Angel Belsey is a Londoner. She owns too much perfume and too many books.

Un Lys

Anyone who has been reading my fragrance reviews would be forgiven for believing that I hate floral perfumes. Really, nothing could be further from the truth. What I hate is:

  1. Cynical perfumers (I'm looking at you, celebrity perfumers) who release essentially the same sugar-sweet junk food fruity florals over and over and over
  2. My stupid skin, which can make the most beautiful of florals smell rotten or soapy*.

I also don't really tend to take much personal interest in floral perfumes, but that's just a matter of preference. I do like smelling them on other people. If I am going to wear a floral perfume (and if it gets over the hurdle of my stupid skin), it needs to be either a soliflore (that is, perfectly one-note simple) or very complex. For example, I love Paul Smith Rose, which isn't exactly a niche perfume or even that well-loved by Those In The Know, but which isn't sweet or soapy or rotten on me--just rose-rose-rose. At the same time, I love Penhaligon's Amaranthine, which also has rose in it--and carnation, and freesia, and lily, and cardamom, and cloves, and milk, and banana leaf, and and and and and. It changes from moment to moment. This jungle is massive (and damp and in bloom).

Speaking of Penhaligon's, it is amazing. If you've ever been into one, you know they sell any number of old-fashioned floral perfumes. The shop should therefore be my nightmare, but I swear I can put absolutely anything in Penhaligon's on my skin. I don't know how they do it, but if my first foray into florals had been a trip to Penhaligon's, I would probably today believe that I was made to wear them.

(I am getting to the point soon, I promise.)

So, after using up a couple of decants of Amaranthine and deciding my love for it wasn't just a fleeting crush, I finally decided last week to visit Penhaligon's to buy a proper bottle. While there, I reminded myself that I had previously tried and enjoyed Lily and Spice, which has a gorgeous, light scent of lilies, and which settles into what is almost a lily-scented incense on my skin. I couldn't quite justify the cost of TWO bottles of perfume, but I walked away with a happy wrist.

Then, because I was in a lily mood and interested in a comparison, I decided to try Un Lys.

If you like lilies and enjoy soliflore fragrances, Un Lys is definitely for you. Unlike so many Serge Lutens scents, there is nothing challenging about this one, and it would be difficult to go on about it for two or three paragraphs. Here's the lowdown: Un Lys starts as lilies, continues as lilies, and ends up as lilies sitting delicately on a vanilla base. It's got a close, pretty sillage, it's perfectly one-note simple, and it's beautiful even on my skin. I adore it. I ADORE it.

(But. There must be something wrong here. Because even though Un Lys ticks all my floral boxes, and even though it's by the genius Christopher Sheldrake, and even though I'm going against pretty much all popular perfumista opinion with what I'm about to say . . . I think I prefer Lily and Spice. It's just that bit more interesting because it's not perfectly simple. And, so, I break all my own rules about what I "like." Perfume is a funny game.)

Un Lys, Serge Lutens, 1994 Notes: lily, musk, vanilla

*I tried Jean Patou Joy for the first time ever last week. It smells exactly like Ivory Soap on me, then disappears. Not unpleasant, but buying actual Ivory Soap is cheaper and longer-lasting. Ho hum.


Youth Dew (bath oil)