Whiffs of jasmine and cigarette, Turkish apples and sweet tart lemon fill the air at a downtown Lexington boutique that specializes in scents. The fragrance store, The Crushed Violet, is a place where your nose does the shopping.
Named after the Mark Twain quote that states: "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it," the store carries 20 independent fragrance lines and features perfumes, lotions and soaps. You will find scents from international places with one-of-a-kind stories.
"Niche perfumers are truly artists who evoke memories and create mental images using raw materials," said Kathyrn Stone, who has shopped at the boutique since it opened in the fall of 2010.
The fragrances featured at The Crushed Violet are selected by Erin Miller, the shop owner. They are displayed against gray painted walls next to framed photos of female icons like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.
"I carry fragrances that cannot be found anywhere else in Kentucky, Tennessee or Ohio that I know of," Miller said.
Leila Lou Eau de Parfum from the Rosie Jane line is what Miller calls the "compliment getter," and she said she finds that when people like one scent from a particular line they usually end up trying an entire collection.
i Profumi di Firenze, a line from Florence, Italy, is hand blended by a father and son in small batches with all natural ingredients.
"My favorite product is anything by L'Artisan Parfumeur," said Stone as she shopped and smelled. Miller carries a selection of perfumes by the renowned Parisian house of perfume.
"I won't divulge my personal favorite... I like to keep it a secret. But I highly recommend anything from that line. They are all heartbreakingly beautiful," Stone added.
In the store's collection, prices range from $10 to $200 and the selection includes scents for men and women.
"The quality of the products sells themselves," Miller said.
The shop offers a relaxed shopping environment for customers who want to take their time to smell all of the scents. Fragrance tester strips are available near the scents for customers to try. But Miller also caters to the shoppers who are purchasing for others by having gift wrapping readily available. "I want the environment to feel very inviting," Miller said.
Ondie Vinson, one of her regular male customers, has described Miller as "a country girl who just loves exquisite perfume."
Miller, who's from Harrogate, Tenn., is a dedicated perfume consumer who was tired of only being able to get her favorite fragrances online.
"Nearly all the lines I sell I've worn for over 10 years," she said.
After constantly talking about the need of a local fragrance boutique, she took the risk and opened a shop.
"I thought maybe it was a void I could fill," said Miller, who added she knew it was a risk but one she was willing to take.
"I'm passionate about the lines I sell," said Miller, a graduate of the University of Kentucky with an art history degree. She didn't have much experience in business other than helping her brother-in-law and sister, John and Rebecca Davis, start Camp on the Kentucky, a RV Park and Campground.
"I jumped into this with no real business knowledge. I kind of have to go on gut feelings as the owner," Miller said. She does everything in the boutique herself, although her husband of 13 years, Kyle Miller, fills in when necessary. Her biggest obstacle was opening with a limited budget in a time when the economy was suffering.
"I realized it would be hard to do, but not impossible," Miller said.
Miller sees her shop as a small-scale business where she can easily create personal relationships with her customers. Her customer return rate is fantastic, she said. "After they've been in once they almost always come back," Miller said.
Since opening, the boutique has seen sales increases every year. The progression is what leads Miller to believe that things will only get better.
"She has the best customer service in town," customer Vinson said.
"It's important to support our downtown businesses," said Cheryl Lalonde of Lexington, who invited a group of her friends to meet for a private shopping event at the fragrance boutique recently.
Much of Miller's advertising comes from word of mouth and people posting about the boutique on Facebook. Her customers are a mixed crowd of business men and women, 25 years and older, she said. She works with, and donates to, sororities to attract younger buyers. Miller keeps her blog and Twitter page updated with new fragrance arrivals and has had shoppers travel more than 100 miles to buy her fragrances, she said.
"Erin always sends me home with samples of perfumes she thinks I might enjoy," Stone said.
Miller plans to expand featured lines and own rather than lease her store front. One day she hopes to create her own fragrance with help from her chemical analyst husband.
"That's another dream I can pursue on another day," she said. Her main focus is on the growth of the boutique and discovering new scents.
"If you purchase a perfume from The Crushed Violet, the odds are you won't walk around smelling like every other person who has wandered around the Fayette Mall. Erin's selections are exclusive and special," Stone said.
The Crushed Violet, 131 Church Street. Hours: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; noon - 5 p.m. Saturday; (Mondays by appointment). Call: (859) 317-8251. Visit: Thecrushedviolet.com, email@example.com, Twitter: @TCVLEX
Morgan Jones: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @heraldleader