Perfume Review: Montabaco by Ormonde Jayne (Four Corners of the Earth Collection)

The essence of Latin America and “suggestive sensuality.” That was the goal and inspiration for Montabaco from Ormonde Jayne, the London luxury niche perfume house. Montabaco is one of the new Four Corners of the Earth collection which was released in late 2012 and which pays homage to the different parts of the world that have inspired Ormonde Jayne’s founder, Linda Pilkington. The collection is the result of collaboration between Ms. Pilkington and the perfumer, Geza Schoen, and consists of four fragrances: Tsarina, Qi, Montabaco and Nawab of Oudh. (I have samples of all four fragrances, provided courtesy of Ormonde Jayne, and am working my way through the collection. I have already reviewed Nawab of Oudh and Tsarina.)

OJ MontabacoThe description of the fragrance from Ormonde Jayne definitely intrigued me and led me to imagine a profoundly rich, sensuous and lush experience:

Montabaco is a perfume to capture the essence of Latin America: leather, suede, wood and tobacco leaf repeated over and over again creating a suggestive sensuality and Latino temperament. It sits above the rich floral presence of magnolia, jasmine and rose. It is all unashamedly seductive yet profoundly simpatico.

The perfume’s notes certainly added to my anticipation:

top: air note, orange absolute, bergamot, juniper, clary sage, cardamom. heart: magnolia, hedione, rose, violet, tea notes. base: tobacco leaf, iso e, suede, sandalwood, moss, tonka, ambergris.

Unfortunately, I struggled with Montabaco. Profoundly. It opens on my skin with a sharp burst of antiseptic alcohol — camphorous, mentholated, highly peppered, sharp, and pungently acrid. I was so astounded that I gave my arm another two sprays, thinking perhaps there was congestion in the nozzle or something that had turned the notes “off” in some way. The fragrance seemed so incredibly far from the notes and from what I had expected. But, no. It was the same thing. Intensely alcoholic, mentholated and antiseptic. There was such a resemblance to certain types of oud that have an undertone of medicinal, rubbery pink band-aids that I actually checked the sample twice to see if I had accidentally tried something else. Then I double-checked the notes to see if agarwood or oud was listed. I was so confused that I thought maybe over-application (4 sprays) was to blame, so I applied a far lesser amount (2 sprays) to the other arm and waited to see if the difference in amount would yield different results.

It did not. Though the strength of the perfume varied due to the amount per arm, the core essence of Montabaco remained the same for a vast number of hours. It was persistent, unchanging, and quite exhausting. As time progressed, about six hours to be precise, other notes had a minor chance to compete — but not by much. Nothing could really undercut the barrage of the mentholated, camphorous, peppered, rubbery, almost metallic, medicinal, oud-like note. Still, they gave it a valiant effort.

From the very first opening seconds, there was a strong undertone of tobacco but, here, it was not the sweet, dried tobacco leaves nor the more fruited sort of pipe tobacco. Instead, it was more like pungently dry tobacco in an unlit cigar. There were also hints of other things: citrus; herbaceous clary sage with its lavender underpinnings; a vaguely leathered nuance; and the merest suggestion of velvety, creamy, rich magnolia sweetness. After about five minutes, the impression of rubbing alcohol disappears but the bitter, medicinal, highly peppered, metallic accord remains dominant. Slowly, quiet notes of suede, cardamom, violet and pungent oakmoss join the mélange, but they too are mere whispers in the night.

There is simply no way for anything to compete with that overwhelming, overpowering main note. It truly feels like the sort of oud blast that one finds in some Montale fragrances — so much so that I poured over the perfumes notes in the press release three times just to check if agarwood was mentioned. It is not. But, damn, it feels as though I’m wearing a particularly strident, acrid Montale Aoud.

Time does not necessarily ameliorate the situation. By the second hour, the mentholated camphor wood has another rival: cigars. And this time, it’s a lit cigar. The arm which has a lot of Montabaco on it reeks of cigar smoke; the one which has much less of the perfume smells, in part, like an ashtray. The cigar smoke and ashtray notes become much less noticeable after an hour, returning back to a very dry, unlit tobacco note — but it was still an hour too long for me, particularly given its combination with the medicinal elements. Something in my body chemistry clearly does not respond well to Montabaco, though I’ve rarely had this situation with other tobacco fragrances. Hell, I own Tom Ford‘s potent Tobacco Vanille and Serge LutensChergui but those manifest themselves as a very different sort of tobacco. Neither of them ever made me feel as though I were sitting in a closed-in cigar bar’s smoking room.

Four hours in, the stridently camphorated, peppered wood note finally quietens down a bit in intensity. It’s still powerful and the main part of Montabaco, but other elements now have the chance to breathe a little. There is some lovely citrus and bergamot, along with orange, suede and the lavender-nuanced clary sage; and they all sit atop a subtle, sweetly fragranced base of magnolia with the smallest hints of rose and sandalwood. The magnolia adds a breath of much-needed sweetness to the fragrance, but it is too little, too late.

By the sixth hour, the basenotes start to appear — at least on the arm where I didn’t apply a lot of the fragrance. There is sweet tonka, clary sage, orange, bergamot and some sort of amorphous “floral” note. In contrast, the other arm is still reeking predominantly of peppered, smoky woods, though the camphor element has now started to wane. And it stays that way for another few hours until it, too, finally turns into some sheer, minor softness with tonka, bergamot and vague florals.

All in all, Montabaco lasted between over 7.5 and 8 hours when 2 sprays were used, and approximately 10.5 hours when about 4 sprays were used. In the former instance, the sillage was good and the perfume could be detected from a small distance away for the first two hours, thereafter becoming somewhat softer. It became close to the skin around 4.5 hours in. On the arm where I applied a lot, however, the sillage remained quite forceful for a number of hours, finally becoming close to the skin about 7 hours later where it remained for an additional length of time. This is a strong and very powerful perfume if you use more than 2 sprays!

I tried to see if others had an experience similar to mine with Montabaco, but there aren’t a lot of reviews out there. One in-depth assessment came from The Candy Perfume Boy who was similarly disappointed in the fragrance, though his experience seems very far from my own. A part of his review reads as follows:

I find it to be somewhat of a disappointment. I wanted something rich and oozing with latin spirit, instead Montabaco feels decidedly spirit-less.

The main attraction in Montabaco is the mixture of rich, heavy notes such as tobacco, coffee, vanilla and woods with four or five gallons of Iso E Super. Now the addition of Iso E is no surprise as the Ormonde Jayne collection relies quite heavily on the stuff and perfumer Geza Schoen uses it in isolation for his Escentric Molecules line. The problem is that where the ingredient usually adds silkyness and lift, in Montabaco it seems way too omnipresent, almost as if all of the other notes are tripping over it just to get some attention.

Montabaco plays one tune and it plays it consistently for a very long time. It’s just a shame that this particular tune finds it difficult to stir any emotions. […]

It doesn’t sound as though he experienced any antiseptic medicine or peppery camphor. On the other hand, he seems to have smelled quite a bit of coffee which I didn’t, unless he’s referring to Montabaco’s pungent bitterness.

Yet his reference to the “gallons” of ISO E Super led me to wonder: was that the reason for the extremely sharp, antiseptic, rubbing alcohol feel? I’m not an expert on ISO E Super, though I’ve certainly smelled a number of perfumes that have contained it. Jacques Polge of Chanel is well-known to love the aromachemical, using large amounts to add a velvety feel and to accentuate floral notes, but no Chanel that I’ve ever encountered shared Montabaco’s painful characteristic. Jean-Claude Ellena uses it too, but I can’t recall any Hermès fragrance that smells so acrid and metallic. A brief Google search showed that Montabaco’s perfumer, Geza Schoen, is apparently a huge fan of ISO E. However, he’s used it before in other Ormonde Jayne fragrances — and I never experienced an unpleasant, synthetic note that reminded me of hospital antiseptics. Whatever the nature or impact of ISO E Super, to me, Montabaco translates as a synthetically medicinal oud/agarwood perfume. Not the beautiful, gorgeous agarwood that was in Ormonde Jayne’s spectacular Nawab of Oudh, either, alas.  

Perhaps I’m simply not masculine enough or strong enough to appreciate Montabaco. The perfume has only one comment in its Fragrantica listing and that one is a rave:

I tried all of Four Corners and must admit that Montabaco was the one I truly and deeply fell for. (unlike most bloggers who praise Tsarina which on my skin smelled dull and somehow flat). Montabacco on the other hand is a completely different story: it’s strong, it’s powerfull and it demands atention. Definitely not a scent for faint hearted and weak women as it has a subtle yet dominant masculine note. This is one of the very few fragrances that I can actually distinguish separate notes and according to my nose the strongest is tobacco, leather and sandalwwod accompanied by duo of jasmine and rose. I can also smell clary sage which my brain classifies as a balmy accent.

Judging by what appeared on my skin, I don’t think there is anything “subtle” about Montabaco’s “dominant masculine note.” This is a scent that I think fans of Montale’s more… er… potent Aoud creations might appreciate, but I’m not sure it is for everyone. It certainly isn’t for me.

Disclosure: My sample of Montabaco was provided courtesy of Ormonde Jayne. As Always, that did not impact this review. My primary commitment is, and always will be, to be as honest as possible for my readers.

DETAILS:
Price & Availability: Montabaco is an Eau de Parfum which comes only in a large 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs £260.00 or, with today’s exchange rate, approximately $394. Neither Montabaco nor any of other Four Corner Collection are currently listed on the Ormonde Jayne website, but you can find all of them in the Ormonde Jayne stores, as well as at Harrods. Unfortunately, Harrods’ website says that this perfume is not available for export. Ormonde Jayne’s two London boutiques are at Old Bond Street and Sloane Square with the precise addresses listed on the website here. As for samples, none of the perfume decant sites in the US currently offer any of the Four Corners of the Earth collection.
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42 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Montabaco by Ormonde Jayne (Four Corners of the Earth Collection)

  1. Stridently camphorated; can’t wait. Arriving sent week. First OJ. It does sound like some kambodi oud has mysteriously appeared in the composition. Maybe all the perfumers bought so much and are now using it as a mystery note rather than announcing ‘another Oud release’.

    • I’m so intrigued now, Jordan. It’s arriving next week? Did you order it from the shop? Did you order any other Ormonde Jayne? I’m assuming you chose based on the press release and something about the notes of this one? As for the mysterious camphorated wood note, I’ve thought long and hard on it and I think the only explanation has to be those “gallons and gallons” of ISO E Super which The Candy Perfume Boy referenced. It must be a quantity of ISO E that I’ve never experienced before to make it so… so…. well, extreme.

    • given that I was reading this at 4am and hadn’t had my first cup of tea for the day yet I just re-read…holy cow! 8 hours on your arm with just 2 sprays? Quel dommage that you weren’t particularily fond of this one as I know from reading your blog that longevity is usually an issue for you!

      • Longevity is definitely a big problem for me, though much less so when synthetics and aromachemicals are used. Unfortunately, those are often the times when I wish a perfume *didn’t* last quite so long….. 😉

    • I like tobacco as a note but I don’t like cigar smoke or the ashtray aspect of things. Most perfumes have a dry note that evokes the sweetened leaves of tobacco in the sun or sweetly fruited pipe tobacco. This did not. 😦

  2. The notes theoretically seem enjoyable. However, the secret oud may be a problem on several levels. The first being that I am a contrarian and am sick of oud in everything. The second, and possibly more important being that I think I just don’t like oud that much. LOL. I’d be curious to try this at some point in time to smell for myself. I don’t always smell what others smell (for good and for bad), so perhaps it would be a winner for me. Although I feel like our tastes often overlap, so perhaps not.

    • I’ve spent some time looking up ISO E Super’s manifestations and people’s interpretations of it. Some people do indeed say it creates a woody note, so that has to be the culprit. None of the perfumes I’ve tried with it have shown it like that; it’s been used as a “super floralizer” adding texture or longevity to the flowers. It’s never been screechingly camphorated, medicinal woods like the sort of thing you’d find in Aoud Blossoms or Aoud Lime. It’s why I truly wondered if there were oud in Montabaco instead. But perhaps they’ve really just used such a *vast* quantity of ISO E Super that it’s taken on a whole new character, at least as compared to how I’m used to it. It’s odd, my prior experiences with ISO E Super haven’t been bad at all, but some Googling showed people comparing it to floor bleach, among other things, with others saying that it gives them headaches. I know Ormonde Jayne is known for using it in perfumes in their main line but I’ve never encountered this sort of thing outside of a Montale…..

      • I had the good fortune to try this yesterday and…nothing. Well, virtually nothing. But the smell was *so* faint and *so* close to the skin that it basically just smelled like I had just gotten out of the shower. It was strange, too, since I put on a LOT of it, as I typically do for a first wear so I can really, really smell it. Just as well, I guess, as I couldn’t afford it anyhow, but I’d have liked to have smelled what you smelled (well, sort of… 🙂 )

        • Well, you’ve said in the past that you’re anosmic to ISO E Super, so since Montabaco is primarily that main note, I suppose it’s not surprising the whole thing smelled like nothing to you. LOL. BaconBiscuit said it reminded her enormously of Molecule 01, so, you’re not alone. 🙂

  3. Dear Kafka, by any chance, have you ever tried Guerlain Tonka Imperiale? Your description of Montabaco reminds me of this. I DO like Tonka Imperiale and it makes me wonder if I will like Montabaco as well. Tonka Imperiale starts out somewhat camphorous/metholated and it stays that way on me the entire time; however, that breathy airiness never overpowers the rest of the beautifully composed blend of bergamot, tonka bean, vanilla, dry dry dry tobacco, a hint of flowers and probably a few other notes.

    This is the cheapest of the lot, I see. I wonder if the effort to lower the materials cost ended up compromising the perfume.

    • I’m afraid I haven’t tried Tonka Imperiale, my dear. Does it have a lot of ISO E Super? I’m starting to believe that may be the culprit here. What you’re describing with the Guerlain sounds like a much more balanced perfume that shows the other notes as well. That’s was not my experience with Montabaco and, judging by The Candy Perfume Boy’s comments, not his either. The medicinal, metholated note acts like a bulldozer, flattening every other possible note into a mere whisper. As for the cheapest of the lot, I think that may be Qi which is intentionally meant to be light and unobtrusive with tea notes and light florals. I’m giving myself a few days before I try that one….

      • Iso E Super is not listed in the notes (from NST). A dear one had sent me a small vial of Escentric Molecule 01 which has a high concentration of Iso E Super. Molecule 01 smells like Super Glue and therefore, icky.

        • Ah, well, ISO E Super is often not mentioned in the notes of perfumes. But it’s in most of the Chanel’s, for example, and Jean-Claude Ellena likes to use it too on occasion. I don’t think Guerlain does, however. But Undina is the ISO E Super expert amongst us, so she would probably know better. If she’s tried the Guerlain, she may know. 🙂

          • I’m glad this conversation came up! I thought I had already written about Molecule 01, but I can barely smell anything at all. Umm, if I still have a sample, I’m *soooooooooooo* sending it to you! 🙂

          • You wrote about ISO E Super and Molecule 01 in the Ramon Monegal thread. 🙂 I’m rather terrified to try the latter, given how my skin seems to amplify the synthetic, chemical nature of the ingredient.

          • Oh, so I’m *not* crazy? At least, not in this particular regard. That’s re-assuring!

  4. Even before I came tothe part where you quoted CPB my thought inresponse to your reaction in the opening was: “ISO E Super!” I’ve experienced that effect with Molecule 01 and Tiempe Passate though no other OJ’s perfumes has that effect on me even though I knowthey all have a lot of ISO E Super.

    Tsarina is the only perfume from the new line that I plan to seek out actively but I will try all of them when I get a chance.

    I enjoyed your direct review 🙂

    • Ah, I was hoping our ISO E expert would weigh in. 🙂 I’m afraid I’ve never experienced the aromachemical manifesting itself this way before. On my skin, none of the other Ormonde Jayne perfume’s that I’ve tried have been mentholated medicine with an antiseptic note or an undertone of rubbing alcohol. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever quite encountered anything like this outside of a toxic Montale Aoud. It was quite a shock to have it here. 😦

      Remind me to stay very, very far away from Molecule 01. It now sounds even worse than what I had previously suspected or heard.

  5. Now after reading up on ISO E Super- I think I have a sensitivity to it, given my very strong reaction to Chance eau tendre & Ta’if
    So, dumb question but if ISO E Super isn’t listed then how do I know if it’s a certain note that I don’t like or if it’s the use of ISO E? From what I read, its used primarily with florals & woods to enhance and round out a note. Right? This is where I get a little confused… do I assume that I don’t really like a floral at all even when ISO E Super isn’t used? Lord know I already have enough trouble with them but now I wonder…
    I’m one of those annoying people that needs to know why i like or dislike something in order for it to make sense in my brain. And this is a whole new world for me!lol!

    • Jackie, I’ve thought so much about your question since you wrote it. I can’t really answer you, I’m afraid, but I wrote a post on ISO E Super with lists of fragrances that are said to have ISO E Super — either officially or unofficially, based on subjective personal experience from myself, others, internet threads. And I’ve asked for others to contribute the names of any perfumes that they strongly believe to have the note. I hope that will help, somewhat. Unfortunately, given how rarely ISO E Super is listed as an official fragrance note, there is no really definite, concrete, hard-and-fast rule we can use in figuring things out *before* one tests a perfume and gets that headache.

      • I hope you weren’t cursing me as you thought about it!lol I just read your post on ISO E super and it’s amazing! Thank you for that!! I also left you a long-winded comment there… I had some thoughts too.

  6. Pingback: Perfumes – ISO E Super: Antiseptic Horror, Aphrodisiac Pheromone or Nothingness? | Kafkaesque

  7. Your experience was not at all what I was expecting given the listed notes (clearly, it wasn’t what you were expecting either). The list reminded me of Argentina, where everywhere I went was covered in leather and the only complete sentence I could put together in Spanish besides, “Where are the empanadas, José” was “My, your tobacco is very blond.”

    Don’t remember seeing any agarwood trees on the Pampas . . . 🙂

  8. So am wearing Montebaco today as my SOTD (thank you, my dear!). I got a big, huge, spicy citrus-y opening swiftly followed by gallons and gallons of ISO-E Super — which feels freakishly familiar. It is so similar to Molecule 01 and even seems to disappear and reappear as Molecule does.

    I don’t mind it. It feels weirdly comforting. I guess if I wanted to move on from my Molecule to something similar but slightly different, Montebaco would be it! I’m about to trot it out in the sun, which always seemed to make Molecule 01 emanate like waves off me. Whoo-hoo!

  9. Pingback: Review En Bref: Qi by Ormonde Jayne (Four Corners of the Earth Collection) | Kafkaesque

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  11. My friend, your review is an exceptional one, & despite being a huge fan of your blog, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your body chemistry. I just don’t think this juice is for you, period.

    This is a tobacco fragrance, so I’m not sure what what you were expecting. As lovely as Tobacco Vanille and Chergui are, they’re not tobacco fragrances. They’re faux-tobacco/gourmand-tobacco fragrances for people who don’t like tobacco (and I’m not even sure they contain real tobacco in them) . So the comparison is probably not an apt one.

    You also make clear in your review you don’t like the smell of cigar smoke. Fair enough, at least you’re honest about it. But that makes it a problem, because you will no doubt detect (like you did) something “off” in the fragrance. I happen to love the smell of cigar smoke – hell, I smoke the damn thing! So to hazard a guess I’d say I’m far more predisposed to enjoy Montabaco than you are.

    I am always extremely hesitant to generalise, but I have a theory: there are those people who love hard, rough edges in their fragrances, & those who don’t. I would place you in the latter camp. Let’s chalk it up to genetics.

    By the way, if by some miracle track it down, try Annick Goutal’s ‘Eau du Fier’. It’s one of my favourite fragrances in my collection, & you should get a whiff of that one before coming back to ‘Montabaco’. I would confidently predict ‘EdF’ would make you leap a foot in the air! 🙂

    • Hello Michael, thank you for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts. With regard to Montabaco, my issue is none of the things which you have raised. For one thing, I have smoked cigars in the past and enjoyed the scent there to some extent. The main issue, however, is that I despise ISO E Super. And Montabaco is filled with ISO E Supercrappy to an extent I had never encountered up to that point– or ever since. The synthetic is the problem, not my genetics. As for my taste in perfumery, it ranges widely from the smokiest Amouage attars to leathers to everything else. Not many people would call my taste as verging on the “soft” side…. I don’t know how long you have been readng the blog, but I respectfully suggest that your generalisation of my tastes may be a little off base.

      As for the Annick Goutal, thank you for the suggestion. 🙂 I’ll keep it in mind, though I am never going back to Monabaco. Ever. If you have read the blog for any amount of time, you will know the depth of my hatred for ISO E Super. lol

  12. Hello!

    This might be a little late, but as I took my time trying and re-trying all Four Corners’ samples, I have to say I actually like Montabaco best.

    One of my favourite leather chypres is “Vierges and Toréros” by Etat libre d’Orange,
    and I imagine to detect some similarities, even though “Vierges” on me is softer and
    a lot lovelier.

    In my opinion Geza Schoen’s scents tend to be more “intellectual” and not so appealing
    on an emotional level, and most of his creations are too intensive to my taste, which might
    be due to the Iso E Super. I completely abhor “Paper Passion” and also dislike most of the Escentric Molecule stuff.

    Nevertheless Montabaco is very nice on me and never turns to stale cigarette ends as
    happened to me with a Calé Fragranze d’Autore scent, Mistero, when my arm began to smell like an unemptied ashtray.

    Event though I deem the Four Corners scents to be ridiculously overpriced, I would
    actually like to have Montabaco.

    “Qi” develops nicely on me too, and smells surprisingly close to green Japanes tea for quite a while, and at a quarter of the price tag I’d surely buy a bottle.

    Maybe I should play some lottery…

    Last but not least: I love reading your elaborate perfume reviews. I wish I had a nose
    like yours.

    Best regards

    Petra

    • First, welcome to the blog, Petra! 🙂 Second, thank you for your very kind words about the blog. And my nose. lol. I really think it is something one can hone and develop. I’ve been sniffing and wearing perfume since I was 7 years old! 🙂 It also helps to be a big foodie, as the palate definitely is connected to one’s sense of smell. lol

      You know, I’m very happy that Montabaco works on you. I really am. For one thing, that means that your skin plays really nicely with extremely intensive doses of ISO E Super, since I’ve never tested any fragrance which has more of the stuff than this one. (I refuse to try Escentual 01. lol) Anyway, I think that is a great sign, even if the rest of Geza Schoen’s stuff may not work for you from case to case.

      That said, I’m rather relieved to hear that you too find the fragrances to be over-priced. I loved the Nawab of Oudh the most, which is naturally the most expensive, and I would never pay that amount. But, you know, there are some decent priced travel sizes that you may want to look into, or perhaps get in on a split in one of the perfume groups? Are you a member of any? If not, I suggest looking into some of the ones on Facebook (if you’re on it), starting with Facebook Fragrance Friends. I believe there was a very recent O/J split or travel decant thing for this very collection. It’s better to have a little bit than nothing, if you really adore the fragrance. 🙂

      • Hello again!

        Thank you very much for your kind reply.

        I am actually trying to train my nose, but I am simply an amateur and I started quite some time later in life than you. It is quite astonishing though, how differently my nose works from day to day; it’s the hormones, I suppose.

        What I really would like to know is which ingredients are used in a perfume, how much is natural and how much is rebuilt chemically. There are some hints in Jean-Claude Ellena’s book “Le Parfum”, but the heart of the matter is of course reserved to the professionals.

        I just bought two small decants of Montabaco and Nawab of Oudh from a German perfume boutique, as finally the perfumes are for sale here, too.

        Keeping prices up by artificially restricting the offer is a marketing device I do not like, as I am a customer. “Le Labo” are masters in applying that strategy, which luckily leaves me cold.

        Maison Francis Kurkdjian are doing the same, but in this case I hope their new “Ciel de GUM” scent will finally make it to their online shop.

        Oh well….

        Best regards

        Petra

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