Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

On occasion, I’ll come across a perfume whose most striking characteristic for me is a textural one. Instead of specific notes or a movement of change throughout the stages, the perfume merely evokes a lovely creaminess that is almost devoid of an actual olfactory smell. That is the case for me with Orris Noir, a fragrance from Ormonde Jayne that is meant to be so “haunting” that it “defies description.” I’m afraid it fell far short of such a description in my eyes, but, then, in all fairness, what fragrance could positively live up to that line?

Ormonde Jayne is a high-end, niche London perfume house founded by Linda Pilkington in 2002. All her perfumes are created in conjunction with Geza Schoen, and Orris Noir is no exception. The fragrance was released in 2006, and is available in two concentrations: pure parfum (with 30% fragrance oils) and eau de parfum (25%). This review is for the eau de parfum.

Black Iris via Soundcloud.com

Black Iris via Soundcloud.com

Ormonde Jayne’s website describes Orris Noir as follows:

Orris Noir – so haunting, it almost defies description.

The Iris flower is named after the Greek Goddess of the rainbow, the messenger of the Gods and the Black Iris of Amman is the Royal symbol of the Kings of Jordan. Thriving in a landscape of ample sun, it is a rich, purple black flower of smouldering beauty.

This dark, spicy Oriental scent is for those who want to leave their mark.

A spellbinding perfume, Orris Noir is a rich, seductive aria of unmistakable individuality, not for shrinking violets.

Top Notes: Davana, pink pepper, coriander seed, bergamot
Heart Notes: Iris, [jasmine] sambac absolute, pimento berries, bay
Base Notes: Incense, myrrh, patchouli, chinese cedar, gaiac.

Source: Dailymail.com

Source: Dailymail.com

Orris Noir opens on my skin with black peppered lemon and cream, followed by a touch of pink peppercorn berries and a whisper of fruit. A spectral hint of rooty iris pops up at the edges, but it is very subtle. It carries the tiniest undertone of sweet carrots, I think, but the iris note as a whole is so muffled that it may well be my imagination. Certainly, when I’ve tested Orris Noir in the past using only a small quantity, none of it showed up. Instead, the main bouquet smells to me of a very milky, creamy tea with lemon, a vague and nebulous floralacy, pink peppercorns, and a touch of something fruity.

Source: artid.com

Source: artid.com

The issue of quantity impacting notes is interesting when it comes to Orris Noir because I noted differences based on that amount of scent that I apply. When I applied only a small quantity (perhaps 1/3 of a 1 ml vial), there was a brief suggestion of something fiery or biting from the pimento chili peppers, but it was so fleeting that it too may have just been imagined. At the same time, there was a more distinct puff of black incense in the background, but you had to sniff extremely hard and long to really detect it. Both elements, however, were minor and barely lasted.

In contrast, I could definitely detect the iris when I applied a greater amount of Orris Noir. (I used about 2/3rds of a 1 ml vial.) Regardless of quantity, however, and taken as a whole, the iris feels like a tertiary, very quiet, very muted player on the sidelines. For a fragrance that is intended to be a dark homage to iris, I’m afraid that Orris Noir was really everything but that for the majority of its development on my skin.

Davana. Source: hermitageoils.com/davana-essential-oil

Davana. Source: hermitageoils.com/davana-essential-oil

Instead, the primary bouquet of Orris Noir in its opening hour on my skin is extremely creamy Earl Grey tea. Not milky, for the textural quality of the fragrance goes beyond a merely lactonic quality, but rich, smooth cream. It’s infused with lemon, pepper, and, after 20 minutes, by the Davana. I happen to really like the last note, and I think Davana is an element that should be used more often in perfumery. It is an Indian flower with a very lush, velvety, floral smell and a fruity undertone, most specifically of apricots. Here, with Orris Noir, the apricot tonality is extremely subtle at first and the main aroma is of a petal-soft, vaguely tropical flower with endless creaminess.

Orris Noir remains that way for the next few hours, largely unchanged except for the sillage and subtle variations in the notes. It’s all lemon-pepper cream with davana florals, and an increasingly strong sense of fruitiness. The iris lingers like a ghost in the back, as does the cedar. In fact, the two together generally impart a wholly abstract, nebulous undertone of a woody, floral musk, but neither note stands out on my skin with any individual character. I would never sniff Orris Noir and think, “Ah, Iris,” because the flower is practically a nonentity on me after the first hour.

At the start of the second hour, the sillage drops to an inch or two above the skin, though the perfume is easily detectable if sniffed up close. The only major change occurs about 2.5 hours in, when there is the first, very muffled suggestion of jasmine. Orris Noir’s main characteristic continues to be a very smooth, textural creaminess, though it is becoming increasingly difficult to pull it apart into a specific, actual olfactory note. It also now feels more nebulously woody than purely floral in nature.

Source: de.123rf.com

Source: de.123rf.com

About 3.5 hours in, Orris Noir is a creamy, lemony, floral skin scent with light touches of jasmine, soft abstract woodiness, and a slightly fruited nuance. It remains that way until the end of the 6th hour when the jasmine finally steps out of the shadows, and takes over. There are lingering traces of the davana, but Orris Noir is primarily a very sheer, blurry wisp of sweet jasmine woody musk. The perfume remains that way until its very end. It lasted 8.75 hours with a large quantity, and just over 7.75 hours with a smaller amount.

Orris Noir is very pretty, easy-going, approachable, and smooth, but it is also a bit underwhelming, if I’m to be honest. Its creaminess was its most distinctive feature for me, and something that I enjoyed a lot. Plus, to my relief, Orris Noir had only the most microscopic drop of ISO E Super, unlike some Ormonde Jayne fragrances which practically ooze it out of every pore. Orris Noir was well-balanced, had some pretty bits, and was perfectly pleasant as a whole. Yet, I really wasn’t moved; none of it sings or stands out for me.

Tania Sanchez seems to have had much greater problems with Orris Noir. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, she classifies Orris Noir as a “peppery cedar” and gives it a low 2 stars. Her reviews states:

The name combines two of the biggest recent trends: orris (iris-root butter) is showing up everywhere, and so are perfumes named Something Noir (or Black Thingamajig). The trouble is that there’s nothing particularly iris or noir about this. Instead, it smells like lemon and pepper with an oily-woody background, slightly chemical and faceless, a rare misstep for the excellent Ormonde Jayne line.

I really don’t think it’s that bad, not by any means, though I do agree with the “faceless” part. I think my feelings would be different if I experienced a lot (or even some) incense in the fragrance, but I did not. Like Tania Sanchez, I thought Orris Noir was lemony-pepper, albeit with davana creaminess, some jasmine, and a nebulous woody musk.

Other bloggers, however, definitely experienced more incense, spiciness, and darkness than I did. Whether you read Eyeliner on a Cat, Bois de Jasmin, or The Non-Blonde, they seem to have detected a more sultry, quasi-oriental fragrance, though no-one thinks that the iris dominates or that Orris Noir is particularly bold. The bloggers all liked Orris Noir, and Bois de Jasmin’s review is quite representative of the general consensus:

Even if Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir does not present its promised black iris, it more than makes up for it with its exquisite combination of spices, incense ashes and velvety woods. Its form crafted out of resinous and balsamic notes is nevertheless rendered as luminous and weightless, like silk, rather than wool.

The spicy notes provide an opulent leitmotif that persists as Orris Noir develops. They frame the lemony green top notes and foil the sheer floral heart. The echoes of sweet warmth of allspice can be noticed in the rich woody base. The chilly breath of iris is quite a subtle accent in this vivid arrangement, yet it lends a certain restraint. Incense, smooth and smoky, envelops the composition in its translucent dark veil.

My skin seems to have brought out more of the davana creaminess than anyone else, especially as compared to those on Basenotes. They generally like Orris Noir, though not everyone gushes enthusiasm. Take the review by “Alfarom” who writes, in part:

No iris whatsoever, not “noir” at all.

That being said, if you’re fine with a peppery-woody-incensey fragrance dominated by a nice, yet unquestionably synthetic vibe, this is a pretty decent composition. Kinda dry yet, somewhat, slightly powdery, woody and incensey with nice piquant undertones. Far from being a masterpiece yet nice.

A number of women absolutely adore the scent, though a few think they detect a “rose” note which I suspect might be the davana at play. One of the more positive reviews reads:

Three words to describe Orris Noir: Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Lighter than its name implies, but spellbinding nonetheless, ON skims along the surface of the skin so deftly I kept expecting it would disappear entirely any minute. Instead it became creamier as it opened up, and was still marvelously “there” hours after I first put it on. It is a beautiful blend of light spices and delicate exotic florals, the pink pepper, coriander and powdery iris (fortunately more iris than powder) definitely come through on me.

On Fragrantica, there is the same generally positive response to Orris Noir. Interestingly, a greater number of commentators picked up on the creaminess and the “candied, fruity” elements in the scent, while one reviewer, “Cohibadad,” also detected plenty of iris. Generally, a number of people seemed to think Orris Noir was quite oriental in feel, which just goes to show you the importance of one’s personal and definitional standards. For me, Orris Noir isn’t remotely oriental, even if one doesn’t use brands like Amouage as a baseline. For me, it’s a floral woody musk. I think that it is all going to depend on your skin chemistry and on your personal standards.

Orris Noir isn’t my personal cup of tea, but it’s a nice fragrance and those who like airy, creamy, discreet florals may want to give it a try. I think it skews somewhat feminine, as do some men on Basenotes, but it all depends on what you’re comfortable with. It is a very approachable scent that is versatile, and could also be worn to the office without making waves.

Disclosure: I was sent Orris Noir for review by Ormonde Jayne, but I had previously purchased my own sample from Surrender to Chance, and that is what I used for this review. In all cases, I do not do paid reviews, my opinions are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

Cost & Availability: Orris Noir is available in a 50 ml flacon of either parfum extrait or eau de parfum. The EDP price for the regular bottle (without the gold stopper) is $126 or £80. There is also a 4 x 10 ml travel set of Orris Noir that costs $100 or £64, a body cream of the scent, and other accompanying body products. Finally, there is a full Discovery Set that costs $75 or £48 for 2 ml sample sprays of the entire Ormonde Jayne line. It comes with free world-wide shipping. Orris Noir can be purchased directly from the Ormonde Jayne website, its two stores in London, and from HarrodsIn the U.S.: Ormonde Jayne is not carried by any stores in the U.S. at the moment. You would have order from London, but unfortunately, UK postal regulations for any perfume weighing over 50 ml is extremely high. The shipping cost to the U.S. will run you over $50, though that does not apply to the sample set. Elsewhere in Europe: Ormonde Jayne fragrances are carried by Senteurs d’Ailleurs in Brussels (though it has ceased its online e-sales), and by Zurich’s Osswald. For other vendors from Spain to Italy, Norway, Germany (where a large number of different retailers carry the line) and various other European countries, you can use the Ormonde Jayne’s Store LocatorSamplesSurrender to Chance sells samples of Orris Noir EDP starting at $3.99 for 1/2 ml. They also carry the Pure Parfum version.

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

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

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

The press release describes Qi as follows:

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

The perfume’s notes include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price & Availability: Qi is an Eau de Parfum which comes only in a large 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs £260.00 or, with today’s exchange rate, approximately $402. Neither Qi nor any of other Four Corner Collection are currently listed on the Ormonde Jayne website, but you can find all of them in the Ormonde Jayne stores, as well as at Harrods. Unfortunately, Harrods’ website says that this perfume is not available for export. Ormonde Jayne’s two London boutiques are at Old Bond Street and Sloane Square with the precise addresses listed on the website here. As for samples, none of the perfume decant sites in the U.S. currently offer any of the Four Corners of the Earth collection.

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

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

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

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

The perfume’s notes certainly added to my anticipation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OJ NawabNawab of Oudh is one of the new Four Corners of the Earth collection which was released in late 2012 and which pays homage to the different parts of the world that have inspired Ormonde Jayne’s founder, Linda Pilkington. The collection is the result of collaboration between Ms. Pilkington and the perfumer, Geza Schoen, and consists of four fragrances: Tsarina, Qi, Montabaco and Nawab of Oudh. (I have samples of all four fragrances, provided courtesy of Ormonde Jayne, and am working my way through the collection. You can find my review for Tsarina here.)

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

Source: Shanti Barmecha blogspot

Source: Shanti Barmecha blogspot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klimt The Kiss

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

Price & Availability: As noted, above, Nawab of Oudh is an Eau de Parfum which comes only in a large 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs £335.00 or, with today’s present exchange rate, $506. Although Nawab of Oudh and the Four Corner Collection are not presently up on the Ormonde Jayne website, you can find the entire collection in the Ormonde Jayne stores, as well as at Harrods which ships out internationally. Ormonde Jayne’s two London boutiques are at Old Bond Street and Sloane Square with the precise addresses listed on the website here. As for samples, none of the perfume decant sites in the US currently offer any of the Four Corners of the Earth collection. When places like Surrender to Chance start selling the collection, I will update this post accordingly.