Many, many years ago, when I first was paying attention to notes in perfume and had some awareness of lily of the valley as a note, my immediate hatred cemented. I used to call it Satan’s Flower. My, how things change when seven years later I’m doing a best lily of the valley perfume guide. I love the vagaries of a perfume journey.
Lily of the Valley has a sometimes difficult duality for me. It is known as the May Day flower. The tradition in France is to give muguet on May 1. If I hadn’t torn out all of my muguet plants years ago in a fit of pique, I’d be passing them out with abandon.
So did my opinion change of lily of the valley over the years? Well, yeah! Something shifted, and that discordance in muguet became love. Green and a little earthy with a darkness that people seem to overlook because of its bright little white flowers. Poisonous, dark, hidden in shadow, producing these little perfect white blooms of green and something more sinister, cold. For me, it is hope rising out of darkness, our better nature reaching up from selfishness and sorrow. It took me many years to appreciate all that muguet has to offer.
Same rules as all the guides, they must be a lily of the valley perfume featuring that note. Many, many fragrances have lily of the valley in it to give a green boost, but few center on it. We will have a drawing for a perfume sample set, details at the bottom of the post.
Queen of Lily of the Valley Perfume
Christian Dior Diorissimo is the undisputed queen. Edmond Roudnitska made this very simple perfume almost entirely about lily of the valley in 1956 (Christian Dior’s favorite flower), delicately set in woods, and it became a classic. I know it’s been reformulated, and my favorite version of this is the old houndstooth checked bottle. I will admit that I haven’t smelled the most recent version or any version that was post-IFRA. I guess I should get around to it, huh? Nah. If you really want to have your lily of the valley served with aching beauty, just get the vintage pure parfum. It is spring rushing out of a bottle, and it is one of the few perfumes that bring me into alignment of acting “like a lady” complete with white gloves and pillbox hat.
If Diorissimo is the Queen, then Guerlain Muguet makes up her Ladies in Waiting. I refuse to give it top billing because of the price tag on it. Issued once a year on May Day, it will set you back more than $400. It’s beautiful – working from memory here – and well worth smelling if you can find it, but there are other muguet scents out there as good and well under $100. I just can’t put this in my “worth pursuing” category. But if someone wants to give me a bottle for May Day, I won’t turn it down.
Unapologetically Beautiful Lily of the Valley Perfume
Van Cleef & Arpels Muguet Blanc is probably my personal favorite lily of the valley perfume and probably the first lily of the valley perfume that turned me around. What I had to say about it in 2009 is probably as true about most lily of the valley perfumes, but Muguet Blanc specifically –
My father’s funeral was right before Christmas. Overnight it had misted and frozen all those droplets of water to the trees, the house, the grass. I walked outside that morning, bundled up against that cold. It was so cold, my tears would have frozen, if I’d had any left The sun hit the blanket of tiny icicles covering the world, and the light exploded, shattering my pain in a blinding moment of beauty, leaving it forever etched in my head as the second in my life when sorrow and hope existed perfectly side by side without judgment or regret.
Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire Muguet Blanc made me think of that second. It is breathtaking, its opening the perfect note soaring into the air on a cold winter day, something that feels like it shouldn’t exist, contrasts of cold and sweet and wood — conjuring up spring in your head where no spring exists. As it dries down, it warms and softens into the skin and loses the chilliness. Notes of lily of the valley, peony, neroli and cedar are pretty simple, but rendered elegant.”
Out Here On My Owwwwwwnnn Lily of the Valley
There were bazillions of soliflore lily of the valley perfumes, most that I don’t have a lot of comment on except I think they smell like a great lily of the valley perfume – Yardley Lily of the Valley, Demeter Lily of the Valley, Le Galion Lily of the Valley, Caswell-Massy Lily of the Valley, Taylor of London Lily of the Valley, Woods of Windsor Lily of the Valley.
Coty Muguet de Bois is woodsy lily of the valley – pretty much straight up muguet. You can still find it fairly cheap, I believe in the vintage versions. It’s not as worked as Diorissimo, but is perfect for a less idealized version of muguet. In “Perfume Legends” Roudnitska notes it was a better lily of the valley than Diorissimo. Well, I’ll go with different, as well as beautiful. Mostly different.
Caron Muguet de Bonheur is one of my favorites of the Old School lily of the valley perfumes in the pure parfum. It’s a little more soapy and veers into more of a blended floral when you’ve had it on a while, with a great lilac rolling around in it. Super-easy to wear, I appreciate its beautiful simplicity.
Parfums de Rosine Le Muguet de Rosine is one of those never-remembered discontinued scents that seem odd for a company that does rose perfumes, except they have ventured outside of rose in the past – the lamented Mea Culpa (tuberose) and Coupe d’Or (spiced amber). It runs a little more indolic than you expect for a muguet fragrance. I don’t like to include discontinued scents, but if you ever wanted your lily of the valley with some indolic jasmine, this is one to hunt down.
Not Always Loved, but Why?@!?!?
Annick Goutal Le Muguet is one scent in Goutal’s soliflore series. It typically gets some pretty harsh reviews, and I’m not sure why. It has that Goutal’ish base, and the sharp open quickly moves into a really gorgeous lily of the valley.
Skidding left Lily of the Valley perfume
You always need a few lily of the valley perfumes that take a bit of a left on their way through the muguet valley, and Parfums de Nicolai Odalisque does that with its complicated mossy muguet blend. One usually thinks of lily of the valley as being quite bright and green, but studying the flower, which grows in the shade, upside down, I think Odalisque captures the essence of this flower best. Weird, dark, hidden, mercurial. It’s not straightforward muguet. Beautifully blended with tuberose and galbanum, you have to poke your nose between the green leaves to get rewarded with the lily of the valley. A must-try for any muguet lover.
Spriggy springy bounces out of Parfums DelRae Debut with green leaves and linden. Have we ever talked about how much I love the smell of linden? We need to cover that one of these days. Anchored with earthiness, Debut also captures the duality of lily of the valley. Michel Roudnitska created this, with an elegant nod to Diorissimo.
Another beautiful nod to Diorissimo is Ellie D parfum. I’m working on memory right now of this, but it is green and lush and it almost breaks my heart in how delicate and surreal its beauty is.
Ann Gerard Perle de Mousse is an amaaaaaaazing green floral chypre centered around lily of the valley, sparkling with aldehydes and weirded up with the hawthorn. Lord, I love anything with hawthorn in it. The galbanum and aldehydes lift it from the shadows, and the hawthorn never lets you forget at what price. Perle de Mousse is more of a floral blend, but it plays with the lily of the valley so beautifully, it belongs in this category.
Throw some spearmint in with that lily of the valley, and you’ll have Soivohle Daybreak Violin. An unusual pairing that adds the perfect light touch of mint to the muguet, green and earthy notes.
Etat Libre Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow (cringes at the weird google hits this will drag in – hi, hopeful ones! We really do love you too, but we have no tips for how to get her/him to swallow) gets listed not because of the weirdness of its composition but because of the shocking name attached to a muguet scent. It’s neither shocking nor even really good. Sweet, wispy, whiny. Well, maybe the name does fit.
Mass Market/Mainstream Standouts
There are a lot of perfumes that use lily of the valley in them in the mainstream market. Gucci Envy is the best of them. Maurice Roucel blended lily of the valley and hyacinth into a huffing and chuffing spring perfume. For me, it suffers a little with the “fresh” scent that so many designer lines insist on. But if you don’t mind that aspect too much, you’d go a long way to find a more economical or better lily of the valley perfume. Jessica McClintock gets a nod here because so many people adore it as their go-to lily of the valley perfume. I’ve never smelled it, but based on the love it gets, hunting it down as a cheap muguety thrill seems like a great option.
And that is our lily of the valley perfume roundup! If you would like to be entered to win a sample set of most of these perfumes, just drop a comment below. You can do some other activities to get additional entries, but you must comment on the post to be officially entered. The drawing officially closes on April 15, 2013. Winners will be announced sometime after that.
If you just want to comment with your thoughts about lily of the valley, muguet or what the hell is up with the 6-12 inches of snow predicted to fall on Denver in the next 24 hours !%*()&#*($&#*&(%#q!! and not be entered in the drawing, just put DNEM in your comment so I know you don’t need no mo’ muguet perfume samples. So hate the little Satan’s Spawn or no? Love some and hate some? Avoid the note entirely?