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?