Gold Rays

“Each petal measures up to 3 inches in width, and we refuse to tell you the number of petals on each bloom, for you wouldn’t believe it. Color is purest white, heavily dotted with maroon spots; a heavy gold stripe shades down each petal. Height is 5 to 8 feet; it flowers in August.”

The flower is Lilium Auratum, the  quote is from “The White Flower Farm Garden Book” by Amos Pettingill.  This was the book I turned to when a lily that I thought was going to be an ordinary oriental lily and pink, turned out to be eight feet tall, and white and gold, and extravagantly and animalically scented.  Somewhere along the line this bulb which was clearly some kind of L. auratum hybrid had gotten mixed in with the run-of-the-mill orientals.  The result was so showy that I spotted one hiker whipping out his camera to take pictures.

It bloomed predictably for me after that, as long as I lived at that address, and as far as I know, for the people who next bought the house.  It was huge, it was a showstopper of a lily.  Basically, until you’ve seen one of these babies in bloom, you just won’t believe that they’re real.

That description of Mr. Pettingill’s by the way, is dead on;  but then his descriptions always were, he was really William B. Harris, the founder, along with his wife Jane Grant, of White Flower Farm and one of the best prose writers in mid- century America.  I certainly couldn’t give you a better mental picture of that lily. The smell is a different matter, I’ve never come across it since, that is, until now.

Ineke Ruhland’s Gilded Lily is a clarified, slightly cleaned up version of it, and since the smell is quite animalic, I think cleaning it up is probably necessary.   Here it is more or less as I recall it, and the wonderful thing, or conversely the less than wonderful thing about this scent, is that it smells the way the gold rayed lily smells and not like other lilies.  This is not about freshness or innocence or dainty Queen of Heaven smells.  This is about carnality, and attraction, the fleshy petals that bees get lost in, on their way to the calyx of this flower, and equally of the way they always stagger out, looking hammered and covered in heavy saffron colored pollen. Basically, the big gold striped lily is a flower and no fooling.

Ms. Ruhland has therefore turned the volume down on this scent.  She’s wise.  Left to its own devices this scent would have been two parts Un Lys to one part Bandit, and at full open air levels, a rival for Fracas in the sillage department.  This one starts with fruit notes that burn off, like rhubarb and pineapple but which serve to keep the naughty sweaty smell at the back of the accord, otherwise, the indolic side of this flower would dominate the scent.

But to return to Mr. Pettingill and his wife Grant (he called her Grant) there is something tough, dry and precise underlying the dry down of this perfume rather like Grant herself.  Pettingill’s description of his wife, and her language, which was in his word “filthy” and which she picked up working at the Society Department at the Times,  is like Gilded Lily: a nice, smart, sexy girl, who talks dirty, because she sits next door to the Sports desk.  Grant picked up her vocabulary from the fighters who would visit the writers and describe their latest bout in the choicest obscenities.  Small wonder then that years later, Grant when trying to arrange a bowl of wildflowers would call them a bunch of blank blanking ingrates.

“Such language, Grant!” said her husband.

That’s very much the same impression you get from this evocation of the big gold rayed lily.  She’s a character, she’s been around, she uses language.  But, in the dry down the language she uses becomes increasingly precise.  The smell of something like cypress wood, although it’s not in the notes, turns up.  The perfume has become a stickler, for usage, for precision, for grammatical correctness.  It constitutes one of those marvelous paradoxes that are one of the things I anyway, look for in fragrances: a contradiction.  What began as this gorgeous fruity, floral, blowsy perfume has whirled and whittled itself down to a pencil point.  A sharpened pencil at that, just the kind, I fancy, that Jane Grant wielded all her life over copy.

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8 Responses to Gold Rays

  1. Mals86 says:

    What a lovely post!

    I have not done well with Ineke perfumes; there’s something chemically in the drydown that pokes pointy fingers up my nostrils. But I do love me some lilies… very nearly bought a bouquet of stargazers at the grocery store last week, just because I walked past them fifteen feet away, and the invisible fingers of wafty delight hooked me (no, in a good way this time) and turned me right around so I could go get a snootful of LILY before sighing and heading for the 1% milk.

    Was just commenting yesterday on one of Elisa’s posts at The French Exit concerning lily perfumes. Un Lys did not woo me, Penhaligon’s Lily & Spice was pleasant, FM Lys Med was lovely, but my lily fragrance is DK Gold. In EdP, please. Something about the cold white petals underscored by warm wood (I don’t get much amber, which is what everyone talks about with the EdP) makes it lovely, a sort of glissando from the clear high tones of the lily to the contralto warmth of the base.

  2. Blacknall Allen says:

    Well thank you! Actually, I’ve been smelling the whole line having caved and bought the sample box. Gilded Lily astounded me by being my favorite and curiously similar to Les Muses. I tried them on side by side, and the structures were similar eg a white floral over a gentle woody base. Sometimes there’s a note that can peer out of GL at an inopportune moment, but I think that’s just the brew settling down.

  3. Undina says:

    It’s a great review! I almost regret having tested Gilded Lily before (I also have a set): in your description it sounds much better than it smells for me. I don’t know what doesn’t work (I didn’t dare yet to test it more than once) but I remember it being unpleasant on my skin. It was my least favorite perfume in the line. Maybe I should give it another try?..

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Thank you kindly! That testing result sounds familiar. When I first tried Gilded (on paper because I never test on skin initially) GL just smelled bad, and it was the worst of the lot. Then I gave it a second try (on skin because I dared myself) and completely different experience. Very soft, very floral, and the dry down was a dry woody understated one. Maybe this is what Mals calls a maceration issue?

  4. Dionne says:

    It looks like this is turning into a skin chemistry thing in the comments. Gilded Lily is the ONLY lily frag I’ve tried that works on my skin. I really, really wanted to like DK Gold (amazing price, gorgeous bottle) but it was horrible on my skin. The same with Lys Mediteranée, which was a major disappointment because I won a huuuge sample – basically a decant – from Ayala Moriel. Fortunately, I can give it to my Real Life Evil Skin Chemistry Twin, who of course smells heavenly in it.

    This was an excellent review, and I loved learning about Grant in particular.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Nice of you to say, and as for Jane Grant, she was a major character, sharp as her blue pencil points by all accounts.
      Your experience with the lily scents parallels my own. I too, wanted to like Gold, but on me it was too sweet, and rather nasty. I haven’t had a chance to smell the Lys Mediteranee, but I have doubts, and Un Lys was a watery lily shadowed by an incorporeal ham sandwich. I sold it. So far GL may be the best bet, although come to think of it there is always Vanille Galante and Baiser Vole. BV was nice but faint as I recall it. Ever try those?

      • Dionne says:

        I haven’t tried VG or the BV – although I’ve wanted to try the Baiser Vole for a while. I keep hoping to run into it when I go to Holt Renfrew, but it hasn’t shown up yet.

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          The BV is pretty and very femme, but if you like the Gilded, you probably won’t be all that impressed with the Baiser, Mathilde Laurent seems to be in a holding pattern these days…

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