As we approach May 1 it is one of those days where perfume has a moment. It is centered around the perfumes which focus on muguet or lily-of-the-valley. On May Day it is tradition to wear a sprig, or two, in celebration of spring. From Dior Diorissimo to Annick Goutal Le Muguet or Guerlain’s yearly release of Muguet on May 1 the perfume version is an option. I think all those perfumes are fantastic, but I never equated lily-of-the-valley with spring. My spring flower is bit different as is the perfume which represents it.
For most of my life I have had lilac bushes growing near the places I have lived. As the winter has receded enough for me to open my windows. It was the scent of lilacs which let me know the season had profoundly changed. I look forward to this every year. One thing which also seems to happen annually is one of those proverbial April showers comes through. After the rain has passed there is one of my favorite natural mixtures of scent; green leaves, wet soil and lilac. Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti has bottled this in one of the greatest perfumes of the last twenty years; Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle En Passant.
En Passant was part of Frederic Malle’s groundbreaking inaugural collection in 2000. For the first time the heretofore anonymous perfumer’s names were right there on the label. All the perfumes would make their perfumers something to be celebrated.
In the years before the release of En Passant Mme Giacobetti had been refining a transparent aesthetic. En Passant was where it reached perfection. She became expert in forming opaque accords without sacrificing impact. In En Passant she had to walk the fractious line lilac presents a perfumer. If you construct your accord with too much you run the risk of reminding the wearer of aerosol air freshener. Too musky and it loses any hint of spring freshness. The accord she constructs finds the perfect balance through translucent lilac. It is then given the wet soil accord through the ingenious combination of cucumber and wheat. The green comes though the acerbic quality of orange leaves.
En Passant has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I consider En Passant to be the best perfume of this century. It is a fragrance which manages to succeed at being photorealistic and impressionistic simultaneously. Mme Giacobetti was years ahead of her time when it came to this style of perfumery. There are many who think a perfume needs to shout to be great. En Passant asks whether it can whisper of spring showers in a garden of lilacs instead. Give me the quiet beauty of it all.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
While reviewing the exquisite all-botanical impressionistic lilac of DSH Perfumes La Belle Saison I ended up pulling out my favorite lilac perfumes to compare to it. As I looked at my desk I realized I had the makings of a My Favorite Things right in front of me.
When I lived in Massachusetts our home was surrounded by lilacs and it was the sure sign that winter had passed when the house filled with their smell. When it comes to perfume lilac is a tricky thing to get right as an accord has to be constructed. The other hazard is that one of the earliest spray air fresheners was “French lilac” and no fragrance wants to be compared to that. Here are five of my favorite lilacs.
Highland Lilac of Rochester was created in 1967. I bet you didn’t know Rochester, NY was the Lilac Capitol of the World. The story on the website claims they harvest these lilacs every spring and create each year’s limited bottling. I think there is some natural lilac in here but the great majority is an accord centered around hyacinth, which is probably the most used floral alternative to create a lilac accord. This is a green unctuous floral that is everything that cloud of air freshener was not.
Pacifica French Lilac is another lilac accord coalescing around heliotrope. The perfumer uses ylang ylang and hyacinth to complete the effect. Magnolia leaves provide the green but French Lilac is a full-blown lilac soliflore.
The next two are examples of perfumers capturing that spring milieu of the lilacs in full bloom.
Independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland’s Ineke After My Own Heart captures a garden with raspberries growing along with the lilacs. Ms. Ruhland finds a balance between the sweet juicy berry and the fulsome lilac. This is my kind of fruity floral.
Probably the greatest lilac perfume is Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle En Passant. It is definitely among the best perfumes composed by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti and that is not faint praise as her portfolio is amazing. In En Passant she captures that moment after a spring rain storm as the sun has returned and is drying things out. The dewy green of the leaves the transparent floralcy as the blooms shake off their cloak of water. The damp soil everything grows in. En Passant somehow manages to be photorealistic and impressionistic at the same time. I always wear it in the spring. It is still one of the perfumes which reminds me of the heights of what perfume can achieve.
My last choice is JAR Jarling. The entire JAR line of perfumes can best be described as quirky. Jarling fits the description better than most as it is a gourmand lilac. In the early going it is a treacly vanilla and almond mixture out of which arises a heliotrope focused lilac accord. What is fascinating about Jarling is after some time the sweet almond and lilac form a plush partnership which I can’t stop admiring when I wear it.
If you need a little bit of spring before it has fully taken hold these five lilac perfumes might help chase the last winter blues away.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.