Fragrance Trends

The Colour of 2018: Violet


Pascale Cumming-Benson


Pantone has announced that 18-3838 Ultra Violet will be the Pantone colour of the year 2018.

Described as ‘dramatically provocative and thoughtful’, the colour is thought to span both the spiritually contemplative and the visionary at a time when new technologies encourage us to think beyond our world. Its strong character is also then connected to the unconventional and original. ‘We are living in a time that requires inventiveness and imagination. It is this kind of creative inspiration that is indigenous to ultra violet.. Ultra-violet lights the way of what is yet to come’.[1]

Violet was the colour worn by the Roman emperors and was synonymous with royalty and luxury.  A famously expensive purple, Tyrian purple, worn by Julius Caesar, was extracted from sea snails. The phrase indicating nobility, ‘born to the purple’, refers to a room in the Great Palace of Constantinople, completely made of porphyry (a deep blood red or violet-coloured stone) where only the sons and daughters of emperors were born. Amethyst, another violet stone, was believed to protect against the influence of poison and drunkenness.

Violet also has divine connotations, being worn by bishops of the Roman Catholic Chuch, and in Renaissance painting, angels were often depicted wearing violet robes. But whilst purple is a polychromatic colour, made from blue and red, violet is a spectral colour, occupying its own space at the end of visible spectrum. It is this that could give violet the feeling of ‘pushing our minds to artificial dimensions’[2] bringing associations with transcendence, virtuality, and a higher spiritual ground – or the other-wordly. Ultraviolet rays themselves are just beyond this visible range, meaning ‘beyond violet’.

If a certain mysticism is found in violet, it also carries ideas of intrigue and ambiguity. Violet was the characteristic colour of the Impressionists, whose paintings caused outrage in late 19th century France. Violet’s bluish and purple tones provided shade in the Impressionists’ paintings, such that the painters were accused of abusing violet, with the way they seemed to see the world being described by critics as a strange sickness – ‘violettomania’.[3]  It was caused, apparently, by being outside too much and was therefore a permanent negative after-image of looking at the sunlight.

Violet did, to the Impressionists, come from the shadows. As the complementary colour to the sun’s yellow, it followed that shadows were violet. But it became more than this. Whilst the use of this colour was a cause for perplexity, the artist Edouard Manet declared a revelation – that he had found the true colour of the atmosphere. ‘It is violet. Fresh air is violet’.

violet 600The word for the colour violet comes from the name of the violet flower, with its distinctive sweet scent. It was during this same period at the end of the 19th century that a group of ingredients called ionones were synthesised for the first time, producing violet tones ranging from fresh and blossoming, to powdery and woody. These ionones made it possible to recreate the scent of violet synthetically, democratising this ordinarily expensive odour.

Violet’s sugared sweetness soon appeared in all kinds of perfumes, and was also used to scent cakes and in sweets to freshen the breath.

If violet is synonymous with the enigmatic, it is also a colour of artificiality – and maybe vanity. Ionones are also used in powdery accords, and were also paired with iris and rose to scent cosmetics. Virginie Gautreau, infamous society beauty and the model for ‘Madame X’ painted by John Singer Sargent in 1884, was known for using face powder containing violet for the way in which it could accentuate the glowing ‘cadaverish’ paleness of her white skin. Only the mystic violet was able to complete her artificially artful appearance.




[3] St Clair, K. (2016) The Secret Lives of Colour