I had initially started writing about the May flower muguet (lily of the valley) mid-December in San Francisco when the thermometer registered in the 30s. It was a wonderful trick to play on myself, peering into a meadow redolent with the rosy-citrusy-green scent of lily of the valley in the dead of winter, but I'm glad I saved my review for the beginning of May.
Muguet des Bois smells clean, but unlike some more abstract clean scents, it's reminiscent of nature, and therefore impregnated with complexity. From the hint of musty lilac to a bright lemony-rose, there's a paradoxical artful artlessness to its fresh loveliness.
Top notes: Leafy green, bergamot, orange, aldehyde
Heart notes: lily of the valley, lilac, cyclamen, rose, jasmine
Basenotes: sandalwood, musk
In a wonderful writeup on lily of the valley perfumes, Helg from Perfume Shrine tells us that when lily of the valley's components were analyzed using headspace technology (whereby a scented object's compounds can be analyzed by placing a dome over them, passing inert gasses through, and then capturing/analyzing the components), a surprising 23 compounds were found. (Surprising to me, anyway!) Citing reps from Symrise, she says they found the "floral rosy citrus from citronellol, green pea and galbanum-like notes, fatty, waxy, aldehydic notes, and trace notes of fruit and raspberry from beta-ionone."
Basenotes says that it's still in production, but I haven't smelled the modern formulation. I hope they've maintained its beauty, but it's worth finding the vintage if you can — it doesn't smell dated at all to me. I have what looks like a '60s or '70s version of the perfume — celadon-colored cap, little enameled white flowers and green leaves running across it. Edmond Roudnitska himself, creator of his version of a lily of the valley fragrance (the legendary Diorissimo), greatly admired Coty's Muguet des Bois. In Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends, he said of it:
"I remembered that Coty had a lily that was called Muguet des Bois. No better lily note was ever made. It pushed the green note of the flower. As a lily note, it was magnificent. It was much better than the one I had made myself. I wondered how they had managed to create such a masterpiece in the Thirties, with so little means. But it never became very successful, because it wasn’t a perfume one could wear." (Thanks to Now Smell This for finding this quote.)
I'm not sure I agree with him that it's not a perfume one could wear, but it is definitely both more feral and innocent than the sophisticated Diorissimo. It's raw in the way Vent Vert is, evoking, through the art of its composition, the spicy/green aspect of flowers in the wild. If lily of the valley strikes you as too innocent — give this one a shot; you might find it edgier than you thought. (If you're interested in a freaky scientific fact that involves the molecule bourgeonal, which smells like lily of the valley, go to First Nerve and read about how a scientist discovered that bourgeonal somehow attracts sperm. Not that innocent, indeed!)
Image source: Pearl's Sentimental Journey