English Oak and Hazelnut is one of the most generic-smelling things in my collection but also one of the most mindlessly pleasant. It is the only Jo Malone fragrance I have ever bought, and even then it took me almost a full year to pull the trigger. To be honest, I still experience a pang of regret when it first hits my skin, where it is all bright, fresh woods and enough Iso E Super to sanitize a men’s locker room. For a moment, I fear I have made a rod for my own back.
But the sparseness of the structure is, for once, a design feature and not the result of the lazy, cost-cutting ‘minimalism’ that is Jo Malone’s special con. English Oak and Hazelnut is an elegantly designed haiku. The secret lies in a note that smells like a freshly stripped oak, its silvery sap running down the bark and mixing with the volatile wood vapors fizzing in the chill air.
The aroma this creates is dry and sour, but not so parched that it wicks the moisture out of your nostrils and not so sharp that all you taste is the prickle of tannins at the back of your throat. It is austere without whipping out the hair shirt. Yet, it is definitely not one of those modern niche affairs that disguises the essentially plain plankiness of wood by ladling on the booze or cream or sugar. The hazelnut note, which emerges later, lends a dry-roasted character to the oak, but zero warmth or creaminess. English Oak and Hazelnut says ‘deep winter’ and ‘birch trees’ and ‘stark light’ to me as surely as Chêne (Lutens) and Them (Neandertal), and any perfume that brings its own atmosphere is one that earns its spot.
Source of sample: I bought my own bottle.