Perfume Review – Ormonde Woman by Ormonde Jayne: The Dream Landscape

Thomas Gainsborough. "Open Landscape with Shepherd, Sheep and Pool." The Victoria and Albert Museum

Thomas Gainsborough. “Open Landscape with Shepherd, Sheep and Pool.” The Victoria and Albert Museum

If a perfume were a painting, I think Ormonde Woman would be one of Thomas Gainsborough’s famous landscapes. The perfume by the niche luxury house of Ormonde Jayne is reminiscent of the famed 18th century painter’s portrayal of nature, all bright light contrasted by dark intensity, hidden mystery, and hints of rich warmth. Gainsborough created a dream-like, hazy impression through soft brush strokes and, yet, there is the dark verisimilitude of the Dutch painters, like Rubens, who inspired him. Light and dark, depth and surfaces, reality and a dream — it is all simultaneously evoked by the brilliance that is Ormonde Woman.

The unisex perfume was the very first fragrance put out by Ormonde Jayne upon its debut in 2002, and it is the luxury perfume house’s signature scent. It is a scent of some renown, has received a five-star rating and was named as one of the 100 great classics by the perfume expert, Luca Turin, in The Little Black Book of Perfume: 100 Great Classics.

I’d heard vague, breathy mentions from people of this “amazing” scent, but never really paid much heed until some months ago when one of my oldest friends — who knows almost nothing about perfume — asked me about it. I was so taken aback by her interest (and in a niche perfume, no less!) that I ordered a sample. In all honesty, it took me months to get around to testing Ormonde Woman because I tend to be put off by things with a lot of hype. (I still haven’t seen the movie, Titantic. And I never will.) So my first foray into the Ormonde Jayne brand was with Tolu. It captivated me and rendered me weak with joyous admiration. It also made me determined to explore the brand’s signature perfume. And, you know what? The hype over Ormonde Jayne is fully warranted! Ormonde Woman

Ormonde Jayne is described on Fragrantica as a chypre, but I think Tania Sanchez has a better description in her book with Luca Turin entitled Perfumes: the A-Z Guide. There, she categorizes it as a “forest chypre.” (In a nutshell, a chypre perfume is a scent that begins with citrus notes and ends with either oakmoss, patchouli, musk, or some combination thereof. You can read a more detailed explanation of the important chypre category of fragrances in the Glossary.) Ms. Sanchez’ five-star review of Ormonde Woman helps explain, in part, why the perfume is so special:

Of the many feminine perfumes since [Chanel’s] Bois des Iles that have been composed around woody notes, the others that I can recall have been cozy, powdery-rosy, touched with mulling spices, with the warm furred feeling of a napping cat by the fire, or, more recently, hippie-inspired simple concoctions meant to evoke mostly the gorgeous smell of hard-to-get sandalwood oil. Ormonde Woman is the only abstract woody perfume I know that triggers the basic involuntary reflex, of stepping into a forest, to fill one’s lungs to bursting with the air. This is a full-fledged perfume with all of the sophistication of Bois des Iles and its ilk, but none of the sleepy comfort. Instead, it has the haunting, outdoors witchiness of tall pines leaning into the night — a bitter oakmoss inkiness, a dry cedar crackle, and a low, delicious, pleading sweet amber, like the call of a faraway candy house. Lulling and unsettling in equal measure, and truly great.

Gainsborough. "Moonlight Landscape with Pool."

Gainsborough. “Moonlight Landscape with Pool.”

I agree in large part with Ms. Sanchez’s review. I certainly agree that Ormonde Woman can be lulling and unsettling in equal measure, but I would also add some other adjectives to the mix: “mesmerizing,” “hypnotic,” and “unisex” for starters. However, I think it’s almost regrettable that she used the word “witchiness” in her paean to the perfume. It has led to a plethora of reviews talking about Ormonde Woman’s witchy aspect with a few unsettled posters even writing that they feel it is a scent best suited for Halloween. I think the adjective minimizes the perfume to something that is only a tiny part of its essence, and hardly the sum total.

The Tsuga tree or, "Black Hemlock."

The Tsuga tree or, “Black Hemlock.”

The source of all this magical business stems from one simple cause: Black Hemlock. It is the key to the Ormonde Woman and, though it may conjure up images of warlocks and witches, it is actually just a type of spruce tree. To be more specific, it is the name for a pine tree of the Tsuga genus. Ormonde Jayne was the very first perfume house to use the ingredient — a sign of its innovative, creative approach to perfumery — and, according to Wikipedia, others have followed suit.

Linda Pilkington, the founder, nose and soul behind the Ormonde Jayne brand, talked about the Black Hemlock note and the persona of the Ormonde Woman with the blog Riktig Parfym (formerly Fragrant Fanatic). I highly recommend reading the interview; there, as in all the other interviews that I’ve read with Ms. Pilkington, she comes across as charming, down-to-earth, self-deprecating, open, direct, and full of warmth. (I realise that I’m starting to sound like a crazed “fan girl,” as Americans put it, about Ms. Pilkington. I plead guilty.)  Her explanation of the ingredient is as follows:

Ormonde Woman is based on hemlock and there are 3 types of hemlock. There is the tree, the bush and the plant. The plant (which is not the hemlock used in OW) is poisonous and if you boil it and then drink the water you’ll first get a sensation that you’re feet are numbing and as the poison spreads through your body, you get paralyzed and die. This was used in 15th-16th centuries as a womans way to murder a man. As a woman usually is physically weaker she cannot strangle a man, but to boil a plant and put into his food isn’t usually a problem. And it’s still done today. So, the persona of Ormonde Woman is a woman who knows what she wants. She has long raven colored hair, wears a long black cape and rides through the woods at night, maybe to meet a lover?

Ormonde Woman and its notes are described on the company’s website as follows:

Beginning and ending with the unique scent of Black Hemlock absolute – rarely used in such luscious quality and quantity – this utterly hypnotic, unconventional and mysterious woody essence is combined with jasmine and violet absolute to create a dusky, seductive perfume.

Top NotesCardamom, coriander and grass oil
Heart Notes: Black hemlock, violet and jasmine absolute
Base Notes: Vetiver, cedar wood, amber and sandalwood.

Source: Miriadna.com.

Source: Miriadna.com.

Ormonde Woman opens on me with fresh, zesty citrus, bitter resin, a massive dollop of spice, and bright greens. At first, I thought it was like spicy grass but, after some contemplation, I think it’s more like fresh moss. Not oakmoss, per se, or, at least, not the usual oakmoss. There is none of the pungent, almost dusty, grey-mineralised aspects of the note. Instead, this is like the brightest moss were it jade green, wet from

Image: Moody. Source: Canadian Govt. Website.

Image: Moody. Source: Canadian Govt. Website.

dew, and covered with amberous spices. People are right when they say that it evokes the green, mossy floor of a forest. It is almost tinged with dark shadows; there is none of the sweet mildness of freshly cut grass on a summer’s day. That comes later. For now, the moss is wet and tinged by the cedar and sandalwood trees around it.

Yet, the real focus in the opening hour is the Black Hemlock. It is fascinating. Resinous evergreen with burnt notes and black licorice. The strength and prominence of the note seems to vary widely with the amount of the perfume used. In fact, I think the quantity you use may dramatically change your impression of the opening. The first time I tested Ormonde Jayne, I didn’t dab on a lot; only 2-3 tiny blots from the vial on each arm. With that amount, the Black Hemlock note was prominent, but not the sole focus. The second time, I dabbed on quite a bit (4-5 smears, approximating 2 big sprays per arm). The Black Licorice Wheelsresult was as if a black cloud had suddenly descended upon the forest. There was a massive, monumental dose of black licorice, much more of a burnt aroma, and a contrasting cool, chilled, mentholated impression. For some reason, it calls to mind the image of something like tar. Not the tar that they use to pave roads but, rather, the treacly, thick, blackish paste found in Marmite. Actually, there is more than just a visual similarity to Marmite. There is a quiet saltiness underpinning the sweet spice. It’s faint, flickering in the background like a ghost, but it’s there.

Antique Spice Drawer on Etsy. Source: Prairie Antiques.

Antique Spice Drawer on Etsy. Source: Prairie Antiques.

In greater doses, the spice accords in the perfume also gain heft, and my impression of bright green grass or dewy moss become much less. The faintly lemony note of coriander and the lightly spice earthy-sweet notes of the cardamom were much more noticeable. But something else was apparent. Star anise. I could swear that I smelled the Chinese Five Spice mix, dominated by its star anise element. There was also a strong impression of spiced wood, almost like a faintly dusty spice drawer in an old cabinet where the wood has absorbed decades of strong spices.

Tsuga Needles

Western Hemlock. Source: Puget Sound University.

The licorice was not only more prominent in greater doses the second time round, but so too were the mentholated, chilled camphor notes and the evergreen. Having never smelled Black Hemlock prior to now, I have no idea if the minty-mentholated notes come from the cedar or from the spruce/pine tree. Regardless, they become stronger and stronger until — 30 minutes in — the predominant note emanating from my arm is pine needles. They’re so fresh and concentrated, it’s as though you scraped them right off the tree and crushed them between your fingers.

An hour in, the pine needles fade and have their place taken by sandalwood. Ormonde Woman is actually the first time in a long time that I’ve smelled real, actual, genuine sandalwood in a truly prominent way. A large portion of the perfumes which claim to have that rare, exorbitantly expensive ingredient and which I’ve tested lately seem, to me, to have absolutely no visible, noticeable traces of it at all. In truth, after the recent test of one perfume which claimed to have sandalwood in its notes, I was starting to wonder if I even knew what it smelled like anymore.

Well, it’s here. And, it’s not synthetic! It is sweet, lightly smoky, like creamed honey and molten resin mixed with wood. I’m rather awed by its strength and character, given the scarcity of true sandalwood and its cost. In fact, the strength of the note here makes Ormonde Woman a modern call-back to  those rich sandalwood orientals of the 1970s and 1980s, before the Mysore wood was over-harvested and had to be placed under government protection. The sandalwood mixes with a faintly aromatic, woody, cedar-y scent; with the slightly green-sweet-earthy aspect of cardamom; with the bright, dewy, wet moss; and with a vague breath of something floral. It is a play on bitter and sweet, woody and green, wet and dry.

That vague floral note soon turns into pure, sweet jasmine. Ms. Pilkington has said she likes to work with hedione, a compound often used in conjunction with Jasmine Absolute (which is a part of Ormonde Woman). Hedione lends a vaguely green, fresh tone to the jasmine here. When combined with the lemony fresh notes of the coriander, they cut through any possible indolic heaviness that the flower may have, leaving only sweetness and brightness. I’m afraid that jasmine is the only real floral note that I can smell; in neither of my two tests could I really smell the violets that others have noted. Frankly, violet seems like such a dainty flower that I don’t know how it could possibly compete with the heavy woods, the faintly smoke elements, the resins and the spices.

In the middle stage and the final dry-down, those latter accords still remain. On me, it’s all creamy, delicious, intoxicating sandalwood, resinous amber, and faintly lemony wood. There is still a faintly tarry, smoky note, though the mentholated, almost camphorous notes of the cedar (and Black Hemlock?) have mostly dissipated. There is also the mild sweetness of summer’s grass and the earthy greenness of vetiver dancing in the shadows, faint but there nonetheless.

I have the oddest visual image in my mind: a large, chewy, sort of brownie square. It’s tarry, black, smoky, and moist with bits of light-brown cedar chips sticking out of it and chunks of chilly black licorice. It’s speckled with little glowing orbs of sweet, honeyed amber that dot its surface and the whole thing is wrapped in a box filled with jade-green, dewy moss, sweet emerald-green grass, and delicate white jasmine.

Gainsborough. "Landscape with Cows and Human Figure."

Gainsborough. “Landscape with Cows and Human Figure.”

But, most of all, I feel as though I have entered a Gainsborough landscape through a dream. To me, Ormonde Woman is a perfume of great contrasts where the woods are dark and mysterious, drawn in realistic detail, but there are contrasts of shining bright light and parts where everything is soft, hazed, romantic and dreamy. One is jolted at first, then enveloped in softness. Based on my experience with Tolu, I think such contrasts are something that Ms. Pilkington does very well. They are also one reason why there is such depth and complexity to her scents.

It is utterly mesmerizing, and most definitely unisex. Not feminine, but unisex! I’ve read that the men’s counterpart, Ormonde Man, has oudh and pink peppers in it, and that it’s supposed to be much less sweet. I haven’t tried it to know but, frankly, I think a man would smell divine in Ormonde Woman. In fact, it seems to be a big hit with men due to the strongly woody notes and the Black Hemlock.

That said, I don’t think Ormonde Woman is for everyone. It will be too masculine for women who prefer lighter, sweeter or floral scents. My friend who initially asked me about it months ago enjoys light, airy, fresh green scents; for someone like her, Ormonde Woman would be far too much: too tarry, too spicy, too woody. In addition, the bitter aspect of Black Hemlock seems to have been a problem for a number of people, leading them to react quite strongly. Interestingly, a few perfume bloggers who recoiled upon first essay ended up falling in love with the fragrance some time later after trying it again. So much so that they bought a full bottle!

On Fragrantica, one male poster, “smcandsmc,” wrote something that I think sums up the fragrance perfectly:

Stunning. Wow. Grassy top lifted me off the ground, gorgeous rich middle keeps me suspended in mid air. […]  Seriously having an out of body experience over this. Plotzing. When I read rhapsodic descriptions of the vintage classics in their vintage formulations that I will never experience, this is the depth, richness and quality I imagine.

The superb richness and quality that “smcandsmc” noted is a key characteristic of Ormonde Jayne scents. The perfumes consistently scream high-quality luxury in a way that has utterly transfixed me. I’m sure there will be some in the line that won’t suit my personal style, but the quality of those I’ve tried thus far cannot be denied. They have been outstanding across the board. You can tell that the highest quality ingredients were used in order to create the most luxurious, wonderfully indulgent, seductive experience possible. And the fragrances repeatedly meet the brand’s overall philosophy:

quality and true luxury, the pursuit of beauty and elegance. […]

[The return] to the golden age of perfumery, an elegant era when fragrance creation was a fine art.

Perhaps more importantly, Ormonde Jayne fragrances are approachable and wearable. They are not edgy, sometimes discordant, intellectual art that you would admire but rarely (or, in some cases, never) wear. I can see women and men alike wearing Ormonde Woman frequently, whether on special occasions, for a casual dinner, or just simply to the office (though I would advise caution with regard to the quantity used if you plan on wearing it there). Ormonde Woman has a high degree of concentration: 25% in its most basic form (which seems more akin to extrait de parfum for some other lines), so the sillage can be very strong depending on the amount sprayed. On me, Ormonde Woman wasn’t as strong or potent as Tolu, but it had good sillage for the first two hours, becoming close to the skin around 3 to 3.5 hours in. As a whole, it lasted around 6.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. On others, it generally seems to last a long time (8-10), though I’ve read some conflicting reports of its tenacity.

I could go on and on about both Ormonde Woman and the Ormonde Jayne line itself. Truth be told, my initial draft was well over 4,000 words! I have struggled to give you the essence without sounding like a crazed loon but, if space and my readers’ valuable time (not to mention patience) were not an issue, I would wax rhapsodic for several more hours about the astounding quality of the brand. The depth, the richness, the luxuriousness, the ease with which the perfumes transport you elsewhere upon first whiff, their almost lyrical nature….. it is a return to the “golden age of perfumery” indeed.

DETAILS:
Cost & AvailabilityOrmonde Woman is available in perfume extract (30%) and eau de parfum (25%) in 50 ml bottle, as well as in accompanying bath, lotion, cream and candle forms. It is available at the Ormonde Jayne boutique in London or on the company’s website. It is not sold in any department stores in the U.S. The website offers purchases in USD currency and, there, the cost of Ormonde Woman is as follows: a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of eau de parfum costs $126 (£80), while the pure parfum comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml “premium French flacon with a gold OJ motif stopper and Japanese ribbons” and costs $300. There is a set of travel sized purse sprays (4 x 10ml) that costs $100 and a Discovery set of all 12 fragrances in 2 ml mini-sprays for $75. The perfume is also available at Harrods in London and, I’ve read, at Fortum & Mason. Please note that Harrods only sells Ormonde Woman in the expensive bottle for £184.00, not in the £80 bottle available on the brand’s own website. Ormonde Jayne fragrances are also sold in Brussels, Belgium at Senteurs d’Ailleurs (whose website is under construction, so I can’t link you to anything) and at Osswald in Zurich, Switzerland.
OJ Discovery SetI highly recommend the Discovery Set which the Ormonde Jayne website describes as follows: “Ormonde Jayne’s Discovery Set is comprised of 12 x 2ml mini sprays of eau de parfum, together with a brochure explaining each perfume, all housed in a black and gold box… and whats more, the shipping is complimentary worldwide.”
Samples: You can also order samples of Ormonde Woman from various sample sites. I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells samples starting at $3.99 for half of the standard 1 ml vial. It is also offers Ormonde Woman in parfum concentration for the same starting price. Surrender to Chance ships worldwide for about $5.95 (though it’s a little bit more for larger orders over $75), and for $2.95 for all orders within the U.S., regardless of the size of the order.

“The People v. Amarige” – Prosecution & Defense

The People v. Amarige – Case # 13-92745B

The Bailiff: “Oyez, Oyez, the Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Charles Highblossom presiding. On the docket, The People v. Amarige, Case # 13-92745B. The charge is olfactory assault and battery. State your name and business before the Court.”

[A small, balding man rises]: “I am the District Attorney, Luke Sneering.”

[A tiny, dark woman rises]: “I am the Public Defender, Grace Hopeless-Causes, representing the Defendant, Amarige de Givenchy.” [She points to the table where Amarige sits. She is enveloped in the most luxurious white furs, drips gleaming diamonds, and wears the largest, frothiest hat this side of a royal wedding. The defendant’s chin is raised defiantly, her eyes staring straight ahead, but she nervously fingers her diamond choker.]

[The white-wigged judge bangs his gavel]: “The Prosecution may proceed.”

THE PROSECUTION:

[The D.A., Mr. Sneering]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We are here to convict Amarige, from the house of Givenchy, with being the most heinous perfume in the world. Countless have fallen prey to her horrors. You will hear testimony from asthmatics whom we will wheel in from the Intensive Care Unit where they landed after a mere whiff of her olfactory napalm. You will hear of her ubiquity in the 1990s, Amarige 1990sassaulting you from every magazine perfume strip, invading your home through your mailbox, until there was no escape. You will hear from Luca Turin, the perfume expert, on how she is “truly loathsome,” a perfume he rated one-star, and which he hates the most in all the world. And, in the end, you will do the right thing: you will convict her of assault and battery, even though what we really should be charging her with are crimes against humanity!

Let us start at the beginning. Amarige was let loose upon the unsuspecting public in 1991, a fruity-floral Frankenstein created by the legendary nose, Dominique Ropion, who really should have known better! Her parts, according to Fragrantica, consist of:

top notes are composed of fresh fruit: peach, plum, orange, mandarin, with the sweetness of rose wood and neroli. The floral bouquet, very intense and luscious, is created of mimosa, neroli, tuberose, gardenia and acacia with a gourmand hint of black currant. The warm woody base is composed of musk, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, Tonka bean and cedar.

In those long-ago days, as the perfume blogger The Non-Blonde states so well, there was no escape from her fumed tentacles. You didn’t have to buy it to wear it.

[You] didn’t have to: you could go into a public building, a friend’s home or get on a bus and emerge with your hair and clothes smelling of it. Amarige was so recognizable and obvious that even I, lover of assertive perfumes, couldn’t deal with it. Not to mention the fact that it’s so very peachy you could feel the juice dribble on your chin.

The Non-Blonde may have had a baffling change of heart on Amarige, but she was right when she said that “women who maintain the old habit of marinating themselves in Amarige should have their noses and sanity examined.” (Frankly, I think the Non-Blonde should have her sanity examined for her sudden appreciation of Amarige. No, time does not heal all olfactory wounds!)

I said at the start that what we should be charging Amarige with are crimes against humanity. The world agrees with me. I present as witnesses, some posters from Basenotes.

[The court security guards wheel in the witnesses that they have ferried over from the Intensive Care Unit. From their gurneys, they feebly lift their heads to take the vow to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ so help them God. And then they testify.]

  • Tuberose’s reputation has been damaged almost irrepairably by this most horrid affair. If I were her I would sue.
  • Truly, truly awful. Radiates out to the orbit of Neptune. Causes asthma, retching and a stampede for the exit. Frightens children and pets, ruins dinner-parties, restaurant meals and plane journeys. Could be used to eradicate vermin from silos and warehouses. [..] Please people, stop buying this hideous juice so Givenchy will stop making it. It’s an abomination, a crime against humanity. I can’t understand why any woman would want to smell like this, or why her significant other would want to smell it on her. A chemical disaster of Chernobyl proportions.
  • this Perfume is a migraine in a bottle. […] The absolute worst fragrance I’ve ever smelled.
  • I own a bottle of it due to my initial attraction to its smell in small quantities. Wearing it, I feel nauseous and completely unable to eat anything. I tried to scrub it off in the shower but it won’t die. I haven’t eaten anything all day. I think this toxic odor could be useful as a diet aid.
  • Horrible, HORRIBLE soapy smell broadcasting out to the planet at gigawatt levels. I made the mistake of spraying this onto my wrist and I thought I’d never be able to remove it. This smell made me feel nauseous and headachey.

The final witness comes from Fragrantica:

If I had to describe this perfume in one word it would be ‘haunting’ because it’s unpleasant and, like the eerie warnings written in blood on the walls, impossible to scrub off.

‘Blood on the walls.’ Blood on the walls, people! The eerie warnings come, in part, from tuberose, one of the most indolic flowers around. What is an idole, you ask? I draw your attention to Exhibit 3, the Glossary of perfume terms. It is something found naturally in many heady, white flowers — like tuberose. In excessive amounts, it can lead to a feel of extreme full-blown, over-ripeness. In cases of fragrances like Amarige, it can turn to an aroma of sourness, even cat litter feces, plastic flowers, urine,  garbage heaps of rotting fruit, or all of the above. At best, Amarige is a fetid, rotting stinker that will turn from over-blown flowers to pure sourness and cat urine. At worst, it will choke up your airways, prevent all breathing and render you utterly unconscious. All in just 2 small whiffs.

You don’t believe me, I can see it in your eyes. Well, we shall prove it to you. Guards! Bring in the testers!”

[The guards set up two, tiny canisters at each end of the room. The jury shifts in their chairs nervously. A cordon of security blocks the doors. The District Attorney dramatically puts on a giant gas mask, akin to those used by soldiers in the first Persian Gulf War when there were fears of Saddam Hussein using chemical warfare — or Amarige — against American troops. Mr. Sneering points to the guards and nods.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.  

Three small whiffs of scent are released from each of the two canisters. White flower after white flower suddenly fills the room. They flit here, they flit there. They are omnipresent. There is a smell of orange, orange blossom, more orange blossom, and still more. It spreads its powerful molecules around the room like a carpet unfurling a wave. Little spectres of happy yellow mimosa flowers dance along the orange carpet. There is a shadow of some silken amber rising up, peeking its eyes above the wave of orange. Peach makes an appearance, adding to the orange haze filling the room and cocooning the white ghosts of tuberose and gardenia. The powerful ghosts dance merrily up to the District Attorney and punch him in his gas-masked nose. He falls back, but rises with a glare.

There is an audible gasp. A woman in the far back of the visitor’s gallery clutches her throat and gasps for air. Juror #4 faints completely. Jurors #6 and #9 have a look of rapt enchantment and glazed joy on their faces, much to the disgust of the District Attorney who sneers at them. In her seat, Amarige smiles faintly. With an almost imperceptible flick of her dainty chin, she tells the ever-growing, large white ghosts of tuberose and gardenia to move near Juror #5 who told of her upcoming wedding in Voir Dire. They move and the Juror suddenly sits up straighter in her chair, dreams of her wedding day and of Amarige trailing behind her in a billowing cloud of white.

The Jury Foreman has been watching these proceedings with unease. When Juror # 2 keels over beside him, begging for medical help and saying she is dying, he starts to back away. Quietly, he inches towards the door and then flees outright, only to head straight into a wall of security. The gas-masked police officers grimly shake their heads. He looks at them pleading. “I can’t take it any more. Get me out of here,” he whispers. “It’s in my nose, it’s burning my skin. There is so much fruit all of a sudden. I’m surrounded by peaches and a whiff of plum. It’s cloying, synthetic and artificial. And it’s covering every inch of me, like fruited animals devouring my skin. I need a shower. Please, have mercy.” They sympathetically shake their heads again and drag him, kicking and screaming, back to his chair.

The Judge has had enough of these theatrics. He orders medical attention for the gasping or collapsed bodies, lying crumpled like rag dolls throughout the room. He orders all the windows opened and the room to be fumigated before the court will reconvene the next day. He contemplates also ordering psychiatric evaluations for those jurors who had beatific, hypnotized, enraptured smiles on their faces, but decides he cannot seem biased.

The next day, the court reconvenes and the District Attorney resumes his case.]

“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for subjecting you yesterday to the horrors of Amarige. But, I had to give you the chance to decide for yourself. The People’s case will conclude with our expert, Mr. Luca Turin, the most famous perfume critic in the world. Before you is Exhibit 4, an excerpt from his book with Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: the A-Z Guide. Note the categorization of Amarige as ‘Killer tuberose.’ Killer. Not extreme but ‘killer.’ The one-star review reads as follows:

We nearly gave it four stars: the soapy-green tobacco-tuberose accord Dominique Ropion designed for Amarige is unmissable, unmistakeable, and unforgettable. However, it is also truly loathsome, perceptible even at parts-per-billion levels, and at all times incompatible with others’ enjoyment of food, music, sex, and travel. If you are reading this because it is your darling fragrance, please wear it at home exclusively, and tape the windows shut.

Ladies and gentlemen, the People rest their case.”

THE DEFENSE:

[The Public Defender, Grace Hopeless-Causes, rises and speaks]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am here for one reason and one reason only. To represent the shamed, silent, closeted minority of women who adore Amarige and feel she has been most unjustly accused of crimes against perfumery! She has been vilified for far too long and it’s time for the Amarige lovers to defend her!

The weight and power of Luca Turin’s reputation has added the final, unjust nail in Amarige’s coffin. It is not tuberose who should sue Amarige, but Amarige who should sue Luca Turin for defamatory libel!

Don’t believe the District Attorney. He has presented only one, very slanted, side to the story. Did you note how he had only one witness from Fragrantica? Why is that, do you think? I’ll tell you why: because that was the sole, truly harsh review of Amarige. He didn’t tell you of all the others which spoke of the joy, the happy, dancing aura of Amarige, the image of beautiful wedding days, or posts writing of “sumptuous” finishes, of “sophistication” and “class.” There is no mention of how it is addictive, of how you can’t stop sniffing your wrists, of how intensely feminine it can make you feel.

And there is not a word about how it can drive men wild.

No, the District Attorney has presented a very lopsided, distorted picture of Amarige. Even when he quotes Luca Turin, he leaves out the words of his co-author, Tania Sanchez, who wrote in that same book:

Amarige is a genius work of perfumery, utterly recognizable, memorable, technically polished and spectacularly loud.

The D.A. quickly brushed over how they wanted to give it four stars. FOUR. And there is not a peep out of him over the fact that the very book he quotes as expert opinion actually lists Amarige in their top 10 BEST list at the back! It is in their 10 Best Loud Perfumes list, next to the 5-star Fracas, 5-star Angel, and the 5-star Lolita Lempicka perfumes. Strange for a perfume that Mr. Sneering and Luca Turin would have you believe is a crime against perfume humanity, no?

amarige1998Yes, Amarige is loud and a diva. Yes, one big squirt can blow your head off. But no-one ever said you should bathe in it, for heaven’s sake! Plus, don’t let the opening blast fool you. Amarige has average sillage and longevity. After the first ten minutes, it can fade to a much tamer level. If you don’t believe me, read Fragrantica, Basenotes or MakeupAlley, and see similar comments for yourself.

To all those who have had asthmatic attacks as a result of encounters with Amarige, I apologise. She apologises. Truly. But the same thing could happen from Lolita Lempicka, Angel or a whole host of perfumes. Why have they not been brought up on charges? Why does Luca Turin adore and worship the brilliance of Angel — a scent which many have compared to toxic nerve gas — but not the admittedly “genius,” “technically polished” masterpiece of Amarige? And, in all cases, isn’t it the fault of the wearers who spray on too much? Blaming Amarige for medical injuries triggered by over-use is akin to blaming a car manufacturer for accidents that may arise from someone texting while driving.

Where we concede and confess fully is the charge that Amarige is a diva. Yes. Yes, she is.Maria Callas Amarige is Maria Callas, the legendary opera singer, taking center stage under the bright white lights, and showered with diamonds by billionaires like Aristotle Onassis who loved her more than he ever did Jackie O. Amarige is not meant to be a simpering, quiet wallflower, sitting in the corner, awaiting a man to ask her to dance. She will push her way to the center of the floor and dance by herself, mesmerizing a room — public opinion be damned!

As for the charge that she is a cloying monster with some potentially synthetic undertones, we plead the Fifth. Even if true, and we are not saying that it is, many other perfumes are too. And, yet, do you see them in this courtroom? Speaking only for myself, I do not find Amarige to be synthetic. I think she is exactly what Givenchy and Dominique Ropion meant for her to be. As Fragrantica explains:

The name of the perfume ‘Amarige‘ is an anagram of the French word ‘Mariage.’ That is why this fragrance is as intensive as a strong feeling, merry, juicy and unforgettable as a moment of happy mariage. It is so opulent and floral that it seems like its composition includes all the beautiful flowers that exist in the world.

The Amarige woman is graceful, playful and charming, a real French woman in love. She radiates joy and gives a happy smile.

Maria Callas Tosca

Maria Callas in “Tosca.”

Despite her opulence and diva status, Amarige can be a cheap date. You can find a 1 oz bottle on Kohl‘s for $50 or on Sephora for $49. A 1.6 oz bottle costs $67 on Sephora, and much less on eBay. Compare those prices to more reputable white floral or tuberose scents: Robert Piguet‘s Fracas starts at $95; while Frederic Malle‘s Carnal Flower starts at $230 at Barneys.

Whatever she is, I realise this is the most hopeless of all lost causes. Amarige’s reputation has been destroyed beyond all measure. I can sit here and talk to you about her lovely white femininity, her peach exuberance, that dry-down of spice and amber, and it will make no difference at all. There is simply no hope of restoring her good name.

But I make this plea to you, ladies and gentlement of the jury: do not let the perfume world’s easy, facile dismissal of Amarige influence you. They are not objective and they have followed Luca Turin like sheep. After all, they proudly admit their love for Fracas, another white flowers explosion that make people gasp for air.

Admittedly, Fracas is a much more elegant creature than the brazen hussy, Amarige. And, yes, hard as it is to believe, Fracas almost seems like almost a quiet, shy child in comparison. But are they really so different as to warrant Fracas’s triumphant twirl in the spotlight as a cult favorite and legend, while Amarige wilts in the wilds of guilty obscurity? Again, Fracas may be of slightly better quality and there is not a hint of anything synthetic about it. But it too is an over-blown indolic scent that can turn sour or lead to thoughts of rotting fruit. Amarige is more fruity than Fracas, true, but there is luscious peach, orange and amber in Hermès‘ sophisticated 24 Faubourg, after all.

Unlike 24 Faubourg’s sophisticated woman, however, Amarige is like a happy child, all yellow, orange and white dancing flowers, full of exuberance and femininity. It is not a scent for those who like discreet, quiet, unobtrusive fragrances. It’s not for those who can’t stand heady, narcotically powerful ones, either. And it is most definitely not for those who can’t bear white flowers.

But if you love Amarige, I beg of you: do not go quietly into that good night, hiding your face in shame and covering your scarlet letter, that “A” which marks you as an A-marige lover. Rise up and defend her name. Admit your folly and sins. Admit she is glorious. Don’t wear her only in the privacy of your own room with the windows duct-taped shut. And find her not guilty of crimes against perfumery!”

[The Public Defender sits down and the jury leaves for its deliberations. There is no word from them for three days. Then, finally, they return.]

THE VERDICT:

Hung jury.

[Nine jurors wanted to convict.

Three held out, utterly in love, and on their way to buy a bottle for themselves.]

Perfume Review – Chanel Les Exclusifs Sycomore: Mighty Vetiver

Close your eyes and imagine you are in the heart of a forest at Yosemite National Park.

Source: Deby Dixon Photography

Source: Deby Dixon Photography

Cypress trees and evergreens intermingle and stretch far before you. The dark, dry earth is sprinkled with pine needles, and a wild boar is rooting at the tall grasses at the base of a tree, his endeavors lifting the smell of the earthy, chocolate-y roots into the air. Icicles hang from the branches where, nestled deep within, are purple juniper berries. In the heart of the forest, campfires burn thick logs of pine and cypress, and there is a smell of peppery smoke intermingling with the burning woods. Someone is cooking caramel, and burning it. You huddle deeper into your coat as the hint of frost brings a chill, but you can’t help but take a deeper breath of the vetiver surrounding you.

SycomoreGreen and brown, smoky and earthy, with a heart of cypress and wood — that is Chanel‘s Sycomore. It is an incredibly elegant smell, luxurious and leaving a smooth, trail of pure class oozing in its green-brown trail. It is richly masculine, with not a hint of florals, but this is silken masculinity in the most sophisticated, elegant of packages.

Sycomore was first introduced to the world in 1930, the creation of Chanel’s very famous, original perfumer, Ernst Beaux. From what I’ve read, it was all violet and tobacco with some support from soft aldehydes and balsamic wood. The original Sycomore vanished in the perfume mists, but it was re-envisioned and re-introduced in 2008 as an eau de toilette and as part of Chanel’s prestige collection called “Les Exclusifs.” It lesExclusifswas created by Chanel’s house perfumer, Jacques Polge, along with an equally famous “nose” in the industry, Christopher Sheldrake.

On its website, Chanel describes the new Sycomore as follows:

A rich-wood fragrance with a noble character — like the Sycomore tree that inspired it — created by CHANEL Master Perfumer Jacques Polge in 2008. At the heart of the scent: Vetiver, with an elegant Sandalwood note and dashes of Cypress, Juniper and Pink Pepper, for an earthy, warm and enveloping, yet subtle presence.

I think Chanel’s description nails it, unlike the Fragrantica‘s entry for Sycomore which seems completely incorrect in my opinion. Fragrantica puts Sycomore in the “Woody Floral Musk” category, and lists its notes as “vetiver, sandalwood, aldehydes, tobacco and violet.” I suspect both the categorization and the notes apply only to the 1930s version of Sycomore.

No, Chanel’s notes for Sycomore are the ones to follow and they are clearly listed by the Perfume Shrine as follows:

Vetiver, cypress, juniper, pink pepper, smoke, burning woods.

To get a true understanding of Sycomore, I think it’s important to elaborate a bit on the notes. For example, vetiver which not everyone is familiar with as an ingredient or as a smell, and which is the main part of Sycomore.  Chandler Burr, the former New York Times perfume critic, gave this extremely useful explanation to GQ:

vetiver-roots

Vetiver Roots.
Source: Herbariasoap.com

In the most basic sense, [vetiver is] a grass native to India that grows in bushes up to 4’x4′. It’s also related to lemon grass, as you can tell when you smell it. The stuff—it’s the grass’s long, thin roots that they distill—is infinitely more interesting though: deep, shadowed, astringent, earthy like newly tilled soil, and balsam-woody. It can be warm like tobacco leaves, it can have a crushed-green leaves freshness, or it can be cool like lemon verbena.

Haiti produces about 80% of the vetiver oil in the world, although sometimes you’ll be putting a bit of Indonesia or Brazil on your arm as well (Haiti’s is more floral, Java’s is smokier). There are folks producing it responsibly, too. When you buy a bottle of Terre d’Hermès, which is loaded with the stuff, you’re supporting around 2,000 Haitian farmers and distillers. […]

Like wine, the scent of vetiver oil improves as it ages: the best of it is made with roots that have been aged somewhere between 18-24 months; the oil costs around $200/kg when it hits the market. American scent maker IFF makes it three ways: with steam (resulting in vetiver essence, which is dryer and lighter), solvent (which produces an absolute and is darker, with the scent of rich dirt), and a new technology called “Molecular Distillation” that uses carbon dioxide to yield a scent that’s extraordinary—strongly grapefruit, fresher, zestier.

The Perfume Shrine says that the vetiver in Sycomore is said to be of the Haitian variety so, under Mr. Burr’s explanation, the more floral kind. I’m not an expert on any of the varieties, so I will take their word for it. All I know is that this vetiver smells exactly as Mr. Burr described: “deep, shadowed, astringent, earthy like newly tilled soil, and balsam-woody.”

Do you know how perfume can sometimes take on a colour aura before your eyes? WeaveSycomore opens on me all brown and green. Not khaki but some interwoven panel of dark green and green-brown. It calls to mind green roots and brown earth. Sycomore starts exactly like that, alongside pink peppercorns and an unexpected but definite note of chocolate. It’s almost like chocolate patchouli with vetiver. It’s so confusing that I go over the notes again and, still, I’m at a loss. So, I look up cypress wood which I’m not very familiar with, and that must be the explanation.

From my reading, it seems that cypress wood has a pungent, woody, spicy aroma that can also be sometimes resinous, coniferous, or cedar-like. Here, the combination of the cypress wood with the earthiness of the vetiver seems to have transformed the sum total into chocolate patchouli. You can smell each individual note, but you also have that strong overall impression.

It’s so striking that I looked to see if others had felt the same way. On Basenotes, one commentator also thought there was patchouli in Sycomore, though she concludes the cause was the combination of juniper and cypress. The Scent Critic blog and some on MakeupAlley also picked up on the chocolate edge. And finally, Victoria from Bois de Jasmin summed it up in her usual elegant succinctness: “The chocolate richness of the root is accented by the peppery and smoky notes. The composition possesses an alluring dark character, which in sensation alternates between the tannic dryness of red wine and the softly worn polish of aged woods.”

The chocolate and patchouli impression in Sycomore is so strong for the first hour that it evokes Serge LutensBorneo 1834 in its opening stages. So much so that I’m utterly bewildered by why people compare Chanel’s Coromandel (also from Les Exclusifs) with Borneo 1834, instead of Sycomore. Adding to the similarities between Borneo 1834 and Sycomore is the latter’s strong opening notes of tobacco and smoke. The tobacco note here is faintly bitter, and it is accompanied by a peppery, biting smoky note that is definitely woody.

I wonder about the “burning woods” note listed on many perfume reviews as an element (though not on Chanel’s website), and I keep thinking of guaiac wood. You can read the Glossary for more details but, in a nutshell, guaiac wood has an aroma that is earthy, smoky, tarry, peppery and similar to burning leaves. Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute is also said to have guaiac wood in it, though its official notes are equally vague and merely reference “rich woods” instead of “burning woods.” Both perfumes share a similarly woody, peppery, smoke note, so I have to wonder.

I do smell some sandalwood in Sycomore but, on me, it’s not strong at any point in the perfume’s development. Others have found it, but it’s just a whisper on me. I have to say, I doubt it is real Mysore sandalwood anyway. Anyone who has read Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s book, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, will be struck by their repeated, insistent comments on just how few sandalwood fragrances actually have sandalwood in them at all these days. According to them, true sandalwood from Mysore, India is so scarce and so prohibitively expensive that most perfumers use Australian sandalwood which is an entirely different species of plant and with an entirely different scent. To the extent that Sycomore has sandalwood in it (of any kind), I think it is completely overshadowed and overpowered in the initial stages by the patchouli impression from the cypress and vetiver.

As Sycomore continues to unfurl, there is an impression of burnt caramel, black cocoa powder, incense and dry earth. This is like the black version of Coromandel, without the latter’s vanilla, benzoin and powder heart. The increasingly peppery and smoky nature of the perfume makes me wonder again if they used guaiac wood to fortify any “smoke” accord, not to mention the weak sandalwood. There are also flickering hints of evergreen from the juniper which add a coolness or chill that counters the smoky earthiness. It’s an incredibly sexy, darkly mysterious perfume.

There is a dryness to the rich, earthy smell that really calls to mind dirt — not rich, dank or loamy, but sweetly dry. I realise that non-perfumistas will recoil at the thought of smelling faintly like dirt, but there is really no other way to truly describe the undertones to the very smoked, rich, woody notes. The comparison to dirt also explains Luca Turin’s comments in his five-star review of Sycomore in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. There, he wrote:

The dream team at Chanel seem to delight in applying superior skills to existing ideas they deem worthy of perfecting: Coromandel was a reorchestration of Lutens’s Borneo 1834…. Sycomore is, in my view, a magisterial gloss on Bertrand Duchaufour’s Timbuktu [for L’Artisan Parfumeur]. The later introduced an Altoids-like idea to perfumery, consisting of a minty-licorice coolness combined with a radiant crackling-wood-fire note. […] Vetiver has both an anisic aspect and a smoky one. Cleverly flank it with Timbuktu’s two companions, add a big slug of sandalwood, and vetiver finds itself in worthy company at last. […] Sycomore [is] … the freshest, most salubrious, yet most satisfyingly rich masculine in years. If putting it on does not make you shiver with pleasure, see a doctor.

I’m surprised that Mr. Turin deems Sycomore one of the few sandalwood fragrance reviews not to warrant his usual comments about how perfumes don’t have real sandalwood in them any more, and I certainly don’t find the same “big slug” as he does, but I agree with the rest of his review. (Minus, his choice of which Chanel perfume to compare to Borneo 1834). I particularly understand his reference to Timbuktu which has often been described as having a dry dirt foundation. Sycomore has both the dirt aspects of Timbuktu and that slightly chilled licorice note underlying the earthiness of the dark patchouli…. er.. vetiver and cypress.

Mogambo 2

Mogambo

Perhaps it’s all that dry dirt and rich green which make me constantly imagine those old movies that explored the heart of an African forest — everything is slightly dark and smoky, mysterious and Tshadowy, all amidst lush greenness and dry red-brown dirt. I keep thinking of Clark Gable with Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner in Mogambo, or Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in African Queen. I could see either man wearing Sycomore, and Katherine Hepburn too (though never ever Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner).

As time passes, there is even greater depth to the impressions of burnt umber, burnt caramel, resins, saltiness, and earthiness — all under the forest’s canopy of green-brown vetiver and wood. The patchouli impression ceased being dominant a while ago; now it is the turn of the juniper. In general, juniper has an aroma that is fresh, sweet, and like pine trees, with a slightly balsam-like, resinous undertone. Here, they make I feel as though I’m walking through an icy forest at wintertime, my feet crunching on evergreen needles, the chilled smoke of winter in the air, as I walk towards campfires of burning pine logs where someone is cooking with dark chocolate and another person is accidentally burning the caramel. There is still the chocolate note, you see, though it is overshadowed by a more resinous, caramel element. There is also an undertone of anise and licorice.

In its drydown and final hours, all those things vanish, leaving mostly sweet, faintly lemony, grass. It is vaguely reminiscent of the lemongrass that Chandler Burr referenced. The sweetness of the grass may be one reason why a number of people smell marijuana or cannabis a few hours into Sycomore. I do not, but the occasional “ganja” comment is something worth noting if you’re tempted to try Sycomore. What I do smell, in addition to the sweet grass, is a sort of creaminess that I think comes from the sandalwood. As always, however, it is faint; even more of a shadow now than before.

There are two things which confused me about Sycomore. One, which I’ve already mentioned, is that it is Coromandel which is compared to Borneo 1834, when I think it should be this Polge and Sheldrake collaboration instead. (At least, for the opening hour. I don’t think Coromandel is remotely like Borneo 1834.) The second is a far more important issue: Chanel’s gender classification for this scent. Chanel has labeled Sycomore as a woman’s perfume and, to me, that is akin to saying M&Ms are only for women. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

Not only is Sycomore unisex, not only is it the furthest thing possible from “girly,” and not only do men adore this, but it is — I would argue — actually a masculine scent first and foremost. It may be a somewhat feminine masculine fragrance, but it is a masculine fragrance at its heart. In fact, women who have not explored niche scents and who are used to the more traditional, conventional or mass-market feminine fragrances — whether of the floral, “girly,” clean, sugary or gourmand variety — may find Sycomore to be overwhelmingly masculine and an utter shock if purchased blind. This is no Marc Jacob Lola, Guerlain Shalimar or Dior J’adore.

No, Sycomore has consistently been compared to men’s colognes. In fact, commentators on both Basenotes and Fragrantica find it to be an exact duplicate of Lalique‘s L’Encre Noire for Men (2006). A few people even bring up Hermès‘ men’s cologne, Terre d’Hermès — though most people on Basenotes find that much more citrus based and without anything close to the same degree of vetiver in it (no matter what Chandler Burr may think). I agree with that. I’ve got Terre d’Hermès and like it. But, like many on Basenotes, I find them to be very different perfumes and don’t think Terre d’Hermès is a predominantly vetiver scent. As a point of interest, in a Basenotes thread asking for people’s preference as between Sycomore and Terre d’Hermes, a monumental majority chose Sycomore as the better, more elegant, and truer vetiver fragrance.

All in all, Sycomore is an incredibly lovely fragrance and as smooth as silk. It is magnificently blended, such that everything folds into one rich layer upon another. There is a paradoxical coolness to its warmth, but it is never a chilly or aloof scent. It has too much earthiness in its beating heart, radiating its fire with every thump, thump, thump. It is never cloying, and there is not a single, synthetic, cheap note anywhere to be seen. It is truly as masterful and brilliant as so many thing. It is also a very approachable fragrance; it is not one of those edgy, discordant scents that can be worn only infrequently and are to be admired mostly on an intellectual basis as works of olfactory art. I can see men wearing this almost daily and some women frequently.

And, yet, it is not a fragrance for me. For the longest time, I could not pinpoint why. I like vetiver, I wear men’s cologne, and I like smoke and resinous scents. I find it an extremely elegant perfume and, really, it should push all my buttons. In fact, its opening led me to say “Wow” and I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrists for the first ten minutes. But, at the end of the day, it was simply too much vetiver and its dryness could well be described as bone-dry. Sahara dry. For my personal tastes, Sycomore simply veers too much into the masculine without any real sweetness to accompany it.

Nonetheless, if you are a fan of vetiver, woody and/or dry scents, I highly encourage you to test out Sycomore. If you’re not a fan of either of those three categories, then you may like the sweeter, softer Coromandel. (It is my favorite of the 3 Exclusifs that I’ve tried thus far). But if you’re not a fan of patchouli, benzoin or frankincense, then I fear you should skip that one too.

Have you tried Sycomore? If so, was it love at first sniff or simply not your cup of tea?

Details:
Sillage & Longevity: The sillage and longevity of Sycomore is impressive, particularly given that most of the Exclusifs line (with the exception of Coromandel) are said to be thin, sheer, and of short duration. On me, Sycomore had good projection for the first 3 hours, and only became close to the skin after 5 hours. As for longevity, it was above-average for my perfume-consuming skin. I could still smell faint traces of it after 9 hours. On others, I’ve read reports of it lasting almost an entire day.
Cost & Availability: Sycomore only comes in Eau de Toilette concentration and costs $130 for a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle or $230 for a 6.8 oz/200 ml bottle.  The Exclusifs line is available only in Chanel stores or on their website. I have read numerous comments from people who have tried it at Selfridges in the UK, but did I not see a single Les Exclusifs fragrance on the Selfridges website. Nor have I found it on any U.S. department store websites. It’s not on Lucky Scent either. It is, however, available on Surrender to Chance which is where I obtained my sample. Prices for the smallest vial (1 ml) start at $3.

Perfume Review – Ormonde Jayne Tolu: A Perfect, Lovely Paradox

Paradox: (noun) A seemingly absurb or self-contradictory statement that, when investigated, may well prove to be true. Tolu, from the luxe niche London house of OJ ToluOrmonde Jayne, is a paradox in the most mesmerizing way possible. It is an airy, breezy, narcotically heady, heavy, dewy green, freshly orange floral… no, I mean, lushly spicy amberous oriental, no, I mean, a woody, balsam and pine smoky floriental…  It is a contradiction that delights, that keeps your nose plastered to your arm, that awes you with its heady, airy opulence, and that recalls the happiest moments of carefree youth while making you feel every inch a sophisticated adult. It is intoxicating. And I cannot recommend it enough.

Linda Pilkington, founder of Ormande Jayne.

Linda Pilkington, founder of Ormonde Jayne.

Ormonde Jayne is a high-end, niche London perfume house founded by Linda Pilkington in 2002. She sounds like a fascinating woman. According to her biography on the website, her passion for perfumery began early, as a teenager, and this “led Linda to her first career, growing and selling flowers by the roadside outside her Cheshire family home. She also learnt to make scented candles and bathing oils from craft sets and courses, and created beautiful scented cushions for birthday and Christmas presents.” After years spent travelling and exploring the world, working in places from South America, Africa and the Far East, soy bean farms to ice cream parlours, she returned to London where she began making her own perfumes. She showed her creations at a London trade show where she won repeatedly. And then she was asked to make “the perfect, scented candle” for Chanel itself. After that, in 2002, she opened her own boutique and her perfumes have received praise ever since, including a number of 5- and 4-star reviews from Luca Turin.

Ormonde Jayne’s philosophy is simple:

one of quality and true luxury, the pursuit of beauty and elegance. Our perfume library reposes on an exquisitely simple principle – extraordinarily beautiful scents using speciality oils not widely used in the perfume industry today.

Her goal is to return

to the golden age of perfumery, an elegant era when fragrance creation was a fine art, when essential oils and absolutes were allowed to infuse for a period of months before filtration and then allowed to mature again before bottling, resulting in a deeper, more complex perfume.

Honestly, I cannot recall the last time I was so impressed with a niche house upon my very first sniff, and I plan to investigate her whole line, sample by sample. My first exposure to Frederic Malle, Serge Lutens, Amouage, L’Artisan, Tom Ford, By Kilian, Caron, Montale, and a whole host of other lines never resulted in anything like this. My reactions to those houses varied from indifference to ambivalence, from liking to loving (but not feeling utterly compelled to buy), to truly not understanding what all the fuss was about. Ormonde Jayne is different. It’s not simply that Tolu was bewitching, but that the perfume smells unbelievably luxurious and rich in that genuinely old-school, classique manner of the haute French perfume houses of yesteryear. THIS is what perfumes used to be, almost across the board, and what they are so rarely today.

This is class. It is class, purity, and luxury made simple but, yet, also made fresh and modern at the same time. It’s like smelling the vintage version of some great classic, but made even better. No wonder Luca Turin seems to think that Ormonde Jayne is beating Caron and Guerlain at their own game. I hadn’t believed him when I read that statement a while back and, in truth, I don’t always agree with Mr. Turin, but dammit, he’s absolutely correct in this instance. “Tolu is the kind of fragrance Guerlain or Caron would be turning out regularly if all was right in the world[.]”

If I ever met Ms. Pilkington, I would hug her for returning some of my wide-eyed innocence and belief, after feeling far too long jaded, cynical and oh so depressed at the current state of perfumes in this IFRA-infected world. I would also hug her for her blunt statement in a 2010 interview with the Perfume Shrine that she will never reformulate her perfumes, allergies be damned! “No, we haven’t reformulated anything. I never will. Nor discontinue any in our fragrance rotation. We have 12 fragrances now and I absolutely love each and every one of them. I don’t want to make any changes!” When asked what she would say to a customer asking about allergic reactions, her response was:

I say “If you think madame that it might be give you any risk of an allergic reaction, it would be best if you didn’t buy this perfume”. We talk over some of the ingredients (if the customer knows about any specific trigger or if we think there might be some) and I say “just don’t buy it”. In the end, I don’t give a f*ck if they buy or not, as long as we’re stand our ground and do not mislead. *laughing*

Fascinating as Ms. Pilkington is, nothing is more so than Tolu. I’m hard-pressed not to summarize my entire review in one word: heaven! But, in an attempt to make you understand why I am so thrilled (and why I had to keep stopping writing to sniff my arms), let me tell you more about the scent itself. According to Fragrantica (where it has nary a single bad review), Tolu is classified as a Woody Oriental. (I think there should be a new category entitled “Perfect Paradox.”) It is technically a woman’s eau de parfum, though I think a man could pull this off, especially during the dry-down.

Ormonde Jayne’s website states:

Perfume treasure, this opulent velvety formulation with pure Tolu resin [a Peruvian tree resin] takes you on a sensual Oriental journey. Laced with golden frankincense and amber, the scent’s core is enveloped with a heady mix of orange blossom and clary sage, while intense citrus notes consolidate the harmony.

Top Notes: Juniper berry, orange blossom and clary sage
Heart Notes: Orchid, Moroccan rose and muguet [lily-of-the-valley]
Base Notes: Tolu, tonka bean, golden frankincense and amber.

You know those word association games? I put on Tolu and the very first word that shoots across my brain is “Enchanting!” In fact, that is the first thing I jotted down. There is warm, billowing blanket of orange blossom which immediately rolls onto thenerolifruitandflowersb skin. It’s not screechy, sharp and overpoweringly cloying like Tom Ford‘s Neroli Portofino, nor is it overly sweet like many synthetic orange scents. It’s also not light and imperceptible like the orange in a few niche perfumes. It’s heady in a soft way, and is one of the brightest, freshest orange blossom scents I’ve smelled in a long time. The sillage is also powerful, which makes me ecstatic as, far too often for my liking, orange blossom is merely a faint hint amongst many supporting notes. Not here. It is the star, stage center, with the brightest lights shining on it.

mimosa-flower-200x300

Mimosa in the South of France.

I must confess at the outset that I have a monumental weakness for orange blossom that supercedes many other ingredients or notes that I love. And the orange blossom here reminds me strongly of the oils or essences used in my favorite body cream, Couvent de Minimes Orange Blossom. Here, as there, there is a purity to the scent that makes it clear that real oils were used in the product. It calls to mind my childhood in Cannes with visits to Provence; I am immediately transported back to my old home at the end of Spring. Summer is around the corner, and there is a vast sea of orange trees in bloom along side golden mimosas bushes swaying in the wind under blue skies that are neither hazy with heat nor pale eggshell blue from the winter. The orange is intoxicating, narcotic and, yet, so airy at the same time that it feels like fizzy champagne in an odd way. It’s been only 15 minutes and, yet, I ponder currency exchanges in my head and whether my bank account can afford an immediate purchase, while the sane part of my brain pleads to wait out the full development of the perfume before acting rashly.

ijunipe001p4

Juniper berries.

Thirty minutes in, a faintly smoky warmth starts to creep in. Amber that is rich, almost nutty, and with a faint hint of smoke from incense. Oddly, the scent on one arm is very different from that on the other where I smell no amber at all but, rather, crisp pine needles and balsam. It must come from the juniper berries listed in the top notes, and it is fresh, bright and rich — as if plucked just moments before from living trees growing on the high reaches of the snowy Alps. Clearly, some extremely expensive oils must have been used because at no time does it smell sharp, synthetic, or like the common air-freshener sort of pine in some perfumes. On both arms, the orange blossoms seem to have receded momentarily, as if to make way for the fresh, woody pines and amber, but it is just for a moment. The orange blossom is not only the quietly solid foundation upon which other notes rest, but a permanent part of this opening stage.

Soon, the juniper recedes and the flowers return. As always, there is the rich top head of orange blossom but there are other accompanying notes, too, even if they are but supporting players on the stage. There is also orchid and lily-of-the-valley. Orchid is a hard scent to describe, or even to classify, as it can smell of a variety of different things, depending on type. To me, white orchids can sometimes evoke the light purple impression of lilac and hyacinth, but in an oddly earthy way. That is the way the orchid seems to smell here. Lily-of-the-valley (or muguet) smells somewhat similar to my nose, bouquet-de-muguetwithout the earthy richness. The Perfume Shrine describes lily-of-the-valley as follows:

Lily of the valley is technically a green floral with rosy-lemony nuance [which] … has been adequately used in classical fragrances as a catalyst to “open up” and freshen the bouquet of the other floral essences in the heart, much like we allow fresh air to come in contact with an uncorked red wine to let it “breathe” and bring out its best.

To me, however, lily-of-the-valley is a light, fresh floral note that smells almost like a green, lilac-hyacinth hybrid. Here, it counters the headiness of the orange blossom with freshness that is dewy and ethereally light. It is almost sheer, and yet, it has depth and richness. The note makes Tolu, in these very early stages, call to mind the delicacy of Dior‘s Diorissimo, a very lily-of-the-valley scent.

Thus far, Tolu has leaned far more towards a floral scent than an oriental, let alone a spicy woody one. There are amber notes which flicker back and forth, but, for the first two hours, I have the reverse experience of what some people report. I don’t get spice right off the bat at all. There is the Diorissimo resemblance from the lily-of-the-valley, along with some rose and the hyacinth-like notes of orchid. And all of this is within the warm haze of orange blossom. The latter is something which projects outwards, while the other scents are closer to the skin, almost as if they were inside a big, airy, orange coccoon.

I can now smell the clary sage, but never think that it is the same sort of sage that you use in cooking. According to a helpful discussion on Basenotes, clary sage is nothing like regular (Dalmatian) sage that you have in your herb rack. It is sweeter, fresher and with a hint of peppermint, while Dalmatian sage is more bitter, biting and aromatic. Clary sage is also said to have elements of lavender in its odor profile and, sometimes, even of green tea. Here, it adds to the impression of freshness and lightness in Tolu, while also adding a faintly minty, sweet note that cuts through some of the richness of the orange blossom. It’s almost as if a faintly minty lavender note has joined those orange blossoms and dewy, green flowers, but it’s so light that I wonder if I imagine it at times.

That lightness, along with much of the airiness in Tolu, brings me to one of the perfume’s several lovely contradictions. It is airy and light, while narcotically heady and heavy. I realise that I’m not making much sense. It is the ultimate example of a paradox and really requires that you test out this scent yourself to understand it. The best way I can explain it is that there are two polar opposite groups of scents here. The first is the dewy, fresh, green, spring-like notes: lily-of-the-valley; white orchid; lavender-y and minty clary sage; and then, lilac and hyacinth (though they are not listed as ingredients, their smell is there to me). It flashes colours of white, lavender, soft lilac and bright green, all in a soft, airy light of the dawn’s first dew. The second competing group is the scent of just one thing: orange blossoms. Narcotically heavy, almost inducing an obsessive inability to resist sniffing my arm, triggering an utter delirium of joy amidst the flashing colours of bright orange at the heart of noon. It is a paradox, yes, but it is also a sign of a masterful hand. I contemplate why I only smelled Tolu after Christmas, and not before when it would have been at the very top of my wish list.

An hour in, rich vanilla starts to appear. It’s creamy, not powdery, and smells faintly like a rich, banana custard. It almost makes me think of ylang-ylang but there is no such ingredient in Tolu. Some people on Fragrantica have referenced an oriental milky rice note, but I think the accord is far richer and heavier than the light sort of milky rice note I associate with scents like Kenzo‘s Amour line. I think the issue here is the combination of tonka bean and tolu balsam. Tonka bean smells of vanilla, while tolu balsam is a tree resin. Unlike benzoin, another resin, tolu balsam has a nutty, sometimes almond-like accord to accompany its vanilla and cinnamon heart. (You can read more about tolu balsam and other resins in the Glossary.) It has a greater richness and depth than the often powdery benzoin accord.

Soon, tolu balsam’s soft, lush, warm vanilla notes are joined by spice and smoke. I smell rich frankincense, but it is not peppery or dirty. The vanilla from the tonka bean and its accompanying powder notes soften the blunt edges of the frankincense, turning the latter into a light swirl of black smoke, rather than a heavy darkness. The rich resins and the myrrh create an impression of caramel and amber, but touched with a woody pine accord.

Three hours in, and all the way to the end of its dry-down at hour seven, Tolu is all incense, vanilla, honeyed amber and caramel, with a hint of pine. The subtle smoke and incense are gorgeous, as is the surprising earthiness that contradicts the velvety softness underlying the sweet scent. That said, for me, the dry-down never really progresses much beyond the panoply of resinous notes. It’s lovely, rich and soft, but I preferred those hypnotic opening and middle notes. (It’s hardly surprising given my passion for orange blossom.)

All in all, this is an utterly luxurious, captivating scent. It doesn’t perform twists of complexity, doesn’t have suddenly crazy notes popping in at a random stage, doesn’t try to shock you with something edgily disturbing, and doesn’t do anything other than the promise Ormonde Jayne made at the outset: “one of quality and true luxury, the pursuit of beauty and elegance.” It is a perfume that I have to have. It is a scent that will make me join the legion of admirers on Fragrantica who repeat “gorgeous,” “sophisticated,” and “classy” like a broken record. It smells of wealth and luxury; the sunny South of France interposed with the pine-covered snowy Alps of Gstaad, and the smoke of the Orient. It is a paradox wrapped in opulence, but it enchants you from the very first whiff. And it is utterly perfect.

DETAILS:
Sillage & Longevity: Enormous sillage for the first three hours, then closer to the skin. However, on others, the projection is reported to last even longer. As for longevity, it was quite good, though as always you have to keep in mind that my body consumes perfume. On me, I could smell traces of it on my arm seven hours after putting it on. It was soft, but it was there. On others, the longevity is reported to be enormous.
Cost & Availability: The fragrance is available in perfume extract (30%) and eau de parfum (25%) in 50 ml flacon. Tolu is available at the Ormonde Jayne store in London, at Harrods in London, Fortum & Mason, or on Ormonde Jayne’s website. It is not sold in any department stores in the U.S. The website offers purchases in USD currency and, until January 14th, 2013, all shipping is complimentary with a hand-poured candle is offered as a free gift. The website’s page for purchases in US dollar lists the costs of Tolu as follows: a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of eau de parfum costs $126, while the pure parfum comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml “premium French flacon with a gold OJ motif stopper and Japanese ribbons” and costs $300. There is a set of travel sized purse sprays (4 x 10ml) that costs $100 and a Discovery set of all 12 fragrances in 2 ml mini-sprays for $75. The latter is described as follows: “Ormonde Jayne’s Discovery Set is comprised of 12 x 2ml mini sprays of eau de parfum, together with a brochure explaining each perfume, all housed in a black and gold box… and whats more, the shipping is complimentary worldwide.” Tolu is also available in different bath, lotion, cream and candle forms. Harrods sells a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle of Tolu for £80.00. Ormonde Jayne fragrances are also sold in Brussels, Belgium at Senteurs d’Ailleurs and at Osswald in Zurich, Switzerland.
Samples: You can also order samples of Tolu from various sample sites. The one I use, Surrender to Chance, sells samples starting at $3.99 for half of the standard 1 ml vial. Surrender to Chance ships worldwide for about $5.95 (though it’s a little bit more for larger orders over $75), and for $2.95 for all orders within the U.S., regardless of the size of the order.

Perfume Review – Robert Piguet Bandit: “Beautiful but Brutal”

Robert Piguet was one of the most famous of the Paris haute couture designers, a man who trained Givenchy, Balmain and Christian Dior himself, and, in 1944, he made perfume history when he released Bandit. It was a year before the end of WWII, and he had just sent his models down the runway in villain masks, brandishing knives, toy revolvers and reeking a “bad boy” image that was shocking for the times.

Bandit, original ad. Source: Fragrantica.

Bandit, original ad. Source: Fragrantica.

According to the Perfume Shrine, “it was this occasion that prompted Germaine Cellier to grab the models’ knickers after they had walked the catwalk, reputedly studying their scent in an effort to ‘capture the best of their femininity’ for the couturier’s first foray into fragrance. Whether she did and how one defines femininity in the first place is food for thought.”

The result was Bandit, one of the most famous leather scents in history, up there in the pantheon with Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie (1924/1927) and Knize Ten (1924). It was given a five-star rating by Luca Turin, and is consistently on three different “best of” lists: best leathers, best chypres, and best feminines for men. The perfume is repeatedly described as a tough, brutal “B****” with references to dominatrixes and how its unbearable in the best way possible. Love and awe echo constantly through the words.

Germaine Cellier made not only Bandit, but Piguet’s most famous scent of all, Fracas, the legendary benchmark for all white florals and the white light to Bandit’s black one. That contrast seems to have been intentional and may have stemmed from the dichotomy that was Cellier herself. According to the Perfume Shrine:

Cellier herself was outwardly conforming to all the perceived ideas of [femininity]: beautiful, slim, blond and tall, she exuded an air of elegance. Yet her reputation was tinged with shades of unconventionality and homosexuality and her creations were aiming to reflect different perceptions of Yin and Yang. Fracas was made for the femmes, Bandit was for the [tough lesbians].

To Fracas’s torrid tuberose that makes you either fall madly in love with or shun forever, Bandit juxtaposes daring, bitter green leather which, according to a male admirer smelling it, exudes aloofness, rebellious intellectuality and absolutely requires an expanse of skin to show for its sensuality to bloom.

In fact, Elena Vosnaki says Cellier was quite explicit in making the distinction between her two fragrances:

Cellier infamously dedicated Fracas ~a voluptuous tuberose scent conceived for ‘femmes’~ to the beautiful Edwige Feuillère, while she promised the butcher Bandit to the ‘dykes’.

Marlene D

Marlene Dietrich

Things are obviously different these days, and we are less obviously shocked by both sexual identities or preferences, but, in its time, Bandit was revolutionary. It was a bitter green, leather chypre that was nothing like the usual leathers or chypres on the market. It was androgynous, hard, edgy, and “beautiful but brutal,” to quote the famous perfumer, Guy Robert, who wrote about Cellier and her Bandit extensively in his book, Les Sens du Parfum. The epitome of the kind of woman who would wear it was not only Cellier herself, but Marlene Dietrich. And, in fact, it was Dietrich’s signature scent.

"Les Fleurs du Mal," Charles Baudelaire.

“Les Fleurs du Mal,” Charles Baudelaire.

If the accounts are true, then Bandit was the essence of Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal,” capturing his theories of rotting excess, unconventional or anti-social eroticism, and slightly twisted malevolence. (Serge Lutens only wishes his Tubereuse Criminelle was about returning the evil back to the flowers!) Bandit horrified and bewitched people in equal measure, creating polarizing waves until sometime in the 1970s when it seemed to have faded into the mists. It’s unclear what happened to it or when.

Then, sometime, in the early to mid-1990s, perhaps 1996, it seems to have been re-released in Eau de Toilette form by Andrian Arpel for his company, Alfin. (Are you confused yet? We still have a way to go in this saga.) Arpel may have bought control of Robert Piguet, Inc. and hence, obtained the right to release a new version of Bandit. It is said to be far from the original scent, though there seems to be no consistent explanation as to why. Some say it is a more floral version that minimizes the leather. Others claim that the eau de toilette was just leather and civet, nothing more, and that it had almost nonexistent longevity.

Bandit, intermediary 1990s version from Arpel/Alfin, in Eau de Toilette form. Note the gold top.

Bandit, intermediary 1990s version from Arpel/Alfin, in Eau de Toilette form. Note the gold top.

Whatever its scent, it’s not too hard to determine the Arpel intermediary version because its bottle tops are gold, instead of the tradional Piguet black. Furthermore, according to the Perfume Shrine,

the eau de toilette that circulated under Andrian Arpel (Alfin inc. being his previous company name) bears this label:

Parfums ROBERT PIGUET
Made in France
For Alfin.inc
New York NY 10019

In 1999, however, the Robert Piguet brand was bought by Fashion Fragrances and Cosmetics (FF&C). They made every attempt to release a version of Bandit that was close to the original in terms of notes and appearance. Bandit was released in eau de parfum or extrait de parfum concentrations, and, like the original, comes in a black bottle with a black lid.

It is extremely difficult to keep track of the timeline and the different versions of Bandit but, to summarize, there was:

  1. original, vintage Bandit eau de parfum in a black bottle with a black lid, along with original, vintage Bandit extrait de parfum that had a crystal top to a black bottle.I have even seen all crystal bottles on eBay for the extrait de parfum or pure parfum version that are obviously really ancient, 1960s or 1970s bottles. Reports on Basenotes would seem to indicate that this was, indeed, the form for the super old extrait version;
  2. 1990s intermediary Bandit in eau de toilette concentration and in a black bottle with a gold top (which is frequently sold on eBay);
  3. post-1999 version in eau de parfum and extrait versions with the original black bottle and black lid.

    Bandit eau de parfum in its current bottle which is exactly like the original bottle.

    Bandit eau de parfum in its current bottle which is exactly like the original bottle.

I have always longed to smell original Bandit, but I was happy to obtain a sample of the post-1999 eau de parfum version from Surrender to Chance. (Surrender to Chance also carries the intermediary eau de toilette version and the post-1999 version in extrait or pure parfum form. Links will be at the end of this post.) I’m glad I had the chance now, as Robert Piguet announced a few months ago, in October 2012, that a new formulation of Bandit was under way due to the increasingly severe IFRA restrictions regarding oakmoss as an ingredient in perfumes.

The notes in Bandit are:

galbanum, artemisia, neroli, orange, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, tuberose, carnation, leather, vetiver, oakmoss, musk, patchouli.

You can read the Glossary for further details but, in a nutshell, artemisia is wormwood and galbanum is a type of plant resin. According to the site, I Smell, Therefore I Am, galbanum has “a penetrating, pine-like top note and a slightly bitter, woody base.” Artemisia is said to smell like tarragon, concentrated to the umpteenth degree. It is pungent, bitter, bitter green, sharp, and frequently used along side oakmoss, patchouli or civet to cut through the cloying heaviness of those notes. In fact, it is said to be akin to a filtering lens that lets you diffuse some of the stronger ingredients (like civet, for example) and to let you smell the more subtle notes.

The galbanum and artemisia are apparent from the opening blast of Bandit. It is GREEEEEEEEN, in all capital letters! People weren’t kidding when they said this was a bitter green scent, but I am disappointed that there is none of that “blood-curdling scream” which I had expected from the opening. It is sharp, yes, but hardly as sharp or as pungent as I had expected. There is actually a slight softness, which surprises me. The scent is definitely vegetal and, for a few fleeting seconds, I sniff brackish, slightly funky, left-over vase water after some flowers have died. It is a note of faint decay that instantly makes me think of Les Fleurs du Mal but, to my surprise, I quite like it. It is nothing as offensive as the fetid, cloyingly filthy, murky, dead plant water scent that I have encountered in some other fragrances and, again, it is quite fleeting.

There is a greenness to Bandit that ranges all across the middle to darker end of the spectrum. At times, I feel as though I smell bright green, almost like absinthe but really closer to raw, young tree bark. Most of the time, however, I smell dark olive green with grey-green, the latter from the oakmoss in particular. The mental image is of one endlessly shimmering green haze where there are occasionally peeks of bright, glowing absinthe green, amidst the darkness of vegetal weeds, decaying herbs and bitter blackened woods.

Speaking of oakmoss, this is one very unusual oakmoss scent! It doesn’t have that dusty pungency that I can find so difficult in some chypre perfumes. There is no impression of dusty litchen or grey minerals pulverised into grey dust. No, this is a weirdly fresh sort of oakmoss, as if taken just seconds before off a tree. It feels living, almost. I suddenly start to understand all the comments about artemisia working as a filter or highlighter to some scents. It must be the artemesia which is cutting through some of the more dominant head notes in oakmoss and concentrating the smell of its essence at its freshest state. The oakmoss is so much more aromatically woody than the more cloying, pungent, almost excessively dusty and “old” notes that I often smell in chypre perfumes.

For much of the opening 15 minutes, Bandit is dominated by the pungent oakmoss, galbanum and artemisia. I don’t smell any of the orange citrus flowers mentioned in the notes and which usually herald the start of a chypre perfume. Instead, I smell carnation. Dry, green, and with just the faintest floral note to counter the bitter green vegetal and wood scent. There is also a faint hint of soap but, again, I’m surprised to like it. Perhaps because it’s not the waxy, cloying soap that I smell in perfumes with aldehydes, nor is it the synthetic, laundry detergent soap scent of so many modern perfumes today. It’s just an odd hint of fresh cleanness to counter the vegetal impression of weeds growing out of control at the base of a tree with bitter bark rolling off it and covered by fresh grey-green moss. There is vetiver, balsam-like pine, and something astutely noted by one commentator on Basenotes, MontMorency, that seems to resemble a salty,  maritime note, like seaweed or kelp.

After an hour, the leather starts to make an appearance. It’s soft, softer than I had expected. That said, this is not soft leather that I’m smelling. It is not the soft, buttery, warm leather of a new jacket, nor the buttery leather of a car interior. This is all cold. It’s the cold, and most definitely black leather, of a whip. It’s a stony, severe, smell of leather. But, still, I’m disappointed. There is none of that “blood curdling” shriek, that almost horrified “dominatrix” or “bad ass biker chick” impression that I had read about repeatedly across different perfume sites like Fragrantica or Basenotes. There is no rubber, no harshness, none of what made Bandit so shocking. There is only one explanation: the current version is only a pale shadow of the original. (And the thought that this is going to be reformulated to an even weaker version is, quite frankly, rather horrific.)

Joining the leather are a few odd companions. I could swear that I smell camomile at one point, giving me an impression of softly herbal Alpine meadows and Heidi. There is also a faint animalistic muskiness but it’s not the harsh civet-type note of some animalic scents. The trio of Alpine Heidi, muskiness and the cold black leather of a whip has one final member: cigarettes. There is a fleeting, flickering whisper of an ashtray. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t start smelling of a dirty ashtray. I still smelled mostly of dark green bitter woods, pungent moss and herbs, but the leather undertone had a faint whiff of ash at times, though it was extremely light.

It helps that Bandit’s leather tones were much closer to the skin than the more dominant green notes. The sillage on Bandit is huge, especially at first, but it surprised me by how quickly it became close to the skin for something that is consistently reported to be a powerhouse fragrance. The musky, leather undertones are all soft and close, almost intimate. It is incredibly sexy after such a fascinating start, and I resolve — for the umpteenth time — to try to get a hold of the vintage. Because, I have to be honest, I wanted so much more than what I got from this current version. More leather, more green, more pungency, more sillage, more of everything that I’m always reading about when it comes to Bandit. What I smell is so different and so intriguingly edgy that I dream about the vintage version.

Ultimately, the way Bandit smells on me is the way that the master perfumer, Guy Robert, describes the scent — only in a diluted, faint form. I cannot put it better than he did, so I shall use the Roberts quote provided on the Girvin blog:

[It is] “a beautiful but brutal perfume”, and that is as apt a description as any: Bandit is not a fragrance for the timid. It starts with heavy green notes, and moves slowly into a lovely floral blend with hints of spice, but the leather is apparent from the onset, and as it dries down, it is joined by an earthy-mossy accord that vaguely recalls a full ashtray. There is the slightest hint of powder, but it adds nothing of delicacy or girliness, and while Bandit stops short of being feral, the far dry down can only be described as decidedly animalic.

Like Fracas, Bandit is in-your-face sexy, but it is the dark, rebellious side of sexy — the bad girl, if you will. It is a sophisticated fragrance, mind you, but in spirit it is younger than Fracas, and it has more energy. Bandit is drinking and smoking and leather jackets, and running around at all hours getting into all sorts of mischief.  I’ve been trying to think of what would be the modern version of such a fragrance, and nothing comes to mind: perhaps there is no such thing?

I wish my version of Bandit were the fierce Bandit that Robert encountered. I see her form and her face, but it’s hazy and faint. The leather is tamed, the animalistic musk is soft, and I smell absolutely none of the florals that are part of it. No jasmine, no tuberose, no ylang-ylang and definitely no rose. (I truly don’t think many people do, from what I’ve read. At least, not for the current eau de parfum formulation.) That said, I definitely agree with Guy Robert that Bandit is an extremely original scent and for a very original woman.

A 2 oz. bottle of vintage Extrait de Parfum, selling on eBay.

A 2 oz. bottle of vintage Extrait de Parfum, selling on eBay.

In my dreams, I buy the 2.0 oz/60 ml bottle of dark vintage pure parfum or extrait that is currently on eBay for $899. I splash it on, dress all in black in my leather jacket, leather pants and leather thigh-high boots, snap on some diamond earrings, put on my silver choker with spikes and baubles, along with the chunkiest of my men’s watches, then fly to Shanghai with nary a suitcase or companion. I would go to one of the dark, sophisticated bars in the old International District (I even know which one and they make a damn good cocktail!), and I would sip a bright green absinthe drink as I contemplated something infinitely risky, wild and dangerous. And I know I would get up to no good. No good at all! But that is the thing with Bandit, even in its diluted form. It seems oh so wrong, in such a good way.

DETAILS:
Sillage & Longevity: Great sillage for the first hour, then close to the skin. However, on others, it is reported to have enormous sillage for much, much longer. As for longevity, it is quite remarkable. On me, I could smell traces of it on my arm 8 hours after putting it on. It was soft, but it was there. On others, the longevity is reported to be even greater.
Cost & Availability: Bandit is available on the Robert Piguet website in all forms (except the rogue eau de toilette version), along with a body lotion version. The Eau de Parfum costs $95 for 1.7 oz/50ml and $135 for 3.4 oz/100 ml. The Parfum, pure parfum or extrait version costs $110 for 0.25 oz/7.5 ml and $235 for 1 oz/30 ml. In the US, you can also find Bandit available at Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, and various online retailers. In the UK, you can find Bandit at Harrods where it costs £75.00 for 1.7 oz/50 ml. In Australia, you can find Bandit on Libertine. You can also find Bandit on eBay, starting around $60 for the 1.7 oz size. But please, be careful as to which version you’re ordering and pay heed to the appearance of the bottles in the photos!
Samples: You can also order samples of Bandit from various sample sites. The one I use, Surrender to Chance, carries all versions of the scent except for the vintage. The mid-1990s Eau de Toilette version costs $3 for the smallest 1 ml sample vial, the Eau de Parfum costs the same, and the Pure Parfum costs $3.99 for 1/4 of the usual 1 ml vial, or $15.96 for the 1 ml vial. Surrender to Chance ships worldwide for about $5.95 (though it’s a little bit more for larger orders over $75), and for $2.95 for all orders within the U.S., regardless of the size of the order.

Perfume Review – Chanel Les Exclusifs Cuir de Russie: The Legend & The Myth

Some legends are perhaps better left untouched. Or unsniffed, as the case may be. Because, sometimes, the legend is closer to a myth. That was, unfortunately, my experience with Cuir de Russie, the legendary Chanel fragrance that is now part of its Les Exclusif line of perfumes. Cuir de R

Cuir de Russie (or “Russian leather”) is one of those scents that perfume junkies would talk about in hushed tones of reverence and awe. The vintage, original Cuir de Russie always seemed to me to be some sort of mythical animal, the perfume equivalent of a unicorn. Its name would shine in haloed light above distant snowy mountain tops and I almost expected a choir of angels to burst into rhapsodic song at its very mention.

Coco Chanel & her imperial Grand Duke.

Coco Chanel & her imperial Grand Duke.

Cuir de Russie was inspired by Coco Chanel’s passionate affair with a Russian Grand Duke, His Imperial Highness Dimitri Pavlovich Romanov, a cousin to the last Tsar. According to Wikipedia, Chanel’s biographer considered Cuir de Russie to be the “bottled … essence of her romance with the Grand Duke.” It was created by Ernst Beaux, Chanel’s then perfumer, sometime in the 1920s when Paris was flooded with Russian emigrés, both royal and common, who had escaped the Bolshevik revolution. (Chanel’s website gives the date of the perfume’s release as 1927, but I’ve always read it was in 1924.)

The Chanel website majestically declares Cuir de Russie to be an “imperial fragrance” and a “leather oriental” before adding:

The Grand Duke in his uniform.

The Grand Duke in his uniform.

The Russian influence at the heart of Mademoiselle’s creations was born from her encounter with the Grand Duke Dimitri, cousin of Tsar Nicholas II. Cuir de Russie, launched in 1927, is the fragrance of wild cavalcades, wafts of blond tobacco and the smell of boots tanned by birch bark, which the Russian soldiers would wear.
This sensual fragrance reveals the dark and musky scents of balms, Frankincense and Juniper Wood. Fruity zests of Mandarin Orange and Bergamot add a touch of insolence before giving way to the grace and fragility of eternal flowers: Rose, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang. A ‘thoroughbred’ fragrance with a strong character, it holds within it the ambiguous secrets of femininity…

Somewhere in the decades following its release, Cuir de Russie seems to have faded into the mists of legend. I can’t determine when it was discontinued or why, but it just became that mythical perfume unicorn. Then, in 1983, Chanel brought it back. Trumpets blared, perfumistas fainted, and all wept with joy as the heavens burst forth in song. Chanel’s in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge, re-worked it slightly, toning down its legendary leather notes and increasing the iris for a more powdery note, but it was back and that is all anyone cared about.

The return of Cuir de Russie was hailed as a massive triumph by even that most ascerbic and disdainful of critics, Luca Turin. In his book, Perfumes The A-Z Guide, his five-star review states:

There have been many other fragrances called Cuir de Russie, every one either too sweet or too smoky. This one is the real deal, an undamaged monument of classical perfumery, and the purest emanation of luxury ever captured in a bottle.

[All] sumptuous leather, light and balsamic, forgoing any sugary compromise, Cuir de Russie regains its place at the top of this [Leather] category, right next to the rather more jovial Tabac Blond. […]Cuir de Russie is a striking hologram of luxury bygone: its scent like running the hand over the pearl grey banquette of an Isotta Frashini while forests of birch silently pass by”.

(First quote taken from Perfume Niche, and the second from the Perfume Shrine.)

Luca Turin is not alone in genuflecting before the shrine to the most holy of leather perfume holies. If I were to provide mere snippets of the adoring praise for Cuir de Russie — even a minute fraction of them! — I suspect I would writing this review until sometime in the year 2018. There are reviews on Fragrantica which expound for paragraph after paragraph about:

Coco at her Ritz apartment.

Coco at her Ritz apartment.

Cossacks on horseback on the steppes of Russia; semi-erotic imaginings involving the seduction of a languid Coco by her sweaty, horse-riding royal lover amidst the plush decadence of her Paris apartment at the Ritz; and about olfactory masterpieces involving the very scent of Coco Chanel’s sex and sweat-infused bedsheets. There was one from a fellow perfume blogger whom I deeply respect and admire which made me want to go take a cold shower, or find some ermine and jewels in which to roll around naked.

All of which makes me feel completely insane for not loving it. But I don’t. On me, it is none of the things described above, and I am crushingly disappointed by a scent that is, at best, average and occasionally pleasant. At worst, it is a barnyard filled with horse manure under a layer of soap. In short, I am one of the very few freaks in this world who   finds the legend of Cuir de Russie to be a mere myth.

The notes listed in Chanel’s description up above are the same ones listed on Fragrantica. Elsewhere, however, I’ve read a significantly larger and fuller list. I assume that the notes are essentially the same in both vintage and modern versions, with only the amount of certain ingredients differing. If so, then the full notes for Cuir de Russie are:

aldehydes, orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage, iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, balsams, vetiver, styrax, incense, cade, leather, amber and vanilla.

Cuir de Russie opens on me with an explosion of aldehydes. (You can read more about aldehydes in the Glossary.) On me, it is a waxy, lemony, floral impression that is first and foremost soapy, and without any of the fizzy aspects that I often read about with aldehydes. As many of you know, I loathe soapy scents. And I suspect my dislike of the soap accord in aldehydes is why I dislike Chanel No. 5, and one of the reasons why I’m far from enraptured by Cuir de Russie. (Christ, I’m admitting that I don’t like the two most legendary Chanel perfumes ever. I may need to hide in witness protection. Mea Culpa.)

Initially, the burst of soap is like a thick lens, clouding and obscuring the citrus notes, but about five minutes later, I suddenly smell soapy leather. Specifically, I get a strong impression of a riding saddle and stirrups lathered with sweat. There is a strong smell of sour, sweaty horse. I shudder faintly, and wonder momentarily if the heinous soap smell was better. I should have enjoyed the sweaty saddle fragrance while it lasted because, suddenly, waves of horse manure (cow dung?) and soap are emanating off my arm.  I…. I… am stunned, and have no idea what to do. I quickly turn to Google and, there, on both Makeupalley and Basenotes, amidst the legions of gushing, cooing, almost delerious praise, I find a few rare nuggets of comfort. I am not completely alone or totally crazy.

Snippets of those rare (very rare!) criticisms of Cuir de Russie are as follows:

  • It was an overwhelming animalistic scent, like the smell of entering a barn and having the smells of animals and their droppings mixing with straw and leather.
  • This leather is more of the fecal farmhouse animal stench variety and is somewhat difficult to tolerate. […] Luckily, the barnyard aspects of the scent recede in the base notes. […] The opening of Cuir de Russie edt was difficult from the get-go and did not portend to good things to come. I tend to be quite sensitive to fecal aspects in scents (like my problem with Jicky, for example), and as such the heart notes with their fecal smelling leather and powdery iris were really not to my taste at all. If things stopped there this would be a definite thumbs down for me. What saves Cuir de Russie edt somewhat is it has a very nice dry-down that easily is the best part of the scent.

And, that’s basically it — because even those who can smell the fecal aspect of Cuir de Russie love it. As it is, that last quote came from someone who ended up giving Cuir de Russie a neutral rating due to the “nice” dry-down that she mentioned. Other than a few negative criticisms involving dirty ashtrays (not a frequent impression), almost no-one who smelled the barnyard scent or “cow patties” hated it. Seriously, they didn’t!

  • Cuir de Russie, however, was love at first sniff. It opens with a dirty animalic note that’s borderline fecal, but the soft, creamy, spicy florals seep in and smooth out this animal’s shaggy fur until Cuir de Russie becomes this heart-achingly beautiful blend with an undercurrent of barely-bridled danger; a lady in leather and lace, a sleek panther at repose in a meadow.
  • I really love the opening, when a true leather unfolds, bitter, dry, almost harsh, even a briefly passing “faecal” note, all in all, it smells like the inside of a fairly new, precious leather bag, that’s containing some scented cosmetics in its depths. But all too soon, this stage is fading away, moving over into a softer, creamier leather, which is still fine and very likeable.
  • All I can say is — poop. This stuff smells like poop. But in a really kind of good, fascinating way. Seriously, that’s the genius of Chanel. It’s like the poop of some delicate animal who’s only grazed upon a field of violets. I’m not sure I want to wear it, but I simply could not stop smelling the crook of my arm all day after my spritz! Pretty awesome.

There was even a review on MakeupAlley upbraiding Chanel’s perfumer, Jacques Polge, for toning down the original scent and demanding that they bring back more of the leather and barnyard!

Clearly, I am alone in disliking “the poop of some delicate animal who’s only grazed upon a field of violets.” (It is not a “delicate” animal, by the way, and I could only wish it had eaten bloody violets!) I certainly don’t want even more of this opening that so many adore and wish were as intense as it used to be.

As I try to figure out how I landed in a pile of horse manure, I come across a really interesting explanation on Perfume Niche. Apparently, it’s the birch wood that helps creates that leather tannery and barnyard scent:

Rectified birch tar is the smoky resinous note which makes Cuir de Russie, and most leather scents, smell like leather. It is, in fact, the dry-cooked resin from the bark of the birch tree and has been used for centuries to cure leather, and to “dress” it, as in polishes for military leather boots. […]  [Then] after the florals subside, Cuir de Russie conjures the uber-male, becoming a sexy masculine scent. That raw edge – the funky animalics, civet and castoreum – mix with the smoky leather, balsam and woods , giving Cuir de Russie an erotic, brutish quality.

I’m afraid I don’t see any “erotic, brutish” quality in Cuir de Russie. I would undoubtedly like it a lot more if it were half as interesting as all these descriptions would seem to convey. I keep wondering what the legendary vintage version must have been like if the current eau de toilette toned down the leather. Perhaps I should try to hunt down the concentrated extrait de parfum version which is supposed to be more intense, more “brutal,” heavier and thicker? I consider the downsides of a heavier version of soapy horse feces, and quickly change my mind.

About 30 minutes in, Cuir de Russie is already incredibly close to the skin. Apparently, it’s supposed to be. However, with the way my skin consumes perfume, it makes it difficult to assess its full range and development properly, so I start from scratch. I follow the advice of a Basenoter and put on triple the previous amount (on some clean skin). I have the same experience as the first time round, but this time, the perfume’s sillage is much better. (Apparently, I need to empty just over half the vial on me if I want to smell the dry-down properly.)

Unfortunately, I don’t get much of the lovely middle or bottom notes that others do. On me, it goes from: citric soap; to horse manure, sweaty saddles and soap; to a middle stage that is essentially a basic floral scent of strong jasmine, with bergamot, rose, powdery iris, and leather turned into soft suede. (The soap is still there too, though it’s a shadow of its former strength.) The jasmine part is lovely, and the rest of it is pleasant, but I shrug. Soon, the dry down begins: the suede impression is joined by a light touch of cedar, an even heavier dose of dusty powder from the iris, some definite musky notes, and a soft smoke and incense touch that is, I admit, lovely. There is also a note that strongly evokes hairspray. And, every CamillaPBnow and then, flitting back and forth, I smell something faintly horsey — though it is more leather saddles now than feces.

I feel like Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Charles’ horse-mad second wife, and recall the oft-repeated stories of her younger days. Rumour has it that, after a long day at the hunt, she would make a mad dash straight off her sweaty horse and into the house where she would tumble into a dress for a cocktail party, with nary a shower in-between.

I realise that my views are “sacrilegious,” to borrow the word of one fearful commentator on Basenotes who barely dared whisper the words “fecal” before rushing off to join in all the praise. If I could smell what Mick Jagger smells when he wears this (and he does); if I could see “The Ballet Russes, polished samovars and dangerous Cossacks with leather riding boots;” if I could conjure up Imperial Grand Dukes leaping off their black stallions to lasciviously and forcefully seduce me; if I could feel like a “virago” femme fatale or ultra-posh bombshell with hidden bondage tendencies– then I would probably genuflect at the alter of Cuir de Russie, too.

Until the time when all that magically occurs, I shall continue to think that Cuir de Russie is a perfectly pleasant, completely average floral musk with some suede notes under a strong head of horse manure. Literally.

DETAILS:
Target group: Unisex. Men love this as much as women.
Sillage & Longevity: As a rule, this is meant to be close to the skin, so the sillage is far from enormous. With regard to longevity, there seems to be a complete and total split in views, with some saying it lasts 10-12 hours, while others say it never surpasses the 4 hour mark. On me, it took 30 minutes or less before the perfume faded to the point where I had to forcefully inhale my arm to smell the notes. The whole thing lasted no more than 2.5 with my regular amount, but 4 hours with the triple dosage. Again, as always, my longevity issues are far from the norm as my skin rapidly consumes perfume.
Cost & Availability: Cuir de Russie is available exclusively in Chanel boutiques or on the Chanel website. The standard, basic Eau de Toilette in available in two sizes: the 2.5 oz./75 ml bottle is $110, while the 6.8 oz/200 ml. bottle is $220. It is also available in Extrait de Parfum form for $175 for 0.5 oz.

Perfume Review – Amouage Jubilation 25: Scheherazade & Seduction

In The Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights), Scheherazade Scheherazadetricks her new husband into saving her life by enchanting him with a different tale each night. The powerful Persian king had become bitter and enraged by the infidelity of his former wife, so each day he would marry a virgin, only to behead them the next morning before they could betray him. Eventually, the kingdom ran out of virgins and the Vizier (or Prime Minister) was at a loss to know how to placate his bloodthirsty, vengeful king. The Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered herself as a volunteer; she had a plan to tame the king and stop the bloodshed destroying the land.

Scheherazade spent her wedding night by telling the king a story but, cleverly, she Sch2never finished it and stopped at the most exciting part right before dawn, the time of her impending execution. The king, determined to know how the story ended, was forced to delay her sentence. That next night, she finished the tale but began an even more exciting story. Once again, she stopped exactly midway shortly before dawn, and the curious king spared her life so that he might hear the conclusion. This continued for a thousand and one nights, as Scheherazade weaved her magic through stories of Aladdin and the Genie, Ali Baba, Sinbad and many more. By the end, the king had fallen in love with the clever Scheherazade and made her his queen.

If the bewitching, enigmatic, intensely feminine, aristocratic Scheherazade were alive today, she might very well make Amouage’s Jubilation 25 her signature scent. As I wrote in my review for the sibling fragrance, Jubilation XXV for Men, the royal perfume house of Amouage would be perfect for a fairy tale or Greek myth. (Or for The Arabian Nights itself.) Amouage is the official royal perfume house for the Sultanate of Oman, and created at the order of the Sultan himself. It seeks to evoke the magic of the Middle East at the hands of master perfumers, who are given all the riches in the land — nay, the richest ingredients in all the world — with a no-expense spared budget.

Amouage 2 Jubiliations

Amouage Jubilation 25 (left) and Jubilation XXV (right).

On its 25th anniversary, in 2007, Amouage launched two celebratory eau de parfums under the guidance of its artistic director, Christopher Chong. The men’s version was called Jubilation XXV and was created by Bernard Duchaufour; the women’s version was named Jubilation 25, and was made by Lucas Sieuzac. Both versions are eau de parfum concentration.

Amouage J25

Jubilation 25

On its website, Amouage describes Jubilation 25 as follows:

Jubilation 25 captures the magic of timeless eternity with rich top notes of rose and ylang-ylang in which myth and reality are expressed using the finest frankincense from Oman.

This fragrance will appeal to the elegant, enigmatic and sophisticated woman who lives her life as an art form – evoking the time, place and cultures she inhabits with the mystical allure of amber, musk, vetiver, myrrh, frankincense and patchouli.

Jubilation XXV is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental floral,” but it would be much more accurate to call it a fruity chypre. “Chypre” is one of the main perfume families. As a basic rule of thumb, a chypre perfume starts out with citrus-y top notes, has labdanum as part of its middle notes, and has a base that includes oakmoss. The oakmoss is traditionally the main key, but the base also often includes patchouli, musk or some sort of animalic note. (See the Glossary for a full explanation of the chypre family of fragrances, its general composition, and the range of its sub-families.)

Jubilation 25’s notes are listed as follows:

Top notes are ylang-ylang, rose, tarragon and lemon;

middle notes are labdanum, rose, artemisia and incense;

base notes are amber, patchouli, musk, vetiver and myrrh.

The perfume opens and I think to myself, “So Parisienne!” It’s a definite fruity chypre and a very heavy, mature scent. The opening notes are citrus and oakmoss, with a strong touch of tarragon and cumin. Unlike others, I don’t smell any significant amount of ylang-ylang from the start. Instead, what I get is a cumin-infested rose and peach note that is uncomfortably intimate. The peach comes from the davana flower which helps create the slightly fruity nature of the opening. It also evokes Guerlain’s Mitsouko, the standard bearer for fruity chypres, and a perfume which similarly calls to mind female intimacy and cumin. There is also a definite element of sweat which adds yet another type of intimacy to the scent. I can’t help but think of a woman in a slight state of arousal. There is a soft kind of blossoming and earthy fecundity which bring to mind a woman’s panties and… well, “intimate” is the only way I can describe it politely.

The cumin note is subtle at first. It’s not like the cumin in Serge Lutens Serge Noire but the earthiness is such that I have to wonder how the perfume would smell on me if worn at noon during the height of summer. The thought worries me a little. (Okay, a lot!) I can’t begin to imagine how this would smell in 110 degree heat!

A few more minutes in, the tarragon fades away as does a portion of the citrus-y note, leaving a very dry but pungent oakmoss scent. Officially, there is no oakmoss in Jubilation 25. None of the notes listed on the Amouage website (or, indeed, anywhere) list it. But it is there. Read any review of Jubilation 25, and you’ll see a plethora of references to oakmoss and chypres. The ingredients may not list it — just as they don’t list cumin — but dammit, it’s there!

Oakmoss is a tricky scent to describe or convey. It looks and smells similar to the lump of dried litchen that is often stuck at the top of flower pots or in floral arrangements. And, calling it “mossy, herbal and woody” doesn’t really seem adequate. To me, oakmoss has a dry, musty, dark green-grey smell that is dusty and almost mineral-y as well. It is often astringently pungent and a lot like a very damp, earthy forest. But a damp forest that is definitely musty and a bit dusty as well.

Twenty minutes in, the cumin (or whatever skank-ladened note is replicating cumin’s smell) is flitting in and out, making me feel, at times, that it’s actually quite delightful in its uncommon juxtaposition with rose and lemon. At other times, however, I have to resist the urge to sniff under my arms in alarm. It’s a bit of intellectual genius to combine the natural earthiness of cumin with the inherent earthiness of oakmoss, but it’s also rather disturbing.

There is a funky ripeness that makes me fear I am not woman enough or brave enough for this scent. And, suddenly, I understand Luca Turin’s comparison of Jubilation 25 (which he very much liked, by the way) to Dior’s outré Diorella.  Diorella was created by the legendary nose, Edmond Roudnitska, who also created the other monster of funk that Jubilation 25 is often compared to: Rochas’ Femme. (Jubilation 25 is compared to the reformulated, post-1989 version of Femme that had actual cumin added in.)

Femme

Femme

Femme is repeatedly described as far more than just merely animalic but, rather, flat out “intimate.” And a good chunk of the ingredients in Femme are also in Jubilation 25, even if the latter doesn’t officially list cumin. (It really should!) The same story applies to Guerlain’s equally “intimate” or “skanky” Mitsouko, which is the third fragrance to which Jubilation 25 is often compared. Mitsouko’s peach, rose, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, vetiver, amber and musky notes are the same ones in Jubilation.

In slight contrast to those “intimate” female scents, Diorella has been described as “fruit on the  verge of going bad” by Luca Turin. The perfume blog Yesterday’s Perfume, elaborates on that Turin metaphor saying that Diorella “at its heart, … smells like garbage on the verge of going bad that someone has thrown a pile of flowers onto” but swears that it “shows you how to find beauty in the intersection of garbage and flowers. I know this doesn’t sound like an endorsement, but it is!”

Jubilation 25 combines aspects of all the aforementioned perfumes into one. I think that the last part of Yesterday’s Perfume’s quote about Diorella could really apply to Jubilation 25 if slightly altered: it “shows you to how find beauty in the intersection of [bodily funk] and flowers.” It just takes a little time to become enchanting (or, perhaps, a little less alarming).

But it is, unquestionably, a fascinating scent. It gets in your head with its juxtaposition of soft, feminine florals, earthy dampness and mossiness, and bodily funk. It’s got a little bit danger, and a whole lot of enigma. I can’t decide if I like it, or if I am repelled by it. As time goes on, I am less repelled than I was at the onset, but I’m still completely at a loss on how to assess this scent. It’s that bodily funk aspect that is all woman; it is both the fascination and lure, and the source of my continuing alarm. True, it’s less blunt, forceful, and sexually ripe as compared to Femme where, if memory serves me correctly, it clobbered you on the head. Here, there is just a sheer hint of it. Sheer, like Salomé’s seventh and final veil which was closest to her damp, slightly sweaty, naked

Sir Arthur Streeton's "Scheherazade."

Sir Arthur Streeton’s “Scheherazade.”

body as she danced before the king she wanted to seduce and manipulate into committing murder.

I feel a little trapped and paralyzed by my polarized reactions to Jubilation 25. In fact, I feel just like a fly quivering on a spider’s web, as competing thoughts run through my head. From utter revulsion at the scent, I slowly feel some grudging fascination, then back to alarm as a particularly strong whiff of armpits flashes by before receding again. I scrawl, “Oh no. This is too much!” in my notes, followed a few minutes later by, “I think I like this???” Jubilation 25 is like Scheherazade luring into her mystery, her web, her tales, before trapping you with her enigma, and making you want more.

The soft dry-down doesn’t help free me. It’s all musky rose with a touch of sweetness from the myrrh and amber. For some odd reason, the ylang-ylang is stronger now on me, as is the peach from the davana and the patchouli. Perhaps they were just hidden by that huge burst of overwhelmingly skanky funk? The latter is still there but it is just a faint shimmer now, almost imperceptible. (Well, most of the time. It tends to come and go at this point, almost like a ghost.) I really like the dry-down, though it’s nowhere as fascinating as that opening which lasted a good two hours on me.

Unlike the king in A Thousand and One Nights, however, I do finally manage to break free of the enchantment. I don’t think I would buy Jubilation 25, even if I could afford it (which we will get to shortly). It’s just too mature, heavy and intimate a scent for me. I don’t mind heaviness if it’s resinous ambers or spice, but heavy oakmoss is a bit harder for me to handle as a frequent choice of scents. But it’s the intimacy issue which is more dispositive. I have faint images of slightly ripe panties and earthy underarms that continue to plague me a little. Yes, I don’t think I would wear it. No, on further thought, I think I would. Yes, I would. I can’t get it out of my head and I’m utterly fascinated by its dangerous, alarming elements. I don’t think it is just intellectual fascination, either. There are a lot of scents that fascinate me intellectually and theoretically — such as Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle — but which I’m not interested enough at the end of the day to actually want to wear them.

Jubilation 25 is different because it really has gotten inside my head. I can’t stop sniffing my arms, though I always do so with a healthy dose of trepidation. I could see this as the scent of a dangerous woman, a black widow, or a diva. I think of Angelina Jolie’s character in any number of her films but, especially, in Gia (one of my all-time favorite movies). I also think of Angelina Jolie herself in Alexander, where she met and bewitched Brad Pitt. I think of such diverse people as: the legendary icon, Ava Gardner; the racy, imperious, very sexual but haughty Princess Margaret of England; or the steely, hard, but manipulatively charming Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former Iron Lady.

What finally breaks me free of the spell and the madness is the price of Jubilation 25. I am simply too much of a cheapskate to spend $300 (or approximately $330 with tax) on one single perfume. I just can’t do it, even if I could afford it. The most commonly available size of Jubiliation 25 is 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml and costs $300, £190.00 or around €220. There is a smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml version that costs $265 or £160.00, but a cursory review of a few US websites shows it is not available on any of the usual or big perfume sites. I found the smaller size only at Beauty Encounter, but it’s really not a good deal given that double the quantity (or 3.4 oz) costs only $35 more.

No, Jubilation 25 is just too expensive for me but, oh, how it tempts me. This is not an ordinary, cheap or generic scent. It smells haughty, regal, luxurious, feminine, and infinitely intimate. It’s dangerous and enigmatic. It’s Mata Hari, Salome and Scheherazade all wrapped into one. And it probably would have brought Scheherazade’s king to his knees far sooner than a thousand and one nights…..

DETAILS:
Sillage & Longevity: Heavy sillage for the first 2 hours before becoming slightly closer to the skin. It becomes fully close to the skin about 3 hours in. All in all, it lasted about 5 hours on me. On others, it is reported to have great or, even, huge longevity.
Availability & Stores: In the US, Jubilation 25 can be purchased online at AedesFour SeasonsLuckyscent or Parfums Raffy. (Google and Parfums Raffy state that it is the authorized retailer for Amouage and that it provides free shipping.) If you want the smaller 1.7 oz version, you can go to Beauty Encounter. Samples of Jubilation can be purchased from all those places, as well as from Surrender to Chance (the decant site I always use) where the smallest vial costs $3.99. In London, I’ve read that Jubilation 25 is available at Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Les Senteurs or the Amouage boutique. In Canada, I’ve read that it’s available at The Perfume Shoppe. In Germany, at First in Fragrance. And, of course, it is available world-wide on Amouage’s own website. The website also has a “Store Locator” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Jubilation somewhere close to you.