With just a few notebooks, a pair of headphones, and a laptop earning a permanent spot on my desk, my workspace at Remezcla is pretty bare bones. The only thing that serves no functional purpose is my Agua de Violetas cologne – aka many Latino babies’ signature scent for decades. Months ago, I randomly spotted it at the store and impulsively bought it – knowing full well I’d never actually use it. I brought it into work, where I got a mix of reactions: Some remembered it as the fragrance that defined their childhood; others wondered why babies needed cologne.
And while not everyone went around smelling like violets in their early years, the scent has made an indelible impression on so many. Recently, NBC Miami dove into the cologne’s history with a piece titled, “Agua de Violetas: A Familiar Fragrance With an Untold Story.” Though Three Guys From Miami – who cover many topics that pertain to the Cuban-American experience – suspect the scent came from Spain (my bottle comes from Spain, for example), NBC told the story of the man whose name appears on many of the bottles: Agustín Reyes.
According to NBC, Reyes created the first violet scent Cuba. He began his career as a perfumer with Agua de Colonia de Agustin Reyes, which became successful. Reyes followed it up with Violetas Rusas, which became his biggest hit and as the Reyes’ grandson describes, “the cologne of the Cuban people.” Inadvertently, it also became the perfume for babies. In 1960, a year after Fidel Castro took power, Reyes and his family fled Cuba. At this point, Agustín – who had lost his vision after creating seven scents and receiving international accolades – headed to the United States for supposed medical treatment. He carried a leather-bound formulary, where he snuck his famous recipes past the guards as he boarded a ferry to Key West.
His children and grandchildren followed him by plane. A year and half after leaving Cuba, Agustín’s son realized they wouldn’t be returning anytime soon, so he proposed that they start their perfumery in Miami. “With almost no resources at their disposal they decided they could only bring back one fragrance,” according to Agustín Reyes III, the perfumer’s grandson. “Since Violetas Rusas had become a cultural icon and the company’s signature fragrance, it was the obvious choice. Locíon Violetas Rusas was re-launched as Royal Violets Eau de Cologne. It is still a cultural icon in the Cuban community and has branched out into an ever wider Hispanic community.”
In 2015, Eva Mendes told Redbook Magazine that Agua de Violetas is still her signature scent. She said, “My family is Cuban, and we have a tradition where we douse ourselves and our babies in violetas, a type of cologne that smells like violets. I have a bottle in every room in the house.”
And looking through Twitter and Instagram, it’s clear that it’s not just Eva who’s still committed to the scent. Here are some hilarious and v. true posts about the No. 1 baby scent: