Viola von Cydonia – now there’s a name I feel outdone by. Odette Toilette sounds rather vanilla in comparison…
For all you perfume-aholics, Viola brings an exciting perspective to the world of fragrance. She’s a vintage fashion dealer and scent collector who hails from Hungary, and has a wonderful collection of scents, bottles and stories from central and eastern Europe. Hungary in particular we hear little about with reference to fragrance – and in a way that’s no surprise given the country was under socialism for so long – so not particularly known for bashing out hit smells.
But recently, Viola flew to the UK to be our guest speaker at Perfume Lovers London, where she shared some of the scents from her personal collection.
We tried a couple from the Budapest based firm of Molnar and Moser, including an Eau de Cologne Russe from the 1960s, based on the Russian leather style (birch tar!), but thinned out using substitute ingredients. Before the war, the firm had been a prestigious outfit, but Hungarian perfumers eventually had to sell their formulae or make huge substitutions in ingredients, or redo their work completely as they couldn’t get hold of their ingredients (perhaps able to source some synthetics from Russia).
Viola is a rare collector in her country; it’s very much a niche of a niche, as most people desire mainstream fashion brand perfumes. Now training herself in perfumery, she hopes there’ll be a revival of some sorts as the country slowly rediscovers and reinterprets its heritage.
When you were growing up in Budapest, what sorts of fragrances were available?
I was born in Budapest and lived there for the first three years of my life. In the early 90’s, my mother took me to markets and drugstores with her and I got her to buy me soaps and fragrant bath bombs. As a teenager, I remember that everybody was using aerosol deodorants on their clothes, thinking it was perfume. Especially “B.U. Wild”, and of course Avon was very popular. Everyone’s mums were ordering things monthly, so Avon’s classic 90’s and early 2000’s scents were popular too (Sunny Skies, Pur Blanca). So, cheap and mainstream perfumes from abroad – no Hungarian scents that I can remember.
How did you get into collecting vintage scents – it doesn’t seem to be much of a scene in Hungary?
My mother worked in air cargo and she would get lots of perfumes from business partners from the US and France, so we always had a considerable amount of perfume in our household. As I got older, I took interest in antiques and then opened a vintage shop in Budapest and also started collecting perfume bottles. I think of it as a challange because it’s very hard to find them.
What were some of the most famous central European perfumes before the war?
The most famous I can think of must have been Chat Noir which was later discontinued in the 70’s. The company/formula was bought a million times during the war and communism. Of course, the famous Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow) could be found in every woman’s toilette from the 30’s to the 60’s – people in Eastern Europe proudly state that it’s “our” Chanel No5.
My Grandfather just told me a story of a neighbour they had back in Transylvania, whose wife was so eager to stop him from drinking that she poured a bottle of Krasnaya Moskva into his wine barrel. Later on the man called my grandfather to have a sniff of the wine and my Grandfather shouted RED MOSCOW in horror that his drink had been ruined!
Tell us about some of your favorite perfumes in your collection
My favourite one is probably not even a perfume, but the box of a violet scented soap that was made for Franz Joseph and and his wife Sissi* back in the day.
I also love the Quelques Aromas bottle made by the Apollo department store (which is gone now). The resinous scent left in the bottle is heavenly, and I love the floral vignette on it too.
Where is perfumery at now in Hungary?
There are tiny movements of interest in Hungary about perfumery – my mentor Zsolt Zólyomi is on a cultural mission to bring it back to life. He opened a niche perfumery where he himself greets customers and tells them about perfume and memories. He was the first Central European perfumer in 60 years be trained at ISIPCA** and is developing his own brand for launch soon.
Tell us about some of the scents you are selling via Instagram.
I created an account ages ago to share my scent memories with people, but opening my tearoom distracted me from it. I’m going to upload all the photos of my perfume for sale and continue writing about scents I meet on my way (follow Viola on Instagram to see her collection as it gets posted).
And if people are visiting Budapest, when is the tearoom open?
We are planning to open mid-November. I’m currently working on our own recipes for cakes and salads, granolas and a lot of yummy things. I want to keep it fairly English and traditional but also have a youthful, laid-back modern vibe, so people don’t get shocked by all the greasy cheesy meals and scones.
I’m also considering selling perfume on the upper level in the Vintage Boutique bit to bring people closer to vintage scents.
*Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary from 1848 – 1916
**Institut supérieur international du parfum – a post-graduate school in France for the study of perfume, cosmetics and food flavourings