Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lily of the Valley -- The Path Less Travailed

There is an apocryphal story about Edmund Roudnitska lying in a bed of lily of the valley, absorbing the scent so that he could create Diorissimo.  The fillip to the challenge?  You cannot extract the scent via perfumery methods (enfleurage, etc.); it has to be represented via alchemy, erm, chemistry.

So, off goes Roudnitska, with one of the quintessential retorts to Mme. Chanel saying:
“I want a perfume that is composed. It’s a paradox. On a woman, a natural flower scent smells artificial. Perhaps a natural perfume must be created artificially."  

I tend to think that Chanel had a point, though that quote comes from stories about the creation of No.5, such as this one.  Simple florals are simpletons, in a way--not to offend those who love them--they are never as fabulous as when you smell them in the garden, and on most people they remind me of something proper for girls or prim maidens.  Ironically, I still haven't wrapped my head around No. 5.  Soap bubbles.

Before you get mad at me, or want to come to the defense of your favorite floral (which I want you to do, by the way...bring up your favorite florals, not necessarily get mad at me), let me point out that a) I do harbor a certain fondness for rose, when done a certain way.  A certain way I haven't been able to pin down, yet, because roses that work for me include Bulgari Rose Essentiale, Magie Noire, Rive Gauche, Twill Rose, and, when I'm in the mood for having my mind warped, SIP Black Rosette.  There is no common thread I can discern there.  If you've got an idea, toss it my way.

Anyway, I wander off into roses on a post titled "Lily of the Valley" because I wanted to show that I am not opposed to straight up florals across the board.  There's a crazy indie "mystery white" floral, for example, called Summerscent that I find myself oddly drawn toward (I remember a commenter on another blog once saying it smelled of gasoline...okay, that is a sort of connection to Black Rosette...), but of course not only was it limited production, it is now gone apparently.  But, when push comes to shove, I'd rather get my garden-variety florals from (quality) essential oil concoctions.

Enter the case of lily of the valley and Roudnitska's Diorissimo, a perfume become legend.  This was a tale that seemed predestined to not go well for me.  Indeed, the path has been rough, and even appeared to end.  But today's telling will show that I found where the path continues again, and have found a way to love LOTV following the path less travailed.

You see, I secured a bottle of Diorissimo parfum very early in my perfume curve.  Luck smooshed together a good price and my first-year apprentice's knowledge that the stuff was a sort of holy grail, so I'd best snatch it.  I did, and I tried it.  With all the appropriate reverence and ginger handling of bottle and pause just as the cap came off and a whiff of the cork lip of the opening and a careful application of precious fluid to a virgin clean wrist.  And I felt...nothing.  I mean, it smelled like lily of the valley, if a bit fluorescent.  Or DayGlo.  Or so it seemed.  It felt hyper.  And simple.  And the earth didn't move.

I quietly put the Diorissimo in a safe place, and vowed not to share my secret with anyone.  

But I took it out twice a year or so, just to check.  And...the result was essentially...the same.

Then I got something *really* cheap at auction.  Coty Muguet.  Heck, if I was going to practice collecting artifacts, this one was a small investment.  I put it in the drawer next to the Diorissimo, unopened (literally--this one had evaporated a bit, but the seal was still intact).  And it sat there for a year and a half, because I had proclaimed I would "uncork" the bottle as a celebration of the start of spring, but forgot to do that last year.  

This year, I didn't forget.

And that has made all the difference.

For beneath the green cello seal lay a wonderfully green threaded lily of the valley, one that had some sap and rasp to it.  One that had that LOTV smell in context.  Subtle context, mind you; this doesn't go toward abstraction/compilation like Temps d'Une Fete, for example.  (Oh, happy scent, that.)  And it doesn't reverberate through your core with luxurious ingredients.  But it is...nice.  Oh so nice.  And a happy way to encounter LOTV.  Flowers laced with foliage.


But I should go back, right?  Give Diorissimo its day?  And so I did.  Today.


I believe it.  I believe Edmond Roudnitska -- he who brought us Femme, and Diorella, and Parfum de Therese (okay, that one he didn't bring us, but thanks to Fredric Malle, we have it now) -- laid down among the lilies of the valley and put into a bottle that which he found there.

They are kind of hyper flowers, anyway.  A couple of stems will fill a room with their fragrance.  To me, they smell best outside...and across the way.  (Is it any surprise my entryway to their scent in perfume was a greened-up version?)  So perhaps I had been unfair to judge as I had.

And you know what?  It settles down rather nicely.  Takes the edge off.  Like the ice has melted in your drink a bit.

So, NOW comes the time when you can be mad at me.  Because both perfumes I have discussed here have been reformulated.  So if you wish to come to your own conclusions, you need to go forth and seek them.


Here, the path is wide enough for two.  If you want to jump right on to this path here, where I am, with even less travail than I had, mention it in the comments.  I'll draw a name from all who express interest and send a smidgen of each.  Don't worry, I know people bop in and out on odd schedules.  I close collecting names for the draw on...Tuesday, May 18.  Draw is now closed.

If you haven't commented before, I'd love for you to introduce yourself, too.  :)

For further readings on the history of Diorissimo, see for example "Perfume Profiles," or Helg's history of the bottle at Perfume Shrine.
There is a page on Edmond Roudnitska with many helpful links at Art et Parfum.
Both bottles from my personal collection, purchased via online auction.
All images the author's own.

If you need a refresher on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," or have missed being pummeled by it in your schooling, find it here, among numerous other locations.  (FWIW, I use, and appreciate their existence, though if you travel among certain circles, you know well there's a bit of a brou-ha over the politics at they too mainstream? Do they ignore certain poets?  Perhaps so, but it's a convenient, non-threatening way to put your toe in the water.  IMHO.  Discuss.)


Krista Janicki said...

My mother always wore Diorissimo, but I haven't smelled in years. I'd love to try the Coty and compare. I love the smell of LOTV, it's funny that I don't have one in my collection. Mybe because it reminds me too much of mom.

ScentScelf said...

Krista, I'll put your name down.

It can be a factor, I think, if we associate a smell with a person or an event. I don't have a personal strong connection with LOTV, except for childhood memories of them growing at the corner near the house. Maybe enough time has passed for you to wear Diorissimo without it simply saying "mom"; then again, maybe you'll be okay with it always being that way. :)

Thanks for stopping by.

queen_cupcake said...

I would be very interested in trying these two. The Diorissimo because I am aware of its holy-grail status and history; the Coty Muguet des Bois because I had some when I was a young girl--it must have been my first perfume.

These past few days, when I have arrived home from work, I've sat in my shade garden, which is carpeted with lily of the valley in bloom. Hidden from the nearby street and from the house, it is a kind of secret garden. I am so happy to drink in their scent; and so sad to know that they will not last too much longer.

BitterGrace said...

I am delighted to see LOTV get some serious consideration. It's always regarded as a lightweight, and I guess it is, though it has a real emotional resonance for me. I always thought Coty Muguet was a bit too harsh, and Diorissimo a little too hysterical--not that I don't like them. My own fave remains Caron Muguet du Bonheur, which has also been reformulated, alas.

Re "Staid" would be the word. But anything that makes poetry more available is good, I agree.

queen_cupcake said...

Sorry if I haven't introduced myself. Offhand, I cannot remember if I have posted here before. I appreciate your articles--and the photos! I am an amateur perfumista, whatever that may mean :-) and a full-time flute maker and musician living near Boston, MA. I read a lot of perfume blogs. I love cats (have four).

ScentScelf said...

Queen Cupcake...

You may have commented here before...I *do* remember running into you among the commenters at other blogs! I myself yam what I yam when it comes to perfume :) -- which you can see pretty well here. I'm going to also confess to being a flute person...but the one I play comes from some renegades from the once king of makers far across the sea.

I love "secret gardens"; I always try to create one at a place if it does not already exist. Even if it is just an alcove.

I appreciate the introduction...and welcome. Your name is in the draw.

ScentScelf said...

BG, nice to see your icon again. :)

I think you are on track with characterizing attitudes as "lightweight" (which is kinda funny considering what an insistent whomp LOTV can be), but I think I might be appreciating better whatever nuances/layers can be there, in addition to emotional connotations. (Of which people seem to have plenty.)

You remind me that I think I have a recent iteration of the Caron Muguet around here somewhere...if you pop back, would you let me know how you think it compares to any earlier versions, if you know?

One more if...I'll put your name in, if you like.

Yeah, "staid" is a good word.

flittersniffer said...

Lovely LOTV piece - and what's with the smaller font? Is that the font not taken? I did do my duty by Robert Frost in school, even though I am from Norn Iron (it's an accent thing!).

I used to have a smidge of Diorissimo parfum, but it evaporated before I got around to testing it, and the only Coty to which I have access is L'Aimant in my local chemist. And what a cheapo sneezefest that is!

Funnily enough, my mother carried LOTV in her bridal bouquet and a medium once said she saw my mother surrounded by LOTV, which was spooky - or maybe just a half decent guess based on the age and likely tastes of someone old enough to be my mother.

But then she broadsided me by saying that my mother wanted me to know that sweet peas were really hard to grow, which she did used to say, and that was disconcertingly specific.

Anyway, LOTVs resonate with me in more ways than A N Other white floral...

Happy to go in your draw, if you don't suffer from postal phobia like our good friend ChickenFreak.

ScentScelf said...

Flittersniffer, I'd love to know what IS up with the alternate font action? Blogger was sending me some odd "did not save properly" messages while I was composing, which I suspect led to the alternative sizing, which is rather ironic, seeing as I often choose to compose right in Blogger (rather than a separate word processing program) because I have font issues when I import/cut paste. Argh.

I mean, um, yeah, YEAH, the alternating font stuff is all about representing the meandering of the path...

Interesting about the medium's message...what would it mean if I told you that I am attempting sweet peas this year, RIGHT NOW...and that, unlike previous forays, this time they seem to be taking? Seeds have sprouted...

I chose not to repeat my big emotional resonance story re: LOTV here ('twas in my "Context" post), partially so as not to bore anyone who had paid attention. :) But yes, it is a scent that seems to resonate for many.

You're in the draw. I have no aversions to attempting the post to any just somewhat infamous for having trouble actually sending the thing off. (I package it up just fine. :) )

queen_cupcake said...

Flutes from renegades? Flute by the far-away king? Please tell me more! I love all of the flute family.

Wearing Miller Harris Terre de Bois today; it's a little chilly outdoors.

ScentScelf said...

Queen C,
Ah, then you'll embrace my non-french arms, my C-foot, my standard embouchure plate (no butterfly for me, though at the time I bought, they had started to hit hard and heavy), my thick walls... :), erm, *prime ank(l)yo*...

TdB sounds spot on. It's plenty chilly here...and more rain than the ground can comfortably handle. We'll see how that plays...

Musette said...


You know my love for both of these frags and you know that it is ONLY my extreme love for you that prevents me from busting into your house, armed to the teeth (including breastplate and sword) and relieving you of both of those gorgeous little bottles! :-D

I am not feeling quite the thing today (back pain and ennui) and was wondering if I should chance vintage Mits - decided against it. I think the weather is mercurial enough (sun one minute, storms the next) that I will chance Diorissimo. If nothing else, it will put me in a decent mood!

xoxoo A

queen_cupcake said...

Musette, I hope you will feel better soon!

ScentScelf, the Prima Sankyo is a fine flute; I sure hope she is allowed to sing on regular occasions...?

ScentScelf said...

Musette, I do indeed know your love for them...your passion was among those that persuaded me to go for the bargain, even with my mother's voice saying "It's no bargain if you don't like it"....

Some things take time. :)

I would think that sometimes Mits is NOT the thing, if it conjures visions of and need for armoring up. That isn't always fun or welcome energy.

We have had well over 4" of rain since yesterday. Citizens alert around here...flash floods, standing water, blah blah. I'm trying to conjure comfort and awake--which I think perhaps for you would be Charmes and Leaves? :)

ScentScelf said...

QC, the PS, it does sing. I am sorry to say it laid protected but idle for a number of years too sad to quantify, but a friend persuaded me to bring it back out when my oldest was in kindergarden. I was able to get enough skill back that I now play in an orchestra, and for a while was doing a full round of chamber groups, recitals, etc.

And yes, regular maintenance is again part of our life... :)

Lucy said...

I like the accurate ones, like the Penhaglion Lily of the Valley. I remember the lily of the valley we had from the prior owners of our house, it felt like such a prize to discover them huddled against the house in Spring...

ScentScelf said...

Ah, Lucy...I had been both nervous about being able to find something "accurate," and also realizing how hyperreal the actual flower is. Did I want, did I need to find that in a perfume?

And what is it about that flower...I moved many times in my childhood, but if I pause and reflect, I remember the places where lily of the valley grew...the power of those shady nooks...I know just what you mean by thinking discovering them was like finding treasure.

flittersniffer said...

Oh yes indeed, the story about the poor woman who burst into tears because LOTV touched an olfactory nerve. That was quite some reaction.

Re your success with sweet peas, had you been younger, you might conceivably have proved my fond hope that reincarnation exists.

But I sense you are considerably the wrong side of 11. : - )

Though I do know a small boy who was born on the day my mother died, and I am monitoring him for early signs of whisky appreciation and an aptitude for bridge.

dk said...

Wow, I'd love to try this.

Musette said...

Don't faint: right now it's Cuir de Lancome.




ScentScelf said...

Aw, well, both my grandmothers and my parents played bridge...but afraid I only picked up the whiskey.

I'll just enjoy the sweet peas, then...but if they make it to fruition, I'll post a picture. :)

ScentScelf said...


Okay, you're in the draw.

ScentScelf said...

The Cuir???

Well, you know *I* approve.


(This weather is wiggy. I myself am wearing Vol de Nuit. Hunh.)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I cannot believe that I land on your blog for the very first time and this is your topic! Diorissimo is the only perfume I have worn for years and years. People always want to know what I'm wearing and it just seem to suit me somehow. It became harder and harder to obtain here in the states, so much so that I was ordering it from Galeries Lafayette in Paris, through a haze of mangled French over telephone wires. Then came the news that it had been discontinued. I was distraught. So, I did what any girl would do ... pretended to be a journalist and telephoned the head of Dior fragrance in New York. I was, rather rapidly, given the information that it had not been discontinued, merely repackaged, and was soon to be on sale exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

Cut to last month, when I finally ran out of my stash and ventured into Saks. I had since read of the "reformulation" to a "more modern" approach... and was highly skeptical. I spritzed some on my wrist and.... well.... it has changed. I was pretty blue for days. Searched the internet for a replacement. Then decided to buy a bottle and see how bad it could be. And, I like it. I mean, it's closer to Diorissimo than anything else would be.

Funny, I never thought I would be someone who had a "signature fragrance". But I am.

I will have to search out the Coty LOTV though. I'm curious.

Lovely blog, by the way!

ScentScelf said...


Thanks for joining! I love your story of intrepid research and digging up. Good on you for chasing down the story. I am sorry that you, too, find the current version not what the former was...but also appreciate your "closer than anything else would be" approach. Indeed, what else would come close? Dior did put out a limited edition called "Lily," which a perfume friend sent me a sample of; LOTV is prominent there.

But it's not Diorissimo.

Smiling at "never thought you'd be someone who had a signature fragrance"...and I never thought I'd be someone who is "into" perfume!

You're in the draw, and I'm glad you stopped to chat. Your blog is charming, btw; my regards to Edward, with a scritch behind his ears.

Ines said...

I have no idea how I missed this post (but I really did have u busy week). :)
So I'm waving here to get my name in the draw! I really love LOTV and I think some of that love was actually transfered from my mother who adores it.

ScentScelf said...


No problem, glad to have you here any time!

Sure, you're in the draw. You join the "my mother's perfume" group when it comes to Diorissimo or LOTV...I wonder if there is such a group among our can be a lovely way to come to a perfume, of course.

Hope your week ended on a "happy busy" note.

BitterGrace said...

Popping back in to say that I thank you for offering to put me in the draw, but I'll let someone else have my chance.

About the Caron, none of my bottles are terribly old, but the edp I have that's around 12-15 years old is sweeter and "rounder" than the latest edp issue. Someone sent me a little of the parfum some time ago, which seemed just like a richer version of my older edp--but of course I don't know its age. The edt, frankly, I never much liked and have not ordered a recent bottle. I'd liken the formulation change to what Caron did to Montaigne--made it drier, more linear, more sheer. Muguet du Bonheur was always a fantasy of the flower, really, but now it's more science fiction than fairy tale. Not bad, but just...less soulful.

March said...

All right, I'm in. I've never smelled vintage Diorissimo! All the LOTV lovers say it's all that...

ps. Yeah. I lurk on here.

ScentScelf said...


You are in, indeed. :)

Nice to know you're lurking's shadowy company, but nice all the same.

Mals86 said...

I was gonna be nice and let others have the shot at vtg 'issimo and the Coty... but I decided to jump in too.

Love Diorissimo. I already talked about my aunt's LotV and how they didn't make it into my wedding bouquet, so I won't belabor that. Someday they'll be growing in MY yard (alas, since 8 years ago my yard was open pasture, we have little shade). My last two attempts to grow LotV were utter failures. Sigh.

ScentScelf said...

Okay Mals, I'll toss you in. And close the door behind you. :)

Rose said...

really big sigh- I am certain I commented on this and now it is gone- perhaps to junk

Anyway was just saying I don't really like Lily but I adore Diorissimo, truly adore it- which makes very little sense but is the way perfume works! Or perhaps it is that I don't like sickly lily perfumes because I do like the oil. Anyway it is divine and I have only tried the new versions, a vintage one probably sings!

I'd be interested to try the coty- and I love the bottle

Now I am going to have to wear some Diorissimo!

ScentScelf said...

Aw, Rose. :(

(But I hope you'll look at the draw results post...especially the pictures...there was a little magic for you...)

Thanks for coming back and re-registering your thoughts. You are right...say, I don't like tobacco, much, outside of a bottle, but really enjoy it as a note in perfume. As for liking the current version...notice Pamela (and Terry and Edward's) comment about how it brought pleasure, and what else currently on the market would come as close to whatever the vintage had been?

Isn't that Coty bottle charming? At first I found it twee, but then May Day came, and I thought "May basket!," and aw, what the heck, I embraced the charms it offers. :)

Mals86 said...

You know, a memory came back to me today about the Coty Muguet - I am almost sure that I saw it at the Big Lots (um, yeah) when I was maybe twelve. I have a memory that there were three Coty scents, probably edc although I didn't notice at the time - Les Muses, Muguet des Bois, and Chypre. I opened caps and sniffed bottles. I didn't like Chypre, but the other two I did like, and asked my mom if she'd buy one of them for me, and I could pay her back when we got home.

She said, No. She said, You already have some perfume. You don't need more.

I sighed and put the bottles back. Boy howdy, do I wish I had them now...

ScentScelf said...

Whoa. That's a good one for the file, Mals.

And for the comic relief...a Woody Allen style analyst voice over, "So, she said 'you already have some; you don't need more" as the shot of you sniffing and then madly typing an entry into your blog dissolves into one long, loving pan of your current collection...".

I am sorry. 'Cause yeah, I've smelled the current version, and this Coty is not the old Coty. However (becomes very small, hops onto one of your shoulders, whispers into your ear), I do see it appear on the online auction site which shall not be named, and not always does it spark interest...