Le Muguet

 

Lucas Albert Durer (1828-1919) ~ Lily of the Valley (Image Credit: windypoplarsroom); Durer successfully evokes the lily of the valley's cultivation conditions - partially shaded woodland conditions that ferns prefer as well.
Lucas Albert Durer (1828-1919) ~ Lily of the Valley (Image Credit: windypoplarsroom); Durer successfully evokes the lily of the valley’s cultivation conditions – partially shaded woodland conditions that ferns prefer as well.

Last year, I presented my mother with a bouquet of lily of the valley for Mother’s Day. Her delight repaid the time and effort to pick and transport the flowers carefully, leading me to wonder how cultures perceived and interpreted them. The lily of the valley’s cultural ascendency reveals that our fixation with colorful and large flowers does not always hold sway. From being the floral emblem of Ostara, the Norse goddess of the Dawn and Light to its bejeweled representation in the famed jeweler Karl Faberge’s imperial Easter eggs, the lily of the valley has symbolized different European and religious imagery. Its elegance especially captured the fancy of the French.

Robert Doisneau's "Le Muguet du Métro" (Marc and Christiane Chevalier in the Paris Metro) - The woman averts her gaze away from the expectant man on the muguet, which appear remarkably fragile in the hard carapace of the Paris Metro. With his hands clasped and eyes downcast, the man seemingly awaits the woman's reaction as if apologetic for an unspoken wrongdoing.
Robert Doisneau’s “Le Muguet du Métro” (Marc and Christiane Chevalier in the Paris Metro) – The woman averts her gaze away from the expectant man on the muguet, which appear remarkably fragile in the hard carapace of the Paris Metro. With his hands clasped and eyes downcast, the man seemingly awaits the woman’s reaction as if apologetic for an unspoken wrongdoing.

The French celebrate La Fête du Muguet, a tradition that began when the King Charles of France – only ten at the time- was given a bouquet of lily of the valley on May 1st of 1851 and inspired by the floral gesture of luck and prosperity, started to present the ladies of his court with small bunches on the same day. Today small bunches of lily of the valley still are sold each year on May Day. The flower’s hypnotic scent has inspired perfumers, especially French ones, to distill it in hopes of prolonging what seems an unmercifully brief seasonal pleasure.

Diorissimo, René Gruau for Christian Dior, courtesy of agentofstyle.com
Diorissimo, René Gruau for Christian Dior, courtesy of agentofstyle.com

Diorissimo, the fragrance that Edmond Roudnitska created for Christian Dior in 1955, is perhaps the most famous distillation of the lily of the valley. Dior himself was enamored with this flower,  it as the sign of his couture business and even sewed flowering sprigs in the dresses’ hems (the scent would trail the models’ sashaying down the catwalk). He transposed the lily of the valley as a floral motif in his dresses as well.

The Muguet dress by Christian Dior (Photo Credit: Dior);  Dior has beautifully captured the dainty bells of the lily of the valley  in the tiered layers of the dress.
The Muguet dress by Christian Dior (Photo Credit: Dior); Dior has beautifully captured the dainty bells of the lily of the valley in the tiered layers of the dress.

Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain was another French couturier taken with the lily of the valley, creating a fragrance in 1840, and the house of Guerlain continues to produce it in limited quantities since 2005. Sadly, like some desirable scented flowers, the lily-of-the-valley has resisted the efforts of the perfumery science to capture its essence and what passes as the lily-of-the-valley in cosmetics is a synthetic product.

Lalique Clairefontaine by Rene Lalique in 1931 (Image Credit: Crystal Classics)
Lalique Clairefontaine by Rene Lalique in 1931 (Image Credit: Crystal Classics)

The lily of the valley’s simple beauty and the arching lines beloved by artisans and craftsmen working in the style of Art Nouveau, saw it cast in glass, jewels and metals. In one of Faberge’s imperial East eggs, the lily of the valley drape the pedestal, snaking upwards around the surface. On a crystal bottle, Rene Lalique reworked the flowers as spraying forth from the neck as if their scent was being dispensed. Inspired by the lily of the valley’s serpentine lines, the German ceramic firm Villeroy & Boch moulded the flowers fanning out from the center of a glazed earthenware plate.

Faberge's Lilies of the Valley Egg (Image Credit:  http://expertdiamant.wordpress.com/)
Faberge’s Lilies of the Valley Egg (Image Credit: http://expertdiamant.wordpress.com/)

 

Villeroy & Boch earthenware plate with a spiral of lily of valley  (Photo Credit: Victoria &  Albert Museum)
Villeroy & Boch earthenware plate with a spiral of lily of valley (Photo Credit: Victoria & Albert Museum)

Modern fashion designers have not overlooked the lure of the lily of the valley. Taking their cue from Dior, the Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana designed a lily of the valley dress for the Spring 2013 collection. Taking liberties with botanical accuracy, the designers depict the flowers open-faced and multi-clustered like those of Myosotis (forget-me-not) or Ixia and leaves broad dabs of green, all made striking transposed against the black satiny fabric. Several female celebrities were clearly beckoned to don the dress in all its iterations.

The Lily of the Valley Dress from the Spring 2013 Dolce & Gabbana Collection (Photo Credit:  Dolce & Gabbana via Lyst)
The Lily of the Valley Dress from the Spring 2013 Dolce & Gabbana Collection (Photo Credit: Dolce & Gabbana via Lyst)

Audrey Hepburn had the clear sense to let the genuine article speak for themselves, gracing her gamine, but beautiful features with a lavish lily of the valley bouquet. Dressed simply in a bridal gown, she saw little need for adornment except for simple pearl earrings. Hepburn understood the qualities that made lily of the valley Dior’s favorite flower, and the pleasure the bouquet it likely gave her was the same that made my mother smile on Mother’s Day.

~Eric

Audrey Hepburn with a bouquet of lily of the valley - two icons of elegance, one gamine actress and a dainty woodland flower
Audrey Hepburn with a bouquet of lily of the valley – two icons of elegance, one gamine actress and a dainty woodland flower

 

Categories: Art, Artists, Floral, Horticulture, Plants, ScrollTags: , , ,

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