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May 02, 2006

I. Spring Flower Bouquet ~ Lily of the Valley

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Spring came into my house with the bouquet of tulips, their crimson petals touched with the delicate scent of wet foliage and rain drenched earth. As I sat on the floor, caressing the satiny buds, the memories of past springs rushed forth, scattering like pearls from a broken necklace. Some were sweet, others were less so, and yet all of them were tinged with something ineffable that makes heart skip a beat. The smell of acacia blossoms after the rain… wearing short sleeves for the first time in months… tasting first strawberries… the chestnut trees coming into bloom overnight, as if someone had orchestrated this breathtaking transformation by magic—these are the details that conjure the exuberance of spring for me.

For the past few years I have been living in places where spring is a mildly unpleasant transition between the dreary winter and the scorchingly hot summer. It has been a consolation that some fragrances have never failed to afford me a glimpse of the idyllic spring—blue skies with a few wispy clouds, tree branches dotted with sticky buds, rain drops on apple blossoms, and elation caused by the seemingly trivial things. Seasonality when it comes to perfume is an issue of few rules and many subjective viewpoints, but smelling the acacia trees jeweled with the delicate clusters of white blossoms makes me wish for a fragrance that captures the intoxicating scent marrying orange blossom, jasmine and a hint of coconut. If one cannot have an ideal spring, then one can search for that spring via perfume. ...

The quintessential spring flower for me has always been lily of the valley. As soon as the sunny days grew more numerous, the throngs of elderly women from the countryside would appear near the metro stations. For a few pennies, one would get a pleasure of glimpsing into the basket lined with the old “Pravda” newspapers and picking out a tiny bunch of fragrant white flowers delicately wrapped in shiny green leaves. Guerlain Muguet and Christian Dior Diorissimo are the closest means I have in terms of reviving the memory of pressing the porcelain white bells into my face.

Diorissimo is the lily of the valley perfection, a fragrance that in the words of its creator, Edmond Roudnitska, “is a pure lily-of-the-valley scent that also has the odor of the woods in which it is found and the indefinable atmosphere of the springtime.” The lily of the valley of Guerlain Muguet is gently underscored with the green and woody notes, and while it reminds me of Diorissimo, it is sweeter and softer. It beautifully manages to recreate the fragrance of the flowers and to achieve a gentle balance between the photorealism and the artistic exaggeration. Caron Muguet du Bonheur, another classical lily of the valley soliflore, treats the flower in the creamier manner, with the result that its delicacy becomes compromised.

Parfums De Nicolaï Odalisque is probably one of the least conventional lily of the valley stories. The graceful green floral note is intriguingly framed with the softness of iris and the warmth of patchouli, the combination of which lends an effect that is both nostalgically vintage and remarkably innovative. A breath of lily of the valley can also be incorporated into compositions that provide a less obvious tribute to its beautiful qualities. Thus, Guerlain Chamade and Parure weave its delicate trace into their heart accords, allowing lily of the valley to freshen and uplift the hyacinth-cassis richness in the former and the plum-rose in the latter. Hermès Eau des Merveilles attains a gentle fragility by wrapping a whisper of lily of the valley and hyacinth around the salty amber. In another floral-ambery pairing, the duality of Cacharel Anais Anais is driven by the lily of the valley toned white floral heart and the wood ornamented ambery base. Ormonde Jayne Sampaquita’s transparent heart is inlaid with the green sweetness of lily of the valley, while in the dark tapestry of Caron French Cancan, it serves as a vivid splash of aquamarine. Lily of the valley is a fresh accent in Chanel No. 19, a lucid touch in Jean Patou L’Heure Attendue, and an unexpected sparkle in Ormonde Jayne Tolu. A gentle fresh breath of spring, it never seems to be out of place.

To recall all of the beautiful accords incorporating lily of the valley is impossible, and yet stopping here makes the list seem incomplete. Here are some additional favourites incorporating this fragile spring flower:

Acaciosa by Caron
Antilope by Weil
Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca by Guerlain
Be Delicious by Donna Karan
Capricci by Nina Ricci
Climat by Lancôme
Début by DelRae
Eclipse by Parfums De Nicolaï
Envy by Gucci
Helmut Lang EDC and EDP
Lauren by Ralph Lauren
Le Jasmin by Annick Goutal
Le Muguet de Rosine by Les Parfums de Rosine
Miss Dior by Christian Dior
Miss Worth by Worth
Muguet des Bois by Coty
Muguet by Slatkin
Tiare by Chantecaille

If you have your favourite lily of the valley fragrances, please mention them.

Next in the Series ~ Part 2: Hyacinth.

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