Trumpeting Florals: Lilies

Bouquet from The metropolitan Museum of Art

Bouquet from The metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

Early advert for Anais-anais

Early advert for Anais-anais

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

Vanille Galante

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.

casablanca lilies from

casablanca lilies from

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.

The angel gabriel from the Bonsignori panel

The angel gabriel from the Bonsignori panel

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

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6 thoughts on “Trumpeting Florals: Lilies

  1. I dislike lily slightly less than I dislike tuberose but I don’t like to wear lily-heavy perfumes. I don’t even like smelling real flowers for too long. Though an occasional whiff of either live flower or a note in perfume might be pleasant.

  2. Some lilies are really hard to take so I know what you mean. I’m thinking of Stargazer Lilies. Gorgeous in a vase or in the garden but not on your skin or in the dining room. These would be the great big crimson/pink freckled flowers you see in florists. Those are hard on the nostrils.

    Myself I do like Easter Lilies and Madonna Lilies but they are not quite so loud, and I’ve come around to liking lilies fairly recently in the last two years or so. Tuberoses are difficult for me too. The only gentle tuberose I know is Patou’s Adieu Sagesse, the rest are feral.

  3. (I love me a feral tuberose. Savage grin… No, I mean, well, you can leave the rotting-meat ones like Tubby Criminal out, but the ones likely to bite the wearer, I like those.)

    And as you probably knew, I like lilies too, both in the vase and in the garden and on my skin. Swooooooon. DK Gold is still my favorite, I think – I managed to pick up a 1-oz bottle of edp on ebay for about $8. What a bargain, eh?

    I vaguely remember liking Lily & Spice, not being impressed with Un Lys, really enjoying LL Lys 41 (I’d buy it if it were reasonable. it’s not.), and also liking the salty-air quality of Lys Mediterranee. I also liked TF Shanghai Lily, although it’s only lily for the first half, after which it’s creamy spice a la Black Cashmere – but it’s also expensive and so I won’t buy any.

    Anais Anais my mother wore, back in the day, although it was a little too green for her. It is quite soapy on me, unfortunately (at least the edt is, and I know it’s tough to find any of the other concentrations now). Baiser Vole is sharpish, and I haven’t tried the Ineke since I’ve had such poor results with others from the line… lessee… Oh yes, have never managed to try Vanille Galante, but Hermessences tend to last about 3.5 seconds on me so I haven’t bothered.

    DSH used to make some really nice lily scents in her Essense Oils collection. I think I liked Madonna Lily very much, but I also think that one’s gone now. I’m with you – if I can barely smell it, it doesn’t really count as A Lily Perfume. Lilies should knock you over.

  4. Yup, you’re right on the lilies.

    I sometimes wonder if people know just HOW much of a bargain some of those bottles of DK Gold are? I mean they are so much better than many of the high priced lilies out there it’s surprising. The equivalent in quality to Lys Med and for eight bucks! You got the bargain that time.

    My daughter the vanilla fiend liked Vanille Galante, although you could really only smell vanilla faintly for about ten minutes if that, and then it was all watery lily. Smelled to me like canned fruit salad with chopped lilies. Unappealing.

    My sister likes Baiser Vole and while I think it’s very pretty I lose it quickly on my skin and don’t think it’s worth the price.

    My tough Tuberose is Caron Tubereuse who doesn’t bite- but she might spank somebody.

  5. My two favourite lily perfumes – no three! – are in fact Un Lys, Vanille Galante and DKNY Gold. Oh, and Tom Ford’s Lys Fume is very pretty too. Make that four. And fingers crossed for the success of Lily & Spice’s big international adventure…

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