Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frederic Malle Lys Mediterranee: fragrance review

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 ~
tear-soaked friend,
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.

Scent Profile
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.


  1. I so agree - a charming lily fragrance that doesn't turn cloying.

  2. Anonymous15:22

    Lys Med is lovely. I do enjoy that salty-air feeling, and the lilies seem real-life rather than candied and sanitized. It does not move me emotionally the way certain others of the Malle line do (Carnal Flower, Iris Poudre), and I'm quite happy with my $10 bottle of DK Gold - but should a bottle of LM fall from the sky I'd be overjoyed.

  3. Oh great review- I was so happy to see this because I do love this perfume and it's rarely mentioned anywhere! Lilies are fascinating creatures, and this perfume seems to capture that intoxicating blends of smells that make up the flower nicely. I shall wear this on this rain-soaked Friday!

  4. You've done it again-I cannot afford to buy another bottle of perfume right now, but this sounds so lovely. However, I can always afford a book, and have already ordered Amorgos by Gatsos from Amazon! what a lovely poem from a writer I was not aware of. Thanks.

  5. Anonymous17:10

    I had a decant of this that, despite the whole dark and cool storage situation (kept it out of light and heat), quickly went bad -- when sprayed, it went quickly to a too-sweet (cloying!) drydown that was not there for the first 6 months I had it. I've found this short shelf life to be the case with several other IFF fragrances. Anyone else have this experience? Because if so, getting a full bottle seems like paying a lot for something that may last for only a year. I do like the scent ...

  6. Anonymous20:14

    This is one of my favorite Malle as well as my favorite lily! Thank you for this review- it's beautiful- it made me revisit the scent...

  7. Babe,

    yeah, as you say: why aren't more people into it? One of the Net's mysteries.

  8. M,

    for something that aims at photo-realism, I think they nailed it. Others in the FM line are abstract (Eau d'hiver, Iris Poudre) but this one is intentionally like it is.
    I think Gold is especially good as well. I had posted a comparison of DK Gold with Un Lys you might enjoy.

  9. Jared,

    see, people who are in the know delurk and pronounce their infatuation with this wonderful scent. Don't you love it. It is indeed a delicious flower, full of passion, full of nuance.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Jennifer,

    thank you, it flatters me to introduce authors. I think you will find Gatsos a touching poet with simple (but not simplistic) means of eloqution.
    If you're searching Amazon, might I also steer you into Seferis, since we're talking of Greek poets... *grin*

  11. Anon,

    this is an interesting comment! I can't say I have kept mine for more than a year. It's such a simpatico to the weather and the surroundings fragrance (since I'm in the Med indeed) that I quickly went through a 50ml bottle before that time elapsed. But I will take note next time for sure!
    There are some fragrances that "turn" after a while indeed, in the F.Malle (noticed it with Iris, but it might be that my batch was defective? or old?) and elsewhere.

  12. RH,

    author's delight is when it prompts rediscoveries :-)
    Thank you for your lovely compliment!

  13. This is incredibly late, but I just wanted to say, nonetheless, that I absolutely love this fragrance. Actually, I brought a decant to a wedding in which I was a bridesmaid, and the bride loved it so much that I let her borow my decant to wear on the wedding day (and wore something else myself!). Afterwards, I bought her a bottle of her own.
    (Oh for the days when I could afford perfume!!)

    I think this is a beautiful fragrance, and actually lovely for a wedding. I got my decant back, and it's what I still have - over 2 years old (since I can't afford more, I have to save it!) and it's definitely still just as good as when it was new.

    I did, however, have a sample of the body cream separate after a few months ... but it still smelled just as good, and with no shame, I mixed it up again and used it all.

  14. A,

    I'm probably very late myself. Thanks for chimming in and sharing this lovely experience with LM! Wow, it must have felt wonderful to share this with the bride, how thoughtful. Yes, it's a lovely scent for a wedding because though romantic it's not cloying or too expected. It's fresh and youthful but not boring.


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