Big honking lilies and not those tiny little lilies of the valley, that’s what I’m referencing. They’re not shy and they’re really not understated either, but the big lily’s smell can be beautiful.
They can also be great big honking hits with the public. Consider that billboard sized lily Cacharel’s, Anais-Anais. Cacharel let Anais-Anais loose on unsuspecting mortals in 1978 and the beginning was a heavenly whirlwind of florals: White Madonna Lily, black currant, hyacinth, lily of the valley, then a midsection crammed with even more flowers and woods. Everything was stuffed inside Anais -Anais’s delicate skin, jasmine, Grasse rose, iris, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, vetiver cedarwood, oakmoss, patchouli, finally an almost apologetic ending trailing behind this monumental arrangement, a few leather streamers and a tiny bit of musk as though Anais had stepped out of one fragile leather slipper and left it behind.
Anais-Anais when first released smelled like one of those enormous bouquets you see at the Metropolitan Museum, but the effect was still predominantly lily. I remember it well because my little sister wore Anais faithfully for three years and I came to associate that rush of green lilies with her.
However, things changed with the formula, by the nineties Anais’s listed notes* had dwindled to a few leafy greens, galbanum and a fruit note, its core sparsely populated by jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, tuberose and orris. The drydown had expanded at the expense of the flowers. Anais had become a generic floral and the trumpeting lily note, that horn for the angel Gabriel, was gone. The big fresh floral had been miss-cast as a floral oriental.
If you know Serge Lutens Un Lys, you will find the old Anais comparatively too green, because the Cacharel takes lily in the direction of leaves and flowers where Un Lys goes down the vanilla and musk path. Mind you, it never wanders as far down that route as Hermes’
Vanille Galante which is not about vanilla but lily. I found the indolic vanilla/ lily of the Hermes slightly sick making, but many people may love it. I admit to finding green and vanilla a difficult combination which seldom works, rather like fish pasta dishes sprinkled with cheese. Cartier’s Baiser Vole’s slightly green version, with some citrus notes and a very low volume indeed is pretty, but so quiet (for a lily) that I strained to catch much smell. It got lost on the scent strip and equally on my arm. Lilies need to be large enough to make some impression-at least for me.
The spicy lily is perhaps more common, and in this context you soon run into Donna Karan’s discontinued Gold. This was like a sitcom not given enough time by the producers to click with viewers. Gold was a great big lily with violet leaves and cloves and amber emphasizing its already immense floral presence. Nothing really needed to amplify that great big petal scent, but the people at Karan’s perfume arm chose to make the whole production large and in the end you got a lily that was a floral lover’s dream. Gold was lasting and creamy and indolic in just the right amount and the green and spicy aspects that are natural to say, Casablanca lilies where there too, but in the delicate form of violet leaves, and the familiar warmth of cloves. Gold was a big and beautiful perfume. I still recommend it because Gold is all over Ebay, usually under thirty dollars, and how far wrong can you go? The edp may be preferable to the edt, but that’s usually the case.
I’ve written about Ineke Ruhland’s Gilded Lily which is really a complex chypre perfume and a fruity chypre at that. If you are familiar with Rochas’ Femme you will know the basic template for Gilded Lily. I think the breakdown comes along the chypre loving or hating divide but the lily is there and specifically this is the Gold Rayed Lily of Japan, a very indolic lily indeed.
Better yet for obsessive lily lovers is Lys Mediterranee, the Frederic Malle masterwork, and nowadays affordable since Estee Lauder acquired the company. You can buy the scents in a 10ml format. I frankly loved this one and as with Ineke Ruhland’s Gilded Lily, this is shared fragrance at its best. I fell hard for the combination of ginger and angelica with the lily reconstruction here.
Frederic Malle describes the origins of this perfume as a ginger lily that Edouard Flechier worked out and then made sunny with the addition of lots of orange flower, and then spiced with ginger, while amplifying the salicylates in the lily scent. Lys Mediterranee achieves what it set out to do, namely make the great big lily note scale down to the small space of a human. Before that the huge lily petals had overwhelmed spaces (cf original Anais-Anais) now you could wear a lily that was sexy and almost discreet. Well, OK, I said almost.
Penhaligon’s Lily and Spice, now sadly gone, completed the circle of downsizing the lily and making it more spicy than heavily floral. Lily and Spice was done by Mathilde Bijaoui whose previous scents include Etat Libre’s Like This and Bijou Romantique.
This particular perfume is a lovely rendition of lily that I find about as irresistible as Lys Mediterranee, which is saying a lot. The initial waft is saffron and lily which spirals out of the topnotes in a swirl of vanillic softness, though the heart is full of things that paradoxically aren’t floral, like pepper and cloves, which nevertheless support that strong initial lily note all the way to the end of the fragrance where the lily abruptly becomes earthy, the benzoin, musk, vanilla, are over ruled by the patchouli. The effect is like panning down a lily in bloom on a July day, starting with the flower and ending at the roots in clean soil. There is simply nothing here to dislike. This fragrance turns you into that great big lily soaking in a vase, and what more could any lily lover want?
Are you a lily lover, and if so what’s your favorite lily perfume?
*According to the H&R Fragrance Guide for 1991