Review En Bref: Qi by Ormonde Jayne (Four Corners of the Earth Collection)

As always, my reviews en bref are for perfumes that, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to warrant one of my full, exhaustive, detailed reviews.

OJ QiQi is an eau de parfum and part of Ormonde Jayne‘s 2012 Four Corners of the Earth Collection. The collection pays homage to the different parts of the world that have inspired Ormonde Jayne’s founder, Linda Pilkington, and is the result of collaboration between Ms. Pilkington and the perfumer, Geza Schoen. I had the opportunity to sample all four fragrances — Tsarina, Qi, Montabaco and Nawab of Oudh — courtesy of Ormonde Jayne, and have already reviewed TsarinaNawab of Oudh, and Montabaco.

The press release describes Qi as follows:

‘Qi (pronounced “key” or “chi”) means Breath of Life. It’s an ancient word that permeates the Chinese language and everyday life. This perfume is inspired by the Chinese people’s love for the lightest and most delicate scents. Qi is constructed to make no great statement thus offending no-one, it does not tear down any great walls but is rather something more spectacular, like an amazing dawn, a softly-scented fragile breeze, Qi is an honest, open and natural perfume, it makes its mark for those who don’t want to be too obvious but may feel unfinished without it.

The perfume’s notes include:

top: green lemon blossom, neroli, freesia.
heart: tea notes, osmanthus, violet, hedione, rose.
base: mate, benzoin, musk, moss, myrrh.

Qi opens on my skin as a lemony, soapy floral with a synthetic, white musk base. There is fizzy, green hedione, light lemon, and sweet freesia, which are eventually joined by the subtlest whisper of rose and apricot-y osmanthus. There is also the merest suggestion of orange but it is strongly subsumed by the lemon notes, both from the citrus blossom and from the hedione. 

The perfume remains that way for about 40 minutes, slowly shifting to incorporate a green tea accord. By the end of the first hour, Qi smells strongly of creamy, green tea ice cream with freesia, other amorphous florals, and synthetic musk. Later, there is a hint of a mossy undertone, but the perfume never really changes from its core essence nature: a slightly green, rather abstract, amorphous floral musk. The whole thing is light and airy, with moderate sillage for the first hour, then low projection thereafter. It was primarily a skin scent, and its longevity clocked in at just a fraction over 5 hours.

Qi is exactly as described: constructed to make no great statement thus offending no-one. And that is one of my main problems with it. But one can hardly blame the perfume for being precisely what it was intended to be. Unfortunately, being utterly inoffensive and banal are not the only problem. Even if I liked clean, fresh, soapy scents — which I most categorically do not — Qi doesn’t smell luxe to me at all but, rather, like an artificially constructed concept of “clean femininity.”

I’m also a bit dubious about continuing the old, out-dated cultural stereotypes regarding the Chinese as not wanting to make any great statement whatsoever. I saw a vast number of young people in my travels throughout China who certainly wouldn’t fit that generalization, though I concede that it may have been historically true at one time. That said, the press release language is neither here nor there.

The real problem with Qi is that it is a very generic scent. Places like Sephora, Macy’s or your average department store abound with similar offerings, from Chanel‘s Chance Eau Tendre, to floral fragrances by Estée LauderRalph Lauren, Kenzo, Marc Jacobs, and Victoria’s Secret (not to mention, numerous celebrity fragrances). In fact, Roger & Gallet has fragrances that are centered around osmanthus or green tea, while Elizabeth Arden has 12 different green tea fragrances, many of which are floral in nature and one of which (Green Tea Lotus) has yuzu citrus, osmanthus, other florals and green tea over white musk. Given the variety of similar offerings out there and Qi’s explicit goal of not making a great statement, the perfume seems enormously over-priced to me at £260.00.

Yet, the market for light, unobtrusive, “fresh, clean” scents with minimal projection is (alas) massive and never-ending. I’m sure Qi will please those who fit the target perfume profile and who want the caché of something more high-brow. 

Disclosure: My sample of Qi 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: Qi 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 $402. Neither Qi 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 U.S. currently offer any of the Four Corners of the Earth collection.

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.

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

The Nawab of Oudh is a nonpareil, an oriental perfume of such magnificent richness and beauty that it left my jaw agape. There is no chance that I shall be — as the famous writer, William Safire, once famously penned — a nattering nabob of negativity. No, Ormonde Jayne‘s latest creation is simply spectacular.

The Raja of Mysore. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Raja of Mysore. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum.

OJ NawabNawab of Oudh 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. You can find my review for Tsarina here.)

A nawab (sometimes also spelled as “nabob”) can mean, alternatively, a ruler of an Indian province, or a European person who made a vast fortune in India or overseas. Ormonde Jayne was inspired by the first meaning for the term, describing the fragrance as follows :

Source: Shanti Barmecha blogspot

Source: Shanti Barmecha blogspot

Nawab (Ruler) of Oudh is a province of central India. The perfume is inspired by the Nawabs who once ruled over it.  It is a potent blend of amber and rose with a soft oudh edge. Yet surprisingly not one ingredient stands out from the others. It achieves a perfume synergy that defies traditional analysis, releasing a pulsating pungency, brooding and hauntingly beautiful, a rich tapestry of fascinating depths, a jewelled veil to conceal its emotional complexity and extravagance.

Every single part of that description applies to the magnificent richness of this stunning perfume. It is no doubt helped by the perfume’s long list of notes, seventeen in all:

top: green notes, bergamot, orange absolute, cardamom, aldehyde. 
heart: rose, magnolia, orchid, pimento, bay, cinnamon, hedione. 
base: ambergris, musk, vetiver, labdanum, oudh.

The Nawab of Oudh opens on my skin with a burst of bright, juicy, sweet green notes that have a distinctly tropical, fruited underpinning. There is something that feels very much like green mangoes, alongside the bright, fresh, plump, sun-sweetened lemons and oranges. There is also a heady rose note — sweet, fragrant, dark as the reddest damask, and almost beefy in its richness. Following closely in its footsteps is a spectacular element of velvety magnolia. The whole combination is beautiful beyond words, and I actually said “Wow” out loud as the symphony of notes wafted up to my nose.

The bright, fresh, sweetly floral and fruited tonalities quickly give way to something earthier and spicier. The bay leaf starts to appear, adding an unusual herbaceous and earthy aspect to the sweetness. Dark, rooty vetiver also helps undercut some of the richness, but it is the surprisingly fiery note of red chili peppers that really adds the perfect counterbalance. Together, they work to transform the scent into something much more than a mere floral with zesty citrus notes.

Further depth and complexity are added with the advent of ambergris, and I’m convinced this has to be the real stuff. It smells much richer, almost dirtier, and definitely slightly muskier than the usual amber accords, though the labdanum undoubtedly plays a role in that impression, too. Whatever the particulars, the ambery note has enormous depth but it’s never heavy, molten or gooey. Rather, it’s sheer and light. At the same time, the perfume itself is very strong and heady, encompassing me in a lovely cloud of scent that projects about two feet in distance in these opening moments.

Ten minutes later, the orange absolute is much more noticeable, as is the orchid flower. Both accords mix with the magnolia and rose to create a floral juxtaposition to the various herbaceous, woody, citrus, ambered and slightly musky notes. The final result is a beautifully balanced opening that is never singular nor too sweet. The sweetness is further undercut when the woody notes start to appear. Speaking of appearing, on my second test of the perfume, the bay leaf gained in intensity in opening moments of the scent; during the first test, however, to my surprise, it disappeared after ten minutes. So, too, did the fiery red chili pepper and the earthy vetiver. I point this out because I know some of you struggle with those notes, respectively, and I want to reassure you that (to my nose) they are not an enormous presence or particularly sharp.

Purple rose at Warwick Castle, England. Photo provided with permission by CC from "Slightly Out of Sync" blog.

Purple rose at Warwick Castle, England. Photo provided with permission by CC from “Slightly Out of Sync” blog.

In fact, nothing in this beautifully crafted, smooth as a well-buffed piece of amber, perfume is sharp or unmodulated. That applies to the agarwood (or oud) as well. It is simply perfect: never medicinal, astringently sharp, pungent or antiseptic. No camphorous elements or images of pink rubber bandages. Instead, you have a very smooth, incredibly rich, and highly sweetened oud note. It waxes and wanes in prominence in that first hour, never dominating but floating just under the flowers. The oud is perfectly interwoven with that rich, dark rose, but neither are the primary focus of the scent at this time.

Instead, Nawab of Oudh is in harmonious balance; this is a superbly well-blended perfume that throws off notes the way a chandelier throws off prisms in the light. I am strongly tempted to add the phrase “it’s beautiful” to the end of every paragraph, but I fear I will sound like a broken record before I’m halfway finished. Nonetheless, my God, is this perfume beautiful!

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

If any single note were perhaps to dominate in the first ninety minutes, it would be the magnolia. There are many global varieties of this velvety, opulent flower, but it is an incredibly popular and symbolic part of America’s Deep South, in particular. In fact, there is a Texas town called Magnolia that is just outside Houston. In addition, the flower has been the symbol of the state of Louisiana since 1900. (I won’t even get into the famous movie, Steel Magnolias, involving the state of Georgia.) Magnolias have a creamy, rich aroma with a slightly citrus-y nuance and a floral scent that is somewhat similar to gardenia at times and, at other times, closer to jasmine. Here, however, there is a definitely tropical feel to the flower’s velvety lushness and creaminess. It’s heady and strong, but never indolic or sour. Its combination with the orange absolute — and with what I am convinced must be green mangoes — adds a beautiful tropical aspect to the scent. And, yet, its citrus-y aspects also provide some freshness and lightness. The whole thing is simply an incredibly creamy, velvety floral composition of great complexity.

Sir Digvijaysinhji, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar in 1935 wearing the emerald and diamond necklace created by Cartier London in 1926 for his uncle, Maharaja Jam Saheb Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji. Source: TheCultureConcept.com

Sir Digvijaysinhji, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar in 1935 wearing the emerald and diamond necklace created by Cartier London in 1926 for his uncle, Maharaja Jam Saheb Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji. Source: TheCultureConcept.com

Two hours in, Nawab of Oudh changes. Now, it is oud with cardamom, what feels like cloves, red chili peppers, and the very first hint of labdanum. The magnolia is still present, but it has now receded much more to the background. For the next two hours, the perfume reflects different facets — much like jewels gleaming around a maharajah’s neck. There is: agarwood sweetened by sweet damask rose; dusty, dry spices (cardamom in particular); a touch of muskiness; a hint of jasmine; and rich ambergris. The red chilies pop up now and then, but the perfume is not fiery. It’s a perfectly modulated rosy, spiced, woody amber perfume that is endlessly luxurious, and made with what are, clearly, very expensive, top-quality ingredients.

From the fifth hour until the perfume’s end around 8.5 hour mark, Nawab of Oudh is labdanum heaven. Now, as some of you know, labdanum is one of my all-time favorite notes; I simply adore the more nutty, slightly leathery, dirty and masculine twist on a resin. Here, it’s treated beautifully — intertwined in a lover’s kiss with the heady red rose. It’s a bit too light for my personal, utterly biased tastes — and I would have preferred a more molten, opaque treatment — but nothing about this airy, lightweight (though strong) perfume is about molten heaviness. Instead, labdanum’s ambery note is light, warm, sweet, and infused by a subtle undertone of spices. Its interplay with the heady rose was so beautiful that I will make an embarassing confession: I spent a good chunk of 30 minutes simply lying on my sofa with my nose glued to my arm and inhaling the nutty, rose-strewn amber in ecstasy. It was, quite simply, the perfume equivalent of a food coma.

Nawab of Oudh has good sillage and longevity. The opening phase of the perfume had about 2 feet in projection for the first hour, before dropping considerably. However, it only became really close to the skin around the 4th hour. To be honest, for some of the remaining hours, I had to forcefully inhale at my arm to detect it — though, clearly, I found that no hardship whatsoever! As for longevity, as noted above, it lasted around 8.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. I should note, however, that the sillage and longevity drop even further if you don’t put on a lot; on my second test, the sillage became close to the skin at around 2.5 hours and the scent lasted only seven hours. As a whole, Nawab of Oudh a wee bit too airy for my personal liking, but not everyone shares my passion for the most opulently heavy, powerful scents. For those who prefer a less forceful, and more modulated, tempered fragrance, Nawab of Oudh will be ideal.

The only real problem with Nawab of Oudh is its cost. I winced and grimaced when converting the British pound sterling price of £335.00 to U.S. dollars; at the current exchange rate, that comes to approximately $506! The perfume only comes in Eau de Parfum concentration and in a large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle, so there aren’t cheaper alternatives in a smaller size. If, however, it were more affordable, I would buy Nawab of Oudh in a heartbeat; without a doubt, it has shot up to replace Tolu as my favorite Ormonde Jayne fragrance.   

It is probably, therefore, a mixed blessing that Nawab of Oudh is not widely available at the moment. The perfume is not even listed yet on the company’s website (though it probably will be soon). It doesn’t seem available at other European retailers and, as always, Ormonde Jayne fragrances are not sold anywhere in America. However, Nawab of Oudh is available at Ormonde Jayne’s two boutiques in London and is also available online at Harrods. [UPDATE: My apologies but, reading the fine print, it seems that Harrods does not export this item. I assume it has something to do with the UK’s postal regulations on the shipment of perfume. I’m afraid that I have no other purchasing alternatives for you at this time if you live outside London or the UK.]

If you love spicy, rich, complex Orientals (as I do), then Nawab of Oudh will be your personal heaven. It makes me think of Klimt’s The Kiss with its initial start of green, turned into creamy, lush, almost tropical florals, then to sweet, spicy roses and woody, nutty, oriental ambered richness. Frankly, I can give no higher praise than The Kiss.

Klimt The Kiss

Disclosure: My sample of Nawab of Oudh was provided courtesy of Ormonde Jayne. However, 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: As noted, above, Nawab of Oudh is an Eau de Parfum which comes only in a large 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs £335.00 or, with today’s present exchange rate, $506. Although Nawab of Oudh and the Four Corner Collection are not presently up on the Ormonde Jayne website, you can find the entire collection in the Ormonde Jayne stores, as well as at Harrods which ships out internationally. 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. When places like Surrender to Chance start selling the collection, I will update this post accordingly.

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

The icy steppes of Russia, the opulence of a Romanov Tsarina, a mix of hauteur and passion, brocades and fur, sweeping dresses and fabulous jewels….

Photo of Tsar Nicholas II accompanying Tsarina Alexandra and Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovn, at the Winter Palace Photograph circa 1901 by Burton Holmes. Source: Angelfire.com

Photo of Tsar Nicholas II accompanying Tsarina Alexandra and Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, at the Winter Palace. Photograph circa 1901 by Burton Holmes. Source: Angelfire.com

Those images are the source of inspiration for Tsarina, the new fragrance from the London luxury perfume house, Ormonde Jayne. It is one of four fragrances in 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 will review each one in turn, starting now with Tsarina.

OJ TsarinaOrmonde Jayne describes Tsarina as follows:

Tsarina captures opulence and passion. It demands fur, leather, brocade, heavy silks in sweeping dresses and fabulous jewels to go with her haughty heritage. To call it a floral oriental is to misunderstand its rich complexity, it is more baroque. The perfume is profound, blending leather notes, rich Madagascan vanilla, amber and orris butter.’ This is a powerhouse perfume, ravishing and regal, distinctive and synonymous with the glamorous world of luxe.

Tsarina’s notes include:

top: mandarine, bergamot, coriander, cassis.
heart: hedione, freesia, jasmine sambac, iris, suede. 
base: sandalwood, cedar, vanilla bean base, labdanum, musk.
Alix Romanov, last Tsarina

Empress Alexandra Romanov, née Alix of Hesse.

The description of Tsarina, along my past historical writings on both royalty and the Russian Imperial Family, led me to anticipate either Catherine the Great or Alexandra Romanov, last Tsarina of that ill-fated family. I expected images of snowy St. Petersburg, furs, jeweled chains of opulence, and a heady, baroque oriental that epitomized hedonistic splendour and excess.

Grace-Kelly-handbag

Princess Grace of Monaco.

Instead, I found an incredibly elegant, soft iris and suede scent that — to my mind — consistently evoked the cool, restrained, pale beauty (and occasional hauteur) of Princess Grace. Tsarina is, at times, as fizzily fresh and crisp as the best champagne (if there were ever a citrus, lemon champagne), at other times icily cool, but always romantic with a plushly soft heart like the finest suede coat matched with dove-grey gloves.

Tsarina opened on my skin with the freshest burst of citrus imaginable. It was so zesty, it felt as though you’d just cut into a lemon and been squirted by its juices. Light and bright, it mixes with the sweet, airy scent of freesia, some subtle musk, and an underlying note of soft, white woods. There was also a very faintly soapy element that creeps around the edges, mixing with the citrus accord, to add to the impression of a very fresh, Spring-like scent. The woody note is subtle, but even more subtle was the orange tonality which flickered for a brief moment before vanishing entirely. I tested out Tsarina three times, and mandarin never appeared for me at all during the other two tests.

Everything feels green, fizzy and bright, thanks, in part, to the hedione which seems to be a very significant molecule in 20th century perfumery. (You can read Bois de Jasmin‘s discussion of its uses in everything from highlighting jasmine to its role in Eau Sauvage, Diorella, and Van Cleef & Arpel’s First.) The Perfume Shrine explains that hedione is an aromachemical that is often used as a substitute for jasmine absolute, “but also for the sake of its own fresh-citrusy and green tonality.” It is said to “give fizz to citrus notes much ‘like champagne’.” Here, with Tsarina, it does just that, lending a sparkling quality to the bergamot lemon, while also adding its own green touch.

Prss Grace via TumblrLess than ten minutes into the opening of the Tsarina, the perfume’s strong backbone of suede raises its head. Soft, buttery, white-dove grey is the colour that comes to mind, tinged with delicate iris, and the whole thing set against a backdrop of lemon. As time passes, the citrus note fades and the iris suede takes over completely. It smells exactly like the soft, light interior to a very expensive purse. There are growing peppery smoke notes from the cedarwood, combined with the light musk and those airy, pastel freesia blossoms. The merest hint of soap weaves its way around all those notes, joining another subtle thread in Tsarina’s tapestry: powder. Iris often has a very powdery characteristic, but it’s very light here. Instead, the much plusher orris butter creates a velvety soft image, accentuating the grey suede note. It’s very cool in tone; never quite icy but never effusively warm, either. It has a regal hauteur and quiet aloofness, if you will.

The perfume is surprisingly soft and lightweight in texture, though strong in its initial moments. However, after less than forty minutes, the sillage drops dramatically. It’s as gauzy and light as the softest pashmina scarf, resting just lightly on your skin with a grey-pastel touch of iris, suede, heaps of freesia and a touch of vanilla.

The wood and smoke notes flicker here and there, popping around like ghosts. Often, in other treatments, cedarwood can seem excessively peppery and smoking, verging sometimes on the mentholated. Here, however, the impression is of soft cashmere woods with something a bit unexpected. On two of my three tests of Tsarina, I picked up something that definitely smelled of anise. It’s as though the often mentholated aspect of cedar has been tamed or quietened to such a degree that there is just the merest hint of its chilly, smoky, licorice-y character, now diluted down to a faint soupçon of mere anise. It’s in perfect keeping with the restrained, elegant aspect of the perfume.

Three hours in, the base notes of Tsarina start to emerge. There are quiet elements of sandalwood, vanilla, and sweet notes from the jasmine, but the real end of Tsarina is labdanum. It is a rich, nutty, slighty leathery, minutely dirty and animalic resin that is one of my absolute favorite notes. Here, it’s light and sheer, far from opaquely thick or molten. The labdanum is subtly tinged by the other notes at times but, for the most part, Tsarina’s dry-down consists primarily of the ambery resin, some powder, and little else. It’s pretty but, for my tastes, too light, sheer and simple.

All in all, Tsarina lasted just under 6 hours during my first test and a bit under 5 hours on the subsequent tests when I applied a lesser quantity. I have perfume-consuming skin, but I was nonetheless surprised at the moderate-to-short longevity for an eau de parfum concentration. (My beloved Tolu which is also an Ormonde Jayne eau de parfum lasted 7 hours when I reviewed it and just over 8 hours on a recent wearing.) The softness of Tsarina and its delicate notes are, perhaps, one explanation. The sillage began by being relatively good for the first 20 minutes, then dropped down to moderate-to-low thereafter. It became extremely close to the skin by the second hour; by the fourth, I thought the scent had vanished completely but faint traces lingered on, here or there, for another one to two hours (depending on test run).

There aren’t a ton of reviews on Tsarina out there. One of the few is from the Candy Perfume Boy who seems to have a very different experience than I did:

Everything about it is evocative of the opulent jewellery, furs and textiles that the description mentions and the Russians are famous for. It opens diffusive and bitter, hinting at the animalics to come but what’s really noticeable is a warm plushness, tinged by a darkness that comes from a combination of the powder of iris and indole of jasmine.

The whole thing is, dare I say, rather Guerlainesque with its bergamot, sweet floral powder and balsamic funk. Tsarina is like Shalimar Parfum Initial but on a bigger budget (we’re talking a Tsars budget here people), cutting straight through the fruit and heading straight for the rooty iris and gorgeous, filthy base of proper Shalimar. It doesn’t mess around, to put it frankly.

Tsarina is an incredibly feline fragrance, like a beautifully sleek black cat come in from the cold, slinking and weaving itself between your legs. Like a cat it is incredibly precious but not afraid to use its claws to assert it’s authority. There’s glamour here of course, but there’s also a steely strength just beneath the surface that says; “I may be incredibly beautiful but I’m even more dangerous”.

I didn’t get any of that, I’m afraid. My experience evoked not just Grace Kelly, but the softness of an Impressionist painting of winter. Something by Claude Monet, in fact.

Claude Monet. "Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt."

Claude Monet. “Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt.”

All in all, I thought Tsarina was pretty and I liked it, though I expected to truly love it. Had I smelled the mandarin orange and leather — and had the labdanum been heavily resinous and opaque, thereby evoking furs, leather and baroque richness — I probably would have. Instead, Tsarina was predominantly velvety soft iris and suede on my skin. All three times I tried it! I should note that iris is not one of the notes which drives me wild with passion. In fact, it can be a note I struggle with, depending on what accompanies it. That said, I think this is one of the best treatments of iris that I have encountered in a while. In addition to my iris issues, however, Tsarina was also far too soft, gauzy and sheer for my personal tastes — both in terms of weight and in sillage. The longevity was also a problem, though the speed with which my skin can consume perfume is not the norm.

I’m afraid my heart still belongs to Tolu, though I have to admit that there is something about Tsarina’s plush, velvety softness that is quite alluring. Its cool elegance is comfortable and easy, like the best pashmina cashmere scarf or the richest suede caressing your skin. I know a number of my regular readers are complete fiends for soft, harmonious iris scents and, to them, I say, I think this will knock your socks off!

Unfortunately, Tsarina is not the easiest thing to get your hands on right now. It is not even listed yet on the company’s website (though it probably will be soon), and doesn’t seem available at other European retailers. As always, Ormonde Jayne fragrances are not sold in the U.S. At the moment, Tsarina is available at Ormonde Jayne’s two boutiques in London and is also available online at Harrods. That seems to be about it. Even worse, none of the perfume sample sites in the US currently offer any of the Four Corners of the Earth collection. So, you can’t even get the chance to sniff it! (When places like Surrender to Chance start selling samples of the collection, I will update this post accordingly.) Given the price, this is not something I would recommend buying blindly and unsniffed unless you know you love soft iris scents. The perfume comes only in one size — a large 100 ml/ 3.4 oz bottle — and costs £280.00. At the current exchange rate, that comes to approximately $422!

I think cost is all relative and subjective. It depends on the person and how much they adore something. So, for those who love harmonious, elegant. quietly restrained scents, especially of iris and suede, Tsarina is definitely one to try out.

Disclosure: My sample of Tsarina was provided courtesy of Ormonde Jayne. However, 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: As noted, above, Tsarina is an Eau de Parfum which comes only in a large 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs £280.00. Although Tsarina and the Four Corner Collection are not presently up on the Ormonde Jayne website, you can find the entire line at Harrods which ships out internationally. Ormonde Jayne’s two London boutiques are at Old Bond Street and Sloane Square with the precise addresses listed on the website here. When US perfume sample sites, like Surrender to Chance, start to offer Tsarina, I will update this post with the appropriate link.