Today is the First of May 2018 in France, which means that streets are welcoming stalls covered in lilies of the valley. Since it was born in the Renaissance, the tradition of offering muguet as a symbol of spring renewal, luck, protection - but also joy and mirth - has managed to thrive. It is the latter two moral qualities which have probably inspired the classic of perfumery Diorissimo by Dior created by Edmond Rounitska in 1956, who used to grow the bell-shaped flowers in his garden in Cabris in the south of France. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, his disciple, now retired, who also happens to reside in the same village today went back in a way to the drawing table ca. 2016 to try to capture the ephemeral scent of muguet anew for Hermès this time with Muguet Porcelaine in the Hermessence collection...
The challenge was, off the top of his head, the biggest olfactive one he'd had to face, he said. Besides the fact that the scent of muguet is iconic in French culture, perfumery-wise, there have been EU regulatory restrictions on the use of a key molecule which meant that new solutions had to be found. Ellena wanted to be comprehensive as well, wishing to incorporate the perfume of the green leaves which are so visibly part of the charm of the woodlands bloom. He then went also for including sensations which are subtler still, even ones associated with light - with even the idea of metaphysical weight, which he described as the flower's intrinsic "lightness of being."
"...I worked on the coldness of its aura, the fineness of its opalescence, its lightness of being."
Anticipating May Day // En prévision du 1er mai - II © Chant Wagner 2018
How Does it Smell Like?
The pure, unadulterated joy of smelling a lily of the valley on the branch has been recreated for you in the opening of Muguet Porcelaine. Only a tiny hint of cream and banana lets you guess that the development might yield a lily of the valley which exists only in the mind of the perfumer, when he was still the in-house nose for Hermès.
The very beginning of the composition is an homage paid both to the muguet as it lives in the underwoods but also to the joyous tones of Dior Diorissimo, a classic, defining muguet / lily of the valley composition. Past this nature-oriented phase, inviting you to step inside the countryside and remember fragrant spring days, the rest is style.
In particular, you will be able to recognize the milky, lactonic accents traversed with green of Un Jardin Après La Mousson. Here is a stylized muguet bathed in milk, hence the apt designation of "Muguet Porcelaine". Inspired by the appearance of the flower itself, its pristine white quality, this is an effort to translate the re-imagined texture of the white bells as made of Kaolin and ready to be turned into dainty porcelain tea cups transparent enough to let light through.
The floral quality of Diorissimo mingling with the vegetaly one of La Mousson is like the expression of a spiritual filiation incarnate between master and student, Roudnitska and Ellena.
A third meaningful thread one can discern has to do with, once more, a natural aspect of muguet, its musky facet. In fact, "muguet" comes from "musc" (musk) in French and the two were conflated at times. A "muguet" used to designate a dandy, or one who does not shy away from musk perfumes. The verb "mugueter" meant "to court". Interestingly enough, synthetic musk yields a scent of muguet at the appropriate dosage. So it is coherent and even necessary from a scientific point of view to develop this little advertized yet authentic facet of the flower.
A fourth aspect Ellena has included in his realistic yet stylized interpretation of the scent of muguet formed like a plural Ikebana bouquet and smelling like a soliflore, has to do with an astringent sensation, which mingles with the natural coldness and freshness of the flower. To obtain this twist, he's had the idea apparently of relying on a note of Wasabi, which is a special quality of olfactive green, while also playing with our trigeminal sensations - a development in perfumery which is edgy.
Anticipating May Day // En prévision du 1er mai - III © Chant Wagner 2018
The result nonetheless in the end is to deploy the real perfume of muguet for simple hedonistic purposes. None of the discreet touches of white vanilla, wasabi, banana leaves, even smoke will prevent the scent of lily of the valley from forming in a convincing way.
Muguet Porcelaine is a lily of the valley soliflore in spirit, only made more sophisticated and researched. Dior the last time we checked had attempted to circumvent the perfumery muguet drought with more jasmine, turning it into a solar paradox. Not so with Muguet Porcelaine, which retains this cold underwood atmospheric aura only lightly warmed by a nice spring sun, while emitting a familiar floral music filled with natural gaiety and new astringency.