Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mini-Reviews: Considering the Lilies

John recently bought me a bunch of lilies (my favorite!), big magenta lilies with brown-black spots inside like banana seeds. Even when lilies aren't white, they have a white floral profile, smelling perfumey initially and in snatches but, like tuberose and gardenia, displaying all sorts of weird facets that aren't floral at all. Fresh lilies start off smelling waxy and rubbery, a little like latex, which is interesting because their petals are waxy. The longer they sit cut on your counter, the more they start to smell meaty. If tuberose has notes of rotting chicken, the meat in lilies is more appetizing, with a briny, smoky, cured smell like ham or salami, but without letting go of the slightly plasticky, rubbery smell. So right now, on their third day, these deep-pink lilies smell like a perfect cross between high-end cold cuts and the inside of a tent. Tarpaulin sandwich!

My favorite lily fragrance, and one of my favorite perfumes period, is Donna Karan Gold. (Once again, Calice Becker FTW.) Here are a few more I've tried recently:

Serge Lutens Un Lys: Musk and vanilla always seem to play a part in a fresh lily accord. This presents a problem when the musk gets a little too fresh and starts to smell like laundry detergent, a fate that Cartier Baiser Vole doesn't manage to avoid. (DK Gold, for the record, sidesteps this problem with its salty amber base; the resins serve as a cloak so you're never subjected to naked musk.) At first, Un Lys smells like a more expensive and more controlled version of Baiser Vole – but eventually (inevitably?) it too succumbs to a flat, sweet, clean muskiness (owing to that certain lavender-gray musk I hate so much) with none of the weird complexity of lilies. Et tu, Lutens?

Ineke Gilded Lily: For Gilded, read Gourmand. And for Lily, read Patchouli. This reminds me of nothing so much as Bond No. 9 New Haarlem, which reminds me of nothing so much as maple syrup. In other words, I'm getting immortelle, big time. Which of course isn't listed among the notes (pineapple, rhubarb, grapefruit, elemi, Goldband lily, patchouli, oakmoss and labdanum). But then, it's not listed in the notes for New Haarlem, either (patchouli, lavender, vanilla, coffee, cedar and bergamot). Immortelle, real or imagined, aside, I smell citrus and a slightly spicy, ambery patchouli, but this doesn't read as "lily" to me; it lacks that tactile freshness. It's interesting I suppose, but nowhere even close to comparable to DK Gold in quality, and as a weird gourmand, not really as good as New Haarlem either.

Yosh Stargazer: Compared to Gilded Lily, Yosh Stargazer smells decidedly floral, but it still doesn't really smell like lilies. After a complex few minutes that hint at the prickliness of indoles, this sinks into a purple, lilac-like sweetness that is almost grapey, like some jasmine accords (see Alien for the best example). And it just gets sweeter and more syrupy with time. Weird like British candy.

Frederic Malle Lys Mediterranee: Finally: lilies! More than any other lily perfume I've tried, Lys Mediterrannee actually capitalizes on the meaty odor of lilies, and the central accord here is like floral baloney. In his review of this fragrance, Luca Turin remarked on "that strange sensation that lilies give that the smell is about to fall apart into its component parts any minute." I'd go a step further and say that the smell of lilies always is falling apart into components, reassembling itself and then falling apart again, and this perfume reenacts that, much more so than Un Lys or Baiser Vole, which smell like a static sketch of a lily, not a living flower. All that said: I find that a number of perfumes in the Frederic Malle line are "too perfect," the way a woman can be too perfect to be truly attractive, and I'd put Lys Mediterranee in that category. It broadcasts excellence, it undeniably smells expensive. But it's just so on the nose. It doesn't feel personal or lived in. This is what I want to smell in a hotel lobby, more than on my skin. Still, beautifully instructive and necessary. Note that as it dries down, the dreaded lily musk begins to show through – a smell I'm starting to feel on my tongue, like the burn you get from eating too many Sour Patch Kids.


  1. Last Thursday I was picking up milk at the grocery store on my way home after community chorus practice. Walked quickly by the florist area (Kroger usually has prepackaged bouquets of The Usual Suspects variety - a dozen red roses, a mixed alstroemeria bouquet, etc.) and turned right around with delight: there was a bouquet of stargazers right there, scenting the air from a good fifteen feet away. I nearly bought them. Six stems, $10? I should have done it.

    Wonder if they'll have more this evening?

    I love DK Gold. And Lys Med is really lovely - I enjoy that salty aura - but it's not the I MUST HAVE IT sort of thing I feel for Iris Poudre. Probably because Gold is so good and I already own it, and what point is there in owning more than one lily-focused fragrance?

    1. You know, I think price is a big factor in how I perceive the Malles. The only ones I think are really worth the price tag (not that I'm ponying up for a FB myself) are Carnal Flower and Portrait of a Lady, maybe. (Iris Poudre, as you know, just isn't in my wheelhouse, since I don't get super excited about iris OR aldehydes.) But if Lys Med was the same price as DK Gold, I'd still prefer the Gold, but I could see owning both, if only for reference. I'm collect-y like that.

    2. Well... okay, you got me... I actually own more than one tuberose fragrance. Lilies, though? I have Gold, and I'm all good now.

      The Kroger did not have any stargazers when I popped in this evening. Sad.

    3. Oh no! I hope they come back next time. The lilies on our counter have lasted a good four or five days -- drooping a little, but still attractive.

      Maybe lilies are due for a "moment" like iris or gardenia ... surely more can be done with them!

  2. Thank you for gilding at some lilies.

    The last review was interesting - it's the most accurate (and smells expensive!) but that's not always want you want. Oh, and I enjoyed the Sour Patch Kids reference.

    Now off to start a math-rock band called Yosh Stargazer.

    1. Even well-done soliflores tend to be boring, I'm afraid. Women should not smell of flowers!, said Coco Chanel, or something close to that.