A couple of years ago I was working in a city called Atsugi. With its air of yakuza-tinged macho-hood and its main thoroughfare full of meat restaurants, there was a swagger to the place that I personally found refreshing. It was simultaneously, under neon, both amusing and disturbing to come out of the main school building at night to see guys in slim moustaches and double breasted suits; sunglassed older toughs looking menacing in limousines if you walked to the station down a particular side street (the students were instructed to go the other way); but as a foreigner, as an alien, you could just glide through, watching like a goldfish bowl.

At the Atsugi station, there was a lily, alive for months and months that was very persistent and seemingly indestructible. I would drink my after work can of beer at the far end of the platform where I could be alone and look out into the underside of the traintracks and bid it hello; wondering how it could still be going even as we got into the colder weather in mid December. At that point, it was admittedly starting to falter a bit, a little ragged but clinging on; but where it was situated, somewhere beneath the white stone stairs of the stationmaster’s office and the concrete step before the train entry, must have given it a strange form of unique microclimate that enabled it to thrive for so long, refusing to quite give up to the ghost. Prior to this one lonely stalwart, there had been whole fields of lilies seeded on the ashpalt railtracks straggling with weeds from the summer onwards; in Japan lilies grow everywhere, wild, glorious, and I always find the scene, and the smell – which either permeates or nauseates the air, depending on your standpoint – incredibly thrilling. There are lilies of every variety that bloom in seasonal waves , overlapping each other in their debutante stages; stargazer, candidums, longliflorums, calla, tiger lilies easter lilies ; when they are all out in bloom I ride round my neighbourhood in ecstacy, stopping to smell, and sometimes pick, them, though the sickliness inherent in lilies – a ripeness always threatening to orgasm, a seminal lume that can be gagging – leaves them better on the stalk.

Natalie Feisthauer’s lily scent for Maison Crivelli, Lys Sølaberg, is inspired by the sight of lilies flourishing in an unexpected place, the fjords of Norway:

“The lily that made the biggest impression on me, was one that I came across after several hours spent walking through damp marshes strewn with tall grasses and scattered flowers. That day, as usual in the region, the weather was highly unpredictable…..Along the way, we caught sight of numerous waterfalls flowing down dark granite walls. Our final destination was a village on the cliff edge, facing the sea. We reached it around midnight. And yet, although it was the middle of summer, the sun still hadn’t set. In the distance, we could see rays of sun illuminating the waves, creating an iridescent shimmer. I remember taking shelter for a moment between two wooden houses with thatched roofs. And right there, at that very spot, I was surprised to see some lilies.”

“Working on this fragrance, I was lucky enough to be given total freedom to express my interpretation of the memory Thibaud (Crivelli’s founder) and I had shared. What struck me most, was this very original aesthetic vision of nature. I wanted to transcribe the remarkable beauty of the fjords, with the sun shimmering on the sea, the sweet smoky aspect of the lilies, the power of the wind, the mineral stone, and the darker, more humid aspect of the peat. I wanted to convey the idea of Mankind faced with rugged nature. And so there is a real duality in this creation. It opens with a beautiful pearlescent light to begin with, then evolves towards a note that evokes the power of the elements, which is almost telluric, and not at all fragile. The creation expresses itself and evolves in contrasts between the smoky, spicy lily facet, the radiant, slightly alcoholised quince, and a peaty/woody facet provided by the amber woods and an overdose of ambroxan, as well as an absolute of roasted oak shavings, which adds a remarkable, strong and incredibly sensual patina to the accord.” – Nathalie Feisthauer.

With its central and base notes of dried fruits, ambroxan, cedar, guaiac, ‘smoke’, tobacco gilded to wine lees, quince and carrot seeds welded to oakmoss and oak, you can probably guess what I am going to say next about Lys Sølaberg: : : …………………….

There is no lily.

There are no flowers.

Where is the lily?

The complete and utter lack of perceptible florality I smell here is quite troubling to me as a perfume writer as it makes me doubt my own apparatus (Has anyone else tried this and if so, do you detect a lonely lily struggling along the railtracks?) As a standard, familiar, 2020’s-ish sweetish, androgynous ambroxan wood spice this works quite nicely, in a style that dates back to snuggly winter perfumes such as Lutens’ Fille En Aiguille: peaty, smoky, whiskeyish perfumes abound in the niche world : you could line your shelves with boozy winter woods like one of those specialist, fetishistic Tokyo collectible whiskey bars ; but it is difficult for a trembling white flower to survive when cloaked in so much oak. I was imagining, from reading the notes before smelling, that somehow the lily would prevail and be visible, exhaling its breathing liliness somewhere among the dry but boggy quagmire. Alas, my sensitivity to synthetic wood notes and some form of olfactory blindness (probably because of the sheer sumptuousness of my bi-annual extravagant exposure to real lilies which must have overpermeated my smell brain) – prevent me from taking – at all – to this particular Norwegian Wood.

Le Magnolia De Rosine, unlike Lys Sølaberg, does what it says on the tin. Very much so (too much so? Some bastards will never be satisfied). This rather impressive soliflore, co-authored by frequent Rosine creator Delphine Lebeau and the legendary Pierre Bourdon – according to Fragrantica, he created Creed’s Fleurs De Bulgarie in 1845 – smells as vividly laundered white as it looks; a gleaming bright hyperfloral that indeed does conjure up the realness of a heaving magnolia bloom on the bough. Quite cleverly so : real magnolia essence is used in the composition, along with lily of the valley, notes of freesia, citrus, and a variety of roses to replicate the petallic freshness that the perfumers were after.

black and white magnolia photography | Found on charlesgroggphotography.net  | Black and white flowers, White flowers, Flowers

“After having offered a subtle and modern lily of the valley with LE MUGUET DE ROSINE, Marie-Hélène and Louis Rogeon wanted to introduce a new soliflore in the collection, and they choose the magnolia. Even if magnolia tree does not come in their garden in Picardie – situated too much in the north of France – Marie-Hélène and Louis both have a strong relationship with this flower. Marie-Hélène as a child spent some holidays in Britany, and she remembers the huge, strong and dark magnolia trees, exploding in August with velvety, creamy flowers, surrounding the atmosphere with their fresh citrussy smell, covering the fragrance of the rose bushes. A memory of a solar perfume, synonymous of joy, with the delicacy of the roses as a background. For Louis, the story is more unusual. Very near to our boutique in Jardin du Palais Royal, in a street named rue Notre Dame des Victoires, one magnolia tree has been planted. And every summer, this part of the city, when you close your eyes, becomes a garden. As an enchantment, the powerful of the fragrance is such that it covers all the other urban smells.”

Perhaps this is the key problem with this perfume (covering up something; an unrealistically beatific concealment; flowers, themselves so much more fleshy and easily corrupted on the stem). Not that there necessarily is a problem as such with Le Magnolia De Rosine, and we know already that I have some sensitivity to this flower for whatever reason, perhaps partly from the eeriness of an experience I once had with a woman here who was once obsessed with me and who gifted me a magnolia perfume she bought especially for me in Florence, but there I possibly digress. I do think that Les Parfums De Rosine’s Magnolia is one of the best and most realistic magnolia soliflores I have smelled: I can imagine using it in an art performance: it would be amazing at a wedding. There is a luminescent creaminess, a dreaminess, that is extremely attractive in many ways; holistically photorealistic for a while, without any jagged edges (that is, before the inevitable L’Occitane-ish/ Roses De Chloe peony/citrus/rose ending, when the illusion starts to rather fade and it all feels a little bit cheaper; still pretty, in an office photocopier, prosaic coffee in plastic cup kind of way – yet even the segue to this stage is effortless…..).

Yes. It’s good. It’s just that


Filed under Flowers

5 responses to “CECI N’EST PAS UNE FLEUR : : : : : : : Lys Sølaberg by MAISON CRIVELLI (2021) + LE MAGNOLIA DE ROSINE by LES PARFUMS DE ROSINE (2018)

  1. I did not know that Japan was blessed with so many lilies! Makes sense as several lilies are native to the California coast too.
    Lys Sølaberg sounds like it follows the Le Labo style of copious amounts of ambroxan paired with a name oblivious to its contents.
    Les Parfums De Rosine’s Magnolia sounds like something I would love, being a collector of white florals (especially soliflores).

    • Yes : quite Le Labo y in that regard – I just can’t understand the attraction to an ambroxan overdose – the result is so banal.

      The Rosine Magnolia – I think you might like it too if you can carry off the purer than thou ethereal – which I can’t. I love that house as a whole.

  2. The Lys Sølaberg definitely does not sound like a floral lovers scent, and I’m not sure I would enjoy the Overload of ambroxan, which doesn’t always sit right with my nose.
    The Magnolia sounds like it might be lovely though, in a simplistic, not too involved way. I will have to find a way to sample it.

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