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December 02, 2011

Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 3 : Lily of the Valley and Violet Florals

Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 1 : Rose Florals

Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 2 : Jasmine Florals

Brief explanation: I will indicate the major floral notes (in bold font) with which a fragrance lover should be familiar. The underlined floral notes are related to the major note, and they can be explored after one becomes familiar with the latter.

Lily of the Valley (Muguet)

Put rose and jasmine in just the right combination together and you get lily of the valley. It is a beautiful note with a green, watery character underpinned by a surprising streak of dark indoles and tangy sweetness. Christian Dior Diorissimo is the gold standard of the lily of the valley genre, and according to its creator, perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, it “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.” In contrast to both rose and jasmine florals that have a voluptuous character, lily of the valley is softer and less assertive.

I have written extensively on lily of the valley fragrances in this post, but I just wanted to mention a few excellent compositions. Gucci Envy is one of the best modern examples, where the lily of the valley is framed in a green, metallic accord, which reinforces the icy quality of this flower. Hermès Eau des Merveilles uses a touch of lily of the valley to lighten up its intensely rich amber accord, while Be Delicious by Donna Karan is a crunchy interpretation of an apple, woven out of violet leaves and white flowers. Parfums De Nicolaï Odalisque is a lily of the valley foiled by moss and patchouli, an original composition built on surprising contrasts.

Must-know classic: Christian Dior Diorissimo (if possible, try the parfum or the EDT), Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs


It made sense to me to pair lily of the valley and violet in the same chapter; while they have different olfactive profiles, they have a similar tender, soft aura. If all of your fragrances are heady and lush, then it might be a good idea to explore something in the opposite register. Violet can assume different forms, and sometimes it is not exactly what the fragrance description suggests. It can mean a violet blossom fragrance—soft, sweet, candy like, or violet leaf, which is reminiscent of cucumber peel and crushed leaves. Penhaligon’s Violetta is an example of the former, while Balenciaga Paris and L’Artisan Verte Violette illustrate the latter. Violetta and Borsari 1870 Violetta di Parma have a retro feel, evoking a Victorian era elegance. For something more complex and unusual, I would recommend Serge Lutens Bois de Violette, Balenciaga Le Dix and Tom Ford Violet Blonde. Two more violets that prove that this delicate flower can be quite a vixen are Caron Aimez Moi and Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Après l'Ondée, Shiseido Féminité du Bois (now sold under Serge Lutens label), Yves Saint Laurent Paris (violet masquerading as a rose), Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel


Iris roots and violet blossoms contain some similar odorants. Both natural and synthetic iris raw materials are very expensive, while the violet manmade aromas are not. Therefore, whenever iris is mentioned in marketing copies, one should expect a whiff of violet. This connection notwithstanding, iris fragrances have a very distinctive character. The fragrance of true iris is more rooty and vegetal than floral, and its cool, austere aura can be remarkably elegant. The epitome of iris refinement is Chanel No 19, a composition where bitter green notes and leather frame the iris-rose heart. Another beautiful aloof iris is Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist. Prada Infusion d’Iris makes the iris idea airy and appropriate for daytime, while Ferré by Gianfranco Ferré lends a sensual edge to this cold note by twisting it around vanilla and rose. Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile, Donna Karan Iris and Paul & Joe Blanc are easy-to-enjoy iris dominated fragrances where the vegetal richness of this note is rendered surprisingly velvety.

Iris is also featured in modern masculine fragrances, of which Christian Dior Homme is one of the best examples. This composition juxtaposed the cool iris note with the delicious warmth of chocolate, for an original, fire-and-ice effect.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Après l'Ondée, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue (all Guerlain classics have a pronounced iris note), Chanel No 19


In simple terms, freesia is a violet with a Concord grape like note and metallic rose overtones. Although it is a modern floral note, I cannot fail to mention it because of one particularly beautiful fragrance--Antonia’s Flowers. It replicates the scent of a florist shop filled with freesia, evoking as much the aroma of fresh petals and crushed stems as the joyful feeling of finding oneself surrounded by flowers. Today, it is used as an accent in many compositions, especially the fruity-floral blends, where it can form a link between the sweet fruity and the crisp floral notes.

Must-know classic: Antonia's Flowers, Prescriptives Calyx (freesia is used to accent an orange blossom and grapefruit accord)


Soft yellow clusters of mimosa blossoms evoke spring in the Mediterranean, and the scent of mimosa is an exhilarating mélange of honey, violet and cucumber. In perfumery, there are several mimosa related materials: cassie (Acacia farnesiana) is warm and powdery, with a spicy cinnamon. Mimosa (Acacia decurrens) has a beautiful woody-floral, honeyed character. Mimosa is a challenging note, and it is most frequently used as an accent in floral blends. Nevertheless, for someone who wants something different from the usual jasmine or rose like floral scents, I recommend seeking out fragrances where this note dominates.

One of my favorite mimosa fragrances is Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie, a floral that verges on woody and leathery. It is a challenging fragrance, so if you are new to mimosa, L’Artisan Mimosa pour Moi would be the best place to start. Bond No 9 Fashion Avenue makes mimosa heady by pairing it with other lush floral motifs, while Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte unexpectedly layers it with chocolate and black currant for a dramatic effect. Guerlain Champs-Élysées may be much maligned by critics, but I find it pretty and vivacious, which is never a bad thing. Finally, Caron Farnesiana is a classical composition that treats mimosa as a delicious almond macaron.

Must-know classic: Caron Farnesiana

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