Friday, April 30, 2010

Consider the Lilies-of-the-Valley

Spring 1992 Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, oversize 9" corsage/pin spray of silk lilies-of-the-valley from Paris made by the Lemarié atelier, purchased at Creed’s of Toronto

The First of May is an important day throughout Europe. In France, 'le premier Mai' is characterized by the centuries old custom of sidewalk vendors selling charming little bouquets of lilies-of-the-valley.

The earliest May Day festivities were pre-Christian, and related to Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. Countless legends in many cultures, religions, and historic periods are based on the fanciful origins of lilies of the-valley, convallaria majalis. In Christian legends, it has been called, ‘Our Lady’s Tears.’ In Christian iconography, it is representative of modesty or humility. In the language of flowers it means good luck, and the return of happiness.

The lily-of-the-valley is an old fashioned flower seldomly encountered nowadays. In Victorian and Edwardian times one could buy it at florists. In France, it is still commonly sold at florists in May, but in North America, selections at flower shops are usually limited to tulips, roses, mums and the now ubiquitous potted phalaenopsis orchid.

At one time, 'muguet' was a common motif in the decorative arts, and was visible on textiles, metalwork, silverware,porcelain, postcards and jewellery. But for our brash, in-your-face, Lady Gaga times, it is just too shy, polite, retiring, and elegant.

If a personality could be matched to the flower, it might be Princess Grace of Monaco, who had a wedding bouquet of 'muguet de bonheur.' Throughout her lifetime, she was photographed many times holding a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, a flower she also writes of in her 1980 work, 'My Book of Flowers.' The lovely muguet is a flower that evokes English and European, rather than new world, legends and charm. wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Monaco in April, 1956, dress designed byMGM wardrobe designer Helen Rose early 1970s charity fundraising event; Princess Grace with a bouquet of muguet

Christian Dior, arguably the world’s most famous fashion designer, used the lily-of-the-valley as his emblem throughout his brief but meteoric career. Muguet de Bois was the inspiration of his spring 1954 collection and his masterpiece signature perfume, created by the Monet of perfume, Edmund Roudnistka. Still in production after more than 50 years, ‘Diorissimo,’ is an olfactory impression of this exquisite flower.

In early May, don’t overlook this delightful little plant. The season is very brief, and the flowers are discreet enough to be passed by. detail from a delightful screen printed vintage linen tablecloth by the venerable Avenue Montaigne house of D. Porthault

1970s Christian Dior bedding with "muguet' motif, licensed American product

detail of floral motif of above bedlinens by Christian Dior

the angelic Diorissimo lily-of-the-valley perfume; circa 1955 Christian Dior enamel brooch

Christian Dior hat, early 1960s, Ian Drummond Collection, Toront0
vintage Limoges porcelain by Christian Dior Paris

...the invasive, perennial lilies-of-the-valley in my garden, ready for their May performance…I overestimated and they’re everywhere…do you need a clump?

circa 1910 German made chromolithography postcards

lily-of-the-valley motif on a Lalique plate

images and text copyright of Square With Flair; photos of Grace Kelly from 'Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco' by Tevor Hall, Crown Publishing, 1983


  1. What a meaningful tribute to the bashfully
    beautiful lilies-of-the valley. They are so
    briefly available, and now in bloom - I worry
    that I'll miss them. Speak gently and ask them
    to stay awhile. Your devoted, Louise

  2. Lily of the Valley is my all time favourite flower! I lve the scent and hence just adore Diorisimo! I grew up in Australia where the plant is a bit of a rarity, and my mother still nurses the same little patch of plants she has had for years. When it starts flowering I get I get an excited phone call from Australia, telling me it has started to flower. I must confess that when it starts flowering here I do pick some from wherever I see it!