On Good Friday
weary I shuffle my steps,
at the weary light of day.
Lilies of spring I bring you
and lay upon your cross ~
First among the first.
~Nikos Gatsos, Days of Epitaph*
A different lily, a wearable lily
The astrigent and almost aqueous, saline opening of Lys Méditerranée in the Frédéric Malle Editions des Parfums line is highly surprising for those who have been accustomed to florist type lilies; crystalline and stark in their cellophane, premature mummies in dolled up sarcophagi, looking at you sterny and haughty, like stuffed owls out of Psycho. But wild lilies in the basin of the Mediterranean sea are routinely sprayed by the salty spray of the deep blue sea, gaining an overlay of odour that is reminiscent of cured meats, and of the contrast of sandpaper-like fresh roughness against the nose beside the intense, waxy petals spiciness.
Issued in 2000 and composed by legendary perfumer Edouard Fléchier, in my opinion Lys Méditerranée is definitely among the masterpieces in the line, as evidenced by my impressive finishing of a whole bottle of it during last spring and summer. It is an impressionistic composition capturing a moment in time and place perfectly: Easter lilies in all their rustic splendor, an affair of freshness and lushness entwined, a shady terrace on some villa on Patmos island or the boardwalk in Nice. Checking the fragrance notes, we know they got the paysage references right: lilies, salty water, angelica, lily of the valley and water lily, orange blossom even: Pure Med! White lilies were cultivated in ancient Crete and Greece, as evidenced by the frescoes in Knossos. The lily was revered by the Greeks as sprouting from the milk of Hera, queen of the gods.
The ginger spiciness in Lys Méditerranée perks the nose, imbuing the lily bouquet with a convincing life-like chord, ginger lilies staying on throughout the arc of the linear composition; those who have an aversion to spice might find it too much, too floral but I'm not among them. There is a huge orange blossom note hidden in there and strong salicylates (naturally inherent in lily) which manage to imbue freshness rather than excessive floralcy.
The base exhibits a balance of muskiness, a very thin line between not quite clean and borderline carnal, without excessive sweetness or cheap tricks. In fact the delicately, musky-vanillic vegetal theme recalls to mind the feeling of Vanille Galante in the Hermessences collection, also heavy on the salicylates. The style is comparable, even though Lys projects as a higher octave overall and seems to include jasmolactones giving an almost gardenia-like greeness. Comparing it with another pure lily scent, Serge Lutens's angelic and sublimely creamy Un Lys, I find that Lys Méditerranée is more intense, shimmering with a less cherubic cheek; less vanillic, muskier, saltier, a tad rougher if you will. And despite the freshness it lasts and lasts.
What is it that makes this great fragrance largely unsung then? Pure programmatic association. Perfume lovers have developed a keen displeasure against "marine" notes, vexed by the catapulting chords used on mainstream perfumery which hammered us with artificial "freshness" for years on end ~before giving way to tooth-decaying sweetness, that is! Time to ditch it for once, this is seriously great work.
Notes for F.Malle Lys Méditerranée:
Top notes: sea water, lily of the valley and ginger
Middle notes: angelica, lily, orange blossom and lotus
Base notes: vanilla and musk
Available as eau de parfum by F.Malle on their official site and at Barneys.
*translation by Elena Vosnaki
Fashion photo shoot on Patmos island, Greece, by photographer Camilla Akrans for T Style magazine of the New York Times, Travel supplement summer 2009.