I can’t decide if Heaven Can Wait by Jean-Claude Ellena for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is really that good or if I am just happy to get some relief from the heady amber, booze, and tobacco molecules that thicken the air on the high street at Christmas.
The juxtaposition between cold, rooty iris and warm clove is charming. Its texture? Also a delight. Despite a notes list that promises a battering ram, Heaven Can Wait has all the heft of a lace handkerchief. Initially, it reminds me of the delicate, gripe-water musks of L’Eau d’Hiver and the thin, hawthorn-ish suede of Cuir d’Ange, with a faint brush of Superstitious‘ green-copper acid over top. The plum is more plum skin (umami, bitter) than fruit and the magnolia doesn’t add any of its usual honeyed lemon cream. More Parisian greige than Dior’s Gris Dior itself, this is weightless elegance at its best.
But elegance alone is not enough to sell me. I have plenty of elegant perfumes, including Cuir d’Ange, Chanel No. 18, Iris Silver Mist, and a dab of Poivre extrait, all of which are references I would call upon to describe this scent. What makes Heaven Can Wait special is its weirdness, which you only catch glimpses of as it rounds the corner on the drydown.
It is down there that something extremely dry and gippy ‘catches’ at the corners of the scent, threatening to unspool the thin silk. The freshly-poured cement aspect of cashmeran, perhaps, or the raw, parnsippy character of the orris lingering long after the topnotes have burned off. The earthiness of the carrot seed is a contributing factor, for sure. But I suspect that there is also a fair amount of (unlisted) benzoin here, as this is a material that smells – to me at least – like the doughy-but-dusty aroma of potato flour just as you begin to add water to it.
To be less arcane, Heaven Can Wait kind of ends up smelling like the art room at your old secondary school, the air thick with the smell of pigments ready to be mixed into white paint, paste glue, plaster of Paris, and so on. An alluringly odd mix of the organic and inorganic, chemical and vegetable. I’ve seen the stupid ‘sexy’ advertizing images that were released with the perfume but I think the brand missed a trick by not leaning into its whole ‘Parisian high society lady slumming it in art school’ vibe.
Even the clove note is a quirky. Unsniffed, you might expect it to smell ‘red hot’ and sweaty-metallic like Eau Lente or the original Comme des Garcons EDP, or alternatively, like the frothy, frilly carnation accord from Caron’s Bellodgia. However, the clove in Heaven Can Wait is unmistakably that of an old-fashioned clove rock. Now, I think this is funny – borderline adorable – though others might not, given the almost $300+ price tag. But if you think about it, it is this clove rock note, mixed with the scent of art room pigments, that serves to keep the perfume feeling clean and modern, rather than ‘retro’. And this is a a good thing. After all, if we want perfumes like this to find a younger audience who might otherwise be looking at something like Angel’s Share, a clove that is candied rather than sweaty or Miss Havisham-ish is probably the right move.
Source of sample: A SA at House of Fraser, Belfast, was kind enough to give me a carded sample after she saw me empty half a bottle onto myself.
There’s no mistaking En Avion as anything other than a Caron. Everything comes from a well-established rulebook – flip to page ten for the stinging clove topnote of Poivre, the smoky, medicinal amber tilting its cap to leather, well, that’s Tabac Blond, and the piles of soft, mossy, licorice-and-rose-scented face power are lifted straight out of the drydown of Nuit de Noel.
But I have a sneaking fondness for En Avion above and beyond these other, possibly better regarded perfumes. It could be because that first big whoosh of scent mixes the ridiculous with the sublime – expensive jasmine mingling with the tack of sun-warmed pleather, an opulent amber against the spicy shaving soap of opoponax, or a stick of clove-scented stick of rock or bubblegum (vaguely Brighton Beach-ish) dropped into an exquisitely ornate pot of pink face powder, the kind that the sales assistants retrieve wordlessly from beneath the counter the minute they catch sight of your American Express Centurion.
Mostly, though, I love that it has this opaque texture halfway between smoke and cream, and no underlying structure to speak of. En Avion gives you all its glory upfront and then does a slow, graceful fade out that simply lowers the saturation level with each passing minute. Wearing it reminds me of being in one of those glider planes that drift so smoothly from one altitude to the next that you are unaware of your own descent until you suddenly see the ground. In the end, all that remains is a pouf of spicy powder from a big red tin of Imperial Leather talc, which makes me wonder if that’s all it ever was to begin with.
Source of sample: I bought a 15ml bottle of En Avion extrait from Parfumerie du Soleil d’Or in Lille in late 2015. I should have bought more. It is half gone and doesn’t seem to be available to buy anymore.
Cover Image: My own photo. Please kindly do not reprint or reuse without my permission.
I don’t mind the soft projection or poor longevity of Cittá di Kyoto, but what I can’t forgive is its vagueness. It is mostly iris – that rooty, plaster-of-Paris iris material that Santa Maria Novella uses – over a blob of bitter, musky cedar, but it is dry enough for people to imagine they smell Japanese incense, sweet enough for people to think they smell fruit, and softly hawthorn-ish enough to make people think of Daim Blond.
However, nothing ever tilts too firmly in one direction or another, so you get this diaphanous, blown out blur of root and wood and petal refuses to commit to even one of those ideas. It flip flops between one thing and another so quickly that it could get elected to local government at least. Some people find this charming. I find it irritating, just as I do that dreamy, opaque way old Irish people have of answering every question with a half-laughed ‘ah sure, now, you know yourself’ when in fact, no, we don’t know, which is why we asked the question in the first place, you muppet.
I suspect that were it not for the evocative name or the inspiration, nobody would peg it as smelling particularly like Japanese incense or the woody air of an onsen in the forest, and so on and so forth. Indeed, in the hands of any other brand, it might even be called – gasp – unfinished. I bought a bottle, and not even blindly, simply because I had successfully mind-swindled myself into hearing the rustle of silk screens and bamboo mats.
But repeated wear just erodes the fantasy of Cittá di Kyoto a bit more each time. I can squint my eyes all I like but no amount of mental acrobatics is going to turn that damp, bitter blob of cedar into the airy, silvery-green hinoki of my imagination, nor is that dry iris and hint of smoke ever going to transform into a wisp of coreless Shoyeido incense, which itself smells far more characterfully of cloves, benzoin, and aloeswood that anything suggested by this milquetoast of a perfume.
Every spring since 2015, I have dutifully taken the frosted bottle out of the cupboard, dusted it off, and hoped that this would be the moment when it reveals its true beauty to me. And in truth, I don’t hate it. It is not a bad fragrance, objectively. But life is just too short for such low-impact fragrance.
Source of Sample: Oh, don’t I just I’d just bought a sample. I bought a whole bottle of the darned thing.
Sakura by Ormonde Jayne is a Venetian sunset in a bottle, a serene blue sky streaked with pink, apricot, and gold. It gives me the curious sensation of being relaxed and invigorated at the same time. With its crisp but milky florals, that first spray feels like a white-gloved waiter handing you a Bellini – fridge-cold Champagne poured over a puree of white peach – with a drop of cream added to aid digestion. It arrived on a morning so cold that the bottle itself felt like handing ice. It was only later that I noticed that the colour of the bottle matches the emotional hue of its contents – at the bottom, a bright, clear layer of peachy osmanthus jelly, volatile citrus ethers, and muddled green leaves, at the top, a cloudy tint that might be almond milk blushed pink with cherry blossom.
Sakura borrows heavily from the Ormonde Jayne library, with clear reference to the bright, sunshiny osmanthus of Osmanthus, the tango between the lime peel and buttery gardenia cream of Frangipani, and even some of that green-tinged milkiness of the brown rice in Champaca. But it never once feels like a re-do. I feel the self-assured touch of an experienced perfumer here, one that knows that the difference between referencing a house DNA just enough to give the wearer a sense of familiarity and recycling old tropes because all the new ideas have run out.
I used to live in a city where apartment buildings were ringed with cherry trees, and to me, cherry blossom smells very light, fresh, and indeterminate. Their scent is delicate, with some nuances similar to lilacs, by which I mean they smell honeyed, green, pollen-y, and very slightly bitter or woody. But real cherry blossom doesn’t smell anything like its representation in commercial perfumery, where, being entirely a fantasy note and not a real material for perfumery, it is invariably interpreted in a heavily fruited, cherry-like, syrupy, and almondy fashion.
Sakura by Ormonde Jayne avoids this trap. It captures the sharp, fresh brightness of cherry blossom live from the tree, thanks mostly to a clever clustering of greenish, pollen-laden floral notes (cyclamen, freesia, water lily) and the woody, ionone-rich twang of violets. But make no mistake – the freshness does co-exist with sweetness. Someone, somewhere along the line decided that cherry blossom is predominantly sweet, so Sakura is amply cushioned with enough rose, sandalwood, tonka, and creamy white musks to align it with the collective idea of what cherry blossom smells like, i.e., soft, feminine, a bit powdery, and so on.
But never mind that. The real magic of this scent is at its melting point, where the fresh, sueded florals sink into the milk and pollen below. The combination of sharp and milky achieves the same sort of milk-over-ice, endorphin-releasing effect as Hongkong Oolong for Nez Magazine (bitter tea against milky floral musks) and Remember Me by Jovoy (fresh green leaves against steamy condensed milk). Alas, the glory of this moment passes quickly and the rest of the experience is more humdrum. That is to be expected, I suppose – some beautiful things are meant to flare brightly and then die out. But while its sillage is not immense, Sakura has impressive longevity on my skin, wafting subtle hints of sharp but milky floral essences for a good twelve hours or more. I highly recommend Sakura as a transitional spring fragrance, as it is crisp and invigorating enough to make you yearn for the new plant growth due any day now, but warm enough to brace you against the chill of March wind.
Source of sample: Sent to me by the brand for review. However, this is a perfume that I would have certainly purchased for myself after sampling it.
Iris Malikhân is immediately two things. It is a leather bundle charred in the grate, so smoky and bitter it short circuits to the word ‘chemical’ in my mind. But equally, it is a thick iris-vanilla cream that fills the room with a haunting sweetness.
It took me ages to figure out that second is causally linked to the first. Unwrap the scorched, blackened skin of the leather bundle, blowing on your fingers for relief, and you reveal the slightly singed, chalky orris roots that lie within, the violence of the char the catalyst to releasing those cocoa-thickened vanilla spores.
For six months, I have struggled mightily with the burnt part of Iris Malikhân. I believed that it was just like any number of other sweetened iris-suede scents out there – Dior Homme Intense (Dior), Bois d’Iris (Van Cleef & Arpels), Vanille d’Iris (Ormonde Jayne) and so on – just not as good or at least more ‘on trend’ in its use of those intrusive liquid smoke aromachemicals that brands like Maison Martin Margiela, seem to be so fond of.
Funnily enough, it was all those upvotes on Fragrantica for Iris Malikhân smelling like Dior Homme Intense that made me revisit the perfume and try to reframe it for myself. Because that comparison definitely doesn’t tell the full story. I’ve smelled Dior Homme knockoffs before (like D600 by Carner Barcelona) and there is more artistry and kink in this one’s little finger than in all of those. The weird Pastis-like note of artemisia or mastic upfront makes this clear.
The moment I was able to mentally reclassify the harshness of the opening accord as part and parcel of a leather tanning process – which in and of itself involves chemicals – was when the clouds cleared and Iris Malikhân clicked for me. Whereas before I was gritting my teeth through one part to get to the other, I now experience the fragrance as a whole, where the tanning chemical front end is key to unlocking and releasing the full fatness of that licorice crème anglaise, infusing it with a hint of anise, bitter chocolate, and woodsmoke. If I squint, I just about get leather. Heck, I can sometimes make out the shape of the purported orris root. But like Dior Homme Intense, Iris Malikhân is so much more than a sum of its parts.
Source of sample: Provided free of charge by the brand for copywriting purposes.
Because I feel that I should love Gatsby 22, but definitely don’t, I have worn it heavily over the course of the summer to figure out how to describe it to someone who very well might. All perfume reviewers have their blind spots, and here’s mine: I am terrible at describing huge floral-woody musks that are little more than a vague shape in the air.
Amber smells delicious, kind of like food. Flowers smell distinctly of themselves, once you know what they smell like individually. Incense smells like church. Pine smells like the forest. But to me, Gatsby smells less like the individual flowers or woods or vetiver referenced in the notes list, and more like an abstract (and ever-shifting) set of ‘moods’ caused by these notes bouncing off each other as they jostle around that expanse of sour, rubbery musk.
Parts of it certainly smell good. I appreciate the clean, bright citrus shifting into the spearmint tones of geranium, the tangy waft of violets, that Ormonde Jayne osmanthus with its high-end, peach fuzz suede, all washed down until shiny with benzyl salicylate water for that mild, sweet balsamic touch. This familiar familial arrangement of Ormonde Jayne notes cannot fail to please.
But then again, these accords all come drenched in, and partially obscured by a woody musk material that screams eau de department store for once, rather than the usually palatable (to me) Iso E Super accord that Ormonde Jayne uses. The effect of this particular woody musk is to make the more natural-smelling fruit and floral notes read as arch, highly stylized versions of themselves – glossy magazine inserts rather than the real thing.
Here’s the kicker. I am not the young professional or cool girl/gal at whom it is aimed. So, can I do this scent justice for the reader who does form part of this demographic? Ormonde Jayne call Gatsby 22 edgy, but it took me a whole month of wearing it to figure out that they didn’t really mean that it smells edgy (it doesn’t) but rather that it has that clean, androgenous, Ambroxinated vibe that people who wear Glossier You or Tanagra by Maison de Violet or even Baccarat Rouge 540 find so sexy. These are perfumes that smell like nothing at all but also like crushed gemstones, fresh air, sexual confidence, and the aspiration of personal wealth.
In other words, it is the abstraction of Gatsby 22 that matters. Worn side by side with, for example, Bal d’Afrique (Byredo), a scent that goes for a similar sparkly champagne-lemon-vetiver vibe, it soon becomes clear that Gatsby 22 is much drier, more urbane, and far less literal than the Byredo (which suddenly seems quite ostentatiously gourmand-ish in comparison). Gatsby’s tart woody musks act like a pour of the driest Vermouth on earth, swishing all the notes together into a blur of things that your field of perception sometimes catches (was that grappa?) but more often not (why am I not picking up on the vetiver?).
Gatsby 22 isn’t something I can see myself ever leaning into, but I appreciate that it made me work harder than usual to figure out why I don’t like it and, conversely, think more seriously about the person for whom it might be the best thing ever. Because, as it turns out, those are two types of people whose tastes will never intersect on a Venn diagram. And that’s ok too.
Source of sample: Ormonde Jayne very kindly sent me a 50ml bottle of this free of charge for review.
I blame my workload for a lot of life stuff that just doesn’t get done, including, inter alia, regular exercise, parenting that extends to more than rubbing their little heads fondly as I pass them in the corridor, emailing people back, and, at the bottom of the list, reviewing perfume. But in the case of the new Pekji samples, which – full disclaimer – were sent to me by Omer Pekji, who also happens to be a personal friend, I have to admit it was less my workload and more my fear of trying anything that’s even a little out there, artistically-speaking, that kept these samples boxed up and unsniffed in my drawer for the past three months.
I mean, come on. It’s Omer Pekji. The chances of there being samples in there that smell like petrol mixed with jasmine (Eau Mer), incense smeared in sheep dung (Holy Shit), or horse blankets soaked in urine (Zeybek) rubbing shoulders with more safe-for-life options like exotic roses (Ruh) or cozy ambers (Battaniye) are going to be high. And since I now spend the first eight hours of the day unscented, the choice of what to wear in the evening becomes a little more high stakes. It’s what I’m stuck with all night.
A quick glance at the notes for Flesh – ambrette, iris, musks – makes me feel that this would be a safe first choice. A powdery skin scent akin to Blanc Poudre (Heeley), perhaps, or one of those metallic, crisp musks that flit between clean and not-so-clean without raising eyebrows. Holy cow was I wrong.
The first sniff is misleadingly angelic. A nuclear mushroom cloud of iris and ambrette seed – conveying messages of ice-cold vodka, steel, potatoes, toner fluid, and grey suede – blooms immediately to the nose. It smells almost unbearably pure and high-pitched, walking the line between ‘expensive naturals’ and ‘factory-strength chemicals’ so expertly that I’m not sure which one I’m smelling. It’s big and rough but pure and beautiful. It is at this point that I decide that Flesh is the bathroom gin version of Iris Silver Mist (Serge Lutens).
But hold up. Because like a bad trip, Flesh goes to weird places very quickly. In the space of five minutes, it loses the high-bred pearlescent glow of the iris, and starts to smell more like a soft furnishings factory when they’re soldering the non-slip plastic backing onto the carpets. The reek of hot glue guns, latex, paint thinner, leather chaps, rubber, and roiling pans of solvents fills the air insistently. Weirdly, it does still smell like suede. But it is so powerful now that the mere act of breathing makes my head spin. It’s as close to sniffing glue as you’ll get as an adult. Wear this to a kink shop in Berlin and you’ll be very popular.
As the civet starts to layer in, the industrial suede carpet gets progressively grimier. Not quite to the point that it feels like it’s been smeared in scat – though normally quite sharp and acidic, the civet here is soft and earthy – but the suede is definitely moving from a clean, modern factory setting to an abandoned warehouse where piles of raw hide are stacked to the ceiling. Here’s where I start to see past the skin (suede) through to the flesh of Flesh, a whiff of meat clinging to the underbelly of just-cured leather skins. Like the closest relatives I could think of, Cuir d’Iris by Parfumerie Generale and New Sibet by Slumberhouse, it’s hyper-clean while also being redolent of the curdled-milk-fat funk of a milking shed. And yet, at its core, Flesh still smells like an expensive, vegetally-musky iris suede.
Flesh is a disjointing experience that exemplifies the outer edges of what most people would think of niche, where mad hatters like Omer Pekji are still thinking, imagining, and experimenting. It’s worth seeking stuff like this out, not necessarily to smell good but to take a reading of what’s fermenting out there and then head back on into your comfort zone with some new perspective. I don’t think I’ve smelled an iris suede that shifts so convincingly between industrial and expensive, pure and sullied, and robotic and fleshy as Flesh. And I’m not sure I want to ever again, either.
Kintsugi by Masque Milano smells the way those mysterious salted fruits and chutneys in an Asian restaurant taste – perfumey, bitter, and dark in a way that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth while simultaneously flicking your salivary glands into action. Like in Mitsouko (Guerlain) and Iris 39 (Le Labo), two perfumes that this reminds me of in idea if not execution, the secret to Kintsugi’s successful navigation of that narrow line between repulsion and attraction lies in its lack of legibility.
Kintsugi has been billed as a modern chypre, and refreshingly, that is exactly what it is. Chypres are like a good Chinese meal, balancing a complex range of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty flavors against each other to produce a very satisfying (but completely abstract) sense of completeness. The result is strange and exotic, imprinting on the imagination in a way soliflores and straight-up ambers cannot. This is all present and correct in Kintsugi, so no need to quibble about which material has been chosen to stand in for the moss. The effect is there.
As all good chypres do, Kintsugi revolves around a complex set of juxtapositions. It is cigarette-ashy but also bread-doughy, syrup-sweet but also vermouth-dry, and as vegetal as parsnips but also as perfumey as your mother’s best going-out perfume. Adding to the drama is a shiny, neon-lit fruit note flashing against the desiccated patchouli hulking malevolently in the background.
But like with many Le Labos, and especially Iris 39, what really sets this thing on fire is the pairing of things that smell natural – polished woods, incense, earth, rose petal potpourri – with things that smell industrial, like latex paint, printer chemicals, calligraphy ink, and linseed oil.
Kintsugi is the perfume equivalent of those duochrome eyeshadows that appear bottle green straight on but peacock blue when you turn your head. Sometimes it exactly smells like the grand, tassels-bedecked kind of thing you imagine Oscar Wilde drenching his velvet curtains with, and sometimes like your old school stationary cupboard with a bunch of kids getting high on solvents.
It dries down quickly to the pungent but virile smell of the horse ring, the air thick with saddle leather, sawdust, and the warm muskiness specific to a freshly-exercised horse. I suppose you could also call it cedar but that doesn’t capture even two percent of the total mood that Kintsugi has going on here.
Kintsugi is a love-hate kind of thing, for sure. I hated it when I first smelled it, and then I loved it. And I might hate it the next time I smell it, who knows? People used to the taste of fermented things – natto, kimchi, tea – will cleave as easily to this perfume as they might to oud oil or osmanthus absolute, sharing with this perfume as they do that unique dichotomy of (leathery) dryness and (fruity-cheesey) funkiness.
Based on the resounding silence that greeted this perfume when it launched in 2019, it is fair to say that Kintsugi’s appeal is not immediate. And I get it. Forget about Kintsugi being people-pleasing – it is barely even me-pleasing. But for all its oddness, I find Kintsugi exciting, like a strange flavor of wine or cough syrup or gummy bear that only exists in Japan, and therefore utterly foreign to me.
Source of sample: Purchased from Swedish retailer, Fragrance & Art, in November 2019. A friend of mine kindly sent me another sample of it a couple of days ago, jogging my memory and prompting this review.
Rose Gold opens with a fiercely fresh green rose that briefly hints at the rose in Ta’if before folding its lemon-rind-and-black-pepper topnotes into the folds of a richer, pulpier rose that smells as lush and ‘full-bodied’ as the traditional rose and sandalwood attars once produced by Amouage – I am thinking mostly of Ayoon al Maha and Majan attars here, but also the spicy sandalwood-rose core of the stupendous Lyric Woman. Let’s say that Rose Gold falls halfway between one of those Amouage greats and the homelier but nonetheless moving beauty of the heavily peppered rose and carved sandalwood elephants of Caron’s Parfum Sacre. I mention these perfumes not just for your reference, but for mine – perfumes like Parfum Sacre and Lyric Woman were among the first perfumes that brought me to tears. They are my North Star of what I consider to be important ‘smells’ in my life. That I am comparing Rose Gold to them should tell you that I think Rose Gold is special.
The traditional rosy ‘attar’
scent is what dominates here, and it is unmistakably regal. There is a flare
here and there of the initial lemony freshness of a Ta’if rose, but this only
serves to highlight the deep red velvet backdrop of the more sensual Turkish
rose. There’s a hot-to-the-touch quality to the perfume, and a note that makes
me think of spicy crab apple jelly – both reminders that the presence of
carnation is what links Black Gold to its baby sisters, Rose Gold and White
Gold. Although this remains quite dry and spicy throughout, the rose centerpiece
softens the rather masculine pepper-carnation-sandalwood-oud heart of Black
Gold, making it an option for those who thought the original too hairy-chested.
Rose Gold would come close to de-seating
Amouage Lyric Woman and Caron Parfum Sacre as my favorite rose-based perfumes
were it not for the rapid unravelling of richness and complexity after the
roses, spice, and carnation have roared their loudest. Quite simply, Rose Gold becomes
too quiet, too soon. A rather plain but pleasant smelling mélange of creamy,
rose-tinted blond woods, made radiant with the usual Ormonde Jayne dollop of
Iso E Super, is left to carry the load on the remaining 40% of the scent’s
If I were rich, though, I’d have
no qualms about buying the biggest bottle of Rose Gold I could find (a veritable
jeroboam of the stuff!) and spray, spray, spray to get that glorious start and
midsection going again on my skin at the first sign of flagging. Millionaires
can buy all the Viagra they want; I’d buy mine in the form of Rose Gold.
I am trying to say this with the
greatest respect, but in many ways, White Gold is the most department-store-smelling
iteration of the Gold series. By this, I mean that it smells like an abstraction
of white flowers, white orris, white powder, white musks, and white woods (even
white spices) all blurred into one haze of cloudy white scent molecules. White
Gold is made of the kind of white noise that I find very difficult to pick
apart and analyze when I am sniffing perfumes at the department store. There’s
very little for me to hang onto. My nose feels around for the boundary lines
between the notes but fails to locate any.
I think that the perfumes that have most in common with White Gold are not Rose Gold or Black Gold, but the white cube perfumes and Pure Musc by Narciso Rodriguez, which, to my nose at least, all smell like minute variations on the same theme, i.e., the freshly-poured cement muskiness of cashmeran and fluffy white musks, the basic model altered with one drop more or less gardenia or rose or ylang. I get that most people find this sort of thing comforting. It’s like the warm, plush terrycloth robe you pull straight from the dryer and put on when you emerge shivering from a cold shower. It’s just that it’s too simple, too easy. Mindless comfort is good for those moments when you need a liquid hug. But it doesn’t engage the brain cells. I can’t help but hold that against it.
White Gold traps the naturally effervescent, floaty white dust that emanates from orris and folds it into a cloud of silky ambrette and lab musks, which hover weightlessly over the freshly-scrubbed wood and concrete floor built by cashmeran.
The flowers – jasmine mostly, but also some rubbery freesia and orchid – smell clean and expensive, like an upmarket shampoo that sets you back around 50 quid from your hairdresser’s. Abstract and more than a little perfumey, the floral components smells more like artistic, man-made representations of a flower than the rude, fleshy vulgarity of live blooms.
There is a 1990s perfume that White Gold reminds me of strongly, but I can’t recall the name. Something made by Armani, the Lei/Lui series perhaps? Naturally, White Gold smells a lot more expensive and plushly-upholstered than any department store perfume. But there’s a fruity-nutty-sticky sweetness here that hints at the Galaxolide-and-Maltol candy-ness of designer musks and florals, and it’s an impression that proves hard to shake. Overall, I’d peg the color of White Gold as a cloudy, almost milky white, tinged in places with a rosy pink stain. Although easily my least favorite in the series, I think White Gold would make for a perfect bridal perfume or special occasion perfume for someone who might view it as a cashmere wrapped upgrade to the very floral, very clean, musky designer perfumes they already know and love.
I remember loving Black Gold when I tested it in 2017, and even wrote about it here as part of a shambolic, rambling essay on my journey through the Ormonde Jayne stable. But now, when I look back at that review, what I really remember is how hard I had to beg Essenza Nobile to release a sample to me (Fragrance Daily, where the review appeared, was the blog loosely tied to Essenza Nobile, the fragrance retailer which would regularly send the blog writers samples they’d requested).
If I recall correctly, Linda Pilkington was being very strict about where the pre-release samples of Black Gold ended up and even how copy for the fragrance was being worded, so Essenza Nobile was concerned that a negative or even slightly critical review of the perfume might harm their business relationship with the brand.
Essenza Nobile needn’t have
worried, for two reasons. First, I absolutely loved Black Gold. I wouldn’t sell
a kidney to buy a bottle, but I’d happily accept a bottle from a loaded
relative, should I ever succeed in identifying one. Second, while Ormonde Jayne
is clearly invested in controlling the narrative and distribution of its
perfumes (as it should be), I don’t think they put much stock in reviews as part
of their business model.
None of this bothers me unduly. I’m conscious of the business reality for brands outside of the artificial blogger/vlogger bubble. Brands like Ormonde Jayne have to be protective of their products where they can. They are the Chanel of English perfumery. If Ormonde Jayne ever sells to an investor, then their good name, their grip on distribution channels, and the customer perception of the brand’s core values (taste, luxury, exclusivity) is all calculated on the balance sheet as a ‘goodwill asset’. Goodwill assets monetize all those values we associate with the name of Ormonde Jayne even if we can’t see or touch them.
Ormonde Jayne operates mostly outside
of the reviewer bubble. The brand doesn’t enter the fray of perfume blogs or
reviews in the ways that other brands do. They don’t promote or circulate
positive reviews of their perfumes; nor do they openly contradict or wade into reviews
that are less than complementary. Their relationship with the outside world
seems to be smoothly commercial, almost transactional in nature, i.e., they are
a company whose primary objective is to sell luxury perfume and perfumed goods to
those who can afford it, not to get chummy with writers and blogs and YouTubers.
The brand isn’t rude or dismissive of the review crowd; we just don’t figure
much in their strategy. And that is perfectly valid.
Reviewers like me can request to be put on the Ormonde Jayne PR list to receive samples. But again, there’s that thorny issue of how to reconcile being sent press samples and offering an independent, fair-minded review to readers that has nothing to do with the ‘free-ness’ of the sample. I haven’t figured out an answer to that dilemma yet. I want access to the perfume, my reviews depend on access, and yet the sincerity of the review will always be in question (even in my own mind) if the sample was sent to me for free by the brand.
That’s part of the reason it’s taken me so long to write about these Ormonde Jayne exclusives; some of the samples were (very kindly) sent to me in PR. I am not on anyone’s PR list normally, so I’m grateful, but conflicted. Can you trust me on these, at a distance of three years? I hope you can. Maybe the passing of three years has created a sort of decontamination chamber for the perfumes, cleansing them of all trace of expectation, guilt, and reciprocity.
I will do one more post in the Ormonde Jayne series covering the perfumes from the original (core) collection; this will be less angsty because any full bottle of Ormonde Jayne perfume I own, I paid for. But there will be a little angst – there has to be – because I’ll be reviewing my bottles of Ormonde Jayne perfumes with a view to deciding which ones I sell and which ones I keep.
Source of samples: My sample of Black Gold was sent to me for free to write about by Essenza Nobile, the large European fragrance retailer and distributor, for the blog Fragrance Daily linked to the site (the blog is now defunct). My sample of White Gold was sent to me by Luckyscent for the purpose of writing the copy for White Gold on their site. My sample of Rose Gold was sent to me by PR at Ormonde Jayne, for free and with no expectation or demand to write about it.
Stupidly, I ignored this one for the longest time, believing it to be yet another Westernized take on oud. Guess what? It isn’t. The penny dropped just as I ran out of money, or at least the willingness to spend more than that €1.2 per ml limit Luca Turin originally advised us to stop at. This means that I don’t, and never will, own a bottle of Nawab of Oudh, which is terrible because this thing brings me to my knees.
But let’s make some lemonade out of dem lemons. I like to pretend that my bottle of Nawab of Oudh is hanging out at Roma Store, a small profumeria in Trastevere I frequent. Every month, I take a leisurely stroll down the Tiber to visit with the bottle of Nawab of Oudh the shop is kindly (but obliviously) hosting for me and douse myself liberally in its glorious juice. Then I walk back home, sniffing myself with a huge, dopey grin on my face, oblivious to how I look to passers-by.
Describing what Nawab of Oudh smells like is like trying to catch butterflies with a teaspoon. It has that gauzy, dizzying abstraction characteristic of so many Ormonde Jayne standouts like Black Gold and Rose Gold, and features – as far as I can tell – peppery spice, juicy mandarin, champagne-like aldehydes, roses, sandalwood, and a mass of creamy floral notes.
But I’m not sure any notes list adequately conveys the fierce joy of this scent. Better to say instead that this perfume gives you that Saturday morning feeling of good things to come – a crisply folded newspaper, a fresh pot of coffee, warm bread rolls, cold Irish butter, and a day of leisure stretching out in front of you like a cat. It smells like sunshine in a loved one’s hair and a just-cancelled meeting.
There is a point at the center of this fragrance that makes me think perfumer Geza Schoen might be playing around with an old Roucel-ian template of a green-ish magnolia bathed in a silky bath of citrus, honey, roses, and heavy cream (last seen in Roucel’s Guerlain’s L’Instant for Women and Rochas’ Tocade). The magnolia is viewed obliquely here, through a haze of spicy pepper, pimiento, cardamom, and cinnamon-dusted rose, but it’s definitely got some presence.
I love that when I spray it heavily, Nawab of Oudh coats the back of my hand with an aggressively oily sheen but then immediately radiates off into the air with an aldehydic swagger. Despite the name, there is little oud to speak of here, aside from a slightly sour, leathery tint to the soapy sandalwood in the base. I love this fragrance and believe it to be one of the most elegant and accomplished spicy oriental-florals that a woman or a man could wear.
Tsarina is a creamy, anisic floral suede that was the object of my affection obsession for much of 2016. It is a decidedly cool-toned fragrance; if it were an eyeshadow palette, Tsarina would be all dove greys and silvery taupes in the sort of satin finish that makes your eyelids appear expensively buffed. If it were a textile, it would be a length of raw silk, dotted with nubbins of texture that ride up pleasurably against the palm of your hand. Did I crack under the pressure of desire? Of course I did. It was 2016 and I was still spending money on perfume like they were bottles of H2O.
But even though I split a bottle with a friend during the famous Ormonde Jayne Black Friday event, Tsarina turned out to be an eye-wateringly expensive purchase. Not so much because of the price I paid, but because I never wore it as much as I thought I would. And a perfume sitting unloved in a collection is the costliest cost of all.
Three years on, I’m trying to understand my sudden and brutal withdrawal of affection for Tsarina. I suspect it covers too much of the same ground as Orris Noir (also by Ormonde Jayne), with its anise-tinted iris and myrrh, and maybe also L’Heure Bleue, with its medicinal heliotrope-iris tandem, for me to get any relief from this nagging cognitive dissonance. There’s also some overlap with the plasticky, clove-spiced benzoin creaminess of Guerlain Lui, which I also (somehow) own. But there’s also the fact that, for the 2020 me, Tsarina is now too rich, too claustrophobic.
But it is beautiful. Tsarina opens with the characteristic Ormonde Jayne blur of uplifting citrus and pepper notes, fueled by aldehydes, before quickly settling into that anisic, peppered ‘cream of wheat’ milkiness I associate with floral sandalwoods like Dries Van Noten (Frederic Malle) and the Pheromone attars produced by both Sharif LaRoche and Abdes Salaam Attar. Ormonde Jayne’s Vanille d’Iris, I find, recycles the same core of buttery iris suede, stripping it way back, and adding a dollop of plasticky vanilla to dull its ethereal gleam. As for Tsarina, once the first burst of spicy freshness dies away, both I and the fragrance miss it dearly.
Tsarina is soft and stodgy, like a bowl of porridge. Its lack of definition is probably why I sought it out so insistently the first time around, because I’m drawn to the boneless torpor of cream-sodden florals with little in the way of ballast propping them up. I find them comforting. However, for my money, stuff like Alamut by Lorenzo Villoresi – an exotic rice pudding-custard made out of tuberose, nag champa, and lots of civety sandalwood – satisfies the same itch and at less expense.
Of course, I didn’t know Alamut back then. Sure, if I could go back and tell my 2016 self that some of the perfumes I am passionate about would be rendered obsolete down the line by perfumes I was yet to smell, then I might have chosen differently. But I’m letting myself off the hook here. Tsarina is still a beautiful perfume judged against any parameter. It’s just that my 2020 self wants Nawab of Oudh more.
Qi is constructed to make no great statement thus offending no one. Lest you think I’m being bitchy, that sentence comes from the Ormonde Jayne official copy!
Normally, my shackles rise when I hear anyone describing a perfume as ‘inoffensive’ or, worse (shudder), ‘mass-pleasing’, because if that’s the end goal, then there’s no need to spend $425+ on a bottle of perfume when you can spend $5 on a bottle of that chocolatey, oudy Axe spray my husband is invariably wearing whenever I complement him on his lovely smell.
But honestly, Ormonde Jayne is onto something here. Osmanthus – for those not overly familiar with it – is a material that shares a rudely pungent quality with Hindi oud oil, black tea, and leather, all materials that have undergone some kind of process like soaking in water, tanning or smoking that lend them a distinctly fermented facet. I’m a fan of the fermented, but the uninitiated might find this particular floral note a challenge. The trick is to trim back the ruder, earthier facets of osmanthus absolute, and to capture only the fresh, pretty notes of the flower smelled straight from the plant.
And that’s exactly what Qi does. It is a super clean, bright take on osmanthus – a glowy little pop of apricot over soapy musks and fresh green tea (maté) that create enough of an illusion of leather to catch at the back of your throat. The osmanthus note is sustained for a remarkably long time, the fresh tea and soft leather notes soaked in an indelible peach or apricot ink. There’s also a whiff of clean rubber tubing – a pleasant inevitability whenever tea and osmanthus share the same space.
Despite the complex array of notes, though, Qi smells charmingly simple and ‘honest’. I can see this elegant glass of green tea, aromatized gently with a slice of apricot, appealing to many people. Ormonde Jayne is a rare house that knows what to do with osmanthus, and for me, Qi is its shining example. I prefer it to the also excellent Passionate Love, which is constructed along similar lines as Qi, but duskier, with a mineralic vetiver-and-Iso-E-Super drydown I’m less fond of.
An interesting fragrance. Revolving around a dank, green sage-tobacco accord that’s been lightened and spaced out by tons of Iso E Super, Montabaco is both dark-smelling and airy. Despite the distinctly aftershavey, fougère-like aspect to Montabaco that tags it as masculine, I have enjoyed smelling this on my skin and trying to break it down.
It’s worth mentioning that the two or three times I’ve worn this, my nine-year old son has sought me out to tell me that I smell really good. That makes me wonder if it’s just that Montabaco has huge sillage (thanks to the Iso E Super) or if there’s something in this fragrance that calls out to males.
I know that I’m not best placed to evaluate. When I smell a ‘classic male aftershave’ accord, something in the analysis part of my brain shuts down, blanking out the individual notes or components of the scent beyond the first and all-encompassing impression of ‘maleness’. But even to me, it’s clear that Montabaco is several pay grades above something like Brut or Azzaro Pour Homme.
And am I picking up on a sleight of hand here? With its flourishes of dry green herbs, ‘clovey’ spicing, and cleansing bay leaf, the central accord smells far more like cedarwood to me than tobacco leaf. This impression is underlined by a dollop of powdery amber that adds no sweetness but instead a pleasantly dustiness that softens the mealy bitterness of the cedarwood (or tobacco).
We are spared the intensely syrupy dried fruit and cacao notes that usually accompany tobacco. In fact, the vermouth-like dryness of the tobacco leaf in Montabaco reminds me very much of Miller Harris’ Feuilles de Tabac, pumped up with the creamy cedarwood baritone of Creed’s Royal Oud and fleshed out with a traditional barbershop fougère’s worth of spices and herbs. I liked Royal Oud and Feuilles de Tabac well enough, but Montabaco is more nuanced, more complex. If any of my male relatives were in the market for an interesting interpretation of a traditional tobacco or cedarwood-heavy fougère, and had the funds to go niche, I’d definitely point them in the direction of Montabaco.
Source of Samples: The staff at the Dublin niche perfume store ‘ParfuMarija’ generously included a sample set of the Ormonde Jayne house as a gift with purchase in 2016. The set included samples of the Four Corners of the World collection.