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 journey.
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.
Cover Image: Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash