The Gift of Muguet

The Gift of Muguet
The Gift of Muguet

In France on May Day it’s tradition to present a loved one with a bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley (or ‘Muguet’ as it is called in France). To celebrate May Day and the beauty of Muguet, I’ve pulled together two reviews from the archives to showcase my favourite Lily-of-the-Valley fragrances.  Both come from entirely different eras, with the first being a vintage formulation of a classic made at time where the key materials that make recreating the scent of Muguet achievable were still readily usable, whilst the other is a modern interpretation that somehow captures the cool and aloof nature of the flower. They’re both entirely different but they’re also both wonderfully beautiful. Enjoy!

Classic Muguet: Diorissimo by DIOR
Classic Muguet: Diorissimo by DIOR

Diorissimo was created in 1956 by perfumer Edmond Roudnistka, the genius nose behind classics such as Eau SauvageLe Parfum de Thérèse and Rochas Femme. According to Luca Turin in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, Roudnitska planted lily of the valley in his garden for reference when creating the perfume. It stands to reason then, that the fragrance does in fact, smell much like the real thing, capturing the green, sweet and fleshy floral scent of muguet in its intense glory. This is a remarkable achievement seeing as lily of the valley yields no fragrant oil therefore meaning that the smell must be recreated using other materials, mainly Hyroxycitronellal, which is now restricted, hence the shape of Diorissimo’s current formulation.

For a spring flower, I am struck at just how icy lily of the valley smells and in Diorissimo, the flower is at its coldest, especially within the top notes. It opens sharp and pungent with heady stripes of fleshy white blooms. The sharpness is bracing, but not astringent and harsh like the current formulation, and it has a beautifully angular quality to it that is symmetrical as opposed to abrasive. Sniffing it, one gets the impression of snow-white flowers growing rebelliously in the rocky cracks of a snowy mountain. The edges round off with a touch of sparkling bergamot as the top notes settle, allowing the beauty of the painstakingly constructed flowers to sing.

The chilly start doesn’t last for long and Diorissimo warms up significantly, fleshing out with warmer florals, specifically jasmine and ylang ylang, which bring both sweetness and heat. In the base, the fragrance feels softly animalic with a sour warmth that is carnal and sexy, evoking the idea of a demure house wife who rocks sexy underwear discreetly underneath her floral patterned dress. Diorissimo may be polite and pretty, but it also offers up a hint at its performance under the sheets and the signs point to something entirely sensual and unreserved.

Diorissimo in its current formulation is pleasant and pretty, but somewhat unmoving. Vintage Diorissimo however, well that’s another story. Vintage Diorissimo is utterly mind-blowing. It is full-bodied but it also manages to have an ethereal, aldehydic edge that allows it to be frosty, silvery and lightweight, all at the same time. The subtly animalic elements of the base add weight, density and contrast, helping to make Diorissimo a fully worked-out fragrance that is a tightrope walk of photorealism and abstraction. It is easy to see why Diorissimo is a classic and I promise to use my vintage bottle utterly unwisely, because things as beautiful as this are made to be enjoyed.

Modern Muguet: Muguet Porcelaine by Hermès
Modern Muguet: Muguet Porcelaine by Hermès

Muguet Porcelaine opens with a pure and peaceful mist of lily of the valley in its full floral form. Immediately it speaks in two colours: white and green, specifically snow white and British racing green. The top notes showcase the hissy citrus notes of muguet, rasping with a delightful, bracing tone that awakens the senses. Initially, Muguet Porcelaine very much feels like a white flower rising up from a snowy ground. It has an icy spirit to it that evokes crisp winter mornings where the sour breath of humans and the indolic breath of flowers turns to vapour in the air.

The muguet note is as true as it can be. Ellena, with his enviable talent, weaves silvery threads of the flower, each one displaying a different pattern of scent, together into a rich tapestry in a multitude of shades of white. The freshness of jasmine, the green ripeness of lily and the cheesy indole of gardenia, all abstract facets, piece together intelligently to design the lily of the valley in three dimensions. This is the art of floral architecture and Muguet Porcelaine is constructed from steely girders of white petals and green stems – the best materials there are.

In the base, Muguet Porcelaine takes on a muskier tone, shedding the weight of the petals to land on a soft bed of freshly cut grass. The greenery that underpins the whole thing comes through vibrantly, dipping and diving in a slow motioned tour of the garden. It is, as always with Jean-Claude Ellena’s creations, a breathy blend of minerals and waters – a delightful soup of nature, if you will, and with utter delicacy it drifts into the skin leaving just a trace of muguet mist. Ahh, it’s gorgeous.

Muguet Porcelaine simply is beautiful. It’s entirely Jean-Claude Ellena in style and therefore, undeniably ‘Hermès’. My favourite thing about this particular Hermessence is just how present it is. The sillage is more prominent than usual and Muguet Porcelaine certainly feels as if it has enough heft to cut through the muggiest of days, making for a sharply refreshing fragrance. As a farewell, Muguet Porcelaine is a beautiful token to remember Ellena’s work by but it is just one of many masterpieces in Hermès’ stable that symbolises an illustrious and fascinating career.

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What’s your favourite muguet scent?

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Sample of Muguet Porcelaine via Hèrmes. Images are my own.