After immediately falling head over heels in love with Bois d'Iris, to the tune of $185, I took my time about the other five fragrances in the Collection Extraordinaire from Van Cleef & Arpels. As it turns out, they're all nicely done, and I can see why Gardénia Pétale in particular has found admirers. But none of them made me catch my breath other than the Muguet Blanc, and my reaction to that one was not entirely positive.
Here's what Neiman Marcus has to say about Muguet Blanc:
Muguet Blanc showcases the purity, innocence and much-anticipated beauty of one of springtime's first flowers. A green, joyous and incredibly delicate arrangement, graceful lily-of-the-valley is enhanced with exotic white peony, radiant neroli and uplifting white cedar.
For the most part, that's right on the money; the part I'm going to quibble about is mostly the "joyous". To explain why, I need to back up. A little warning before I proceed: those of you who are sick to death of hearing me wax nostalgic about the lost glory days of perfumery, move on, there's nothing else to read here today.
Most of you know about the various IFRA restrictions on fragrance materials that have resulted in large-scale reformulations of many older perfumes. The lion's share of the tears have been reserved, understandably, for the iconic masterpieces like Guerlain Mitsouko and Jean Patou Joy and Chanel No. 5. All three of these fragrances, of course, still exist; they simply aren't quite the same as they used to be.1 As Denyse so nicely put it at Grain de Musc:
It’s like saying to painters: you can’t put red in your paintings anymore, because we’ve found out it makes people more aggressive. And, oh, by the way, we’re repainting everything in the museums in pink, so there you go, now there’s a good fellow.
I ought to cry about Mitsouko and Joy and Chanel No. 5, but I don't, not really. All three appear to have been reformulated as respectfully as possible, and anyway, masterpieces though they may be, none of the 3 are close to my heart — I'm mad that they've been messed with, but my anger is abstract. My own tears are reserved for Edmond Roudnitska's lily of the valley masterpiece, Diorissimo, which I've worn longer than any other fragrance in my collection. Diorissimo has been reformulated more than once, and by all accounts had already lost some of its glory even by the time I reviewed it in 2005, but hey, it was still Diorissimo.2 Whether it is today, I can't say first-hand — and my current plan is to see if I can avoid finding out for myself — but part of what spurred me to write this rant was receiving the new paperback edition of Perfumes: The Guide and discovering that Diorissimo had been downgraded from 4 stars to 2. The verdict, from Luca Turin: "Diorissimo is going downhill rapidly; the latest version is harsher still".3
That sad news colors my feelings about Muguet Blanc and I won't pretend otherwise. It's hard enough for a perfumer (in this case, the very talented Antoine Maisondieu) to tackle lily of the valley as it is — comparisons to Diorissimo are inevitable, as in this example, again from Perfumes: The A-Z Guide but this time written by Tania Sanchez:
The [Caron] Muguet du Bonheur I always knew was of good quality but suffered from the tendency of lily of the valley, unless treated with great care as in the brilliant Diorissimo, to smell like household products.4
Which neatly brings me back to Muguet Blanc. Muguet Blanc is a gorgeous rendition of lily of the valley, delicate, lightly green, very spring-like and pure, just as described in the ad copy. It might well smell more like real lily of the valley than Diorissimo, but as I don't have any fresh lily of the valley handy, I couldn't say for sure. Patty at Perfume Posse calls Muguet Blanc "breathtaking", and I can't argue with that. If you adore lily of the valley, you really ought to go and try it.
For my part, Muguet Blanc represents nearly everything that makes me sad about modern perfumery. It's gorgeous, yes, but also clean, even brutally so. The subtle animalic touches that make Diorissimo both spring-like and sexy are entirely absent — Muguet Blanc is too beautifully done (and expensive) to be an air freshener, but if you wanted a really, really nice air freshener and didn't mind paying premium, it would do the trick. It's clean as a whistle.
Muguet Blanc does something else that is unique to modern fragrance, and that I'll have a hard time putting into words. It's diffusive and radiant: it moves through space in a very 3 dimensional way while maintaining a sense of lightness and transparency. But at the same time, it feels utterly flat. Diorissimo sparkles and dances — it has a kind of depth and movement about it. Muguet Blanc fills the room, then just sits there, beautiful but lifeless. I suspect that nobody will have any idea what I'm talking about, but if you do, and you've a better way of expressing it, please comment!
Van Cleef & Arpels Muguet Blanc is available in 75 ml Eau de Parfum, $185.
1. I should note here that I'm relying entirely on what others have written — I have not personally compared new and old versions of Mitsouko, Joy and Chanel No. 5.
2. And as long time readers know, I kept saying over and over that I was going to buy a bottle of Diorissimo in extrait, but I dithered about, waiting for a good price. I have two small samples of vintage, and I'll have to make do with those. Carpe diem, folks.
3. Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, p. 209.
4. Ibid., p. 389.