Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Every year at the start of Daylight Saving Time, a very specific memory from my childhood comes back to me: 

I have been outside playing all day in the fields, in the barn, in the yard, next to the pond—all of the wonderful places there are to play when you’re a kid growing up on a farm—and then my mother calls us into the house for supper.  My sisters and I eat hurriedly and ask to be excused from the table because, after all, there is still daylight—enough to play outside for an hour or so before the stars come out and blanket the evening sky. 

My mother, however, doesn’t give us the “yes, you’re excused” nod that we are expecting.  Instead she gives us the up-and-down look, with one eyebrow raised, and informs us it is time to take our baths.  “We’ll take them later, when we’re done playing,” we promise, pleading with her until a deal is reached: we must take our baths first, but afterward we can play outside for half an hour if we keep to the front yard and promise to stay clean. 

And so, bargain kept, an hour later three formerly grubby but now freshly-scrubbed little girls go running headlong into the twilight.  And it is precisely this moment that I remember so well: the feeling of every steamy-clean pore in my body being open to receive the rush of the cool evening air!  It’s a sensation that somehow becomes linked to the idea of love for me.  I was in love with the season; the lengthening of the days and the way the warm Spring weather had released me to the outdoors.  Later in my life, when I fell in love with a person or place, this same feeling came back to me, and I would think, Every pore of me is open to you.  It sometimes felt like I was all nerve endings, but it felt incredibly good, too. 

It is not yet Spring here in central Pennsylvania—not by the calendar and not by the weather (yesterday started off at a frosty twenty-two degrees); still, I feel it in my skin, which really is all that matters to me.  Even if we have to endure one of those surprising whopper snowstorms that sometimes happen in March, I will not be laid low now.  The lengthening daylight, the brilliantly sparkling mornings we’ve had lately—full of birdsong—are true signs that we are coming out of the dark of Winter.  Yes, there are still dark shadows to dance around, but I am in a dancing mood, ready to tango those shadows into a corner.  Every pore of me is open to you, Spring.  Bring on the light!  Bring on the grass and the flowers!  Bring on the soliflore perfumes! 

A soliflore fragrance is one that, while it may employ a number of perfume notes, is focused on expressing a single flower.  Today I am wearing Serge Lutens Un Lys, which focuses on its namesake (“a lily”) in such a realistic way, I feel like I have a fresh bloom on my wrist.  At first spritz, the extravagant smell of lily fills the air, but it becomes considerably more delicate in a just a few minutes, because this is not a bunch of lilies, but one single bloom—one that is lush and so very pretty, but also tenderly soft.  In addition to lily, sandalwood and vanilla notes emerge in the dry down, subtle enhancements that extend the bloom of the flower on the skin.

I love the fact that Serge Lutens and his perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, decided to represent the lily in this fashion—purely, realistically—because in doing so, they pay homage to the lily’s mythology as a symbol of purity.  I’m not sure if that was their intention or just a happy coincidence, but it adds to the allure of the fragrance for me.  Un Lys is not only a perfect fragrance to wear in the pure, fresh light of early Spring, but I imagine it as the perfect wedding scent (its dewy sweetness seems fitting with such an occasion, and of course, lilies often show up in wedding bouquets, which is why that association comes to mind). 

Of course, not everyone loves lilies: for some they are a reminder of church services or funerals. As for me, I have always loved them and was delighted to learn that my given name, Suzanne, is a French derivation of the Hebrew name Shoshanah, which means “lily.”  Thus when I purchased Un Lys, I thought it might become a personal scent for me, but as it turns out, my heart is not so devoted and pure when it comes to perfumes.  Un Lys’ delicacy and linear quality is beautiful, but not something I can reach for day after day.  I love it in the Spring—it is Spring’s first light in a bottle.  But eventually I dance my way back into the shadows again—the perfume shadows, at least—wearing more complicated scents that couple the sweet with the dirty, the good with the beastly.

March 10, 2008:

Coming Out of the Dark:
Serge Lutens Un Lys

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Serge Lutens Un Lys eau de parfum can be purchased from the official Serge Lutens website, as well as from Aedes de Venustas in New York City, where a 75-ml bell jar is currently priced at $300.

Photos: (top) actress and dancer Ginger Rogers, photographed by Horst P. Horst for the November 1, 1936 issue of Vogue, is from; bottle images is from (which used to carry it, but they appear to be out of stock).