The Candy Perfume Boy’s ‘Guide to…‘ series is an award winning fragrant exploration of the individual notes that make up the vast and multi-dimensional spectrum that is the world of perfume. In each episode, we take a detailed look at a particular ingredient, analysing its odour profile and the ‘must sniff’ perfumes that serve as reference examples within the genre.
Last time we took a look at the humble Violet, and other excursions in the series have seen us delve into the worlds of; the vampish Tuberose, the dreamy Lavender, the prolific Oud, the delicious Chocolate and the incandescent Orange Blossom. If you have any suggestions of what notes or genres you would like to see next then please let me know in the comments box below.
For this latest instalment in the ‘Guide to…’ series, we will be exploring the universe of the lily. I have always felt a great sense of warmth towards lilies – they’re a flamboyant flower, decked out in unmissable colours and usually exuding a ‘knock you off your feet’ volume, and range of smell. These are flowers that demand to be noticed and thrive off attention. They share with you their beauty and all they ask in return is that you sit up and take notice.
The lily (not to be confused with lily of the valley or muguet) is arguably one of the world’s most recognisable and well-loved flowers. Stemming from the Lilium genus of flowering herbaceous plants, the lily is an iconic and trumpeting bloom that demands attention with its large, striking appearance and seductive scent. Poisonous to cats (boooo!) and irresistible to humans, these flowers can be found across much of the northern hemisphere and have taken their place as a culturally important commodity. 
The smell of the lily is striking and unambiguous. It displays an odour profile that can be described as; indolic, honeyed, green, hay-like, spicy, gingery, salty, meaty, sticky, tropical, hot house and rubbery. It can smell both sweet and savoury, conjuring up images of salty ham as well as sweet vanilla. If I were to describe the scent of the lily in one word I would choose ‘complex’.
In perfumery, the note of lily often appears as a soliflore, meaning a photorealistic interpretation of the exact flower. That said, there are many perfume houses out there putting out unique and unusual twists on the lily, ranging from the gourmand to the sterile, and the tropical to the oriental. If you are a lover of big white florals, then the note of lily and this guide will be right up your street.
In this guide you will find The Candy Perfume Boy’s reference lilies – those lily-based perfumes within the genre that simply must be smelled before one can consider themselves to be a true lily connoisseur. These perfumes range from the more literal interpretations of the note to the complex and frankly, downright odd.
The reference perfumes that are an absolutely essential part of one’s lily education are as follows:
This guide starts, as the others do, with a literal representation of the note it aims to explore. The entries after this point are lilies in many varying shades and summonings of this most distinct flower in entirely different and surprising guises. But we will start, as we always do with the ‘Straight-Up’ lily – a perfume that portrays the note in its true and most natural beauty.
There are quite a few fragrances out there that could have taken this spot, but to my nose, Serge Lutens’ exclusive Un Lys was the most appropriate. Uncle Serge is known for creating dark, brooding affairs (scents such as Sarassins, Tubéréuse Criminelle and Iris Silver Mist, for example) that blast out of their respective bottles with the intention of challenging, confusing and capturing the nose. Un Lys is slightly different and instead of seeking confrontation it simply appears as a true soliflore, resonating with the vibrancy of natural lilies.
Un Lys captures all facets of the complex odour of lilies. It has hints of biting citrus and a stem-like green quality, as well as the indolic, almost meaty smell of lilies in bloom. The base is an extension of these facets folded into delectable streams of vanilla, a nuance that is incredibly reminiscent of the flower itself. Un Lys is simply a delightful lily and a good option for those starting out on their floral education. Sometimes it’s nice not to be challenged.
Un Lys is available as part of Serge Lutens’ non-export collection in 75ml Eau de Parfum (€140). It’s available exclusively in Luten’s Palais Royal store or online at sergelutens.com.
Cartier’s Baiser Volé (Stolen Kiss) is almost a true lily, but not quite. I see it in my head (the Eau de Parfum, specifically) as a slightly off-centre take on the flower that strips back the more unique elements of the lily (the spice, the indole and the meaty qualities) to make for something that isn’t noticeably lily-esque in the first instance. It takes its place here, in this guide, as a contemporary lily that tries to portray the idea of something altogether more abstract.
This is a sweet green lily accented by the soft, clove-y spice of carnation. It has a slightly powdery feel to it, creating something more like a fully fledged floral perfume as opposed to a literal take on the note of lily. In the sea of mediocrity that is mainstream feminine perfumes, Baiser Volé stands out as a damn good effort that presents a familiar note in an unfamiliar way, inviting the wearer to fathom it out.
Cartier’s Baiser Volé is available in Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and Parfum concentrations and a range of sizes. Prices range from £43-£116. In the UK it can be found at most department stores and online at escentual.com.
Perfume Curator Frédéric Malle and Perfumer Edouard Fléchier’s take on the humble lily is one of the genre’s most symphonic and beautiful examples. Created to awaken a more oceanic and mediterranean translation of the flower, Lys Méditerranée is a impressively diffusive and almost-aquatic perfume that takes the note of the lily to dizzying heights of floral freshness.
Lys Méditerranée is another ‘singing’ lily, meaning that it positively shouts its floral tones at the very top of its voice. The lily itself is wonderfully salty and airy, almost as if it recreates the smell of the flowers caught on a sea breeze. These are fresh lilies in a window box overlooking the ocean and whilst they still maintain some of the hammy, indolic features that make the lily so wonderful, the modus operandi here is utterly and completely pelagic.
Musk and something hay-like in the base ensure that Lys Méditerranée settles to a salty skin scent, giving the impression of sun-soaked bodies and water-logged sands. It’s an impressive composition and if I had to make you choose to sniff out only one lily on this list, Lys Méditerranée would be the one. It may not be weird, demanding or unusual, but by jove is it beautiful.
Lys Méditerranée is available in 3x10ml (£70), 50ml (£105) and 100ml Eau de Parfum (£145). In the UK it can be found at Liberty and Les Senteurs.
I have never been so quickly enamoured with a perfume as I was when I tried Tom Ford’s superb Shanghai Lily for the first time. Like a modern riff on YSL’s classic oriental, Opium, this ode to the Far East captures the spicy and clove-like essence of the Yves Saint Laurent but presents it in an entirely more chic and understated manner, accented by the warm, rubbery feel of flowers.
But whilst this scent is ‘Shanghai Lily‘ in name, it isn’t necessarily all ‘lily’ in character, and it would be fair to say that this particular perfume is a great example of how the note of lily can sit within a composition, not as the star player but as an individual facet and a supporting act. This is a lily within a bouquet of auburn flowers that feel delightfully overripe and wrapped up in waves of sweet, yet spicy vanilla. Shanghai Lily is the purest, most opulent velvet.
Shanghai Lily is is available as part of Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection in 50ml (£140) and 250ml (£320) Eau de Parfum. In the UK it can be found at stores such as Selfridges and Harrods.
Have you ever wondered what lilies taste like? Pretty awful, I would imagine. The reality would be something rather unpalatable – a bitter mess of pollen and petals, but the taste one has in their head is of waxy fresh lily petals, accented with a twist of fizzy lemon and swirled into velvety waves of creamy vanilla. This also describes the wonderful smell of Guerlain’s rather remarkable Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia.
Guerlain have a penchant for creating precious olfactory delicacies that satisfy even the most persnickety of stomachs. Lys Soleia is one of their tastiest treats, showcasing fresh lily buds served with the lightest and most delicate serving of Crème Anglaise. But before you start to think that this all sounds a bit foody, hold fire, as the truth is that Guerlain’s ode to the humble lily is so airy and delicate that it really is the perfect fragrance for hot summer days. Grab it whilst you can as it is being discontinued.
Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia is now discontinued but can be found at online discounters.
Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection is an exploration of the many individual notes and styles that the world of perfume generously has to offer. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the line is the fact that the scents are unique enough to allow for multiple explorations of the same note, and this is certainly the case with the beautiful note of lily as it’s an ingredient that appears in not one, but two of M. Ford’s very special Private Blends.
We’ve already discussed Tom Ford’s Shanghai Lily, but what of Lys Fume, the other of the Private Blend lilies? Well, let’s just say that it’s much more of an ostentatious and attention grabbing affair. Lys Fume is a big and spicy take on lily, chock to the brim with big, fizzy ginger and laid over a bed of bubblegum pink vanilla. Lilies, with their infinitely noticeable and dramatic petals are the Queens of attention seeking floweriness, and Lys Fume most certainly (and rather wonderfully) plays up to this demanding nature. “Pay attention or I’ll have your head”, she says.
Lys Fume also emphasises the hot and tropical facets of the lily flower, evoking the feel of a stifling hot greenhouse thick with sticky scent of a thousand singing lilies. I’d describe it as a wonderfully ridiculous perfume, and coming from someone who loves all things loud, proud and floral (and has often been referred to as rather absurd and bizarre themselves), that really is a compliment.
Lys Fume is is available as part of Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection in 50ml (£140) and 250ml (£320) Eau de Parfum. In the UK it can be found at stores such as Selfridges and Harrods.
The name of this one may be a mouthful (pun intended, sorry) and a tad on the filthy side but trust me when I say there is nothing remotely dirty about the perfume. Perhaps that’s the real pun and as we all know, those punk-y perfume lovers over at the Orange Free State sure love a good joke. So yes, if you’re expecting a floral filth fest akin to that purveyed by the beguiling, yet utterly horrific Sécrétions Magnifiques (also by Etat Libre d’Orange), you will need to look elsewhere.
What one gets with Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow is a squeaky clean floral that presents the idea of transparent lilies crafted from thin plastic wrap – cling film lilies, if you will. There is a ton of unclassifiable musks that permeate the moulded wrap of the lily to give both clarity and lift, ensuring that the sterile nature of the perfume can be smelled from miles around. It’s a strange sort of contradiction when you think about it – making something clean, as if not to cause offence, but allowing it to be simultaneously loud and noticeable. Etat Libre d’Orange are a brand that thrive on such conflict.
In the base, Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow becomes a lot softer as the lily melts into a sweet puddle of molten marshmallow. At this point it becomes less conflicting and more cuddly, wrapping the wearer in comforting and clean linen sheets of bubbly musk. Despite its naughty name, this perfume is really quite lovely and an underrated gem in the Etat Libre d’Orange stable. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a sterile take on the beautiful note of lily.
Etat Libre d’Orange’s Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow is available in 50ml Eau de Parfum (£59.50). In the UK it can be found at Les Senteurs, Etat Libre d’Orange, Bloom and escentual.com.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Etat Libre d’Orange we simply must take a look at Charogne (Carrion) – a perfume that intends to invoke the feeling of a more morbid and decaying flower. Many have described this fragrance as bestial, disgusting and pungent, all of which are fair adjectives however, the truth is that this corpse lily is a highly tropical interpretation of the flower just with the dial marked ‘filthy indole’ pushed right up to the top.
Charogne is a hot floral. Smelling it, one almost feels as if they are trapped in a muggy jungle, thick with dense vegetation. There’s no air here, only the irritating buzz of mosquitoes before they strike. The lilies grow thick, fast and in fluorescent shades. They exude a vibrant green mist that can be seen and smelled as both acrid and strangely addictive. The smell itself sits somewhere between bright pink bubblegum and rotting flesh. Is it the heat or the dangerous scent of decaying flowers that makes one hallucinate? It’s impossible to tell.
I see Charogne as a perfume to experience rather than simply wear. It’s dark without being gothic and floral without being frilly, and it is easily one of Etat Libre d’Orange’s most challenging perfumes. Save this one for the very end of your lily education, for when you’ve delved deep into the world of beauty and prettiness that is the domain of the lily, but brace yourself, Charogne really is quite a ride.
Etat Libre d’Orange’s Charogne is available in 50ml (£59.50) and 100ml (£99) Eau de Parfum (£59.50). In the UK it can be found at Les Senteurs, Etat Libre d’Orange, Bloom and escentual.com.
Join the Discussion
Are you loco for lily? What are your favourite lily perfumes? What would be your reference lilies? Do you agree with my choices?
Sample of Lys Fume via Tom Ford. Sample of Un Lys via Serge Lutens. Image 1 via cakeandlilies.com [edited]. Image 2 via perfumedaring.com. Image 3 via fragrantica.com. Image 4 via galilu.pl. Image 5 via Tom Ford [cropped]. Image 6 via tendance-parfums.com. Image 7 via emirateswoman.com [cropped]. Image 8 via etatlibredorangelondon.com. Image 9 via escentual.com [cropped]. Spider Lilies image via southerliving.com.  Info via Wikipedia.