Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens (1992)

Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens

Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens

The perfume that launched a thousand ships.

For me anyway.

Bois de Violette was my first bottle of Serge Lutens.  My first dropping of an ungodly amount of money on a fragrance.  My first idea that this whole perfume thing had more to it than I ever imagined.

It is the Proust Questionnaire writ en perfume:  When and Where were you happiest?  If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be? What historical figure do you most identify with?

What is your greatest extravagance?

Ahem.

Before we get into me handing over my credit card at Barney’s while doing some deep breathing exercises, I suppose it’s important to note that Bois de Violette is a flanker.

The original.  The big Momma.  The first Serge Lutens is Feminite du Bois originally by Shiseido. It is iconic.  It is one of the best.  And it is a shining example of what niche perfumery can do.  Check it out.  I’ll review it some day.

In the meantime, experimentally, Christopher Sheldrake (the perfumer) decided to dink around with the formula and pop up one of the notes to 11 while keeping the “bois (i.e. woods)” intact.  What followed was Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc, Un Bois Vanille (Which always makes me go “That is one Woodsy Vanilla!”),Orientale, Santal de Mysore, Chene, Sepia and Bois de Violette.  While I have given good sniff to some of these, I can only speak to Violette.

It’s a darker violet than most violet perfumes which tend to be rather simple and girlish.

It’s a rainy day at the library.

It’s a deep thought.

It’s an Eddie Izzard riff on European history.  Same gender confusion and all the better for it.

This is not a perfume of sex, death and religion but rather a dissertation regarding all three.

My parents love to watch a show about Monarchy and they do impressions of the host who always says very British things like, “So it remained for years, ” except it comes out “yee-ahssss.”

And so Bois de Violette is professorial in nature and has a bit of a tweediness and yet it is as French as French can be. Mr. Proust, we meet again.

But for this Midwesterner…

Who gives a shit?  It’s great!

In the words of a fellow American philosophizer, the esteemed Gomer Pile, “Makes ya think.”

(My reaction when I smelled Bois de Violette for the first time.)

It DOES make you think.  It’s thoughtful, studious, and takes itself a little seriously, and yet in the end it’s simply the one of the greatest violet perfumes ever conceived.  So prepare yourself, Bois de Violette may ask you the big questions:

What is a trait you most deplore in yourself?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?

What flower do you like?

Violets.

Cristalle by Chanel (1974)

Cristalle:  It gives you wings!

I hate to draw a classic Chanel into the world of energy drinks but there is an undeniably uplifting quality to Cristalle.  It, like it’s champagney name, feels effervescent.

But not.  I repeat.  NOT ditzy, so put down the can of Red Bull and pick up the glass of Veuve.  Come along and let’s examine.

Cristalle is what I would call a green citrus.  It has more staying power than your average citrus and it’s a more complex composition as well which puts it on a bit of a pedestal. Citruses have a tendency to be fleeting little things on one hand, or masculines on the other.  While I think it would do well on a man (Lovers of Aqua di Parma take note), it never crosses that stereotypical masculine threshold.

It is unbelievably refreshing.  On a practical level, it would do well on public transportation on a hot day.  I can nearly imagine being thanked by fellow passengers should anyone particularly gamey be nearby.  It’s an antidote to stonk and grunge.  I’m sure there are people that dislike Cristalle, or are ambivalent, at least, but I simply can’t imagine it.

I’ve heard it described as a fragrance that would do well on a blonde.  Sure, I suppose.  I think the real imagery, however, is that of an ice queen of no particular appearance but rather a certain behavior and bearing.  Cristalle, as exhilarating as it can be, is not a warm and inviting presence.  It’s crisp, but not sharp.  Cool, but not frozen.  It’s sophisticated and does not overpower, in sillage at least.  Psychologically, it’s a different story.

I loved Cristalle at first sniff very early in my perfume journey.  It’s not a particularly difficult perfume to like, although I don’t know a lot of people (other than me) who downright love it.  I think what roped me was, having come from a world of ditzy fruity florals and a lone bottle of Coco Mademoiselle (I’ve ALWAYS loved that Chanel base), Cristalle makes it immediately clear it is well made and may make you question the quality of other fragrances.  It is a well-tailored suit.  A perfect little white sheath dress (with killer heels).

Frankly, it’s a little bitchy.  It kind of has a Lady Tremaine feel about it

Anna Wintour probably puts it on after she’s eaten her young.  (Well, you wouldn’t want anything heavy after that.)

So no Cristalle probably isn’t going to the party (you totally invited her), but she’ll get you through a long day.

Lest you think I’m trying to imply something about Cristalle, I should clarify.  Cristalle might be a bitch, but bitches get shit done.

Plus, it’s merely one element.  Cristalle may have a slight Karen Walker brusqueness, but she is complex, particularly for a citrus.  Other citruses are playful and fleeting.  Refreshing but they cancel plans.  Once you’re in Cristalle’s calendar, that meeting is HAPPENING.  And you are meeting somewhere NICE for lunch.

However, if Cristalle is one tenth Karen Walker, she’s a hell of a lot more Christine Lagarde. That’s right.  I’m putting Cristalle in charge of my perfume International Monetary Fund (Someone needs to be, for crying out loud.  It’s getting ridiculous.)

Christine Lagarde, Head of the International Monetary Fund.

When I’m working on a big project and I need motivation to get it done. I…well, alright don’t judge my dorkiness but I watch Apollo 13.  That scene where they bring in a box full o’ crap and say we have to make a CO2 filter out of this.  That makes me go LET’S DO THIS.

(Spoiler alert:  They totally figure it out.  Was someone wearing Cristalle?  No.  That happened in 1970.  Cristalle was launched in 1974.)

Cristalle has a sense of productivity. She might even be a pill-popper.  I can imagine myself coming upon some stressed young thing, pulling her aside, handing her a bottle of Cristalle and saying “This will help.  Don’t say anything.”  Then I light a cigarette, and drink a martini.  As I walk away, I say, “Now pull your shit together.”

I have become one with Cristalle.

Lucille Bluth probably has a bottle of Cristalle.

Cristalle doesn’t understand the question, and she won’t respond to it.

Wait.  Didn’t I start out this thing saying “uplifting” and “champagne?”  So I did.  And so Cristalle is. Cristalle gets you through the job.  And then it helps you celebrate after it’s done.

You see, Cristalle isn’t bossy.  She’s the boss.

The physical incarnation of Cristalle.

Not only is Olivia Pope the essence of Cristalle, but the CHARACTER of Olivia Pope did a totally Cristalle move on TV in general by shooting the equivalent of galbanum resin into prime time.  Shonda Rhimes Chanel Cristalled Hollywood. That is a bracingly refreshing breeze.  How meta.  And how very Cristalle.

If we assigned careers to the Chanel classics:   No 5 is the Philanthropist.  19 the diplomat.  22 the PR rep. Coco the Actress.  Beige the Accountant (Poor Beige).  Cristalle is the attorney. And that suit is, well Chanel of course. But not the tweed.  Too dowdy.  She’ll take it in tropical wool.  Her nails are impeccable.  Hair too.  I wear Cristalle when I need to convince myself that I’ve got this.  Cristalle represents well.  She knows who she is.

It might be sacrilege (but then so is any temperature above 95): try putting Cristalle in the fridge for the dog days.  She might work hard but she knows there is a time for a cold glass o’grigio on a patio.  And I picked that Samantha Jones reference on purpose:  Cristalle might be chilly, but she’s not frigid. Where there is oakmoss, there is a dark sexiness. Cristalle is also calculating, although I wouldn’t go so far as to compare her to say, Amy from Gone Girl.  We’ll leave Gucci Envy to do that.

You sense I’m a bit intimidated by Cristalle.  I am.  I just (choking up) I just want to live up to her expectations.  But I am also no pushover.  She likes my “quirkiness”.  She once called me “weird.”  I said she was uptight.  And then we both loosened up.

5 Stars.

My sample is the EdT from circa 2008.  The EdP is said to be sweeter and fruitier with less bitter herbs.  I don’t know why you’d want that.  Find the EdT.

*After I wrote this, I bumped into this post likening Cristalle to introversion.  I agree, for the commonly deemed bitch is often a misunderstood introvert.  As I identify as an introvert, I see Cristalle to be one too.  Wonderful piece.  Check it out.