Muguet is one of those flowers I love steadfastly in art but seldom in perfume. Visually it charms me; I love the cool fluidity of its foliage (so popular with Karl Fabergé that his workshop produced numerous facsimiles carven of pure nephrite). The way each snowy bell-shaped blossom dangles adorably from its stem like a little girl's Sunday purse melts my heart. But in keeping with its cuteness, the scent of muguet is resolutely treble in pitch. Because no natural extract exists, perfumers compensate by mixing up a cocktail of synthetics whose cumulative squeal could shatter plate glass.
Also, there's the whole innocence thing. As much as I want to like muguet, some perverse corner of my subconscious (very likely the one that listens to Rasputina and wants to fill the living room with paintings by Mark Ryden) greatly desires to see it deviate from the path of pretty bridal fragrances and assume a more sinister role. Oh, sure, it can keep its innocent trappings-- but what if each wee, fleshy white flower opened its throat in a bloodthirsty yawn to reveal the tiniest of teeth?
Recently, two pals sent me examples of the very muguet I crave. These fragrances -- vintage Diorissimo Eau de Toilette from JoanElaine and contemporary Amouage Ubar from Suzanne> -- originate from two points of history and sit at different points of the floral vérité spectrum. Yet they both intrigue, unsettle, and ensnare me-- proof that the littlest lily has got spells to cast after all.
About Diorissimo, there are no tales I can tell that haven't already been told. Nor can I make any novel observations about its composition: fresh muguet, woody backdrop. Thanks to Edmond Roudnitska's diligent study of this flower, Diorissimo's muguet accord is as close to having a live bouquet on hand as one can get. What makes it so isn't as much the central floral note (which is impeccable), but the little details tucked around it, which bring it into sharper focus and rescue it from shrillness. These include succulent greens, loamy sandalwood, nectared jasmine. Yet alongside these, one finds a disturbing whiff of leather and a certain smoky note (ylang-ylang?) that catches in the back of the throat, hinting at less-than-perfect innocence.
Diorissimo may be a blonde, but her eyes are stormy and kohl-rimmed à la Margot Tenenbaum, with whom she appears to share not only a finishing school address, but a clandestine smoking habit. If ever she spoke in a high-pitched ditzy squeak, that was before the regular elocution lessons and her discovery of Daddy's eighty-year-old Scotch. In the full light of the public sun, she still projects the pure and aloof character of a debutante-- but like the lily-of-the-valley, she is made for the shade.
Have you ever seen a regular-sized snapshot enlarged to the size of a skyscraper? The blow-up process -- known as rasterization -- ironically involves first breaking the image down into small, individual units which are then numbered, enlarged to equal proportions, and reassembled in sequence. If you took Diorissimo and rasterized it, you'd have Ubar by Amouage-- and you would need the entire north wall of the Burj Khalifa to fit the whole picture.
Ubar is to lily-of-the-valley what Amarige or Poison are to tuberose: its Godzilla, three hundred feet tall and on the loose. At the sight of his "lucky flower" furiously battling high-tension wires and Air Force fighter jets, Christian Dior would either quail in horror or (like Sam O'Neill in Jurassic Park) he would fall to his knees in worshipful wonder. What a monster! What a marvel! (Note to Edmond Roudnitska: we're going to need a bigger chromatograph.)
If you, like me, are an imbecile and spray Ubar with abandon as if it were AquaNet, you may find your enjoyment diminished by terrified realization of the magnitude of this thing. For Ubar is VAST -- a perfume built on Ozymandian scale -- and to apply it with too free a hand is to open a can of olfactory whup-ass the likes of which you will never, ever forget. Such will be your panic, you won't even be able to discern which of Ubar's notes is hurting you the most. And if you or anyone else expected to eat food anytime soon, or ever again, you will find your appetite crushed as if by a ninety-thousand pound payload dropped from the ass end of a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
If, however, you approach Ubar knowing that it's the boss, you can adjust your dosage accordingly-- at which point you will discover a fragrance that is breathtaking in all respects, pervaded with poetry, shot through with pure gold, almost Guerlain-like in its subtle transformations of mood from moment to moment... in a word, swoon-worthy.
The flower may be small... but the feat is not.
Scent Elements: Lily-of-the-valley, bergamot, greens, amaryllis, jasmine, ylang ylang, rosewood, boronia, sandalwood, civet (Diorissimo); Lily-of-the-valley, bergamot, lemon, Damascene rose, jasmine, civet, vanilla (Ubar)