White Lilac by Mary Chess 1932

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Post by Anne-Marie

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A while ago a generous perfume penpal sent me a sample of Mary Chess’s White Lilac. I liked it, but nothing about it struck me very forcibly. Maybe this was because the lilac in my own garden had just finished, and there were roses, jasmine and gardenia on the way. Wisteria was blossoming in public gardens near where I work. I was surrounded by natural floral scents and perhaps I didn’t need another at that moment.

With summer flowers now gone, I spritzed it again and was delighted at last by the fresh, spring-in-a-bottle aroma that leapt joyfully out of the sample vial.

White Lilac by Mary Chess 1932

White Lilac Mary Chess EbayeBay

Fragrantica gives these featured accords:
Lilac, wisteria, lily-of-the-valley and musk.

Information about Grace Mary Robinson, née Chess, is scanty and inconsistent, but she was an American woman who, after her marriage in 1907, moved with her husband between London and the US. She loved flowers and in what sounds like a hobby turned into a business, she sold flowers she made herself from metal, clay and parchment. She also created perfumes and White Lilac was the first of many mostly single-note perfumes released between 1932 (some sources say 1930) and the 1990s. She died in 1964.

Chess must have understood perfume as a lifestyle commodity. She sold scented sachets, smelling salts, and even a scented paste that could be painted on the inside of drawers and cupboards. She experimented with charming bottle designs, including a bottle for every chess piece, from a King to a pawn. A chess piece became the symbol of Mary’s flourishing business.

You might think that she was more interested in the decorative and lifestyle aspects of perfume than the actual scent, but White Lilac was popular for many years. Perfume historian Nigel Groom says it was once named as one of the eight great perfumes of the world.

White Lilac Mary Chess Lilacs strecosa PixabayPixabay

If so, perhaps it was because it offered an alternative to other best-sellers like Chanel No 5, Arpege and Evening in Paris. It is an innocent, rather dainty fragrance with little overt sexual allure, once sometimes marketed to brides. It works best in the opening hour or so, after which it becomes paler and less interesting. That probably just encouraged women to carry it about and spritz again, for the opening is indeed gloriously vivid. I smell mostly lilac and wisteria, green, but also slightly round and fruity.

There are some reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes. One Fragrantician exclaims:
How can a 50 year old scent smell so fresh and alive? The lilacs are blooming right here in my bedroom.

White Lilac Mary Chess lil_white_goth_grl_mjranum_stock Deviant artDeviantArt

I don’t know when White Lilac was discontinued but you still see it on auction sites. Mary Chess has gone now, but undemanding floral fragrances never really go out of style. These days several of the niche houses charge dearly for them.

Is this your style of fragrance? Have you tried anything from Mary Chess?

12 comments on “White Lilac by Mary Chess 1932

  1. Cyn says:

    I have this and have not wore it in years. Now, I am inspired to dig it out!

  2. australianperfumejunkies says:

    Hi there Ann-Marie,
    This is totally new to me. Loved your review.
    Quietly lemming. Not actively searching but if I come across it I will be sniffing it very quickly.
    Portia xx

    • annemariec says:

      Thanks Portia. You do see it on auction sites, tho’ not cheap, sadly. But you never know, maybe some White Lilac will find its way to you!

  3. Azar says:

    I loved your post, Anne-Marie! I don’t remember trying anything by Mary Chess but now I want to 🙂

    I have a lilac soliflore that I wear only when the lilacs are blooming, right about now. That perfume is the totally obscure Adrien Arpel Lilac. Instead of being underwhelmed by real lilacs this one seems to compliment and amplify the scent – and manages to do so without smelling like a room freshener! It is perfect for wearing out on a cool May morning as I walk around the neighborhood with the dog, admiring my neighbors’ lilacs in bloom. (Ours were destroyed in a storm several years ago and are just now starting to recover.)

    Azar xx

    • annemariec says:

      That sounds lovely! Yes, lilac is hard to get right; whoever decided to make lilac the scent of cleaning products has a lot to answer for! Enjoy your morning walks. 🙂

  4. Maya says:

    Thanks so much for reminding me about Mary Chess and White Lilac. I love lilacs. (They make me feel like a kid again.) I wanted to try her perfume when I fell in love with her chess piece bottles – the all glass ones. I love the knight. Thanks again. I’m off to see if the person who had some Mary Chess still does. 🙂

    • annemariec says:

      Good luck! And now I think again, those chess pieces were a great marketing idea. People who love to own sets of things would have gone back to buy another and another. Clever woman!

  5. Fazal says:

    I have known about Mary Chess brand for a while because she was quite a mass-market brand in older times. There were some pretty innovative bottles, too. But I admit I have never smelled a Mary Chess creation

    • annemariec says:

      Yes, more people would have worn her perfumes than anything by Chanel or Guerlain, that’s for sure. 🙂 And had a pretty thing to show on their dressing table too.

  6. Cynthia Jordan says:

    My mother got married in 1932. This is the only fragrance and powder she wore. I remember it like yesterday. I’m thinking of getting some.

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