Monday, 26 May 2014

Review: Caron - Muguet Du Bonheur & Frederic Malle - En Passant, The Superior 'Eau De Toilet'

It smells like Pledge!

Have you uttered these words before? Or indeed, toilet cleaner, cheapo air fresheners, little hanging cardboard car de-funkers and washing up liquid?

Some olfactory joy for the 50s housewife

Certain notes are synonymous with ‘eau de toilet cleaner’ and it’s sibling domestic hygiene products. This is the sweetly scented land of pine, lavender, lily of the valley, lilac and lemon and lime. Perhaps it’s a scent phenomenon that those of us in our middle and older years will understand more readily, being that there are some mighty clever folk working in labs to create increasingly exotic aroma chemicals for the home (or British seaside B &B) nowadays. My gorgeous Asda own brand washing up liquid bears a distinct resemblance to Comme Des Garcons – Incense Avignon, which I’m sure can’t be a coincidence.

Eau de toilet cleaner is not necessarily an unappealing thing. In fact, I find myself attracted to all of the above notes and will actively seek them out for a sniff. There’s a reason they’ve become commonplace in popular domestic products. That is because they bring the outdoors inside. If my bathroom emits the whiff of a wood in springtime I’m rather chuffed! The almighty turpenic pine of Serge Lutens - Fille En Aiguilles reminds me of those pine scented little hanging car-tree thingamees and Ecover ‘Pine Fresh’ toilet cleaner. I’ve worked my ecstatic way through 40 mls of it. I’m also a fair way through a large beloved bottle of Penhaligon’s – Lavandula (Pledge lavender furniture polish).

So here are some thoughts on two of my favourite fragrances that have bravely defied the hygiene connotations and made magnificence with the familiar household notes of lilac and lily of the valley.
Van Gogh's Lilac Bush

Firstly, is Olivia Giacobetti’s nostalgic creation for the Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle collection – En Passant, a lilac scent with some extraordinary notes. En Passant translates as ‘in passing’, which is an unusually relevant name. A lilac tree tends to ambush you with it’s beguiling fragrance as you pass by. A walk through a suburban neighbourhood can be delightful thing if you are lucky enough to encounter one of these heady shrubs cutting through the smell of, well, not much. If you get really lucky you’ll find one close to a recently cut lawn and be in all kinds of olfactory heaven.

En Passant features an eclectic mix of lilac, cucumber, petitgrain and wheat, an unimaginable combination. But how this works is to make lilac ‘more lilacky’. The accompanying notes are not intrusive but they do add a kind of ‘after the rain’ sensation that takes me right back to countryside of my childhood. En Passant is a hyper-realistic lilac, bearing the oily green quality of the real thing. Crucially, it’s delicate and it wears close to the skin which stops it being an almighty headache of a fragrance as soliflores can often be.

It fits into the category of ‘journey scents’, i.e. that which allows your imagination to create a dreamed up location rather than smelling ‘like perfume’. I can imagine En Passant scenting the scene for Rene Magritte’s surrealist painting ‘Empire Of The Light’. Alike honeysuckle, lilac throes out it’s come hither beauty on a warm summer evening. When I peer at the intriguingly illuminated house in this picture, I can sense the unseen apparition of it’s garden. It would smell like En Passant.
Magritte, Empire Of The Light

Another vividly natural scent is Caron’s ethereal Muguet Du Bonheur. This is a long way removed from the lily of the valley that we associate with those old fashioned solid gel air fresheners, so popular in budget hotel bathrooms.

Alike En Passant, Muguet Du Bonheur is spookily realistic. I use the word ‘spookily’ in that lily of the valley has a slightly supernatural feel to me. Perhaps it’s because we find it emerging magically through the forest floor as the light of spring emerges from the dark depths of winter. In France, sprigs of lily of the valley (Muguet) are gifted on the 1st of May as a symbol of good luck for the year ahead, again carrying a bewitched connotation.

Ludmila Anderson's spooky muguet

Caron’s interpretation of this lucky flower is vibrantly green, oily, sappy and soapy. A spritz of this scent post shower is capable of making me feel euphoric at 7am, quite a feat in that there is very little that can bring me out of my grumpy night-owl slumber with anything resembling joy. ‘Outdoorsy’ scents are my favourite genre and this one contains a clear whiff of the country life. Just for a little while, I can pretend to be off to explore the woods instead of battling through the city traffic to work.

Caron’s fragrances are always complex multifaceted creations. Within it’s composition, Muguet Du Bonheur hints at lilac (which comes across slightly anisic here) and woods (sandalwood). Although there is no oakmoss in the composition, a ‘mossy’ note can be sensed  in the general earthy quality of the scent.

I tried the current version of Dior’s famous Muguet scent - Diorissimo recently, which smelt ‘like pleasant perfume’. In comparison, Caron’s Muguet smells like some sort of picnic in a pastoral paradise.

The soapy aspect could be described in this one of Degas’ bather paintings. As his elfin model bathes, a shaft of sunlight from the window illuminates the room and casts a green and white reflection across the water. She is outdoors inside.

Bather, Degas

To read more on the lovely Muguet, take a peak at this romantically penned post over at The Black Narcissus. It’s rather good. 

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  1. I like both scents - lilac and lily of the valley - and I always try new perfumes that feature these notes but you're right about not the most favorable connotations that both of these flowers have. These two suffer for the same reason: there are no natural "implementations" for them, all lilacs and LotVs, even the most expensive ones (Guerlain, I'm looking at you) are either synthetically made or recreated using other flowers.
    I haven't tried Caron's perfume (I will when I get a chance). En Passant is nice but cucumber and bread are killing it for me.

  2. Hi Undina, yes, the cucumber and bread notes would not make me dribble with joy but I do love this scent! A colleague wears some truly awful cucumber fragrance from Bliss, eating them is a great pleasure, wearing them, no..
    Did you read about the proposed banning of (I think it's called) HSS? It's he synthetic material that constitutes much of the lily of the valley note. Worrying. Yet another dying beauty.

    1. I'm waiting to see what'll happen with all those bans :(

  3. I have a tricky relationship with both lilac and LOTV in perfume, though I always stop to stick my nose in either if I see the flowers in nature - which is lilac, predominantly, on my street in fact. I blow hot and cold about En Passant and sometimes it feels quite strong and in your face despite its watery, after the rain facet. And like Undina, the Caron has passed me by altogether so far, but I am liking the idea of an outside inside bath. Bathrooms being very much a current preoccupation of mine, hehe. ;_

  4. Outside inside baths are where it's at. I knew someone who lived in a wooden hut in the woods somewhere near Glastonbury (had to be really). He had a proper bath, not a hot tub, on elevated decking at the front of his house. It was magnificent. You didn't need any products for that bath, it already smelt of the woods..