In the Search for the Perfect Lily of the Valley

I grew up with May Day being an International Workers Day. Even though it was a holiday, it was an official holiday and people were required to participate in parades officially held in all major cities and translated by all TV stations. In my city, I remember, all traffic would be blocked for those demonstrations in the downtown area from early morning and until 2-3 p.m. My room’s window was facing one of the major streets and I would be woken up by music, megaphone announcements and other human noises. And then, for hours, non-stopping streams of people with flags, banners, balloons and artificial flowers would flow by my window toward the main city square. As a child I liked that holiday: it was a real beginning of the spring, we would get two days off school, kids weren’t a part of those demonstrations (unless their parents took them to their groups formed by places of work) but it was festive, different from regular weekends and there always was something interesting to do during or after the main event (like shooting balloons with a slingshot, for example).

Lily of the valley

I haven’t been not only celebrating but even acknowledging this holiday for many-many years and this year with everything going on under the sign of this day I’d be even less inclined to feel any nostalgia towards May Day if it weren’t for my hobby. Starting last year, when I read about it for the first time, I chose to associate this day with a beautiful French tradition of giving bouquets of lily of the valley.

I’m fascinated by this flower. I’ve always been. It looks fragile and lusty at the same time as if those tiny flowers were carved out of a very white ivory and carefully placed against a backdrop of flat wide leaves. And I love a very distinct lily of the valley aroma unmistakable with any other.

For a while I was collecting samples of perfumes built around this beautiful flower and testing them for this post in my Single Note Exploration series. Then I was struggling with a horde of lemmings born after I read an announcement about this year’s limited edition bottle of Muguet by Guerlein. How cool would it have been to make a picture of that gorgeous bottle for the post about lily of the valley note in perfumery?! It wasn’t easy but I won with the moral support from Victoria (Bois de Jasmine) and Natalie (Another Perfume Blog) despite Tara’s subversive actions! Instead I bought the last in the store pot with lily of the valley and took pictures of my very photogenic cat Rusty playing with it.

Rusty & lily of the valley

That was a hell of a preamble. But don’t worry: since I’m not doing real reviews I’ll try to be laconic. I’ll skip usual “created by” and notes lists since most of these are well-known perfumes.

*

All perfumes I tested can be divided into three categories: Lily of the Valley I didn’t Like, Lily of the Valley I couldn’t Smell and Lily of the Valley I Loved.

Lily of the Valley I didn’t Like

Muguet Blanc by Van Cleef & Arpels – I smell an apple in it even though it’s not mention in notes. An artificial apple. It’s wrong. On paper I remember it being more lily-of-the-valley-y but on my skin it smells rather unpleasant in the first 45 minutes even though I think I recognize the scent of the flower. For my nose Muguet Blanc smells of a cheap synthetic lily of the valley air freshener brought in the room full of not just wilting but decaying in water floral bouquets. Then the freshener wins.  In 2 hours it’s a perfectly nice scent on my skin. I’m not sure I’ll ever finish my sample.

Le Muguet by Annick Goutal – in general, it’s nice, slightly more perfume-y than other believable lily of the valley renderings but still very recognizable. Le Muguet has some sweetness but it’s not overly sweet to my nose. Unfortunately, during one of three testing I got some plastic-y note. It might be my skin reaction but understanding that doesn’t make Le Muguet more wearable for me. I will give my sample another try but I do not see this perfume joining my collection in any form after that. You should try Le Muguet since it might behave differently on you (and if it does it smells really nice and natural).

Idylle by Guerlain – for the first couple of times when I tested it (a year ago) I was sure it was a rose scent. And then one day my nose picked out a prominent lily of the valley note. Since then I always think of Idylle as of a lily of the valley perfume. When tried in parallel with the other perfumes that are closer to being a soliflore Idylle feels more complex, more perfume-like and less lily-of-the-valley-centric creation than the rest perfumes I tested. I do not think Idylle is bad, it’s just not special enough for me to go beyond the sample I have (if even that).

Rusty & lily of the valley

Lily of the Valley I couldn’t Smell

When I read about Andy Tauer’s lily of the valley perfume I was very excited. There are just several Andy’s perfumes that work for me but I thought: how bad can it be if a talented perfumer creates a perfume with one of my favorite floral note in the middle of the composition? Well…

Carillon pour un ange by Tauer Perfumes – I smell pollen, a lot of sweetness and, I think, some mimosa. It has a great tenacity and I think it’s a very nice, very masterfully created perfume. But I couldn’t smell lily of the valley in it at all! I was so upset when I tried Carillon pour un ange for the first two times, I felt so cheated that I gave away my sample.

It wasn’t until several months later when, after trying DSH’s Muguet de Mai Perfume and Muguet Cologne, I realized that while I couldn’t smell lily of the valley in there either it seemed to me that both Andy and Dawn smelled (tried to re-create?) the same flower. Muguet de Mai starts very lemon-y plus some earth note. Muguet Cologne starts earthy and then turns into more floral composition… Both without much lily of the valley how I know it. I got another sample of Carillon pour un ange just to confirm my impression. And I can tell that though these three are completely different perfumes I smell more in common between them than between any one of them and lily of the valley. Compared to the real flower (I think I spent hours doing that for all perfumes I tested for this post) I kind of “see” the idea but all three don’t smell as lily of the valley to me. It should be my nose, right? Samples will stay in my scents reference library.

Diorissimo

Lily of the Valley I Loved

For the First of May this year I wore Diorissimo by Dior. I own a bottle of the current EdT and a vintage mini that has problems with top notes but then it’s fine. Diorissimo is so nice and spring-like!  I do not love it but I like it enough to enjoy wearing from time to time. Even though Diorissimo has a prominent lily of the valley accord I do not think of it as of a soliflore. When I wear it I wear a perfume. But only when I smelled Diorissimo together with the real flower I realized how close they were. I always knew that Diorissimo was an iconic lily of the valley perfume; I wore it knowing it smelled of lily of the valley but I’ve never realized how much it smelled like lily of the valley. Wow.

Muguet by Guerlain – is a fresh and very… clear scent – not in the sense “airy” but rather “without impurities” like a diamond or “not distorted” as in “clear sound”. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I fought off the urge to buy a full bottle of this perfume but I’m amazed at how much I liked it and how true it is to the real lily of the valley. I get everything – sweetness of the flowers, greenness of the leaves, general warmth of the scent. The only component that isn’t there is earthiness but I do not miss it, I’m fine with the pure floral part of the plant. I want a full bottle but will have to settle for a small decant of Muguet if I can find it. It’s so beautiful!

Lily of the Valley by Penhaligon’s – I like it a lot. It’s bright, warm and very realistic. I’m not too familiar with this brand, I’ve tested just a few of their perfumes and I haven’t formed any opinion about the house yet. It was the last perfume I tested for this episode and I think I didn’t expect it to be as good as it proved to be. I suspect that I like Muguet slightly better not even because it’s Guerlain but because I loved the bottle and all that “one day only” marketing BS (sorry, Guerlain, I start liking you more and more but this February Muguet 2011 was still available at the boutique). But I’m not sure if in a blind sniffing I would be able to tell them apart. I plan to add a mini bottle of Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley to my collection.

I read a rumor some time ago that Frederic Malle had a plan to add a lily-of-the-valley-centric perfume into their line-up. If it happens I will definitely try it. Other than that I do not plan on actively seeking any more perfumes with that note being a dominant one.

Rusty & lily of the valley

How about you? Do you like lily of the valley – as a flower or a perfume note? Do you wear it? And, what I’m mostly interested in, if you tried perfumes from my Lily of the Valley I couldn’t Smell category, did you smell lily of the valley in them?

 

Images: my own (I hope there was enough of them to compensate for the long story)

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36 thoughts on “In the Search for the Perfect Lily of the Valley

  1. Oh gosh! I loooooove Carillon pour un Ange. LOVE. It may be my wedding perfume. But, I’m not 100% sure I’ve ever smelled real lilies of the valley, so I just love it as a perfume- not for its truth to the lily note.

    You have NOT helped my lemmings for the Guerlain Muguet. I can get the current Diorissimo at the Saks near me, so I plan to try that soon… ashamed to say that as many times as I’ve been there, I’ve never put it on skin. And now I’m very curious about the Penhaligon’s too.

    • Ok… I think you just confirm my suspicion that I do not smell something in Carillon pour un Ange that others can smell.

      You should definitely try Diorissimo! Even if for the educational purposes only. As to the Penhaligon’s one… I think it can be a good substitution for Guerlain’s Muguet. Well, at least as far as my nose goes.

  2. Rusty is a pure entertainer, amazing! Love the photos! I’ll play the devil’s advocate here and say: Go for the Muguet!!! Rare bottles you love are not to be waffled about. Go get yourself a bottle!

    • Rusty is cute. And in general a nice cat. For that I forgive him occasional 6 a.m. cries under my bedroom door.

      If I see this year’s Muguet bottle in real life (and there is a good chance I might later this year) and like it I still might go for it. But for now I’m hesitant to do that “blind buy”. But thank you for the encouragement, Birgit ;)

  3. Lily of the valey is my mother’s favourite flower and I still remember picking them with my mother when I was little.
    My favourite is Diorissimo but Andy’s Carillon reminds me a lot of that experience in the woods, picking flowers.

    • Ines, it’s interesting… I’ve never picked lily of the valley in nature – those that I knew either grew in my grandmother’s garden or were sold already as cut bouquets in the city – which happened more often since I almost never visited Grandma at lily-of-the-valley-season of year.

  4. How is it that you and that cat of yours get more adorable by the day? I loved, loved this post … especially thinking about you shooting balloons with a slingshot on International Workers Day (and learning more about that holiday and how you perceived it as a child)to your wonderful impressions on each of the lily-of-the-valley perfumes, most of which I haven’t tried, so I have to say that vintage Diorissimo is my favorite. It truly is gorgeous and a realistic representation of the flower, in my opinion, yet you’re right … perfumey enough that it feels like more than a solifore. Since you love the Guerlain Muguet so much, and this flower really is special to you, I hope at the very least that you get a decant.

    Now, lastly, Rusty … how does he do it? Always look so good! ;-)

    • Suzanne, thank you for your kind words. I had fun remembering that period of my life. I was actually not bad at aiming as I remember. And we had some unspoken code of ethics: we would never shoot a single baloon or a baloon carried by a kid.

      I have to confess: this time I actually planned to shoot Rusty (unlike most other times when he just jumps into the picture – invited or not) so I brushed him before the photo session and then, at some point, even bribed him with some treats :)

  5. Like Susan, I’m not sure I’ve ever smelled real LOTV. Added to that, until recently I was unaware that May Day was still celebrated in other parts of the world – feeling kinda provincial right now. (Where I live, Victoria Day weekend is the big May holiday: it’s when most people plant their gardens, and the unofficial beginning of the camping season.)

    The only one on that list I’ve smelled thus far is Diorissimo, which unfortunately went terribly sour on me as florals at that level tend to go. Now I want to try and track down a bouquet of LOTV and inhale deeply.

    • Dionne, where I grew up we had several holidays with the name containing the word “International”. I was well into my twenties when I learned that in reality it meant “we and several “sattellite” countries”. So do not feel bad about not knowing about some strange holiday.

      I’m not surprised Diorissimo didn’t work for you and, most likely, the other perfumes I mentioned won’t work either. But you might want to try Carillon pour un Ange: I’m not sure any skin can do any significan damage to Andy’s bases ;)

  6. I very much enjoyed reading about your lilyof-the -valey scents! Here the 1st of May is also celebrated with big parades and lots of red flags. But I’m not into that so we took the kids to the zoo :)

    I agree that Tauers CpA doesn’t smell like lily-of-the-valley at all. I don’t understand that one, it’s an overly sweet horrid mess on my skin. Diorissimo, on the other hand, I find very interesting. It’s balancing on the edge of utter floral beauty and something chemical. Makes me think of a Riesling wine, the petrolium feeling you know. It’s the “brightest” perfume I know of and I suspect I’ll have to test it several more times until I’ll even start to “get” it…

    • Zoo was one of the places to where we would go after the parade (after – because during it was almost impossible to get there).

      When I stopped expecting lily of the valley from Carillon pour un Ange it feels much better: just another Tauer’s perfume that doesn’t work for me – even though I recognize how unusual, interesting and complex it is.

    • Portia, I’m not sure it will grow where you live: it’s too warm. As far as I know, both lilac and lily of the valley need a colder winter to bloom in spring. Neither of them grow naturally in California (there is a couple of types developed for our climate but they require special treatment). I think you should go for perfumes directly, without comparing them “to the real thing” – less heartbreaks ;)

  7. Well done for resisting my subversive efforts, Undina! I do hope you get to see a bottle later int he year but isn’t it only available to buy on 1st May?

    Lily of the Valley perfumes aren’t for me so I’m not any help there but I enjoyed your take on them and particularly love that first pic of Rusty looking suitably wistful with that beautiful plant.

    Oh and just LOVE reading about your childhood memories concerning the country you’re from. The images always stick in my mind long after reading the post.

    • As I mentioned earlier, last year’s perfume was still available this February in Las Vegas boutique. So if I see this year’s bottle at a real store and it’s as beautiful as it looks on pictures… I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist.

      I’ll be very careful with images, I don’t want you to be stuck with some “dead Russian” ((c)Birgit) ;)

  8. Diorissimo is quite a symphony, but Penhaligon’s LOTV is a catchy little tune in its own right. Have you ever tried Mughetto by Santa Maria Novello? Nice, if a little piercing.

    • SMN isn’t a brand which I met in real life ever so my one or two samples so far came from somebody else and Mughetto wasn’t even a name I’ve heard. So thank you for the idea, Meg – I’ll remember it now and will try if I get a chance.

  9. Rusty is so photogenic! I especially love the picture under Idylle.

    I too enjoyed this post from start to finish. Your picture of International Worker’s Day and your category for the LOTV scents, all of it! I like the smell of Lily of the Valley, but many of the fragrances turn my stomach a bit, which is too bad. The only one I can wear for more than a few minutes is Diorissimo, lightly applied.

  10. Hello,

    Too bad you don’t like Idylle. I find it almost perfect. Serious, deep intensive perfume based around rose. My gf likes it a lot even though she doesn’t like florals in general.
    Like this post a lot :)

    Juraj
    BL’eauOG

    • Welcome, Juraj!

      It’s not that I really dislike Idylle (meaning: I wouldn’t refused a bottle from the sky) but on the great scale of all perfumes I’m currently testing or have on my wish list this one wasn’t making the cut.

    • Thank you, Thomas (plus 1 thank you from Rusty for the extra treat)!

      Guerlain is good (and that’s why it’s dengerous!) so try at your own risk ;)

  11. I cannot get over that cat of yours with his uber-cute poses! And like Suzanne, I was interested to learn about the International Workers Day celebrations of your childhood, which sound awfully like the 12th July celebrations in Northern Ireland, where I grew up. The so-called Orangemen process all day long, and woe betide anyone who tries to cross the road as they are marching past.

    I like LOTV very much as a note, and Vanille Galante is one of my favourite expositions of it, in which it is teamed with ylang ylang and a salty accord. I have not tried the Guerlain Muguet, but it does sound great. And based on my own experience of perfumes featuring a LOTV note, Diorissimo takes the top spot for verisimiltude in my book! I know I have reviewed Carillon pour un Ange at some point but must refresh my memory as to what I thought of it. Okay, so it seems I got a metallic bite to it, prompting me to entitle the post “galvanising the lily” and comment as follows: “This is not a gilded lily, but a lily in an iron fist. The lily equivalent of “steel magnolias”, if you will. : – )

    But I still got the lily in there somewhere, hehe!

    • Thank you, Vanessa: it’s interesting to know that somebody I know (ok, “know”) smells LotV in CpuA.

      Definitely no crossing the road! It wasn’t even an option: police was watching along marching lines.

      One treat in your name goes to Rusty as well. Fortunately, he isn’t smart enough to figure out the correlation between his “participation” in those photo sessions and extra treats coming his way.

  12. I’ve been thinking about how you found Tauers CpA and DSH Muguets share a common note. I’ve tried two other muguets lately; DelRaes Debut and Etat Libre d’Orange Don’t get me Wrong… and they both remind me of CpA (although I haven’t been able to compare as I gave away my sample long ago). The “muguet” note in them has a tiny rubbery/plasticy feel, not the delicate and heady petrolium/gasoline/Riesling of, say, Diorissimo. I’m thinking, might there be different types of lily-of-the-valley?

    • I do not know. I’ve never come across another type of lily-of-the-valley. I saw in wikipedia that there are some small variations but I’ve never heard or read about them smelling differently. So I still suspect that it’s how our noses interpret the scent, not the scent itself. If it weren’t for these two very talented perfumers who independently created a similar smelling note to represent LotV, I would have thought that one of them just failed. But now I think that I just don’t smell what they smell.

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