Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Oh, look! It's a perfume post.

Since I immigrated to Blogger from Perfume of Life, I haven’t felt much desire to post about fragrance. That’s partly the result of being insulated from the scent-obsessed cacophony at POL, but it’s also because I have stopped—temporarily, anyway—chasing novel sniff thrills. I have a long wish list of familiar beauties that I covet, but I’m not terribly interested in meeting anybody new. And of course, it’s always the latest romance we want to yammer about. What is there to say about an old one?

Well, there’s always, “She gets more beautiful every day,” which is just what I was thinking a couple of days ago about Caron’s Muguet du Bonheur. MdB gets too little appreciation. It doesn’t have enough moxie for the perfumistas, who prefer the floral slap in the face that is Diorissimo. Its classic, sweetly noble character is also a turn-off to fragrance civilians, who’d rather wear the sheer-verging-on-undetectable LOTV of RL Blue, or one of the endless fruit punches that give a nod to real perfume with a forlorn Muguet note.

I have a little of the true perfume freak’s masochism (okay, maybe a lot; I love Fracas), but when it comes to Lily of the Valley, I want nothing but gentle purity. No screaming, no sneak attack of funk, no metallic wang. They simply won't do. I suspect that’s because I imprinted irrevocably on the tender face of Muguet when I was a little girl—at Vacation Bible School, no less.

To those not raised in the stony embrace of Protestantism, Vacation Bible School must sound like some kind of fundamentalist child torture. In fact, it’s the best thing about being a church-going kid, or at least it was in my day. Sure, we’d have to sit through a brief Bible lesson in the morning, and we’d sing a hymn or two, but after that it was all crafts and Red Rover and making homemade ice cream. And unlike summer camp, you got to go home at night to sleep in your own mosquito-free bedroom.

It didn’t hurt that our VBS was overseen by our preacher’s wife, a lady with very little competition for the title of sweetest woman on Earth. Even her name was sweet: Emmaline (long i). If the games got too rough, or the weather was too hot, I would sneak back into the church and go prowling around in the basement and the storerooms—forbidden behavior. She was perfectly aware of what I was doing and never said a word. She was one of the few adults in my world who didn’t seem to mind that I was kind of an odd, solitary kid.

(The pic here is not the church of my childhood, which wasn't nearly so grand. It is one of the multitude of churches in my hometown, though. I got married in it, which is a post for another day. Back to topic below...)

I think it was my second year at VBS, I was probably 8, when one of our craft projects was making funny little foam bath toys filled with powdered soap. I vividly remember the weird turquoise color of the foam. After lengthy consideration, I chose to make an elephant, and I was deeply dissatisfied with my poor job of attaching its plastic eyes. I also spilled the soap everywhere, but I didn’t mind that at all. The soap was scented with, of course, Lily of the Valley. The sharp, clean-yet-slightly-fatty smell lingered on my hands and my clothes all that day and I couldn’t get enough of it. I kept leaning down to sniff the front of my shirt in a sort of full-body version of the perfumista salute.

I never actually used the toy, partly because it was too babyish, but mostly because I didn’t want to wash away the soap and lose that scent. I kept it in my sock drawer like a sachet, and I’d take it out occasionally and squeeze it to get a little tacky film of the scent on my hands.

So is it any wonder that I can’t get enough of Muguet du Bonheur, whose detractors invariably complain that it is “too soapy?” Soapy is the whole point, as far as I’m concerned. Meeting a Muguet scent that isn’t soapy is like reuniting with a best buddy from, well, Vacation Bible School, and discovering that she has become a Buddhist monk or a professional dominatrix. There’s nothing wrong with the choice, but it’s a little jarring, and it blocks a certain pleasurable nostalgia.

As for the specifics on MdB, there’s considerable confusion about the notes. The two lists I ran across were: Lavender, Jasmine, Rose, Carnation, Lily of the valley, Cedar, Tonka, Musk, Sandal (which shows up on a number of etailers); and Lily of the Valley, Lilac, Jasmine, Magnolia, Pear, Heliotrope and Musk (that one comes from NowSmellThis.) The Caron site admits only to Lily of the Valley, Lilac, and Heliotrope. The nose for MdB was Michel Morsetti, the same man who brought us that other ethereal Caron, Farnesiana.

Part of the confusion stems, I think, from a marked difference between the concentrations. The eau de toilette is an extremely light, sparkly, single-note Muguet—less sweet than some, but as one-dimensional as a Caswell-Massey cologne. I had a brief encounter with the parfum, which I suspect may be the source of that first note list. To my nose it was less Muguet than Lilac, and it seemed heavy, almost dark. I would not go so far as to say that it had the legendary (and much loved, by me at least) Caron dankness, but it was standing at the top of the cellar stairs.

I should try to get my hands on some more of the parfum for a second sample, but I really don’t feel much incentive, because I think the best concentration of MdB, hands down, is the eau de parfum. It lacks the slight fizz of the edt, but it still has that pure, potent hit of Muguet—and this Muguet is backed up with clear notes of Lilac and Jasmine. The Heliotrope is a little shy, but definitely there, and everybody’s sitting atop a bar of Ivory soap, like a quartet of pretty girls on a homecoming float.

The eau de parfum has been out of production for quite a while, but I understand it has been re-issued this year. I couldn’t find an American etailer with it, but it’s available from Les Senteurs in London, at least for the moment. I may cave in and snag another bottle. I hate to think of having to get through a summer without it.


Juvy Santos said...

And a beautiful perfume post it was, Maria. I always wondered what happened at those VBS-thingies...we had one nearby. I must somehow sniff the Caron Muguet now (never have before). Diorissimo was the first Lily of the Valley I ever encountered, long before the actual plant--so it forms the base of the concept of 'muguet' in my mind. But it IS a sharp one, isn't it? But a soft, soapy classy muguet? Sweetly noble?Very tempting-sounding, indeed.

Anonymous said...

"everybody’s sitting atop a bar of Ivory soap, like a quartet of pretty girls on a homecoming float"

*sigh of contentment*

Lou said...

That's just a marvelous back story!

I prefer the lighter versions of Caron's quite consistently. This one I don't know yet (not sure whether it is availabe here), but am eager to get a fix of LotV now.

BitterGrace said...

Thanks to all of you for working your way through my long-winded post. I knew Renee would appreciate the soapy thing. Truth is, I totally understand why most people prefer the Dior--even most Caron lovers would, because it has so much more going on. MdB is really-dare I say it?--virginal. But don't let that scare you ;-)

helg said...

Very interesting, nostalgic and evocative of memories past post, dear M!
I have been meaning to test this for quite some time and will be sure to proceed with the hunt more actively after your review.
(btw, Nocturnes is also floral soapy, have you tried it?)

BitterGrace said...

Hi Helg--I love Nocturnes! It's one of the beauties on my wish list. I should go hunt up my sample to wear...

chayaruchama said...

I agree !

[BTW- It's available at Imagination..that's where I got mine...]

I prefer this, and the Guerlain, to the Dior [although I love the Dior, I love these more].