When they fester, they may smell far worse than weeds, but lilies, especially the great big oriental and trumpet lilies of July and August, are still among some of my favorite garden flowers. They’re favorites with many people. There was a time in the nineties when no chic New York interior was complete without an extravagant display of pure white oriental lilies nearly toppling out of a vase. So far though I don’t wear any lily (meaning these big lilies, not pee-wee lilies of the valley) scent successfully- that is, up to now.
To be fair I’ve only put in a concerted effort twice, once with Parfums de Nicolai’s Eau de Lude, now a discontinued cologne that had a strong green scent of lilies (not Oriental lilies, which have a pervasive smell that reminds me of bakelite that’s gotten too hot) but the soft fragrance of Easter lilies. Lude was a very pretty scent but was completely linear. Nevertheless, I preferred the de Nicolai effort to Serge Lutens’ Un Lys which was a short lived purchase of mine.
If you know the Lutens, then you know the thick creamy impasto portrait of lilies it paints on skin, lending the faintest indolic whiff to the sitter. Pleasant, but somehow not the easiest of the Serge Lutens to like; Un Lys gave me the ungainly sense of being a massive bouquet staggering about on legs. It was a case of the perfume wearing the wearer. Easier to manage was Baiser Vole, the Mathilde Laurent lily composition for Cartier, likeable and a much airier rendition of lilies. Or Lys Carmin, the Van Cleef & Arpels perfume that was a shade too pink and pretty for me, as though Renoir had painted the lilies, though no doubt perfect for most floral fanciers.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz does a nice line in lilies, Wedding Bouquet, and Madonna Lily. The only one of the two I’ve tried is Madonna Lily, and that was very creamy but a bit terse on skin. As to the Hermes Vanille Galante, I’ve tried it once but as with most of Jean Claude Ellena’s perfumes, that’s not long enough to understand the composition.
My big lily surprise this summer was Frederic Malle’s Lys Mediterranee. I got a sample, and have been wearing these photo realistic flowers non-stop. Just what is the attraction of these particular lilies? I’m not entirely sure. LM has been characterized as a “masculine” fragrance, which is a distinction without a difference to me. What I notice is the lovely ginger that plays a short overture to the main perfume with a touch of angelica. Lovely, absolutely lovely, and then the aquatic notes compliment but do not drown the lilies themselves. These are big green and white trumpet lilies and Easter lilies, set off by a distinctly salty undertone in the scent. I suppose when the title was released chez Malle, it was intended quite literally. These are seaside flowers growing in sand, and such things do exist. I once saw a deserted beach full of them blooming on Crete.
Maybe it’s the beach, maybe it’s the realism, maybe they’re just perfect lilies, but for the second time in the Frederic Malle line, I’ve fallen for a soliflore by Edouard Flechier. The man’s a genius at flower portraiture.
What’s your favorite lily fragrance?