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· Perfume Notes: Lys Mediterranee

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Perfume Notes: Lys Mediterranee
by Anne

Had I been presented with the brief for Frédéric Malle Lys Méditerranée—a summery vision of lilies by the sea—the first thing coming to my mind would have been idyllic visions of semi-tropical locales in full bloom, and indeed, no perfume calls summer to mind like Lys Méditerranée. Only, this "Mediterranean lily" is not true to its name at all, for the lily is, though powerful, a fleeting presence before the onslaught of seawater, the impression of nothing but water, taken out of its element (hah!) by mere decorative hints of the aforesaid flowers.

A familiar description, this is, and you'd be forgiven for immediately expecting yet another aquatic floral like the ones you can buy anywhere these days—including the drugstore. It was a smell that had never existed before, but were actually a mere riff on Coco Chanel's infamous sound-byte, a put-down of perfumes that smelled like something familiar (notwithstanding the complexity of many everyday "single-note" smells). Rather than the mineral aldehydes that dominated the 30's, however, the smell of the 90's was the cool and gentle pressure that is the sense of water flowing on the skin, only made cerebral rather than tactile, chemically realized. Enormously popular once—and still holding strong in the realm of masculines—ubiquity has now stripped this genre of all such evocative power, the web of associations that make up the very soul of a perfume.

So water in perfumery died before it ever really began, mainly done in by its very own abstractness—novel but infinitely replicable. Lys Méditerranée may owe some of its heritage to its 90's predecessors, but sidesteps the same sad fate by being much, much more literal. Simply put, Lys Méditerranée is seawater. Not bottled Evian, but bilgewater. This water you would not want to drink, for it is not entirely clear and so salty that it leaves a gamy, bitter taste in the mouth, the taste you feel when a wave knocks you over and you get a big mouthful and noseful of brine, with traces of scraps of seaweed sticking to hair and skin.

A seaside holiday in a bottle, if there ever was one, but if most tropical fragrances and white flower scents are pristine adverts in glossy travel agency leaflets—designed to stir the thirst for fantastic and exotic escapes— Lys Méditerranée is a sensory panorama of an actual day at the beach, including unglamorous details like sunburn and sand in certain sensitive places: because even during summer, when the sun shines, flowers are in bloom, and the water beckons, no one ever fully manages to get away from the business of dealing with their lives and the attendant annoyances.

And yet, aren't your private memories—not the carefully edited photo albums you later share with your friends—all the more precious for those "imperfections"?

Lys Méditerranée is unquestionably a masterpiece, and yet I sometimes feel that aquatic undertone, as textured as it is, is too unsettling for quotidian wear. Luckily, there is an alternative in Hermès Vanille Galante—a sister if not a twin to Lys Méditerranée where the soapy lily, dandelion-puff vanilla, and the aqueous contribution of melon come together in much the same patterns, only Vanille Galante feels domestic: the Totoro to Lys Méditerranée's Mononoke Hime.

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11/25/2011 [0]

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