We’ve been focussing on those ‘forgotten flowers’ in perfumery, perhaps seen as a little old fashioned once, but which are re-blooming once again…
Last time we looked at freesia, and in the most recent edition of The Scented Letter Magazine, we invited you to Step Into the Garden with the main feature dedicated to re-exploring roses, magolias, violets, peonies and osmanthus. But today, we’d like to tempt you to try: lily of the valley.
Regarded as a lucky charm ever since its first introduction from Japan to Europe in the Middle Ages, lily of the valley has become synonymous with the month of May and ‘the return of happiness’. For the French, May 1st traditionally represents the start of gifting bouquets of “muguet” to loved ones to signify the regard in which they’re held and as a token of prosperity for the year ahead. A tradition supposedly begun when King Charles IX was presented with a bunch of the delicate blooms, and decided to gift the ladies of his court, too.
In Europe, ‘bals de muguet’ were historically held – lily of the valley themed dances that offered the tantalising prospect for young singletons to meet without their parents’ permission.
An iconic (and ultra-chic) lily of valley fragrance was the original Dior Diorissimo, designed in 1956 by Edmond Roudnitska. Composed in homage to Christian Dior’s favorite flowe, the lily of the valley was to be found on his personal stationary, jacklet lapels, printed on his fashion designs, and, on one occasion, inspired his entire 1954 spring collection.
A more recent icon is Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley, which was launched in 1976 – tapping into the fashion trend for romantic nostalgia – and which is wonderfully described as ‘Lacey leaves. Dappled light. Green, clean, wholesome. Lily of the Valley is as fresh and optimistic as the morning dew, grounded by notes of bergamot and sandalwood.’
With the young gals dressed in white gowns and the dapper chaps at those historic bals wearing lily of the valley as a buttonhole, we’re sure there was many a ‘return to happiness’ on such evenings… Now the custom is tied in with France’s Labour Day public holiday, and the tradition of giving lily of the valley to loved ones during May still holds strong.
But perfumers love using this elusive scent all-year ’round, and we’ve seen an increasing number of fragrances using lily of the valley once again.
Lily of the valley has also made its way into countless bridal bouquets (including that of Kate Middleton for her wedding to Prince Willliam); in many countries, it’s linked to this day with tenderness, love, faith, happiness and purity.
No wonder we chose this delightful, flower-filled date in the calendar to launch The Perfume Society – running hither and thither all over London handing sprigs of lily of the valley to fragrant friends!
So what does lily of the valley smell like?
Almost spicy, so green and sweet, with crisp hints of lemon: that’s lily of the valley. The flowers themselves are really mean with their oil, though, and synthetics are more often used to recreate lily of the valley’s magic: Lilial, Lyral and hydroxycitronellal are among them.
Far from reserving this magical note for May, or thinking that it has to be ‘old-fashioned’ smelling in a scent, we love the way perfumers use lily of the valley to ‘open up’ and freshen the other floral notes in a blend. It can smell like a woodland walk just after a rainshower (so very apropos for our weather right now, in the U.K.) or add some gentle sparkles of sunlight amid more verdant or deeper, shady phases as a scent unfurls on your skin.
Try these five fragrances in which lily of the valley is resplendent, and discover why we love this note so much…
Perfumer Jordi Fernandez’s exquisite layering of iris, lily of the valley and Egyptian jasmine over a hazy layer of musks, is designed to conjure up the scent of an Italian stately garden, the sun setting and the hedgerows scenting the alleyways.
Merchant of Venice Imperial Emerald £250 for 100ml eau de parfum
Oh, this is a crisp stroll, bottled. Pears, bergamots and black currants drip onto aqueous blooms, sunlit lily of the valley and dewy roses, with musks softening a woody trail. Close your eyes and dream of spring already.
Maison Margiela Springtime In a Park £98 for 100ml eaux de toilette
Lily of the valley adds a weightless airiness that manages to be discreet, mysterious and sexy all at the same time. Infused with the signature musk, it sighs to a heart of roses, the dry-down a vibrant hum of black cedar, white cedar and tonka bean.
Narciso Rodriguez Eau de Toilette Rouge From £41 for 30ml eau de toilette
This gauzy tapestry of petals feels like wearing a tulle gown sprinkled with sequins. Jasmine and rose are laced through with bright violet leaf and a shivering flurry of lily of the valley; while ribbons of white musk and ambergris weave through succulent papaya.
Goldea Blossom Delight £74 for 100ml eau de parfum
Cast off any grey clouds with this delightful zing of a scent – the lily of the valley’s so crisp in here it practically makes your mouth water. Twisting with tendrils of honekysuckle and grounded on a base of akigalawood and transparent patchouli, it’s a winner no matter the weather.
Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue from £50 for 30ml eau de parfum
By Suzy Nightingale