May Day, 2013

Muguet for May Day
(Is this photo not absolutely gorgeous? Click on it to be taken to the photographer’s Flickr page.)

Not having had much of a tradition of celebrating May Day, other than the Maypoles we used to dance around in elementary school, I’ve adopted the sweet one of celebrating muguet, or lily of the valley, as a good-luck charm on the first day of May.

Muguet (or LotV, as it’s often abbreviated by fumeheads), is a tricky note. It cannot be produced from the flowers, as they yield no scented oil, and must be produced by a combination of several synthetic aromachemicals, at least one of which has been severely restricted in the past 3-5 years, so that recently manufactured lily of the valley notes smell mostly like harsh cleansers.

Does that make you as sad as it makes me?

There are innumerable muguet fragrances on the market still, but very few that have really charmed me.  Here’s a wonderful article on the note from Elena at Perfume Shrine, if you’d like to go exploring.  I’m going to list a few muguet scents that I really like.

diorissimo gruauI have a bottle of Diorissimo, once recognized as Queen of all the Muguet scents – it was lively, floral, young, scrubbed clean on top but with an undercurrent of human warmth underneath, provided by the animal growl of civet. By the time I bought my bottle (a tester bottle from approximately 2006), that animal growl had largely disappeared, and so had some of the sparkle.  It’s still lovely, still wearable, but there is the tiniest hint of screech in it if you pay attention.

1947muguetaddukeI can remember being entranced with a bottle of Coty Muguet de Bois back in about 1985 or so, when I located it at the Big Lots store. I should have bought it even though my mother kept telling me that I already had plenty of perfume and what on earth did I want with something that cheap?  I remember it as having a pronounced green quality (always a draw for me, of course) as well as the lily of the valley, but I remember almost nothing else about it.  It’s still in production, but I hear that like all (ALL! Coty, you SUCK!) of Coty’s fragrances surviving from earlier days, its composition has been cheapened and now it smells like a ghost of its former self.

kenzo p d'eteKenzo Parfum d’Ete – the old one, from 1992, as opposed to the newer one from 2002, which is also lovely but far less floral – is a staple for spring-through-early-summer for me. It doesn’t really smell like summer to me, as summer in these parts can be ripe, humid, heavy. Other than that, though, it is really delightful. There is a crispness to this one, probably from the identifiable hyacinth and green notes, but the muguet is prominent. There’s a beautiful clean fresh-air quality that flows through it, approximating the smell of sheets dried in the sun, and I think I love Parfum d’Ete best sprayed on sheets or a nightgown, where it helps me relax into sleep.

2666455-lily-of-the-valley-forest-of-springAnd then there is Andy Tauer’s genius muguet fragrance called Carillon pour une Ange, which I like to refer to privately as “Angel Bells.” I reviewed this one here, if you’d like to read further about it, but it is truly wonderful. I only have three small 1ml samples, and have not quite yet used up the first of them; this one would probably be overwhelming for me if sprayed. Two drops will scent me for a good six hours, with excellent projection, thank goodness. I doubt I’ll ever buy a full bottle, but I don’t ever want to be without at least a sample of it, because it is stunning. There is an earthiness to the thing which reminds me of the dirt those little white bells grow in, a forest-floor wildness that serves as a marked contrast to the clear floral tones, and I love it. I do.  It smells exactly like the photo above, with the saturated green notes, the lily of the valley, and under all the mossy-mulchy deliciousness of fresh damp dirt.

Wishing you all a wonderful May Day.  Today I’ve chosen Carillon pour une Ange – I waited to see what the weather would be like before making my choice. If it had been dry and sunny I’d probably have picked Diorissimo, but it’s damp and misty, and under those conditions the “Angel Bells” really sing.


Spring: An Embarrassment of Riches

 Redbud in the Morning Sun

My scent wardrobe is, like the climate in which I live, very seasonal.  We have weather distinct from one season to the next, and it can range from below 0F in winter, with snow and wind and hail, to 98F in summer, hot and practically humid enough to grow mushrooms on your skin.  The most comfortable seasons in this area tend to be spring and fall, with moderate temperatures and cool breezes and sunshine, though we certainly get plenty of rain (the average annual rainfall in my county is approximately 38 inches).

There are certain fragrances I wear at just about any time of the year, perennial go-tos.  There are other fragrances I associate with certain seasons or weathers, and I never think of wearing them at other times.  I love changing my fragrance with the season – I bring them out of the perfume cabinet and place them in the decorative hatbox on my dresser for easy access, and tenderly stow away the out-of-season back in the cabinet.  I try to wear my seasonal fragrances when they are in season, appreciating each  one like a beautiful day, though choosing among them is often a challenge.

Winter is easy: Alahine.  Ubar, Lyric, Memoir. Tiny dribble of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant, if the weather is cold and damp.  Carnal Flower or La Myrrhe, if the air is so cold it turns to crystal.  Dolce Vita parfum.  Parfum Sacre. Vanille Tonka.    

Autumn is easier: Tabac Aurea, always. Champagne de Bois, Organza Indecence. Shalimar Light.  Vintage Magie Noire, if the weather is just right: cold, rainy, windy.  Smell Bent One.

Summer is easiest, with the fewest season-devoted scents: Fleur de Matin, Hanae Mori Haute Couture.  Ines de la Fressange first edition. Moschino Funny!, Rose d’Ete.

But spring?  Spring is hard.  I hate choosing in spring.  Green scents?  Violets? Lily of the valley?  Green florals, floral chypres, straight-up florals?  There are so many, and I love them all, and they all say “spring” to me in some way.

What to choose? And how to make sure nothing gets left out?  I still don’t know.  I have no real plan, I just get up and pick something to delight in.  Some favorites for spring:

Crown Perfumery Crown Bouquet – “the greenest of all flower gardens.”  A big green juicy smack of galbanum and marigold gives way to very, very tender white flowers, from a wisp of tuberose to a hint of lily of the valley.

Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete – a shifting green-and-gold symphony like sunlight dripping through green leaves.  Galbanum, green notes, narcissus, hyacinth, patchouli, moss and woods combine to create the essence of happiness for me.

Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve – this long-discontinued, much-coveted floral chypre gem gleams like good pearls.  Very elegant yet gentle, with a powdery softness due to aldehydes and oakmoss, it is a reserved and quiet pleasure.

Jacomo Silences – cool, silver-green perfection.  Contemplative, streamlined, nothing extraneous at all.  Satin ribbons of galbanum, iris, rose, oakmoss.

Penhaligon’s Violetta – simplicity itself: green leaves, purple flowers, a whisper of sandalwood.  Shy but lovely.

DSH Perfumes White Lilac – the true delight of lilac sweetness, garnished only with a handful of leaves and a sprinkling of spice.  A joyful scent.

Guerlain Chamade – the essence of romance, it slowly blooms from chilly green opening to the budding jasmine-ylang-rose heart and on to the full-blown warmth of mimosa and vanilla in the drydown.  A perfume for surrender. 

Balmain Jolie Madame, in vintage parfum – a gorgeous juxtaposition of green notes, violet and gardenia against smooth leather.  Bittersweet in the best sense.

Chanel No. 19 – the Seven-League Boots of pure beauty and empowerment.  Galbanum, iris, oakmoss, and a whiff of leather, elegance with a riding crop.

Parfums DelRae Amoureuse – Languorous and vibrant all at once, with green notes, richly sensuous white florals, spicy notes, and honey set against a slightly-mossy sandalwood background. 

Christian Dior Diorissimo – the essence of spring, in the form of lilies of the valley.  That is all.  And it is spectacular.

What’s on your spring list?