In northern climates, the scent of Lily of the Valley is a harbinger of spring after the winter snow has melted. The lovely aroma from the small, white flowers has been sought after since the early days of perfumery. And yet, no essential oil of this flower is available, which is interesting considering the abundance of the flowers and intensity of the scent. In fact, the plant itself is highly invasive and your garden will quickly turn into a Lily-of-the-Valley-only patch if not contained. It will take over everything else. Muguet, as it is generally referred to in perfumery (from the French name), is one of the most common perfumery notes, and it is not too long in one’s perfumery journey before the creation of it is studied.

“Muguet” by Guerlain

When looking at notes for some favorite perfumes, Lily of the Valley often comes up. So, if there is no essential oil, then what constitutes Lily of the Valley in a perfume? One of the main aroma-chemicals to form a Muguet note is Hydroxycitronellal. This aroma-chemical finds its way into a large percentage of perfumes, although the levels are now sadly restricted. In a Muguet base, Hydroxycitronellal is generally one of the main players. The aroma-chemical itself is not very strong in scent, but as with Hedione, it is what it does in the blend that matters. The general character description of this aromatic material is that of a delicate floral and lily of the valley. However, while Hydroxycitronellal is a must in Muguet, it is also used in other notes such as Peony, Lily, Sweet Pea, Narcissus and Linden blossom.

As with any other flower, the scent of Lily of the Valley is composed of hundreds of constituents. To recreate this, one must remember that a flower smells like many things. A perfumer learns to decipher that scent with their nose — and technology. White flowers, such as Jasmine and Lily of the Valley, have a slight animalic note (in perfumery this is called Indolic, from Indole). As one studies perfumery, these subtleties become apparent. When you smell something after having worked with perfumery for a while, your brain immediately tries to compare it against all the aroma-chemicals and essential oils you have ever worked with. Smelling Jasmine and Gardenias, I notice the indole. I never did before. But once I smelled the strong, almost repugnant scent of Indole, it was unmistakeable ever since. However, in the flower, it is part of the exotic, almost narcotic fragrance. In the case of Muguet, it takes a village to make it smell like it does. Chemicals like Farnesol, Limonene, Terpineol, Geraniol, Cis-3-Hexenylacetate, Indole, Citronellyl Acetate, Methyl Anthranilate and dozes of others have been found upon researching the Lily of the Valley flower. The formula below, by Louis Appell, shows the components of a simple Muguet base. [1]

10.00phenyl acetaldehyde dimethyl acetal 10%
70.00benzyl acetate
20.00linalyl acetate
10.00cuminaldehyde 10%
10.00phenethyl acetate
100.00phenethyl alcohol
20.00cyclamen aldehyde
50.00cinnamic alcohol
30.00alpha-amyl cinnamaldehyde
20.00benzyl salicylate
5.00para-cresyl caprylate 10%

Generally, a base like the one above is then extended into a perfume. So, if you wanted to create a Lily of the Valley perfume, you’d want to add other ingredients to the main base, which you use as a starting point.

When looking at the above formula, it is necessary to understand why each ingredient is there. A perfumer does not add an aromatic ingredient to the mix unless it is for a specific purpose. Even aromatic elements added in trace amounts serve a function within the whole. P-Cresyl Caprylate is such an example in this formula. It is added in trace amounts to add the slightly Indolic nature of a Lily of the Valley scent. You can see the low dosage of this ingredient, which had already been further diluted to 10%. It may seem like it is not enough to make a difference, but the ingredient is incredibly strong, so even a trace amount such as this makes quite a difference in the final formula. Each ingredient above is linked, so that you can further research it against The Good Scents Company database.

by Christian Dior

Perfumers continue to reinterpret Muguet to this day. This explains why Muguet perfumes are still being crafted, and dozens upon dozens appear on the market yearly. Perfumes such as Diorissimo by Dior, La Muguet by Annick Goutal, Muguet du Bonheur by Caron and Muguet by Guerlain are all Muguet based. Scents like Lily of the Valley are timeless, but this does not mean they’re not affected by time — and trends. Other scents like Violet, Rose and Jasmine can smell very different in a perfume today compared to what they did decades ago. A Lily of the Valley perfume today would be crafted to smell modern, especially because these scents can easily smell vintage. Nevertheless, these scents are still major players in today’s perfumery as much they were at the turn of the 1900’s. Lily of the Valley continues to fascinate!


[1] Cosmetic, Fragrances and Flavors, Louis Appel, 1982, Micelle Press, pg. 306

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