Spring Is in the Air
It’s May Day – a time to celebrate the arrival of warm, sunny spring days. In France, it is customary to offer your beloved a sprig of muguet de bois (lily of the valley) on the first of May. This lovely tradition was initiated by Charles IX, who, according to legend, received a bouquet of the delicate white flowers as a token of good luck. The young king grew so enamored of the tiny bell-like blossoms that he henceforth presented lily of the valley flowers to the ladies of his court every May 1 for the rest of his short reign.
Lily of the valley, also known as May Bells, is firmly associated with the joyous rebirth of life that occurs each spring. In the “language of flowers” (floriography), lily of the valley symbolizes the return of happiness. However, its delicate, ephemeral scent is impossible to extract from the flower and must be recreated by the perfumer’s art. This fragile spring blossom’s ethereal fragrance is exceedingly difficult to reconstruct in the laboratory. All too often lily of the valley notes become harsh and soapy. And, the lily of the valley oils that one finds in health food stores often have a cloying, incense-like quality that detracts from the purity of the scent.
Fortunately, I’ve expended an inordinate amount of time and energy sniffing out the best lily of the valley scents — each spring I embark on quest for that perfect warm-weather scent. Here are some of my top picks, which include both a new scent and time-honored classics:
Lily of the Valley and Ivy Cologne by Jo Malone London
Part of Jo Malone’s new Rock the Ages collection of historically inspired scents, this fresh, uplifting interpretation of lily of the valley blends green and crisp top notes of ivy and pink grapefruit that progress to reveal a soft lily of the valley and narcissus heart. This scent evokes the elegance and delicate color palettes of Georgian England.
Diorissimo by Christian Dior
Created by legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska in 1956, this is the lily of the valley scent against which all others are measured. You’ll not find a more elegant interpretation. Roudnitska blends lily of the valley with creamy jasmine, ylang-ylang and amaryllis to create a stunning and timeless fragrance.
Muguet de Bois by Coty
This verdant, sheer and highly naturalistic version of lily of the valley was greatly admired by Edmond Roudnitska. Composed in 1936 by Henri Robert, this little green gem is still available and highly affordable.
Lily of the Valley by Penhaligon’s London
Another oldie but goodie, Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley transports you to an English garden after spring rain, with its evocative blend of lily of the valley, rose, jasmine and oakmoss. This one has a tenacity that belies its initial delicacy.
Odalisque by Parfums de Nicolai
My perfume tastes run to extremes — I love crisp, green scents that are almost austere in their purity (hence my fondness for lily of the valley), and I also favor deep, complex and challenging chypres. To my nose, Odalisque is a lily of the valley chypre. Master perfumer Patricia de Nicolai deepens the beauty of lily of the valley by blending it with bitter galbanum and shading it with notes of patchouli, amber and oakmoss. After all, lily of the valley thrives in the shadows and this scent brings out this aspect of the flower — a truly distinctive and original fragrance.