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!
What is there to say about the career of Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena at the house of Hèrmes as it draws to an end? His work speaks for itself and through the perfumes that constitute Ellena’s body of work at Hèrmes one can detect a distinct DNA that has been carefully crafted and woven through the olfactory outputs by the man, who is arguably one of the greatest perfumers of all time. Jean-Claude Ellena has created a signature that is now undeniably ‘Hermès’. It is a complexly pieced together as a Kelly bag but as ethereal and light as a silk scarf. To put is simply, Ellena really has taken the spirit of the house of Hèrmes and bottled it.
Ellena’s work is so often referred to as fragrant watercolours and his lightness of touch has proven that perfumes need not be loud, confrontational and weird to be beautiful, they can portray light and shade in utter simplicity. This style in itself is divisive because the fragrances can so often seem imperceptibly simple or transparent, but they are, in fact, incredibly complex. It’s a testament to Ellena’s talent that he can say so much with such reserved abstraction. His work is cerebral and intelligent in a way that modern perfumery isn’t nowadays, and he has always been a refreshing voice amongst the cacophony. The man is nothing short of a genius and one of the handful of true master perfumers who have earned the title through a life’s work.
For his final piece at Hèrmes, Jean-Claude Ellena has attempted to capture the elusive lily of the valley, a flower that smells so intense, yet yields no fragrant oil usable within perfumery. The work is a construction of the flower, of course and as Ellena puts it, he wanted to “snatch the fragrance of these flowers from the dawn sky, together with that of the foliage that envelops them”, thus crafting an homage not only to white blooms but also to its accompanying greenery. The result? Well, Hermès describe it perfectly as “a shower of delicate bell-shaped flowers evoking the opalescent white of porcelain – radiant, playful, diaphanous”. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Do you ever have those fragrances that you want to love, but just don’t? They often appear entirely suited to your desires and tastes, and often come lauded with high praise, but for some reason they just don’t click with you. For me, Dior’s Diorissimo was one such scent. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve picked up a tester, spritzed some on and waited for sparks to fly. They never did and I couldn’t understand it. I love white florals. I love Dior. Why didn’t Diorissimo and I run off into the sunset together to a symphonic burst of Hollywood music? Sigh.
Don’t lose hope, Dear Reader because, as with all true love stories in movies, the boy gets the girl, or alternatively the boy gets the boy (and the girl gets the girl), OR in my case, the boy (of the Candy Perfume variety) ‘gets’ the perfume. So what finally ignited the spark between that elusive Diorissimo and me? I have one word for you: vintage. It is widely known that the current version of Diorissimo is a pale interpretation of its former self, due mainly to restrictions of key ingredients used to create that unmistakeable lily of the valley effect. With this in mind I headed straight to eBay to seek out some vintage Dior to see what all of the fuss is about.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw it: 50ml of 1980’s Diorissimo Eau de Toilette, almost full for £25 with no bids. I didn’t bid on it at first, thinking that it would go and I stupidly allowed this gem to go unsold. Never mind, fate was on my side and I managed to win the bottle on its second listing. I honestly have never been so excited to receive a perfume package in my life. Could this vintage be the Diorissimo for me? Would it finally click into place, and would Diorissimo and I have that Hollywood ending I was looking for? Seeing as we’re talking in movie analogies, let me drop a spoiler: the boy gets the perfume.
The first day in May is a special day in France, not only is it National Labour Day, but it is also customary on this day to present one’s loved ones with a sprig of lily of the valley (or ‘muguet’ as it is known by the French) in celebration of the beginning of spring. Guerlain, France’s premiere perfume house, are known for embracing tradition and in celebration of this very special day they launch a newly packed version of their limited edition Eau de Toillette ‘Muguet‘.
Last year’s offering was a beautiful papier-mâché interpretation of the famous quadrilobe bottle (which has housed iconic fragrances such as Jicky and Nahéma, to name just a few) and was a tough act to follow. This year’s Muguet (seen above) is entirely different and is housed within the brand’s iconic bee bottle, which is fitting seeing as Guerlain has been going all out for the 160th anniversary of this most special vessel.
“The smell of the English countryside in spring time”
L.I.L.Y is the latest fragrance from British fashion designer Stella McCartney. It very much marks a break from tradition for McCartney, whose other fragrances have all be a variation on a theme, namely that of her eponymous debut fragrance ‘Stella’. I love Stella, as far as designer fragrances go it is pretty well done and my sister wears it religiously so I have a strong connection to it, but I am very glad that McCartney is branching out into new fragrant territory with L.I.L.Y.
Where Stella was an ode to rose, L.I.L.Y is, as the name suggests, an ode to the lily of the valley. Lily of the valley is a flower which yields no scented oil yet so evocatively represents the smell of the English countryside in spring time. It’s both beautiful to look at, and to smell, and it represents all that is innocent and virtuous about the world. Lily of the valley is simply one of the world’s most precious of joys.
L.I.L.Y is described as an “evocative scent made up of Stella’s most treasured moments” . Its name stems from her father’s nickname for her mother; ‘Linda I Love You’, and the Lily of the Valley used in the fragrance is reminiscent of her wedding bouquet. For L.I.L.Y, McCartney has aimed to create a perfume that is personal to her, rather than Stella McCartney ‘the brand’. In this world of hyper-focus-grouped perfumes, I can’t help but find the personal touch applied to L.I.L.Y utterly refreshing.