Perfume Review – Hermès Paprika Brasil: Chilies & Woods

Shakespeare was right when he said that a rose, by any other name, still smells as sweet. However, a name can be bloody important! In perfumery, a name can convey either a wealth of details about the type of scent a perfumer has made, or the sort of impression that a perfume seeks to evoke. A name can also lead to great expectations (to bring up Dickens this time), followed by a great, whacking THUMP of disappointment as the consumer falls down the cliff to a different reality. Exhibit No. 1 for that would be Chanel‘s Coco Noir which is neither Coco nor Noir, and as such was met with howls of disappointment from many perfumistas.

Paprika BrasilExhibit No. 2 would be Paprika Brasil from Hermès. It was released in 2006 as part of Hermès’ exclusive, in-store Hermessence line of fragrances and created by Hermès’ in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, a legendary perfumer who was recently called by Der Spiegel “the best ‘nose’ in the world.” Ellena is known for his minimalistic approach to ingredients, and for perfumes that always have depth and complexity, despite seeming sheer and transparent. That sheerness is rather a signature of his and, for some, was taken to unfortunate extremes with Paprika Brasil.

An even greater problem was the name itself which led to certain perceptions of what the perfume would entail. A number of the negative reviews explicitly mention that the reviewer thought the perfume would be something very different than what it was and, as such, was a disappointment. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin felt that way, saying “I feel particularly disappointed with this latest creation. Perhaps, it is due to my high expectations.” However, no-one was quite as blunt about it as Robin at Now Smell This who wrote:

My initial trials of Paprika Brasil cannot be described in any way other than disappointing, and the experience points to the dangers of building up expectations based on the fragrance name, back story and notes. I suppose what I was expecting was a deep woods scent with exotic spices, something that would evoke the jungles of Brazil before the impact of globalization, where Lévi-Strauss was said to have found “a human society reduced to its most basic expression”.

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

On the Hermès website, Jean-Claude Ellena describes Paprika Brasil as “[t]he ravaging power of paprika and brasil wood, tempered by iris. Seductive, passionate, unexpected.” He adds:

A tinctorial wood to colour fabrics red, ‘brasil wood’ gave its name to the country. With its power of suggestion, “bois de braise” sparked my imagination and I chose paprika to illustrate it. By mixing and matching, I recreated its scent, which is more secretive and discreet than its taste.

The Fragrantica classifies Paprika Brasil as “Woody Spicy”, but it doesn’t list the full notes. NST states that they include:

pimento, clove, paprika, iris, green leaves, reseda, ember wood (aka Brazilwood or Pernambuco) and woody notes.

I had read the reviews of Paprika Brasil before trying it and — since I have a tendency to root for the under-dog — I was initially quite huffily indignant on the poor perfume’s behalf! It was quite fascinatingly original at the start, and I was baffled by the degree of contempt and animosity which Paprika Brasil has engendered in some.

Pimento chilies.

Pimento chilies.

My immediate reaction to the opening seconds was, “Oh my God, I smell like a chili pepper!” There was an astonishingly powerful, sharp burst of red pimento chilies, followed by green bell peppers, cloves and a touch of paprika. (I wrote in my notes: “Add lettuce, ranch salad sauce, and I’m lunch?”) The paprika is never particularly strong on me, Bell Pepperthough others have reported a different experience, but the green bell pepper is very prominent. It is tamed about ten minutes in, countered by the advent of wood notes that are faintly smoky, peppery and spicy.

Brazilwood or the Pernambuco tree.

Brazilwood or the Pernambuco tree.

Twenty minutes in, a soft green note unfurls, like leaves opening in the sun, and there is the start of the iris note. The perfume has quickly progressed from a chili-vegetable scent into something entirely different and, frankly, it’s rather astonishing. It’s turned into a very airy rendition of spicy, peppery woods with a touch of green and the softening note of floral iris. I found it very original and quite fascinating. I sniffed my arm constantly and with a smile, always wondering about those incredibly dismissive and often caustically sneering reviews.

The scent is translucent in a way and, yet, also strong. It doesn’t project outwardly with vast trails, but what you do smell is quite noticeable. Or, perhaps, I’m merely surprised by the strength given that a commentator on Basenotes disdainfully dismissed Paprika Brasil as “one of Ellena’s more anemic and evanescent efforts.” This is not my definition of “anemic.”

Harvesting the iris root. Source: Weleda UK

Harvesting the iris root.
Source: Weleda UK

As time progresses, 2.5 hours in, the wood notes start to dominate. They are both smoky (black) and spicy (red chili). I wonder if some of the Brazilian reseda or ember woods used have an aroma similar to guaiac because I smell the same sort of black peppery notes here.  The iris has also emerged to great extent. It is oddly both floral and earthy at the same time, as though Ellena used both the orris root and the flowers. It’s never powdery, though there is a faint, subtle, almost microscopic element of powder hovering around the edges. As several commentators on Basenotes also found, the contrasting floral and earthy notes counter the dryness of the wood and spices.

It’s at this time that my feelings start to change about Paprika Brasil. It started to wear me down a little. By the end, about 4.5 hours all in all, I had completely reversed my position and had enough. I don’t know if it was the linearity or the constant pepper accord but something had become too much. There were so many conflicted thoughts darting through my mind.

For one thing, where on earth would I wear this scent??! The supermarket produce aisle would seem to be the most logical choice, since I certainly would not wear this out on a date or to a party! As we’ll discuss shortly, it’s not cheap, so it’s far too expensive for the dog park. And, frankly, that may be the only place where I wouldn’t be embarrassed to smell like chili peppers. I live in Texas. There is a Mexican food place every few blocks. (I cannot stand Mexican food, if I might add.) Paprika Brasil’s green bell pepper may have been apparent mostly in the opening, but the red chilies are constant and, due to where I live, the mental associations are inevitable. (Salsa, anyone?)

The Hairy German

The Hairy German

I spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to determine what might have been a better, more accurate, potentially less disappointing name for the perfume — and concluded that the task is a lot harder than it seems. Neither “Chili Woods” or “Peppered Woods” has much élan. Nor does “Airy Pimento” or “Peppered Iris.” Frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss with regard to all aspects of this scent, and it must have shown because I suddenly noticed The Hairy German watching my face with great concern.

One thing that bewilders me is how different my experience was from many others. Victoria on Bois de Jasmin found this a cold, “watery and limpid” fragrance:

In comparison to the other fragrances from Hermessence collection, I find Paprika Brasil to have the least presence and impact. Theoretically, the weightlessness and the airy quality of spices and woods is interesting, but as a whole, the composition appears watery and limpid, a sketch that never seems to attain the form one wishes it to possess. Being an admirer of Jean-Claude Ellena’s work and Hermessence Collection, I feel particularly disappointed with this latest creation. Perhaps, it is due to my high expectations. Perhaps, it is because I already have encountered two fragrances this year that explore the same theme of cool rocks and damp earth via iris and green notes with much more interesting results– Eau d’Italie Sienne L’Hiver and L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha. Paprika Brasil appears to me like a modern art piece, without a key to understanding its concept.

NST also found it wan, though it classifies Paprika Brasil as a predominantly iris fragrance:

It is first and foremost an iris fragrance, and a sheer one at that. The top notes have the same feel of rooty carrot that you find in Hermès Hiris, but without the sharp metallic twang. There is a slight whisper of green, and a dusting of dry paprika, and yes, there are woods, but the whole is extraordinarily muted, and easily has the least presence of any of the Hermessences so far.

As a rule, I like sheer and muted. It is one of the reasons I admire Jean Claude Ellena: he can work magic without shouting, and while using a very limited palette. But Paprika Brasil feels almost wan, and so entirely fails to live up to its name that it is hard, quite honestly, to find a way to approach it with an open mind. Last night and again this morning, I tried it next to a group of my favorite iris scents, and it failed to make much of a showing.

I’ve only tried Ambre Narguilé thus far from the Hermessence collection, so I can’t compare how Paprika Brasil measures up to the line as a whole. Taking just Ambre Narguilé as a point of comparison, yes, it is far more robust, but Paprika Brasil is hardly a weak, wan, cold scent on my skin. It’s all hot chilies and peppered woods. It’s monotonous, exhausting and, ultimately, the furthest thing from versatile, but it’s not cold and reminiscent of “cool rocks”! None of the commentators on Basenotes found such coldness either, but, rather, dryness, paprika, iris and woods. To the extent that it doesn’t have much depth, body or complexity, then perhaps, yes, Paprika Brasil is “watery” in that sense — but only in that sense.

My experience seems tiny bit closer to that of Marina from Perfume-Smellin’ Things who noted the predominance of  the chili note, but who ultimately found Paprika Brasil to be a huge disappointment:

The spicy notes bear a promise of a scent that is red-hot, fiery, supremely piquant, but Paprika Brasil is much more tame then what the presence of pimento, paprika and clove might suggest. It starts green and dry, making me think of twigs and indeed green leaves. A delicate spicy accord is woven into that greenness, it grows stronger as the scent develops but is always kept in check by the leaves and the wood and the cool earthiness of iris (which is very apparent on my skin). The spice that I smell here is mostly pimento and it is a beautiful note, crimson, dry and appealingly sharp; it saddens me that this attractive piquancy was not allowed to be more prominent. No, I don’t want a scent where other notes are overwhelmed by the spices, but neither do I like the idea of a scent where the spices are beaten into submission by the rather pale and unexciting rest of the ingredients. Dusty-green, too dry, too delicate, dull and fleeting, Paprika Brasil was a bitter disappointment for this fan of the other five scents in the Hermessence series.

I didn’t find Paprika Brasil to be so green, delicate or pale, and the spices were always there, permeating the iris and wood notes. However, at the end of the day, it was simply just too exhausting to wear.

The opportunity to smell like a bell pepper, then iris and chili-ed woods, does not come cheaply. Paprika Brasil costs $235 and is sold only in the large 100ml/3.4 oz bottles directly from Hermès itself (whether online or via its boutiques). It doesn’t come in any other size and only comes in the eau de toilette concentration.

The Hermès travel or gift set.

The Hermès travel or gift set.

However, and this part is key, Hermès sells a travel or gift set of four 15 ml/0.5 oz bottles for $145. You can get 4 bottles of any perfumes in the Hermessence line, or all 4 can be the same perfume. In short, for $145, you would be getting 60 ml or about 2.0 oz of perfume, which is more than the standard 1.7 oz bottles for perfumes. As such, it is a much more manageable price. If you want to smell like iris and pimento-ed wood, that is.

I don’t.

DETAILS:
Paprika Brasil is available on Hermès’ website at the link provided above. Samples are available at a number of sites, as well as on eBay (which is where I obtained my 4 ml vial). Surrender to Chance sells samples starting at $3.99 for the smallest size. As always, I think they have the best shipping prices, so I would start  there if you’re interested in testing out the perfume.
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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.

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

While the Fresh & Clean scents outlined in Part III have been around for almost two decades, our final category involves the very latest and hottest trend in the perfume industry: Oud or Aoud fragrances. These scents use, Agarwood, one of the oldest ingredients and most expensive ingredients in the world, and its distillation is responsible for a truly different, modern fragrance.

In its purest incantation, it can evoke a cold campfire in the outdoors. At times, it can have a definitely medicinal element to its woodiness, smelling of bandaids or, in one case, reminding me of a lime disinfectant sprayed in a cold, steely hospital morgue and creating the olfactory equivalent of Chernobyl on my arm. If done well and with the right body chemistry, it can descend into smoky, incense-y, sweet, leathery richness. Oud is always expensive and used mainly by the more niche perfume houses. It can also be an extremely polarising scent. In fact, the most controversial, polarising Oud fragrance of all may be the Tom Ford-created YSL “M7,” a cologne whose very advertising campaign broke all the rules by featuring a hairy, nude male model in full frontal… er… glory. We will get to that bit later.

Let’s start at the beginning. While spellings may vary, Aoud and Oud (I’ve even seen Oudh!) both refer to Agarwood which is an extremely ancient element found in the East. No-one explains its heritage, characteristics and its current usage half as well as the experts at CaFleureBon, so I will just link to their marvelous, brilliant analysis of it here. To make a long story short, however, Fragrantica states that Agarwood “is reputed to be the most expensive wood in the world” and that Oud is the “pathological secretion of the aquillaria tree, a rich, musty woody-nutty scent that is highly prized in the Middle East. In commercial perfumery it’s safe to say all ‘oud’ is a recreated synthetic note.”

There are an increasing number of different Oud/Aoud fragrances on the market these days, from the 2011 Creed offering for men (Royal Oud) to Tom Ford. But the majority of the oud scents come from even more niche houses, from Juliette Has a Gun (founded by Nina Ricci’s great-grandson), to Montale, to the offerings of the Sultan of Oman who founded the ultra-exclusive niche house, Amouage, reputed to be the most expensive fragrance line in the world. If “clean and fresh” is a more commercial, mass-market scent, then ancient Oud goes the exact opposite way. It’s hardly surprising given the expensive nature of the ingredient.

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud scents, thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells small vials or large “decants” of almost every scent imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.) Thanks to them, I was able to try a selection of Oud/Aoud fragrances from such lines as By Kilian and Montale. By the way, you may be interested to know that Kilian is a scion of the famous Hennessy cognac dynasty. (The Hennessy company is now a part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate). You can find reviews for those Oud/Aoud fragrances here.

The very first mainstream fragrance to feature oud was M7 by YSL, under the direction

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

of Tom Ford. It was 2002, and I don’t think the mainstream market was ready for either an oud fragrance or for the way it was marketed. As CaFleureBon put it in the article linked to up above, “[i]t was a resounding failure at the time, although it would probably be very popular if it were introduced today due to the current market’s new familiarity with oud. It was apparently too much, too soon, as it was a very powerful fragrance, but it has a cult following to this day, due in part to its provocative ad campaign.”

One Thousand Scents has an excellent review of M7 that I highly recommend, though I should warn any readers who are at work that it features that absolutely NSFW, full-frontal photo which we’ll talk about momentarily. The review states that official list of notes for M7 are:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I was very impressed by One Thousand Scents‘ review. I have not smelled M7 in person, but absolutely want to now as a result. A close friend of mine who adores it (but is not sure he dares wear it out the house yet) sent me a few sprays on thick stationary and I loved the sweet, smoky notes that linger on it.  I asked him to write a guest review, but he felt he wasn’t enough of an expert to do M7 true justice. However, he kindly agreed to let me share some of his impressions which I thought added to M7’s intriguing nature. He found it:

weirdly intoxicating. Medicinal yes, perhaps smokey as well? Like dousing a campfire with some antibiotic perhaps” but not in a bad way. After some time, the incense came out but not in a strong, pungent way that would nauseate one. “It does still smell medicinal, but in a more intriguing and less abrasive way.” Like “a clean bandaid or like gauze with a mild ointment on it. But less potent and unpleasant. I’ve read some comments that liken it to a hospital, but I think that does it a disservice…. Someone on basenotes described M7 as both hypnotic and comforting and I utterly agree. I am totally under its spell. It’s definitely for cool/cold weather. […]  M7 makes me want to mysteriously wander the streets of Paris on a cold, rainy day while wearing a trenchcoat.

[In the very end though,] M7 is basically Grenouille’s final scent where people don’t know why they are descending into a giant orgy!

As you can see, M7 is a complicated, complex fragrance, and I bring it up not to review it per se (I can’t, I haven’t worn it!) but to demonstrate how far the market has changed today. In 2002, the perfume world — mainstream or even, perhaps, as a whole — was not ready for such an aggressive, confusing, novel scent. As One Thousand Scents noted, M7 is “a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between. It is not kidding.” (emphasis in the original.)

M7 might perhaps have had a chance in the mainstream world had it not been for “That Ad”! One Thousand Scents talks about, very amusingly, the British reaction:

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT’S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE’S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

If that was the British reaction, one cannot begin to fathom what the American one would have been!! Of course, that would require the full advert being shown here in America and that would have been highly unlikely given the puritanical mores. (The lingering effects of Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” are still not over!)

How did M7 have a chance to make it, and to introduce the mainstream, soccer dad world to Oud? It didn’t. Not a chance in hell. Even if the perfume notes hadn’t made it too alien for the time (mandrake root?!), that ad simply sealed its doom.

Poor M7, it was not only ahead of its time but, then, it suffered in inquity of being utterly emasculated. Adding insult to injury, a new version was put out in 2011: M7 Oud Absolu which, contrary to what its name would seem to imply, was most definitely not a more intense version of the original. By all accounts, it is a de-fanged meow of a scent as compared to the ROOOOOOOOOOOOAR of the original.

If 2002 was too soon for Oud, look at the market now. What a difference a decade makes! Givenchy, that old, extremely conservative house, now has Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy Bois de Oud! Demoiselle (or “young lady”) and oud… what a surprise. (Particularly from a house as conservative as Givenchy!) Givenchy is not alone. Dior, another mainstream house, has a Fahrenheit flanker, Fahrenheit Absolu, with Oud. Jil Sanders, Jo Malone, Armani, Calvin Klein (Euphoria Intense), Trish McAvoy, and even Juicy Couture (Dirty English) have now gotten into the act with fragrances containing some degree of oud.

But perhaps few things better epitomize the increasingly mainstream acceptance of Oud than the fact that, in 2009, Bath and Body Works came out with a fragrance whose notes include oud! Honestly, I’m not sure I believe it. And, yet, Fragrantica explicitly states that Bath & Body Work’s Twilight Woods includes “oud wood” in its dry notes. I’ve owned the candle version of Twilight Woods, and I don’t detect any oud — at least not proper, true oud which would seem to be far too expensive for such a line — but far be it for me to dispute the official ingredients for the perfume.

Regardless, the point remains the same. Oud is entering the mainstream in a way that was not imaginable at the time of M7’s launch, or even 5 years ago. And Oud fragrances are no longer extremely hard to find. Tom Ford now sells mainstream perfumes featuring oud (but not featuring male genitalia!) at Nordstrom’s and Saks. Juicy Couture’s Dirty English is available at Target and KMart. Interestingly, however, Sephora — that key destination for most mainstream beauty buyers in the U.S. — doesn’t carry Tom Ford’s Aoud perfume, though it does sells several of his other fragrances, and it doesn’t have any oud fragrance that I can remember seeing. (Perhaps Oud isn’t truly mainstream until it’s commonly sold at Macy’s and Sephora?)

I haven’t found the perfect Oud fragrance for me, though granted I’ve only tried 6 variations on it. It doesn’t help that my body seems to process the ingredient in a less than charming way. Most of the time, though not always, it is incredibly medicinal, bandaid-like, metallic, screechingly sharp and acrid with a peculiar lime note that really shouldn’t be there. (Particularly when lime isn’t listed as one of the ingredients in the perfume.) One iteration of it drove me to utter and complete madness. And not in a good way….  On many other people, however, oud can be sweet, woody, leathery, evocative of cold stone, vegetal, and/or very outdoorsy. I’m still on the hunt for one which will work on me and I will probably turn to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next. I also plan on trying M7 for myself, if only to understand the huge polarising nature of the cult hit and to see if I fall into the camp of admirers.

Are you interested in trying Oud? If you have, do you have a favorite that you adore? What makes it so great and how does it smell on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.

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For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part III, “Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?,” go here.