins out any day over the dreaded aldehydes, no matter how bearable they are in Apres L’Ondee. On top of all that, Violette Noyee performs better on my skin in terms of longevity and has more of a presence. As I wrote in the Apres L’Ondee review, the extrait acted more like an eau de parfum or a very strong eau de toilette on me, and it was 60+ years old, so it was actually stronger and richer than it ever would have been originally! Given how rare and expensive it is to find Apres L’Ondee in any form, let alone as an extrait or one with great age, the balance of factors tips firmly towards Violette Noyee for me.
The calculations may be different for you but, if you love this genre of perfumery, then I think you should try the attar for yourself. You may be happily surprised. After all, a little rock and roll can be just as enjoyable as a heavenly choir, and the combination of the two may be the best of both worlds.
Disclosure: My sample of Violette Noyée attar was provided courtesy by Sultan Pasha. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.