Lily of the Valley

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 Lily of the Valley. There is always a wild side to an innocent face, and your cute white bells hide a poisonous nature. You are celebrated since the antiquity where you symbolized Mary’s tears and were in the lyrics of the Song of Songs of Salomon. In the language of the flowers, you are the symbol of happiness. You are the guest of honor of grand weddings where your immaculateness and fragrance supplements the grace of the bride. Oh dear Lily, fragrant flower of May, bring luck and happiness to the World!

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in her wedding to Price William with a magnificent bouquet of lily of the valley.

Convallaria Majalis is the scientific name of this beautiful flowering plant known as lily of the valley (aka LOTV). This herbaceous perennial, also known as Muguet in French, survives the cool winters of Europe and Asia with its underground roots network called rhizomes. The plant prepares hibernation already in late summer by growing some resistant stems called pips, from where new shoots will grow in the following Spring.  The flowers are shaped like bells and incredibly fragrant. In fact, this is the most fragrant flower of these cool latitudes. After pollination, flowers become attractive red fruits which can be mistaken for wild berries.

Stalk  of LOTV with toxic red berries on forest floor in autumn

Beware of these berries, as they are heavily poisonous and will cause acute abdominal pain, vomiting, blurred vision and even reduced heart rate. The plant can be deadly for humans if ingested in sufficient amount.

One of the most curious facts about LOTV is that its odor (actually the odorant molecule bourgeonal) stimulates the activity of mammal sperm and thus their reproduction. Is it why instinctively the flower became the top choice of gorgeous wedding bouquets at this season?

Despite its toxicity, LOTV extracts have been used as a folk remedy to treat scars, chronic lung and mental diseases and for many other ailments. Essential oils and absolutes of lily of the valley are sold online but are very unlikely to be genuine extracts of the flowers or the leaves since the plant would not produce such an affordable yield, and the oil would be anyway toxic. Instead, fragrance oils are safer and readily available at low costs. These are blends of rose alcohols such as citronellol, geraniol, nerol and their esters such as linalool and indole. Few synthetic compounds such as hydroxycitronellallyral and lilial are also used to create the note. Some of these compounds are now also considered as allergens and banned or restricted in concentration. Lots of fragrances were reformulated to avoid these chemicals, and many of them lost in intensity and character, unfortunately.

I selected for you this week a few fragrances with a beautiful heart of lily of the valley:

Diorissimo EDP is a reinterpretation by Francois Demachy of the original EDP of 1956.

Diorissimo from Dior is the ultimate landmark fragrance with a magnificent note of LOTV accompanied with jasmine, rosewood and a touch of lilac.  The fragrance, crafted by the master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska in 1956, is fixated with base notes of sandalwood and civet. Diorissimo has since been revisited by the house perfumer of Dior, François Demachy who kept the same main notes as the original but avoided too much decoration around the lily. Diorissimo is available in EDP, EDT, and Extrait de Parfum. This is a classic fragrance that will always please all the important women in your life.

Muguet Fleuri, by Oriza L. Legrand, was created in 1920 already and got lost in history like this once-prestigious house. The new owners did an amazing job in reviving these fragrances from formulae found in their archives and adapt them to modern perfumery standards. Muguet Fleuri is fresher and greener than Diorissimo, with a similar heart of LOTV but a different base, here surprisingly made of oakmoss. This fragrance is more difficult to source than Diorissimo, but if you like LOTV and want to wear something beautiful and more original than Dior, then this is the right choice.

Muguet by Guerlain, vintage (millésime) 2017

Guerlain has started a tradition of releasing every year its vintage limited edition of Muguet. If your budget allows, this is surely a beautiful addition to your collection. The bottle changes every year as well as the balance between the floral and the green notes used to craft this lily of the valley. Thierry Wasser is the man behind Guerlain fragrances since his appointment in 2008 to succeed Jean-Paul Guerlain. His Muguet 2017 is more floral than the previous year and critics have been extremely positive about it. I can’t wait to try it when visiting the boutique in Paris.

Lily of the Valley EDT by Penhaligon’s. A classic from 1976.

Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley EDT is another classic from 1976 with a British touch. In the inspiring words of Penhaligon’s: “the opening is as fresh as May and as optimistic as Spring, geranium brings composure and stature to this citrus. As this imagined and romanticized creamy white flower continues to open its petals, rose, ylang-ylang and jasmine release their scent. And because discretion is a virtue; one could almost be unaware of the sandalwood and oakmoss that give Lily of the Valley a timeless and forever finale. Royal wedding posies have taken note”. The longevity of this EDT is surprisingly good and has nothing to shy away from other EDPs.  A great value and a must for the LOTV aficionados.

A lot more options are available at different price levels. In general, most of these fragrances have a good opening with more or less floral and green notes, but the real performance is in the longevity, and the rest depends on your personal taste.

I wish you all a happy week. Our gardens are now at their best with so many blooming species; this is the best time of the year for all of us who love floral scents.

Cheers, Laurent.

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