Thank goodness. I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the new (and last) Hermessence by Jean-Claude Ellena, Muguet Porcelaine. I love his Jardin series very much; the transparency of his fragrances appeals to me although some other perfume lovers do not like it. And I truly love lily of the valley scents, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that Muguet Porcelaine would not disappoint. And it doesn’t.
Before I got my own sample, I read some comments that used words like “cucumber”, “melon”, “watermelon” and even “bubble gum”! No, no, no, I thought, surely Ellena would not play such a cruel joke on perfume lovers who look forward to his new works, or on the lovely lily of the valley flower that has so inspired great perfumers like Edmond Roudnitska, whom Ellena holds in high regard.
He did not. I don’t smell cucumber, melon or, heaven forbid, bubblegum. I don’t know that I can go quite as far as Now Smell This, which calls it “perfect”, but it is gorgeous if you like Ellena’s style. And I do. The artwork from Hermes captures its spirit very well, with washes of yellow-green and light emerald watercolor against a minimalist pure white background. The bottle is like all the bottles in the Hermessence collection: a clear, simple column with a soft, colored leather cap. And of course, for Muguet Porcelaine, the cap is green.
When I first spray Muguet Porcelaine on my wrist, it opens with a delicate breeze of true lily of the valley, light and lemony without being lemon. It is very green, just like the flower, but not herbal. And in fact, its delicacy and transparency are true to the actual blossom, whose fragrance can be elusive — strongly fragrant one minute, a wisp of fragrance the next. The flower itself is a “wafter”; you can walk by an entire huge bed of lilies of the valley and get just a hint of their perfume as you pass, or you can get a gust. A small bunch in a tiny vase can fill a room with scent. Ellena himself said that he was trying for the subtlety, delicacy and fragility he sees in these flowers and he has captured those.
Victoria from Bois de Jasmin has now posted on that blog her review of Muguet Porcelaine for the Financial Times. She writes so well! “Ellena’s Muguet Porcelaine is a Japanese ink painting compared with Roudnitska’s impressionist étude. It’s more transparent and luminous still, and has the limpid sweetness of lily of the valley accented with green. Its top notes are of such a vivid quality that I can almost hear the spring buds bursting.”
A notable feature of the lily of the valley’s flowers (and one reason why they have been so popular for bridal bouquets) is that their whiteness is truly pure, the kind of clear, bright but soft white one sees in the finest white porcelain. There is no ivory, no cream, no yellow in their tint: only pure, virginal white. One of the reasons Diorissimo was such a masterpiece is that Roudnitska, its creator, contrasted in scent the purity of the flowers with both the green of the leaves and the earthiness of the leaf mould in which these plants flourish — and the virginity of the flowers’ fragrance and symbolism with animalic civet, a sexy, musky note that was traditionally used to bring radiance and warmth to lighter florals. In other words, the original Diorissimo of the 1950s was a wedding night in a bottle, in an era when more brides married as virgins, progressing from the white purity of the chapel and the veil to the radiance of the bridal chamber and heat of the marriage bed.
If Diorissimo is a wedding night in a bottle, Muguet Porcelaine is the bride on her way out of the church, joyously greeting her smiling family and guests on the arm of her groom. The solemnity of the procession up the aisle is past; the vows have been made; the recessional music and bells peal out in joy and everyone is all smiles. And yes, it is bringing back a specific memory of my own wedding day, when I carried a bouquet with lilies of the valley that I had grown myself and my husband wore a boutonniere of the same flower. We were married in a majestic neo-Gothic university chapel, its darkness brightened by pools of colored light from its stained glass windows, and as we left the Chapel we came out into the sunlight of a beautiful April day that had started with a white spring snowfall and a soft, gentle rain.
Maybe Muguet Porcelaine is perfect, after all.