by the warmth of the sun
like the human heart
by loving kindness
— Poet Montri Umavijani
Loving kindness could easily be borrowed to describe the heart-wrenching beauty of the lily of the valley's tiny blossoms. Parfums Dusita and its founder Pissara Umavijani, launched Cavatina, the 11th creation in the house’s French Haute Perfumery Collection, early this year, as always with a reference to the founder's poet father and his verse, inspired this time by lily of the valley.
An olfactory harmony of classic grace and modern appeal, Cavatina enhances the wearer’s innate sophistication, creating an aura of radiant charm that seems to emanate from deep within.
It has already charmed our team of editors, who referenced it here and there throughout the first months of 2021. John wrote, "one of the best contemporary lily of the valley perfumes I've smelled," and Elena claimed "[it's] quivering and sentimental, like the positive heroines of the 19th-century novels," while Lucia Remigi chose it as the best fragrance of the first half of the year, noting "I can safely say Cavatina is one of those creations that is almost impossible not to appreciate – especially if one's into springlike white florals with a retro vibe."
The idiosyncratic difference in Cavatina, and what differentiates it from classical lily of the valley fragrances, is its inclusion of a Thailand reference: Siam wood oil. According to my colleague Sergey, who presented the launch, "it is a Siam tree, Fokienia Hodginsii, known in Vietnam as Po Mu and Pemou (also called Fujian Cypress). This relic evergreen tree has been growing on earth since the Tertiary period. The essential oil from its hardwood is famous in oriental medicine for its soothing properties: It relieves inflammation of the skin, soothes sore muscles, and helps with rheumatism and arthritis. It is also used as an insect repellent, even though its odor is far from unpleasant. Siam wood oil has a typical woody scent similar to cedar and amyris, with light floral, balsamic, and sweetish-warm undertones."
But let me make a detour first.
Imported from Japan in the middle ages, this flower has a very rich and interesting history. It is most known as a symbol of good luck and happiness, and May 1st is the traditional day of gifting them in France. The delicate flowers are also referred to as "our Lady’s tears" in Christian cultures, after the Virgin Mary crying for her crucified son. Lily of the valley was then taken to the gates of heaven to measure the purity of one's heart. Another tale is that it symbolizes the tears of Eve after God had expelled her and Adam from the Garden of Eden.
The darling buds of May, looking like tiny white bells (their botany name being Convallaria majalis, also known as muguet in French), swaying in the wind as Shakespeare envisioned them, are an ornery blossom to extract; the feat is impossible. So the history of modern perfumery largely lies in reconstituting their scent via the right aroma chemicals. It's not just soliflore fragrances going for the lily of the valley (muguet) scent that profit from them, since lily of the valley notes open the heart bouquet of many formulas, lending diffusion and expansion to the other notes. Such unlikely perfumes as Opium, classic Poison, or Aromatics Elixir do contain lily of the valley synthetics!
Hydroxycitronellal (established and produced ever since 1905), Lyral, and Lilial are wonderful molecules to offer that piercingly sweet and blindingly white light into a composition, with shades of lily, lilac, and even green watery tonalities (cyclamen aldehyde also serves in compositions leaning that way.)
Diorissimo, composed in 1956 by the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, who toiled to catch the exact scent of his garden's tiny bells, stands as the eternal hallmark in the quest of the perfect lily of the valley scent - with a good dose of pure jasmine and civet in the vintage formulations, which were excised in newer bottles...
Where's the problem then?
The obstacle comes two-fold. On the one hand, Diorissimo has been changed. Its quota of natural jasmine absolute has deteriorated through the years, evident from the changing coloration, and its civet has been lightened considerably, diminishing its erotic power. Furthermore, not even stocking in vintage is adequate since it's a fragrance that keeps rather poorly through the decades; its freshness is ephemeral. On the other hand, the most established materials to reconstitute lily of the valley, which I mentioned above, have been going through a severe rationing from IFRA through recent years, the most recent being SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) in 2015, requesting a reformulation of all products containing Lilial, as it's considered a skin sensitizer (Lyral is totally banned in the interim.)
Enter Cavatina Dusita Paris! The solution to our lily of the valley quest is thankfully complete.
Both IFF and Givaudan have produced adequate bases that can substitute the older materials for lily of the valley notes. Apparently, creating a wonderful and persistent scent is possible again. Pissara Umavijani, the creative force behind Dusita Paris, has captured this beauty and made it tangible in her Cavatina. I'm not privy to the inner workings of the exact materials entering the composition, but it feels like the best of both worlds were used in this beautiful creation. The intricate, odd features of the real blossom (which can present as weird facets like wood pulp or moldy lemon) are coaxed into submission, with hints of pharmaceutical tuberose and creamy white florals, plus the comfy skin-like saltiness of ambrette, and the wearer only perceives the lovely synergy of it all. Cavatina smells captivating, silky, dewy, refreshingly green and lush at the same time, with the kind of eroticism we seemingly have forgotten about in this day and age.
A character study by the Englishman Joshua Reynolds completed in either 1785 or 1788 is believed to have been the inspiration for the title of Wharton's novel.
It has something of the air that permeates such a poignant opus as The Age of Innocence (1920) by Edith Wharton, turned into a spectacular film by Martin Scorsese in 1993. In the novel, the author examines the oppressive societal mores that choreograph the intricate relations between lovers, potential mates and spouses, their adjacent families, and everyone at large in 1870s New York. Everyone is preoccupied with retaining old societal standings, yet the "new money" is just as valid deep down, and a new wind is blowing, refreshing and necessary in this stifling atmosphere of repressed emotions and innermost boiling. As I see it, the fragrance could just as easily grace the figures of Countess Ellen Olenska as it could that of May Welland. Neither of the heroines is solely innocent nor solely emotional.
Much like the novel and the film, Cavatina is not about unrequited love but about a love that is unconsummated as of yet. And it's about time we consummate it. You'll thank me later, I'm sure of it.
Cavatina Dusita Paris has been available in Eau de Parfum concentration in 50 ml and 100 ml bottles priced at 150 and 220 EUR through the official brand website and in selected boutiques since April 26th, 2021. Samples and travel sets are also available (4.5 and 85 EUR).