Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia (2012): The Guerlain Heft is Back {Perfume Short (Review)}


Lys Soleia opens on the typical white chalk-like nuance of lilies and stays there for a little while before gaining in vanillic, and then citrusy intensity. The effect is quite beguiling as it marries two contrasted sensations of velvet and sparkle while making them fuse harmoniously. In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser has been employing this enhanced contrast method lately, as well as indulging in bergamot overdoses. It's clearly apparent in the recent Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau. In a traditional sense, it is a recourse to the structure of Shalimar which is famous for its bergamot opening balanced out by an Oriental base. But this idea has been reworked to feel more immediate, exaggerated and whiter as far as the type of vanilla accord used is concerned... 

The lily tends to recede in the background as if it perfumed subtly this rethought accord of Shalimar, like a perfume can scent a letter. The spiciness of lily is suggested by Eugenol, which tends to push it in the direction of a carnation.

Lys Soleia has a citrusy meringue aspect to itself. But then, just by sipping a cup of coffee with a peel of lemon in it you will get this sensation, by association or otherwise. There is a fruitiness which rounds off the scent. There is also a sharp edge commingling hesperides, spices and a green almost sour facet. A look later at the official notes reveals that it must be "palm leaves" described as "biting". The fruity note also helps drown the white musk contrary to some more overt white-musk effects which had been apparent lately in some of the Guerlain perfumes, in particular under the aegis of artistic director Sylvaine Delacourte, a champion of this modernizing accord (See L'Instant Magic).

Stylistically speaking, and this is what makes this lily soliflore stand out from others, is that it has been turned into a rich, spicy fruity-floral, emphasis on "fruity-floral". Yes, many perfumistas spit on fruity-florals as signalling base commercialism, but this is an opportunity to surmount their prejudice if need be.There is bloom of a pulpy, fruity quality which is quite perfectly balanced out. It feels a bit as if a white lily had been crossed with a ripe mango; it is in fact ylang ylang, a very fruity ylang. The composition, as it turns out, is directly and explicitly inspired by the old Ylang et Vanille, a discontinued Aqua Allegoria (see review of Hermès Vanille Galante which is itself unofficially inspired by Ylang et Vanille).

Then an intriguing second floral chapter opens where the exotic, Tahitian scent of Frangipani unfold. It creates this solar note suggested by the name "Soleia". Tuberose has been inserted in the base notes, but it contributes further to the richness and fruitiness of the perfume rather than feel like a solo act.

The composition is complex, rich and quite frankly, superb. It is a departure from the spirit of the Aqua Allegoria line in terms of it usually offering lighter compositions for summer. It replaces the element water with the element sun.

The drydown tends to push the lily in the territory of a soft carnation. Having to tinker with a spicy floral accord will have you muse logically over the distinct tonalities of both lily and carnation. Mathilde Laurent, the perfumer at Cartier did the same in a way with her two perfumes launched in a row L'Heure Convoitée and Baiser Volé, a carnation and lily perfume respectively. In Lys Soleia, the two peppery flowers fade in and out creating a more abstract, ambiguous floral essence. There is a hint of the old Guerlain Terracotta Voile d'Eté, a carnation for the beach in the summer, created incidentally by Mathilde Laurent when she was at Guerlain's.

What I think a Guerlain aficion can appreciate about this composition is the manner in which it brings some of the legendary Guerlain heft back, where it needn't be. But it does that thanks to the modern reliance on the fruity-floral family. You can savor the humor. It is a bit as if the perfumer had wanted to up the ante to himself: bring the G heft back to a light summery perfume; do so by using fruits; mute the commercial safety net of white musks ; incur potentially the wrath of every constituency involved and pull it off by turning Lys Soleia into a little triumph for the perfumer toying with expectations, and more importantly achieving balance. We say "the straight and the narrow" and this can apply just as well to perfume creation when it comes to finding the right Middle Path in it.

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