As you might have guessed from my recent series of posts, I am a big fan of the house of Ormonde Jayne. After having invested in several full bottles and having worked my way through samples of most of the brand’s collection, I feel like I have a good handle on the house DNA. Indeed, one of the things that I admire most about the brand is its strong creative control; most of the perfumes feature a signature move or note that definitively identifies them as members of the same genus. I’ve defined this signature elsewhere as a polished abstraction that gives you more than you were expecting.
But if the Ormonde Jayne DNA could be defined as ‘an original idea, softly stated’, the new La Route de la Soie Collection strikes me more as ‘a soft idea, softly stated.’ For me, the first four perfumes in the La Route de la Soie Collection are a disappointing deviation from the house DNA, sitting closer to the mainstream than to either niche or masstige (however you want to define it). The perfumes, although all as high quality as you’d expect from a brand like Ormonde Jayne, feature neither the exoticism promised by the Silk Road connection nor the quiet complexity we’ve been weaned on by years of Ormonde Jayne output. These perfumes are nice, competent, and pleasant – and one is even a little trashy (in a good way) – but not one of them sparks the fierce joy that has me saving up my pennies.
My point of reference is Nawab of Oudh from the Four Corners, because it features the house sleight of hand of making my mouth water and pucker at the same time. Perfumes like these remind me of the tart, peppery Vietnamese ouds, with their perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter – addicting at first sniff, with a world of depth hiding behind the initial pop of flavor. Compared to something like this, the perfumes from the La Route de la Soie Collection are like those plastic-wrapped sponge cake snacks and Pocky you get from Japanese stores or a dispenser – cute as hell, but disappointingly bland on the tongue. Still, it’s probable that I’m not the target market here, and that’s fine. There’s plenty for me to love in the rest of the Ormonde Jayne stable.
I like that there’s no standard ‘house rose’ note used by Ormonde Jayne – their roses cover the broad sweep from the peach-shampoo-and-date juiciness of Ta’if to the jellied rosewater of Nawab al Oudh, to the smoky-fresh green rose in Rose Gold. With a name like Damask, I was expecting a purebred rosa damascena note up top, and right enough, this is promptly delivered in the form of a velvet carpet of soft, purple-red rose petals. A smell deep and pure enough to make you weep.
But just as my nose is burrowing into the tightly furled core of the rose, it disappears. Just…poof! It is substituted by a warm, waxy apple-rhubarb-amber accord that reminds me a bit of Sexy Amber by Michael Kors or Burberry Woman, i.e., amorphous, barely defined fruits, berries, and flowers dipped into a vat of fudgy amber and sticky white musk.
This all smells good, of course – it’s rhubarb and custard in scent form, after all – but I am surprised at just how conventional and safe-smelling Damask turns out to be. You see the name Damask and even if your brain knows that Damascus has been reduced to a pile of smoking rubble, you not only expect the famous rosa damascena to show up, but you expect it to be flanked by all sorts of mysterious accents like cardamom, coffee, and resins. But Damask is about as exotic as the Dublin.
I’m scratching my head here. Usually, if Ormonde Jayne is using innocuous fruity floral notes such as peony or pear or blackcurrant, then the perfumer twists them into new forms with pepper and citrus, teasing both your brain and nose until you work out what’s been done to them. Damask is a missed opportunity. I want to see what Geza Schoen would do if allowed to play around with a truly urinous, leafy blackcurrant or an acetone pear note paired to a chocolate truffle rose, for example. But Damask smells like he’s been kept on a tight leash this time around.
Without any of that Ormonde Jayne pepper or citrus – or even oud or carnation, other more occasional Ormonde Jayne star players – there’s nothing left in Damask to carve out the more exciting shapes of the rose or the fruit. It smells silky, waxy, and rounded, but not distinct. I don’t dislike Damask per se because (a) I can’t resist a bowl of stewed rhubarb and custard, and (b) my signature perfume for many years – Burberry Woman – features the same creamy fruit-amber core, so obviously I’m conditioned to find that kind of blurry, conventionally feminine warmth inviting. It’s just that it’s not exciting in the way we’ve come to expect Ormonde Jayne perfumes to be.
Interestingly, while Levant is billed as a fresh, citrusy floral bouquet, it doesn’t smell that floral to me, at least not at first. If I hadn’t seen the notes list, I would have pegged the fuzzy, mineralic opening as a mixture of vetiver, cashmeran, and citrus à la Terre d’Hermès. It smells like rain on hot pavement. This apparition might have something to do with the rubbery-peppery nuances of the materials used to build the peony accord used in perfumery (and also often by Ormonde Jayne). Or perhaps there is a bit of unlisted vetiver or cashmeran in the mix.
After a few minutes of this, the grey, quasi-industrial fog shifts to reveal a bittersweet orange blossom note that smells remarkably like those simple orange blossom waters the French buy by the liter to pour liberally into their babies’ bathwater. This tender floral note is sharpened by pepper and a curl of citrus peel, which, although billed as bergamot, smells more like rosy-leafy pink grapefruit to me. The notes I’d previously pegged as rubber or hot pavement now come across as a pleasant, low-key smokiness, almost as if there were such thing as an orange blossom water-flavored cigarette.
Levant doesn’t evolve much beyond this point, but maybe I’m laboring for meaning in a deliberately simple plot. In its bringing together of a simple, natural-smelling orange blossom water note with the clean twang of rubber-soled sneakers and a barely-there smudge of cigarette ash, Levant could be the haute luxe analog to Freeway (4061 Tuesdays), or the orange blossom version of Jasmin et Cigarette (État Libre d’Orange). All three perfumes perform the same trick of cutting white florals with soft-rubbery-ashy notes that provide just enough grit to render the scent fresh and urban rather than romantic or traditionally ‘femme’. But to be perfectly honest, not only do the 4061 Tuesdays and the État Libre d’Orange fragrances do it better, they do it for less money.
Byzance is the scent I probably liked the most out of the La Route de la Soie collection, which is strange, because out of all these not-very-Ormonde-Jayne-smelling scents, Byzance is the least Ormonde Jayne of all. Perhaps the fact that Byzance is so far outside of the Ormonde Jayne envelope that I stop expecting to find all the signature OJ tropes and enjoy it for what it is.
A plush, dove-grey suede accord underpins everything here. Byzance is big, luscious, and unusually for Ormonde Jayne, exuberant to the point of loudness. It smells like a fizzy, cherry-flavored milkshake or sherbet that’s been dumped all over a new suede couch, causing the suede to hiss and effervesce like a Mentos popped into a bottle of Coca Cola and shaken hard.
I honestly can’t think of anything else that smells like Byzance, except for, perhaps, a few key portions of Diptyque’s Kimonanthe (intense apricot syrup over Japanese incense) and État Libre d’Orange’s Bendelirious (cherries over champagne and face powder). It smells so outlandish that I start to wonder if Ormonde Jayne really meant to make a perfume that smelled of pink antibiotic syrup spilled over the inside of a luxury car, or if it was an accident that got bottled up.
Either way, it’s fun. For Ormonde Jayne, this is punchy, hyper-gourmand stuff with a smile on its face. For those of us still trying to find that line between class and sass, this could be it.
Tanger smells French in a way that’s hard to define exactly, only to say that French men and women tend to favor neroli-scented eaux de cologne and soaps, and that, somehow, I associate this particular floral note with them. Neroli is a material that smells at first fresh (orange-scented), then green (waxy leaves), and finally soapy-musky (freshly-scrubbed hands, white laundered cotton towels straight from the dryer). I tend to tire easily of neroli’s insistently soapy drydown, so a perfume so single-mindedly focused on neroli would normally be an easy pass for me.
But Tanger makes me reconsider my blanket ban. Though I’m still not sure I like neroli enough to wear and use a whole bottle of this, I have to give credit to the perfumer for somehow managing to keep the white soapiness of the material at bay for 90% of the ride, allowing me to enjoy the parts of neroli that I love but are usually zipped through too quickly, like the dark green freshness of crushed leaves and twigs. The brief flashes of fleshy, orangey sweetness make me think that a handful of errant orange blossom petals have made it into the distilling pot. A soft, waxy amber cusps the neroli, making me nod my head when I look at the copy, which for once is completely accurate when it describes Tanger as a “sunny, golden perfume, joyful and entirely lovable”. I’d rank this as the flanker to Hermes Eau de Néroli Doré, which means that, although nice, it is a little too simple and straight forward for an Ormonde Jayne fragrance.
Source of Samples: Press samples from Ormonde Jayne PR, provided with no pressure or expectation of a review. My opinions are my own.
Cover image: Photo by Peyman Farmani on Unsplash