WHEN A VISITOR CALLS

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D is often to be found scouring about in old curiosity shops, fleamarkets, and the recycle antiques, and came to the hospital via Kamakura the other day with a paper bag full of scented eclectica.

There is nothing like some unexpected perfumes to put a spring in a boy’s step  ( so to speak ), because even if I am still not quite ready for richness in perfume nor in food, I LOVE JUST having, and owning, them anyway.

Duncan liked Fragonard’s Reve Indien straight away when he smelled it at Strawberry Fields – the best boutique for cheap vintage perfumes in our vicinity – as did I ( for another time though – my belly still can’t quite stomach such warm richesse right now, even if I could immediately imagine it going straight on a cashmere scarf come December or January). This is one of those rich vanilla ambers that I am practically guaranteed to like and one that he likes on me as well – one that smells seamless, dense, smooth, and Shalimar-like. Cuddly. Sensual. Warm. I’m very much looking forward to its debut elsewhere – some extravagant other time.

Gianfranco Ferre Ferre would also be quite scandalous and out of place in a sterile hospital context. This is one of those mad, lipsticked Italianas I remember from the nineties ; a glammed-up, Monica Bellucci bombshell whose bottle was even shaped like a grenade and whose smell: sweet, heady, aldehydic, heavily floraled, glintily fruited, mightily musked and vanilla’d and sandalwooded, is about as overtly sexed as a glamorous sex siren can be. Proclamatory, gorgeous, you almost fear her.

The grave, almost archaically beautiful Je Reviens parfum, in that perfect, lunar blue bottle, couldn’t possibly be more different. I don’t have anything to say about this singularly saturnine creation that isn’t already in my review – has there ever been a more fascinating and melancholy perfume created ? – but in the drab confines of the hospital, such an object of beauty, and olfactory perfection ( I smelled it from the bottle and it was pristine), has real worth. Everything about Je Reviens to me is precious.

Of the four treasures pictured (  which came to a grand total of ¥2000, twenty dollars), the perfume I was most excited to receive of the cache, when I pulled it excitedly out of the bag, was probably the vintage (60’s?) bottle of the legendary Muguet De Bois, which I had read about many times before but never actually smelled. I was thrilled.

This Coty creation from 1916 was apparently loved by Roudnitska and was part of the inspiration that led to his creation of the lily of the valley to end all lily of the valleys, the great and indefatigable Diorissimo from 1956. Still, despite some obvious similarities in the source material – both being highly evocative of the actual flowers – the two perfumes are undeniably at opposite sides of the spectrum of simplicity and embellishment.

I have never disputed Diorissimo’s beauty. This perfume in fact once elicited one of the few hallucinatorily beautiful altered mind states I have had from perfume in this lifetime, when I smelled it unexpectedly on a Japanese girl in England one day and just sat near to her; hypnotized, at peace, synaesthetically dream-induced and marvelling not only at the olfactory complexity of the work of art she was wearing and all it conferred on what was already a mysterious aura, but also all the conflicting and perturbing impressions the scent bestowed; at once primordially innocent and pure : yet silently and somehow devilishly aware of her subtly carnal aroma simultaneously : that murmuring , softly putrescent, but carnal, underbelly.

She is extravagantly beautiful, Diorissimo. Ravished with a pure white genial plenitude. But at the same time there is also something strangely queasy, almost too zealous about the perfume to me most of the times I experience it; so trembling and frilly and pink and boronia jasmined….for me, despite its obvious magnificence, there is a barely suppressed hysteria at the heart of the perfume that ultimately turns up to eleven, what should have been set at nine.

Muguet Des Bois, in this vintage at least, is different. It is not the belles of the balls of May festooned in muguet and bonny curls, nor couture wearing Parisian madams self-consciously evincing spring, but rather quiet lily of the valley flowers themselves – just unfurled and nestling – breathing contentedly in the cool, green air of mayland woodland groves. This BREATHES.

I like it better. Muguet Des Bois is a perfectly balanced soliflore with tints of green foliage and a clear, clean soap-like finish that pleases (soapy’ as a descriptor is almost always seen as a pejorative by most perfumists, but for me, soap has never been a dirty word); persuasive; vernal; cool, and fresh.

Francois Coty obviously knew exactly what he was doing when he made this deceptively simple homage to these flowers. After washing my hands, here in my bed, spraying on the Muguet Des Bois takes me away from this room in my mind’s eye for a moment and I see nature; trees, grasses, and tiny white bells hiding in green undergrowth, subconsciously displaying their scent.

Bright; new.

52 Comments

Filed under Flowers

52 responses to “WHEN A VISITOR CALLS

  1. Lilybelle

    Those all sound lovely! You know how we all drool when you talk about your bargain bin finds. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled Coty’s Muguet des Bois. Maybe I have but I can’t remember. I wonder whether more recent versions were good. A simple, honest, pretty, “soapy” muguet sounds exactly how I like it. I hope you’re well on the mend.

    • I wouldn’t say well on the mend but certainly heading in the right direction slowly; the swelling is going down, I am gaining more movement very gradually, and my mood is good on the whole: I am determined to walk as soon as I can!

      And nice smells certainly help!

      • Lilybelle

        It will take time, I know. I just like my rose colored glasses. One day at a time. At least the worst part (surgery) is done. Hope you have a good weekend, with lots of sweet smells.

  2. A nice little stash that you will enjoy when you are feeling up to par. I can tell by your post that you are doing better and hope you will continue to do so.

  3. jennyredhen

    is that the Je Reviens Bottle in the photo???
    All those perfumes sound smashing. I used to wear Diorissimo when I was in my 20s.. It was my signature perfume for a while.. It really suited me.. the modern one is not so good..plus I think its a young person’s perfume. I am enjoying Coriandre though. Its in a little blue/green plastic flasky thing with lighter green ripples and gold edging .. I cant seem to find any images of Coriandre in a container like that anywhere .. do you have any idea what decade that would be at all??? Best wishes for the recuperation.. Hospitals can be quite fun when they arent totally boring and dreary.. It helps to get out even if only for an hour or so.

    • No chance of me going anywhere at the moment as I am still bedridden except when I haul myself into the wheelchair to do rehabilitation but pain aside, I am enjoying certain elements of it such as the freedom to just lie here and write!

      With your Samsara predilection, Jenny, I can imagine the Ferre kind of working on you when you are in one of those more exciting going out moods. Read the reviews on Fragrantica and if you see a bottle cheap somewhere snag it.

  4. A similar escape to the one you experienced with Berber Blonde, in the beauty and tenderness of nature, immeasurable miles away from the institutional confines of your hospital room.

    Dear Duncan.

    • I know what a cool partner I have: he just drops the paper bag nonchalantly on the table by the bed.

      • That’s even cooler.

      • I mean, cooler than cool!

      • I have just revised it you care to read it again ( while lying in my knee bending machine). I’d love to hear your thoughts on Diorissimo again and any reflections on muguet in general.

        Go on- I’m all alone.

      • I would want/need to grab my vintage Diorissimo EdT and fling some on in order to meet your amazing description even half-way, but all my real estate is taken: both hand-backs, both wrists, both forearms. I’d gotten out some of my vintage parfums before settling down to a movie and went to town, always finding comparisons much more enlightening that just experiencing a scent on its own. (I’m wearing Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, l’Air du Temps, Ecusson, Arpège and Dolce Vita, so my nostrils are thoroughly occupied.) Tomorrow I’ll wear Diorissimo solo and write back. Mornings are a good time for it, too. Oh, by the way, I also love your description of Ferre.

      • Ah, and I noticed Old H. had just mentioned Muguet du Bonheur and I have that amongst my vintage Carons as well, so will wear it tomorrow along with Diorissimo.

      • It’s a strange one, Bonheur: I also have the straight Caron Muguet extrait which is clearer.

    • We are so similar! I also find the comparison thing more exciting, especially when watching films! With the comparisons and clashes as you hover from place to place you can dig harder into the HEART of a perfume and find hitherto unseen facets. Like when I wore both Berber Blonde and Annick Goutal Neroli, the latter smelled just like Eau Sauvage, an aspect I would never have noticed otherwise.

      Do you know the Coty?

      • Yes, yes, YES about that comparative dynamic! And it’s also fascinating to compare their evolutions; for instance, Mitsouko came blasting out of the starting gates almost too boldly and harshly while Narcisse Noir took much longer to open up, but now Mitsy has gone all rich, smooth and mellow and the Narcisse Noir is starting to accelerate and expand and deepen. Dolce Vita was far too much, too loud, too fruity, but has started to reveal the cardamom and the fruits are in the background; Ecusson has revved up and gotten massively rosy and powdery; Arpège has been a revolving sandalwood door of ylang, honeysuckle and orange blossom; and l’Air du Temps has long gone past carnation-centric and is now firmly in clove, rosemary and oak moss territory. And they ain’t through yet.

      • Oh, sorry. I don’t know the Coty, not that I can remember. I am pushing 60 and my mind is not as spry as it was.

      • You sound spry enough to me.

      • Wearing vintage Diorissimo EdT and vintage Muguet du Bonheur EdT this morning. Couldn’t agree more with what you say about the former. I think that that “11” is what makes me only bring it out when we have LOTV growing for a few short weeks in May, as an ode to the season. Otherwise, the note is too strident for me to be comfortable wearing. I also find in the base a “hot” kind of green. I do love it mixed with other florals, though, when it can lift and freshen a blend. (Mine was bottled in 2007; I understand that it was in 2009 that damage was done to it with the inclusion of a strong jasmine note, but I’m no authority.) I love the work of Roudnitska, especially Diorama and the modernized version of the fragrance he made for his wife Thérèse, from Frédéric Malle by way of their son.

        This Caron Muguet du Bonheur is likely 30 years old; it’s in the ridged squarish splash bottle. It’s been refrigerated since I’ve owned it: probably ten years. I’m not familiar with how it must have smelled when it was first bottled, but it’s stayed the same for that last third of its life. This is a lily of the valley that I can wear, and it is exactly because it’s part of a bouquet, standing out only a little more than its companions: orange blossom, jasmine, lilac and magnolia. The neroli top note must be gone, unfortunately. It’s quite creamy, and the searing green sweetness of the Diorissimo is absent. The heliotrope is very well done, adding that characteristic light almond/cherry pie nuance. The sandalwood might be not to your liking, since it’s quite pronounced; it probably was once more integrated in the composition before the florals faded. The musk is a little dirty, which I don’t mind; it helps mitigate the innocence of the floral notes.

        Thanks for writing this piece, Neil. It made me re-discover a scent I haven’t worn for quite awhile — and perhaps have grown into a little bit since.

        Hope your knees are becoming more and more flexible and less and less painful!

  5. jennyredhen

    make the flasky thing dark jade green and the ripples a lightish blue its not cylindrical its like an oblong box .. ringing any bells???

  6. I’m so happy to read your thoughts on Muguet des Bois, especially as the post suggests you are on the (long) road to recovery! LOTV is probably my favorite note in perfume still, though I am expanding my repertoire. I wore Diorissimo for most of my 20s, loved it. I’ve spent many months exploring other LOTV fragrances after a disappointing encounter with Diorissimo EDP, which was not Roudnitska’s but a later creation of Francois Demachy. Enjoy your vintage MdB, and feel better! Good work, Duncan …

    • Have you tried this? I know it has been reformulated and reformulated long past the point of cheapness, but this vintage version ( which can be found quite cheaply online ) is more along the lines of Caron Muguet De Bonheur, which I also like. On women I like Diorissimo, but I was reading the brilliant Perfume Shrine about lily of the valley and surprisingly, the note was apparently seen as exclusively for men for centuries to the extent that a handsome young man was known as a ‘muguet’.

      I can wear a soapy, aerated, unciveted muguet more convincingly and can imagine quite enjoy wearing this on a regular basis. An old muguet, doing his rehabilitation walks around the neighbourhood block.

  7. MrsDalloway

    Vintage perfume therapy, how perfect. I love the image of you sitting hypnotised by Diorissimo too!

    Haven’t tried many muguet majors, only Muguet Porcelaine which I disliked. I love some where it’s an element though – Métal/ Eau de Métal especially.

  8. Vintage Perfume Therapy, is there any better therapy! Makes the pain easier to bear I hope xx

    • It genuinely does! One of the biggest difficulties is trying not to claustrophobically panic over the immobility. Sometimes I realize, really REALIZE, oh my god, I can’t walk and I have to quell the rising fear. The rest of the time I find I can relax and am occupied with enough medical therapy, people visiting, writing and so on that it fills up the day not too unbearably. Perfume, as you know, is an escape.

  9. P.S. I love your vision of yourself as an “old muguet” doing rehab walks, lol! If they are available in Japan, maybe you can treat yourself to a pot of LOTV during recovery. They are very easy to force.

  10. empliau

    Duncan is a treasure. (He is lucky to have you too, I think.) Such vintage riches – I am definitely jealous. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a muguet-centered perfume, but our house has, to my delight, a largeish LOTV bed, the gift of a previous owner. It’s in an out-of-the-way corner, but in springtime it’s just magical. I am so glad your surgery went well – there’s a reason that many calendars begin in March – spring and the equinox in the northern hemisphere are the start of the new. You are being reborn with new knees, and starting a new chapter with less (cheering for no, but don’t want to jinx it – I am a creature in thrall to magical thinking) pain and regained mobility. Please keep the updates coming!

    • Actually I realized on the day when we went into the hospital that it was the Equinox, the first day of spring, and I liked that idea very much. Newness and rebirth.

      I envy your secret corner of muguet- that’s exactly how it should be

  11. D sounds like a wonderful man. Good to read this post.

  12. What do you yourself think of Patou Muguet du Bonheur, Neil? Is yours of roughly the same vintage as the one I describe? Bottle/vintage variation can be enormous. And of Diorissimo, do you also get that “hot” green base? Again, maybe you have a different formulation . . .

    • Caron? I find it creamy like you, exactly as you say, and way more wearable ( though it does have an ‘air-freshener ‘ quality that Diorissimo doesn’t. My Muguet De Bonheur is a curved oblong edt with an ivory coloured lid; I would imagine it came out in the seventies. My Diorissimo is perfection but it does, definitely, have that hot green base you talk about. It’s actually a rather disturbing perfume.

      • Caron, of course. Still on my first cup of tea this morning, half-awake. (And I keep my Carons together with my Patous in the same container, so geographically they occupy the same territory!) Most interesting. I have heard the “air-freshener” description from time to time about various scents and I still can’t quite pinpoint the meaning. Must not be familiar enough with them. Perhaps one day it will click! Oh, you’ve described Diorissimo exactly with that one word. Disturbing. To me, it’s almost as though some insistent guilelessness on the face of it is just a cover for some malevolence lurking underneath. And there’s a creepy kind of oiliness under the squeaky-clean of the lily of the valley. I don’t get these things in any other work of his.

      • I actually quite dislike that specific oiliness and yet it holds a peculiar fascination.

      • I can understand that.

        How are you and your beautiful knees today? It’s been good to hear of your precociousness on the recovery front.

  13. What an absolute darling Duncan is, truly so thoughtful.
    The Coty sounds absolutely lovely, I haven’t smelt that since I was a child and sadly don’t remember it. I used to own the Fragonard, in the same type of container, but used it up ages ago; it is a perfect cold weather scent. The Ferre I vaguely remember, but I am pretty sure it is a prima donna type of fragrance. Je Reviens, that is the most fabulous scent, truly swoon worthy yet also so sad. I do love it, but it has a touch of sadness to it; just my take on it. Oh, such treasures. Give that man of yours plenty of love, he is the true treasure.
    You sound like things are coming along well. I hope that each day brings improvement and more range of movement. Keep fighting the good fight as they say.

    • I am definitely improving day by day; still small progress but I can get to the toilet and back in the wheelchair unaided and can bend and stretch more. Tuesday I start actual walking training which I am very excited about.

      As for Je Reviens, I think you could almost say that it is objectively melancholy: I have never met anyone who thought otherwise. It’s sad. Depressing, even. But also glorious and an absolute masterpiece.

  14. MrsDalloway

    You’re probably not a Jilly Cooper aficionado but the Rupert Campbell-Black ones are full of perfume and the fact that Chrissie wears Diorissimo is spot on with what you and others have said above. I’m bidding on a vintage bottle on ebay now. Dammit!

    Re the beauty of Metal/ EdM, I take it you also don’t get the oily/ metallic note that some do? For me it’s just like your review – beautiful flowers with a delicious bubble bath foam underneath. But it’s not just Luca Turin sees it as oily/ poisonous later on (which he liked!). I wonder if it’s a facet only some people detect, or one that only emerges on some skins?

    • It doesn’t emerge on mine.

      I quite feel like reposting that review, actually.

      As for Jilly Cooper, I have never read her, but I’m not averse to something lower on the scale: I had a blissful experience in a Hanoi hotel room reading a Jackie Collins novel a couple of years ago.

  15. MrsDalloway

    PS glad you are getting better and hurray for walking

  16. so glad you and D have found each other in this vasty world…

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