D.S. & Durga is a niche brand I haven’t experienced very much, partly because of their price point (high, even for samples). But when I had an opportunity to buy a reasonably priced decant of White Peacock Lily, I jumped at it, because it sounded so intriguing when it was launched in 2016. It is indeed a very lovely lily-focused fragrance. Its notes include: Top notes of Oleander, Cabreuva Rouge, and Grapefruit Pith; middle notes of White Lily, Egyptian Jasmine, Cream and “Alabaster Violet” (which I assume means white violet); base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Vanilla, and Fog. The perfumer, D.S. of D.S. & Durga, also mentions on the website that it has notes of bergamot, melon, and rose Otto.
One thing I like about the brand’s website is that each fragrance comes with detailed “liner notes”, describing the inspiration for it, with references to literature, music, etc. The liner notes for White Peacock Lily state:
The piece that inspired this perfume is called “The White Peacock” by Fiona Macleod — a Scottish woman famous throughout the highlands for her dreamy works—and set to music by Griffes. It is one of the few tone poems based on an actual poem. The music, scored for a small orchestra, takes direction from the words. Mercurial/magic harps, winding strings, quirky brass horns, and the comical buzz of clarinets describe the beautifully soft language: “cliffs of basalt, fronds of cactus, where the bulbul singeth, cream-white poppies.” In Griffes music, the listener can hear the cream white poppies, the sweeping seas of flowers, and most important the silent noble glide of the grand bird that floats above the fields of flowers.
The composer mentioned is unfamiliar to me: Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Sadly, he died of pneumonia at the age of 35, at the outset of a very promising career, in 1920 at the height of the last century’s global pandemic, influenza. Apparently one of a few of his works that are still performed is “The White Peacock”, inspiration for today’s “May Melange Marathon” fragrance.
The story of Fiona Macleod, the poet who wrote the literary text that inspired Griffes, is also intriguing. “Fiona Macleod” was the female pseudonym of a male writer, William Sharp, a Scottish writer, poet and editor of poets such as Walter Scott, Matthew Arnold, and Algernon Swinburne. He was a member of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s literary circle who knew and corresponded with contemporaries like Walter Pater and George Meredith, and whose secret identity fooled William Butler Yeats (who apparently liked “Macleod’s” work but not Sharp’s). You can read the Macleod poem that inspired both the music and the fragrance here: “The White Peacock”.
The creation of White Peacock Lily is described by David Seth Moltz on the D.S. & Durga website as follows:
The lily had to float over the fields of violets, conjure the distant fog, and the oleander of the poem. We made the real lily more unctuous with jasmine grandiflorum absolute – the elegant jasmine of Egypt, India, and France. I made it whiter with ambrette musks. I made it creamier with liquid ambrette extract – the wettest fresh musk of hibiscus seeds. One of the rarest and most prized natural/non-animal musks. Violet and rose Otto help extend the freshness of the bergamot and melon top accord. The overall effect like the music is lush, warm, noble, and dreamlike.
I smell the oleander and grapefruit pith quite strongly when I first spray White Peacock Lily; the astringent “grapefruit pith”, which I believe was created by combining the notes of bergamot and melon mentioned above, complements and offsets the sweet, narcotic aspect of the oleander. The oleander persists into the middle phase, joined by white lily and jasmine. If you don’t like white florals, this is not the scent for you! It doesn’t, however, have that synthetic chemical vibe that modern white floral fragrances often have. The projection and sillage are quite strong if one oversprays; just a couple of sprays to the wrists can fill a room, though not unpleasantly so.
While I don’t really smell a violet note, there is a slight powderiness to the middle phase that probably relies on it. It is so light as to be barely perceptible, and I quite like it, as it evokes the soft white feathers of the peacock. I also like the way the perfumer refers to “alabaster” violets; first, white violets actually do smell a bit different than the purple ones, and second, the word alabaster prompts images of white statues in formal gardens, the kind of garden this white peacock inhabits.
According to the website, the image meant to be conjured by the fragrance is that of a white peacock, airborne, floating over a garden of white lilies, oleander, and white violets, with a blue mist hanging over distant woodlands and the music of harps and horns accompanying it. By the way, Gail Gross’ 2016 review of White Peacock Lily for Cafleurebon includes some gorgeous photos of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Moss dressed and posed as white peacocks!
As it dries down, White Peacock Lily drifts decorously into the background, like a bird vanishing into a distant blue haze. The base notes are soft and warm, with the ambrette musk and vanilla. I can’t say that I smell “fog”, but I love its inclusion on the notes list!
Anyone who enjoys white floral fragrances can happily wear this; it is floral and narcotic, yes, but not heavily so and there are enough other notes like the “grapefruit pith” to offset the sweeter notes that I find the fragrance unisex. It does lean to the feminine, if you think of fragrances that way. It is definitely one that I would try before you buy, other than in a decant, because it won’t suit everyone and it is VERY expensive ($175 for 50 ml).
Have you tried any/many D.S. & Durga fragrances?
Featured image by Tatiana Grozetskaya, Shutterstock.