Image Robert Doisneau
Each May Guerlain release a Muguet eau de toilette. It is a spin on the French tradition of giving and receiving small bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on May 1. The original Guerlain Muguet was composed by Jacques Guerlain in 1908 and a new perfume of the same name was composed by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1998. Since 2006 (except 2010) Guerlain release the latter version for a single day each May 1 with the slogan, “Un jour, un parfum.” (One day, one perfume.) A new bottle is designed for each year and the perfume has a limited, though highly hyped release.
Dior Diorissimo has been acknowledged as the reference lily-of-the-valley perfume. In 1956 perfumer Edmond Roudnitska launched Diorissimo to great acclaim and it quickly became the reference soliflor of the latter half of the 20th century. Restrictions on the materials used to create the original Diorissimo have lead to a reformulation that no longer resembles the early version. It is a loud, tall perfume that lacks the nuance and proportion of the early version.
Diorissimo’s persistence reflects the brand’s desire to maintain its stylistic heritage. Dior want their affluent customers to feel that they are tapping into a pedigreed history and the luxe-life fairy tale needs both a splashy present and a conservative past. Diorissimo, Dioressence, Diorama, Diorling and Diorella, are a link to the era of Christian Dior himself and Dior would no sooner give up production of Diorissimo than they would give away the Dior name. Diorissimo is still a reference perfume. Unfortunately it refers to the genre of historical perfumes that have been gutted by restrictions on materials.
Yet both Guerlain and Dior persist. Dior’s strategy of serving up an inferior perfume under the name of an icon comes off as cynical. Guerlain are no more noble in their marketing of heritage than Dior, yet their annual effort to shine a light on this tragic category, the muguet soliflor, is more an act of hope than an admission of defeat. Oh, the Guelain’s Muget 2015 that I’ve smelled is no more elevated than the current Diorissimo. In fact, they smell quite similar and Guerlain’s Muguet is ridiculously expensive, but it reads as an attempt to keep a candle burning until this sad genre can be resuscitated by the future perfumer who solves the compositional dilemma.
Where Dior might have thrown in the towel, Guerlain keep the fight alive. Vive la resistance!