Now when the sweet scent of lilies of the valley (convallaria majalis) is invading my front garden, I feel that spring has come to my sense of smell. It is so sweet and refreshing that seems to be a new discovery every year. Like music, it takes you to a simpler, more sensitive existence.
Its smell is so simple that it can become revolutionary as was the case of the classic fragrance “Muguet” (convallaria in French) by Francois Coty in 1910 or René Lalique’s perfume bottles. Coty —perhaps the greatest perfumer in history, if not the richest— created this perfume for the “woman of sunny, joyous type”. He collaborated with the glass genius of Lalique to produce beautiful containers with which to seduce his clientele. Unfortunately, today we can enjoy Lalique’s bottles more easily than Coty’s perfumes, as his formulas have been changed.
Coty and Lalique had parallel lives. From very humble backgrounds, they became immensely rich through their craftsmanship. They both had many lovers, and divorces. Coty got into politics to his dispair and ours —he supported the French fascist movement with his newspapers and finances. He died before WWII. Lalique kept to his business —for our gratitude. He died just after WWII. His jewels and glassware still shine in our houses while the memory of Coty is even more evanescent than his fragrances.
The French, and the Belgians, still offer little bouquets of lily of the valley on May 1st. Beware that all parts of convallaria are very poisonous and its ingestion can produce vomits and abdominal pains. Still, they are so beautiful and old-fashioned… or very fashionable indeed. Kate Middleton’s homegrown wedding bouquet of lilies of the valley should prove that fashion —and life— is a cycle and that springtime has come back with its sweet smell of lilies of the valley.
Images credit © Ruskin in Brussels