White Flower Storm

Join me for a perfume ramble today, full of asides and opinion.  Since I generally deliver opinion by the shovelful, that should come as no surprise.

There was a confluence of events.  First, this is the time of year that the heart (at least my heart) cries out for big white flowers of the in-your-face variety – it’s something about the cold and the general dreariness.  These are not the sorts of things I want to wear … well, pretty much any other time of the year.  Lily?  Lily of the valley?   Er, no thanks.

Second – remember, waaaaaaay back last fall, when it seemed like between Van Cleef, Cartier and Francis Kurkdjian, we had a truckload of new scents worth considering dumped on us almost simultaneously?  It sort of bummed me out, that timing.  Then 20 seconds later we’d all moved on to Amaranthigh and … there’s something wrong with the new world order if I have a full set of decants for all three lines and never really spent enough time with them.

So I decided to revisit the three white florals from Van Cleef & Arpels — Gardénia Pétale, Muguet Blanc and Lys Carmin.

A general observation – it was brilliant of them to release these soliflores, in my opinion, particularly after the disappointing (to me) Feerie-thing, which I’ll stop ragging on because I know some of you loved it, and it’s not like I’m the Avatar of Good Taste.  Clawing my way desperately back on topic – these new Van Cleefs with their big ol’ single flower studies?  It sounds so old-school it seems new to me.  No, seriously, it’s almost … edgy.  Work with me on this one.  They could have gone with a white-floral and a fresh-floral and a man-scent and a floriental or three, but they come out with gardenia, lily, and muguet?  The old guard, people (unlike me) who actually shop at Van Cleef, likely aren’t offended.  And the rest of us, perfumistas all, get to wallow in single-flower studies that happen seldom enough in “modern” perfumery to get my attention.

I checked on MUA and there are hardly any reviews of these (although I see Feerie gets a crummy 35% rebuy rating, heheh, okay, I’ll stop) but if I’m understanding correctly, the two that have the most fans are Gardenia and Iris (with maybe Lys as the third?)  If you have a different sense of the popular perfumista opinion, weigh in.

I thought Gardénia Pétale was extraordinary the first time I smelled it, and my opinion hasn’t changed.  It’s both gardenia and Gardenia, the Ideal – enormous and glowing without feeling monstrous.  I’ve blogged on my gardenia lust in the past and I’m going to tentatively dub this my favorite in terms of (hyper-)reality.  If you look at the notes, you can see the bits that have been cobbled together to highlight what makes the smell of gardenia so haunting.  There’s the piercing orange-green note at the top, and the funky smell I think of as cheesy and others call mushroomy (and it’s that smell that makes gardenia something of an acquired taste.)  Then come the deep indolic notes that give it weight, jasmine and ylang, followed by a tuberose-ish powdery sweetness.  Notes are: citrus notes, green notes, gardenia, jasmine, lily of the valley.

Gardénia Pétale is a heavy fragrance with strong lasting power.  If you’re trying it out, it’s worth waiting for an hour or even two before making your decision.  It seesaws from the greener lily-of-the-valley aspect to the cheesier, riper notes before balancing itself out.  Like most heady white florals, I wouldn’t wear this to the office (lots of people hate gardenia, the same way they hate jasmine, lily or tuberose), but if you’re looking for the olfactory equivalent of tucking a gardenia in your hair before a party, this is probably it.  Put it on a couple hours ahead of time, and use a light hand.

My all-time-favorite gardenia is Strange Invisible Perfumes’ (sadly discontinued) Lady Day, which I love for its melancholy, but even I have to admit this is truer to the actual flower.

Muguet Blanc has been kind of a mixed bag for lily-of-the-valley lovers, mostly I think because it suffers in comparison to the now-bastardized Diorissimo; without the dirty base of civet that many love, muguet ends up smelling like the familiar smell of a household product, lily-of-the-valley soap with a higher price point.  While I am blessed/cursed with a lack of proper appreciation for Diorissimo, I can’t say I worked up much of an appreciation for Muguet Blanc either.  It’s an extremely cold fragrance, and on my skin it’s almost unbearably soapy (the neroli isn’t helping matters in that regard).  I grew up picking small bouquets of lily of the valley from the neighbors’ yards, and while it’s been eons since I smelled the flower properly, I’m remembering something greener and sweeter and less aqueous than Muguet Blanc, which does indeed smell like expensive soap to me rather than a proper flower.  It also has a musky base that throws me a little.  Patty loved it, so don’t take my word for it.  Notes: lily-of-the-valley, white peony, neroli and white cedar.

Finally there’s Lys Carmin.  If I liked the Muguet Blanc less than I expected to, Lys Carmin was a surprise in the other direction. Non-gourmand vanilla lovers alert – read on. I’m not a proper lily-lover when it comes to fragrance; I appreciate them in the abstract, but something like Donna Karan Gold, which I think is a great fragrance, tends to be migraine-inducing.  I can’t help but notice that Lys Carmin, of these three, adheres more to popular convention than the other two, with more spicy warmth than a “typical” lily fragrance, but it’s a convention I happen to like.  It’s sweetly woody and smells less like a soliflore than a cold-weather comfort scent, spicy/vanillic without being gourmand.  I can’t imagine this would be anything but a disappointment for anyone looking for a Stargazer-lily or Easter-lily scent.  Instead it smells like an extremely high-end version of the spicy vanilla trend, quieter and not stunningly unusual.  It’s woody rather than gourmand (that lush vanilla-sandalwood drydown — squeeeee!)  I moved this decant to my winter-comfort shelf.  It’s as cozy as a cashmere sweater.  Notes: lily, pink peppercorns, ylang-ylang, vanilla and sandalwood. ** Update — I swear this reminds me of something, it must be a niche vanilla, but I can’t think what.  Any ideas?

  • Joe says:

    Oh boy. I didn’t need to hear this. :d

    The Muguet? Meh. Very meh.

    But what you’ve said about the Gardenia makes me want to get a sniff, since I’m prolly never gonna smell Lady Day. I also kind of like the subtelty of Guerlain Cruel Gardenia. And if you didn’t know, I’ve become a big big Lily Ho. Didn’t expect that maybe, didja? I’m kind of in love with DK Gold, and if I had any money left, I’d probably buy some Lys Mediterranee. And now I’ve just got to smell this Carmine, though “quiet” tends to disappear on my skin in a flash. I haven’t read through all the comments, but is the vanilla it reminds you of L’A Vanilia, maybe?

    I also just tried the Orchidee Vanille last night and that was some really nice, if semi-cupcakey, vanilla yumminess. I just wish the top notes lasted a bit longer. I’m not saying I’d pay VC&A prices for a bottle, but it was real, real good. As for the Iris one… it’s nice, but there are a handful of irises I like a whole, whole lot better.

    Oh, and apropos of nothing, I’ll mention that I discovered a new “pee” scent (and I don’t mean in a good way): MFK Cologne pour le Soir.

  • I have only tried Muguet Blanc of the ones you mentioned, and loved the cold aspect – it wasn’t overly soapy on me either.

    Can’t wait to try the others!

  • k-scott says:

    PS- that’s an absolutely stunning picture, which I presume you took March. You might be jealous, but we don’t get many of those days in South Florida… today’s 60 degrees qualifies as “cold.”

    • March says:

      Uh — now I’m embarrassed. We’re having some weird error messages on the Posse. Among the issues, I can’t upload images. So I grabbed a random image someone on here had used in the past so it’s already in our cached files. I have no idea where it’s from. :”>

      • k-scott says:

        LOL- I bet you’re glad I brought it up! (foot in mouth) But I do know at the very least that you photograph well, since I saw the photographs of you in your recent post. 🙂 You look very fetching with the short ‘do, I could never pull that off.

  • k-scott says:

    So happy you reviewed these today! I love, love, LOVE Gardenia Petale. Before I tested the VC&A Extrodinaires, I had pegged EL Tuberose Gardenia as my next gardenia frag to buy. But then Petale came along and dethroned it. Now all I need is an extra $200 laying around to buy myself the full bottle I so clearly need and deserve… :d

  • Flora says:

    I got a full sample set of these and I loved all of the florals including Orchidee Vanille. The Lys Carmin speaks to me because of my love of lilies in general – it has that meaty, musky small that Tania Sanchez calls “Easter ham” in The Guide. If you smell different kinds of lilies and not just so-called “lily scents” there are a lot of really funky ones that are entirely unsuitable fo polite company, and others that are almost pure vanilla, and still others with a distinct spice note or just a gorgeous, lush “perfumey” aroma. That’s why I love Lys Carmin, because it lets the weirdness of real lilies come through and not the usual sanitized version.

    I ADORE the Gardenia Petale and the Muguet Blanc too. I won’t be getting a bottle of any of them unless I win the lottery, but I would cheerfully buy them all in quart size if it were offered that way.:)

    • March says:

      I am really beginning to wonder whether there is something wrong with a) my sample or b) my nose. The lily, to me, is so fleeting. But that’s not the experience others are having! I’ll try to get over to NM and retest if it will EVER STOP SNOWING. Grrrr.

      • Musette says:

        Hon, don’t wear yourself out on this one – maybe it’s like me and iris? The only iris I can sort of smell is that 39 from Le Labo – Prada? fuggedaboutit. The pretty one from Hermes? I always think i must’ve picked up a factice. And don’t get me started on the L’Artisan one – poor Lydia. So patient as i kept spraying and spraying, ’til you could smell it on Michigan Avenue!

        Alas, it looks to be thus.

        xo >-)

        ps. have you tried the FM Lys Med?

  • rockrose says:

    I may end up getting the Gardenia Petale, except i’m becoming interested in something quite different – Onda – and since i can’t get both I think i’m going to be happy with my Biehl and its too bad they didn’t really name it – the big white flower one – Eo 03!

  • Style Spy says:

    I do love me some white flowers, and since it’s been cold & gray & rainy here for what seems like ever (maybe four days — I’m so spoiled) they’re all I want right now, as an antidote. I’m having trouble deciding if today will be Un Lys, F d’O (which has REALLY been doing it for me lately, quite the dark horse, that), Carnal Flower, A la Nuit… I dunno. I may have to throw a dart. I also need to go up to NM today & get my paws on some of that Gardenia…

    • March says:

      F d’O is All That and a bag of chips. That’s going to be my next Serge, my decant is running out. If you get a chance, do try the Gardenia. For gardenia fans, it’s pretty great.

  • Shelley says:

    When Musette and I went into the Van Cleef store…me, all rube…to smell these a few months ago (yes, it really WAS before the holidays, and the snow), I entered all about the iris. Iris is, after all, one of my things. So I was nearly embarrassed (that “rube” feeling again) when I made the bigger “oh!” sounds about The Flowers. I looked at the pretty jewelry around me (and it is pretty, all delicate and floral-y, not bold or modern or in your face bling), and thought, uh-oh, I’ve just descended into girly land.

    And asked for a sample of the lily.

    So of course reading your review this morning makes me feel like I can wash the dirt off half my face, even though I know, as always, whatever makes you happy makes you happy and YMMV and all. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to share the love with. (On that same day, we went into Cartier, so Musette was all in a swoon over the Brilliante…but I think she, too, liked one of The Flowers. Maybe she’ll get a moment to chirp in today.)

    BTW, it is that deep into the winter only the knowledge spring will come time, isn’t it? Especially for you, having a snow day and all? I get craving a flower…still deep enough in cold that it doesn’t feel like you are challenging the fates by jumping spring. AND there’s something about it right now…hothouse flower? I dunno. Sometimes I think I’ll smother under a floral scent, and other times it is just.so.nice.

    • Musette says:

      Hey, sweetie! how’s your headache this am? I was just about to go on and yark about our Day – I remember you and me swooning over the Lily upon application. We walked from VC&A to Crate and Barrel (the end of the block)saying ‘ooooh! ahhhh’…by the time we got to Saks (middle of the next block) we were both (:| then a few minutes later we were :-< then I got that musk note and b-( In the interests of Science I am wearing VC&A Lys on the left hand and FM's Lys Med on the right. My head is reeling but so far it looks as if the LMed is winning - both are 'pretty' but the FM is way more interestingly constructed. There's this weird 'blank' space in there, though - I'm at the drydown stage and everytime I bring my hand up to my nose I see a sheet of blank white paper, then the lily comes in. Weird. xoxo >-)

      and yes, I did swoon over Brilliante, didn’t I? I still swoon. I’m on my 12th ml of it so I think i can safely say it is LURRRVE!

      FB, here I come!

      • Shelley says:

        12th ml? Twelfth ml??? Girl, this is a serious relationship. I’ll wear XIII as an attendant at the nuptials, and keep it all in the family…

        Oh, yeah, I was huffing myself over lunch. But that was a good day…XIII on one arm, the Lys on another, a friend, and chocolate… >:d< (Not to mention the tossing of the head as we strolled right past They Who Shall Not Be Named at the pricey scarf and saddlery joint. I just KNOW they were crying into their kerchiefs at our absence, right? 😉 )

        • Musette says:

          Leslie, bless her heart, is sick to death of me! I need to buy a 5cwt diamond or something to make up for the bazillion times I’ve been in there, snacking on the Brilliante! But I put a down payment on the ring and I think we’re gonna get hitched (me and Brilliante, not me and Leslie, though she is charming) – it is just so..gin gimlet-y, with a dash of Gibson on the side. I love it!

          xox >-)

      • March says:

        I’m laughing. Woman, you must smell powerful! Does the VCA smell that much like lily to you? I’m wondering if my nose is defective.

        • Musette says:

          No, it doesn’t. I mean, it does but much in the way of ‘orchid’, the question is “what lily?” (or ‘which’ lily, I suppose). I think I agree with Denyse on this one – it’s pretty but it really does fall apart after awhile. The LysM, on the other hand, sort of kept on its sunny, laser path and in the chilly-wills of a Midwestern January, managed not to bring up my lunch with that pesky musk note (in warmer temps it’s unwearable for me after about 60mins. Gotta wash that musk off!)

          What I’m trying to babble about here is this: if you put a 3:-oto my head and said ‘buy one or the :(|) dies’ I would have to pick the Malle. I just think it’s a better-constructed perfume. And when i smell it, i think ‘lily’.

          xoox >-)

    • March says:

      I broke the blog. Here I am, finally.

      So did you like the lily? I wonder about my sample, everyone’s getting more lily than I am. I am pretty sure they sell it at NM, I’m going to go retry.

      • Musette says:

        Huh. my response ended up above yours, which is bizarre.

        Btw – do you remember my mom’s phrase “you smell like a whorehouse on payday”? LysC, LysM, Habit Rouge extrait and No22. The dogs sneezed all afternoon. I’m all a-showered now and think I might give my nose a break. Eau Imperiale to snooze by.

        oh! speaking of Eau: Serge. Eau. Eau, no.

        xo >-)

  • Louise says:

    As a primarily non-floral gal, I was not very drawn to this series-but I do find the Gardenia quite lovely, and the Lys worth another sniff.

    These are well composed, and win my admiration.

    I don’t foresee a conversion however 😉

  • Francesca says:

    I’ll really have to look into the Gardénia Pétales. I want a gardenia scent to smell like a Gardenia, dammit! But I wouldn’t mind a bit of lily in there…
    After reading all this I was thinking about wearing my AG Muguet today, though it’s a bit dicey for the office as RK claims any Lily of the Valley sends him right to the fainting couch, choking back nausea… So maybe I’ll take my cue from Denyse and try a little Carnal Flower. It’s certainly cold (and slightly snowy) here today.

    • March says:

      IF you’re looking for a gardenia that smells like a gardenia, please swing by Bergdorf at some pt and smell this one. Just give it five or ten minutes, it’s rather green at the top.

      Wear the Muguet! Although CF sounds like a delicious alternative.

      The kids are home, snow day. I think I’ll revel in some CF myself.

      • Francesca says:

        We are in the middle of an office move,it’s a nightmare,and everyone is really dressing down for all the packing. So I was thinking CF would be too femmy for my khakis, white pullover, and quilted green snowproof shoes. But it’s perfect, and making me very happy.

  • I very much liked the Gardénia Pétales and got a lot of compliments on it, possibly because it’s got tons of sillage (and I did wear it to work). I’m surprised you didn’t get the lily, because to me, this is almost as much a lily as a gardenia.
    The Lys Carmin to me is a good idea — accent the spicy dimension of lily — but its execution is a bit of a mess: it kind of falls apart as it develops.
    The Muguet Blanc has an interesting icy-ozonic note to it and it’s a valiant attempt to do LOV post-Diorissimo.
    I’m getting my white floral hit of the season with Carnal Flower, which, as I remarked in my Winter Top Ten, works well in the cold, and with Amaranthine whose spices kind of bridge the gap between winter scents and spring ones.

    • March says:

      Hm. Wonder if my nose is broken? The lily bits were so fleeting on me. I think it’s at Neiman Marcus, I’ll try it again there. In my sample I rather like the way it falls apart, although I can’t argue for originality.

      Carnal Flower is likely my favorite Big White Flower.

  • Jared says:

    I was just at the Neiman’s here and tried the Gardenia on a whim since it was the tester was right there and I can’t say I’ve ever smelled a gardenia fragrance. But, let me tell you, love it. I can’t compare it to others, but if that’s gardenia, sign me up. I’m not sure I’d be wearing it out, but in the comfort of my own home…hell to the yeah. Well, I do own a bit o’ Fracas, so maybe I’ll just attempt a redefinition of manhood in fragrance.

    • March says:

      I think you know I’ve said it before — I love “femme” fragrances on men. Fracas on a man is just incredibly hot. I’d feel the same way about Gardenia Petale. I love the sweet heavy Serges like Datura Noir and Un Lys.

      • Jared says:

        Oh I know it. If I need any enabling, I know where to go! However, I have to say I was wearing Gres’ Cabaret last night and just felt like granny. Something about that rosewatery rose that made me feel like I was wearing lace. Now, however, I have some leftover Montale Attar on (this stuff lasts on my clothes for weeks), and this is much more my speed. Don’t know if it’s Amouage Homage material, but still good! Middle East = florals for men.

      • Flora says:

        Come sit by me then. :d

  • Melissa says:

    Oh, you’re singing my song with your review of Gardenia Petale. I liked this right away when I first sniffed the Van Cleefs. Muguet was just okay, Bois d’Iris very nice but not unique enough among iris scents to justify the $$. But the gardenia scent was striking. I tried to forget about it, but it kept worming its way into my brain until I finally broke down and bought a bottle. I’ve been wearing it on icy cold days and it really works. 😡

  • tmp00 says:

    I like lily-of-the-valley, but you’re right, a lot of the scents that have it aren’t that compelling. The new Diorissimo is okay if you don’t remember the old stuff. I remember the old stuff. :((

  • Arwen says:

    I found all of the perfumes in this collection very pretty. However, each one reminded me of something else. Gardenia Petale reminded me of Fleurs d’Orlane that I used to wear in the late 80s and early 90s, Orchidee Vanille reminded me of, I don’t know, a bunch of other vanilla based perfumes, the same thing happened with the Bois d’Iris. Cologne Noire reminded me of other Mark Buxton’s including Kapsule Light. Lys Carmine was my least favorite, it smelled very unremarkable to me. The surprise was that my favorite was Muguet Blanc. I did not expect it. It reminded me of an older, cleaner Diorissimo. I still think these are too expensive for just prettiness.

    • March says:

      Well, it sounds like you saved yourself a boatload of money! Regarding the “just prettiness,” that’s subjective. I’d argue that GP rises above that, and I know several other people feel the same way about the iris. Certainly with the soliflores, it’s hard to see how they aren’t going to remind one of something else.

  • divinemama says:

    Could the Lys Carmin possibly remind you of Hermes Vanille Galante, March?

  • violetnoir says:

    Yep, I’m about to bend over for the GP. I have been looking for the perfect “true” gardenia fragrance for awhile now, and this one comes the closest.


  • Robin says:

    I’m starting to wonder if there’s something in the Gardenia I just can’t smell. Everybody loves it but me. With you on the Muguet though!

    • March says:

      The Gardenia — hmmm…. can’t smell or something with your skin? It’s very powerful on me, I just sniffed, and 24 hrs later it’s definitely there. And a true gardenia. From the other comments it sounds like GP may be the favorite.

      The muguet, meh. I can’t get beyond the fact that it smells like fancy dryer sheets or something.