L.IL.Y. is the new Stella McCartney perfume, her second major launch after Stella, a modern rose composition. She collaborated once again with perfumer Jacques Cavallier, the new in-house nose for luxury giant Louis Vuitton. You can read more about the background of L.I.L.Y. here. If the idea for the scent starts with lily of the valley, it becomes evident when you smell the composition that it works almost more as a creative hook than a material reference. The fashion designer said,
"It all started with my love of lily of the valley,” acknowledged McCartney. “I grew up in the English countryside, and I was outside a lot of the time. I love lily of the valley; I find it to be breathtakingly beautiful. It’s also a very innocent looking flower, with a real freshness to it. I love that it blooms only fleetingly, in Spring, and that it grows in the shade, not in direct sunlight. It is fragile and innocent and delicate, yet it also has this sharp green leaf contrast. How to capture all that in a fragrance was a real challenge.”[quote]
You find out that the scent is not just about lily of the valley. It travels further and offers a complex vista onto what fragrance composition is and where it can lead you. It took both designer and perfumer much longer than initially expected to have the perfume reach a stage which they felt satisfied with...
The scent opens on a floral and woody accord, which sadly at first I have to say, conjures up the gleaming white tiles of ceramic of a bathroom -- oh why? The floral notes then escape from the woody ones to bloom fully. It smells fresh, crisp, multi-floral, but it is still somewhat too reminiscent of bathside toiletries. This is really one for the soap-worshipping crowd, you think to yourself. The floral bouquet is however a bit more studied and complex than one intended for lifting up the mood of having to use an hygienic product but it keeps that exaggerated clean feel throughout the initial stages of the development of the perfume.
A noteworthy aspect of the composition is the modernity of the floral bouquet. While L.I.L.Y. is in part indebted to the tradition of English toiletry, it seems rather glaringly at times, on the other hand, it also reveals the sophistication of a non-naturalist floral composition. The floral accord soon becomes abstract, with hard, graphite-like edges but also with little touches of verdancy conjuring up images of a well-mowned grassy lawn. There is that supplementary green nuance of an almost vegetable-like crispness to the scent as if you were strolling through a kitchen garden in the morning hours and smelling aromas of fresh carrots mixing with spearmint and freshly turned soil on your way to the real outdoors into the woodlands.
L.I.L.Y. is a rather cool, perhaps even one could say cold scent. An English trope analogy which comes to mind is that its food equivalent would be cucumber sandwiches. It actually does smell of cucumber sandwiches discreetly spiked with coriander seeds. There is, interestingly, a faint yet distinguishable bready nuance to this light and green floral fragrance which is not without recalling the effect found in Frédéric Malle En Passant, a lilac scent blended with wheat absolute and cucumber absolute by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. In fact, the more the perfume develops at this stage, the more it seems to reference ideas previously found in En Passant. There is however more sweetness in the background with the subdued vanilla and tonka bean and suave and sweet earthiness of truffle.
As the scent further evolves we seem to leave the English countryside setting for a promenade in the French campagne. Now, we are in wine country as an oaky note surfaces evoking damp oak wine barrels and distant echoes of Serge Lutens Chêne (a must-experience perfume for wine-country lovers by the way). It smells woody, but also mossy with a vague aroma typical of banquet feasting or bonne chère wafting off a countryside wooden table. The subtle mark of a chypré in French perfumery. It makes you think of cognac and truffles. L.I.L.Y. is, as it turns out, quite an hedonistic composition. It could have been called The Good Life in my book, but it is bent on not appearing to be too obviously decadent and fleshy. It is like looking at a clear aquarelle version of French Rabelaisian excess.
Like for Valentina by Valentino, a noticeable truffle note was added, the variety here being from the French Périgord region instead of Alba Truffle from Italy. Cavallier turned to the flavor industry for help in infusing the composition with its aroma. Valentina incidentally is one of the few so-called "designer" scents which can be found at trendy store Colette in Paris, which shows you it has a quirky enough quality to it.
I am also reminded of Sienne L'Hiver and Bois d'Ombrie by Eau d'Italie created by Bertrand Duchaufour which jointly smell of truffles, cognac and misty pathways in the foggy Italian countryside in the fall.
Beyong the evocative, sensual vignettes it conjures up, L.I.L.Y, past the top notes, is rooted in niche, conceptual perfumery territory.
I find that L.I.L.Y.'s gift, when all is said and done, is to offer a winning sense of subtlety and complexity.
It is actually a very original composition but extremey understated at the same time. It reportedly took perfumer Jacques Cavallier and Stella McCartney three years to give birth to the scent and you can see that it was time well-spent. Not only is it a completely reconceptualized lily-of-the-valley perfume with very little to remind you actually of a straightforward lily of the valley but it is also an intriguing gourmand and hedonistic composition.
Having said that, like all great perfumes, there are many ways to approach it. It is poetical, but it could also define a sense of countryside elegance. It is foody but also ethereal. It is a modern floral, but also evokes ancestral woody notes. The composition, we know, purposefully integrates feminine and masculine elements in it. It is English like airy, wheaty cucumber sandwiches, but also French like dark truffles and red wine. You can play with and muse about the scent, and on top of that wear it without any difficulty.