Forgotten flowers: lily of the valley _ a fascinating history + why perfumers love it, now!

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 Victorian card

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.

lily of the valley poem

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…

lily of the valley perfumes Imperial Emerald

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
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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
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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
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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
harrods.com

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
johnlewis.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Daniel Sonabend’s 5 musical fragrances

London-based composer Daniel Sonabend today releases Scent Constellation – an album of ‘five musical fragrance creations’ based on Jason Bruges’ award-winning permanent installation at Le Grand Musèe du Parfum in Paris.

Music and fragrance have long been linked – we use the same language to describe and shape their creations, after all: we talk of ‘notes’, ‘accords’, and of course a perfumer may use an ‘organ’ to ‘compose’ their piece – this ‘instrument’ the very inspiration behind Daniel’s creative interpretation.

Daniel Sonabend. Photo by Michal Sulima

There’s a deeper connection, too, when we experience fragrance and music – no other art can move us in quite the same way as smelling a scent that suddenly whisks us, unbidden, to an overwhelmingly distinct emotion or memory; similarly, we cannot control our reaction to hearing a piece of music for the first time. Both of these cause instantaneous emotions we feel before we can logically process, as the hautingly beautiful, ethereal soundscapes Daniel has created for Scent Constellation, most certainly attest to.

Daniel was a guest speaker at the Art & Olfaction Scent Summit, which was held in London this year, describing the multi-sensory art piece, created by Jason Bruges Studio, in which he intriguingly portrays the very creation – and visceral perception – of perfume through sound.

Jason Bruges’ Scent Constellation at Le Grand Musèe du Parfums, Paris, where Daniel Sonabend’s music is played. Photo by James Medcraft

Experiencing Jason Bruges’ installation at Le Grand Musèe du Parfum, spectators see a ‘perfumer’s organ’ depicted by 200 optical prisms directly linking to 200 sounds, representing a fragrant palette of raw ingredients, from bergamot oil to synthetic musk and violet leaf. These musical notes react in the way a traditional perfume pyramid does: top notes fleetingly present, heart notes lingering longer and base notes providing a lasting emotion.

The ingredient sounds are then ingeniously ‘mixed’ together, creating 5 different perfume music compositions: Eau de Cologne, Oriental, Fougère, Floral and Chypre (see feature image at the top of the page). ‘In the museum, these olfactory mini-symphonies are harmoniously played out with light as each ingredient from the fragrance formula is triggered by a laser beam hitting the prism, then bouncing into and illuminating a glass flacon centre piece, bottling the final creation. A poetic audio-visual metaphor for the process of imagining new perfumes.’

Scent Constellation album artwork

During our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell workshops, we often ask people to imagine which instrument or piece of music they would liken to the scent they’re (blind) smelling, and you know what? They’re never lost for an answer. Our senses blur all the time, and it’s fascinating to really give in to the synaesthesia, sometimes.

Experience Daniel’s Scent Constellation album for yourself, below. You can also listen via Spotify, if you prefer. Whichever you choose, can you hear the fragrances, smell the music…?

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Aesop home fragrances: formulated to stir the senses…

Aesop have fragrance at their heart, but always linked to the efficacy and wellbeing benefits of their produtcs. Never a brand to slap a nice smelling scent in for the sake of it, they’ve now launched a trio of home fragrances created by perfumer, Barnabé Fillion, with the premise that Istros, Cythera and Olous will ‘…transform the home, redefining the physical space that surrounds us.’
Each of the room sprays has been commissioned with a bespoke musical track composed to evoke the notes of the scents themselves, and with such a connection between music and perfume – we speak of musical and fragrance ‘accords’, the ‘notes’ of a scent, a perfumer arranging their ingredients on an ‘organ’ – it’s an harmonious match, indeed.

Aesop say: ‘Just as each Aromatique Room Spray unfurls in a melody of top, heart and base notes, composer and musician Jesse Paris Smith has created three distinctive tracks to narrate the shifting journey.’
Istros
A union of enlivening florals and smoky tobacco, underscored by the embrace of sandalwood.
Istros is a scent of what has been left behind: a street baked by heat during the day, cooled at night; tendrils of tobacco smoke long dispersed; bazaars that bear the etchings of commerce, commotion and carnival. But more than this, it is a communion with the creative spirits who have journeyed through – an energy distilled from their traces.
Cythera
A veil of geranium and incense, lent symmetry by woody patchouli and the warmth of myrrh.
Cythera conjures a moonlit garden as vespertine flowers relax their petals and nocturnal animals emerge from sleep. Drawing us into the present, an atmosphere of reverence is stirred as darkness returns. The air in this space holds a delicate aroma woven with the memory of the day, and the promise of the evening ahead.
Olus
A blend of citrus botanicals, balanced by breaking waves of cedar and the refreshing spice of cardamom.
Just as words are born of our breath, Olous rouses an exhalation of clipped, green aroma. Boundless as it is, nature makes its presence felt inside the home – stillness ensues. The environment is redefined to an elemental time, when life was all silence – pleasantly devoid of the babble of phone chatter, or the burring hum of the mechanical.
You can listen to the soundtracks on the Aesop website, and we highly recommend taking a few minutes to sit down, spritz and chill to the scents…

Aesop Aromatique Room Sprays, £37 for 200ml
Buy them at Aesop
Written by Suzy Nightingale
 

Seasonal scented ingredients that make winter sparkle…

Frosty foliage glittering beguilingly is uplifting to the soul on wickedly cold mornings, and although our hearts (and hands!) may yearn for the warmth of summer, we can remind ourselves that the onset of winter also heralds some truly magical ingredients that are inexorably associated with the season.
We’ve listed four of our favourites, below, but where does your (cold) nose take you when the frost bites? Well, if you click on the names of the ingredients, you’ll be whisked to their fascinating and fact-filled individual pages, where you can also find a list of perfumes to try with that as the prominant note…
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Myrrh
Long associated with Christmas (one of the three gifts given to the infant Jesus),used in religious ceremonies and magical rites; myrrh is actually a gum resin, tapped from the True Myrrh tree, or Commiphora Myrrha, and originating in parts of Arabia, Somalia and Ethiopia. Tapping the tree to make small incisions, small teardrop-shaped droplets ‘bleed’ from the trunk and are left to harden into bead-like nuggets, which are then steam-distilled to produce an essential oil. Myrrh gets its name from the Hebrew ‘murr’ or ‘maror’, which translates as ‘bitter’. It’s earthy. It’s resinous. It’s intriguing. And it’s still a key ingredient in many sensual and iconic Oriental perfumes today…
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Pssst! Read more about the fascinating history of myrrh, and how Jo Malone London have used this precious indredient in their soon to be released latest perfume, in our hot-off-the-press glossy magazine: The Scented Letter.
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Pine
There are good pine smells, and, well… horrid pine smells. If you’ve ever sat in the back of a taxi with one of those ‘Christmas tree’-scented cards dangling from the rear-view mirror, you’ll probably get where we’re coming from. But pine can also be wonderful crisp, spicy, outdoorsy and invigorating – and it’s been closely linked to perfume creation since the time of the early Arab perfumers, who liked it in combination with frankincense, in particular…
 
cinnamon
Cinnamon
Spicily enticing, comforting and sweet, all at once.  Our love of cinnamon dates back thousands of years:  2000 years ago the Egyptians were weaving it into perfumes (though it probably originates way before that, in China). Because cinnamon bark oil is a sensitiser – and as such, you may ‘cinnamates’ on perfume packaging, as a warning – where natural cinnamon’s used, it’s likely to have been distilled from the leaves and twigs.  But it’s often also synthesised, adding a spicy warmth to Orientals (and quite a few men’s scents)…
oranges
Orange
Studded with cloves we can hang these ultra-Christmas-sy pomanders from our trees for an instant Yuletide hit. But where would perfumery be without orange…?  The blossom of the bitter orange tree (a.k.a. neroli, when it’s extracted in a particular way) is one of the most precious scent ingredients of all.  Bigarade, from the fruit of that tree, is another key ingredient in colognes, while its leaves give us petitgrain, another popular element in citrussy scents.  And then there’s orange itself (sometimes referred to as sweet orange, to distinguish it from the bitter, ‘marmalade’ variety.)
There are many more notes to discover and explore in our Ingredients section of the wbsite, so why not take a sensorial journey and follow your nose there, now…?
Written by Suzy Nightingale