My design classic: Choward’s Violet Mints

I don’t remember how or when it began, but I’m particularly sensitive to the word ‘violet’. I like saying it and hearing it, and maybe that’s why I can remember fairly useless facts about it, though these have all led me to believe that in most of the manifestations of violet there’s rarely immediate gratification. For example, violet light has the shortest wavelength of the visible spectrum and is the most difficult for the human eye to detect.

And one of the oldest violet dyes was created from murex snails - it took approximately 10,000 snails to make a single gram of dye. As luminous and vibrant as this colour is in nature, I always find it to be a frustrating colour to work with as it tends to pummel the hell out of any other colour placed in its proximity. Then there is the elusive scent of the flowers on a violet plant: the flower emits a fragrance that can only be experienced very briefly before our noses become numb to it for a period of time. I’ve timed how long it takes my nose to recover - about three minutes.

Needless to say, when I first saw a package of Choward’s Violet Mints, I was a little suspicious. I had just moved to Brooklyn with my boyfriend, and everything I knew at that time about New York was what I’d learned from Cassavetes, Scorsese and Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy. Yet there was something about that little metallic purple brick of mints that was so New York. Despite the fact that the flavour of its contents is inspired by a flower’s fragrance, I could practically hear the package say: ‘Hey! You wanna eat violets? I got yer violets right here!’

And I’ve been in love with Choward’s Violet Mints ever since that moment, which was 15 years ago. I very recently learned that my hunch about the mint’s origins were correct. The company was started in the 30s by a fellow named Charles Howard, who made the candies in a loft on Broadway in Manhattan and then sold them on the city’s street corners. Now the product is sold in nearly every deli, but the distinctive packaging is the same as it was when it was first created. There’s nothing limp about the classic bold purple and silver foil, and the experience of the mint itself is nearly an assault. Each candy is a rock-hard tablet of intense violet fragrance - unlike the flower, the candy doesn’t numb the senses. People tend to love it or hate it but I find its potent, soapy flavour to be deeply gratifying.

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