The Gold Wreath of Gorgeous

– a review of Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Tolu’
Does it ever happen to you…that you read a description of a perfume, a list of notes, and somewhere inside, something stirs and moves and sighs? Do you ever have an intuition that no matter what, you know it in your bones…this will be fantastic?

This past spring, I was lucky enough to receive a Discovery set of perfumes from one perfumer whose work intrigued me no end by description alone. The perfumer was Linda Pilkington, the house was Ormonde Jayne, and call it a hunch or a sense of foreboding, but somehow, some way, I knew it would be good.

With one exception, every one of them was so delicious and so compelling, I loved them all with a passion all spring and well into the summer. I loved them so much in fact, I couldn’t write about them. I’d look at that elegant black-gold Discovery set and sigh…sigh with regret over the size of my microscopic bank account, sigh that these perfumes could be so stunning, and sigh that I just knew I had to write about them – and a few dozen others, too.

The precarious thrills of a perfume blogger! So many perfumes, so many words to find, so little time…

This is why I’ve decided to nip my burgeoning sense of guilt in the bud and write about one of my favorite Ormonde Jaynes…‘Tolu’.

Tolu balsam, which is made from a tree native to Peru and Colombia, is a dark, tenacious resin that smells simultaneously sweet and woody-spicy with hints of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. It is one of my favorite base notes in perfumery precisely for that reason.

You can imagine that once I got my hands on Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Tolu’, I really did hope it would live up to that giddy sense of anticipation I conjured in my head from the notes. Please, let this be good, let it make my day brighter, let it make me swoon with its scented, sensual pleasures…

Reader, it was. It is. It did!

Tolu’ is, in a word – stunning. Ormonde Jayne lists it as a floral-oriental, and I can see why. It starts with a bracing little kick of juniper and a bright and mellow clary sage, before the orange blossom sashays in with promises of floral marvels to come – the orchid, which I can’t detect to be honest, the muguet, which adds a flirty, light-hearted note, and the decadent rose, which is most emphatically present, waltzing around the perfume in perfect step with the orange blossom just enough to intrigue me further.

Be still my beating heart, I thought the first time I tried it, be still!

My heart never listened. Instead, it beat faster.

So seamlessly, so stealthily, so imperceptibly did the drydown arrive about a half hour later while I was distracted by life and other hazards, that it was only in passing I noticed what has to be one of the most heartbreaking, breathtaking, faintmaking drydowns I’ve ever encountered in a perfume.

Time for the tolu that gives ‘Tolu’ its name, its spicy-woody-sweet aura whirling around and around tonka bean with its vanilla flair, golden frankincense (another all-time favorite base note) and what’s listed as ‘amber’ and I detect as a labdanum accord. I’m not a major amber perfume fan girl, but surely there’s amber and there’s this…amber. It wraps around the skin like a golden aura of cashmere and silk, spicy-sweet, ultra-rich and intoxicating, and I never, ever want it to come to an end.

‘Tolu’ in the eau de parfum is very long lasting and tenacious, unabashedly womanly but not frilly or ‘girlie’, and like not a few Ormonde Jaynes, sultry, sexy and deliciously seductive. I wore this a while ago to meet with a platonic male friend, and he asked me in no uncertain terms to move slightly away. He said my perfume gave him ideas…

That’s the kind of reaction I always hope for!

The more I’ve worn ‘Tolu’ – far too much if the diminishing level in my sample vial is any indication – the more I’ve come to see it as a golden perfume, not just in color but in terms of its aura. Linda Pilkington recommends it for autumn wear, and I can understand why…something about that golden, warm cashmere/silk aura that goes so beautifully with the cool, gold light of October. I’ve worn it for big presentation days, and I’ve worn it for evening wear, and I have to say – wear this wisely. It’s that…sultry. And that sexy!

I’m at that thankless age where I’ll do whatever it takes to amp up the oomph. With ‘Tolu’, it’s like donning that golden wreath of myrtle, sacred to Aphrodite, found in Philip II’s tomb in Vergina. I suspect it was worn by a woman – myrtle crowns were considered propitious for women in Hellenistic Greece – and I like to think that the woman who wore it put it on last to lend a little of Aphrodite’s irresistible beauty as well…one golden wreath of gorgeousness, as if to say…this way, a woman walks, leaving an irresistible aura behind.

I don’t have a golden wreath of myrtle, nor do I have any of Aphrodite’s beauty to borrow, but for a little while longer, I have Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Tolu’.

A golden wreath of gorgeous I can claim for my own!

Top: Juniper berry, orange blossom, clary sage
Heart: Orchid, Moroccan rose, muguet
Base: Tolu, tonka bean, golden frankincense, amber

Disclosure: Sample provided by Ormonde Jayne for review.

Ormonde Jayne ‘Tolu’ is available in several permutations from the Ormonde Jayne website, and from Senteurs d’Aillleurs in Brussels. Ormonde Jayne ships worldwide.

Image: Gold myrtle wreath found in Philip II of Macedon’s tomb in Vergina, 4th century B.C.E, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.

Where the Wild Things Are

– a review of Olympic Orchids’ “Olympic Rainforest”

Surrounded as we are by all the questionable odds and ends that in the Western hemisphere encompass the term “civilization”, it can sometimes be easy to forget that in spite of all we do or have done to “tame” them, there are still wild and untouched spots on the globe where the wind still whispers, and trees still gather to sing the songs trees always seem to sing to me.

When I think of primeval places, wild and untouched forests without the human stain, places that epitomize “forest”, an immediate picture springs to mind – the temperate rainforest. They are nothing like the tropical jungles we normally associate with the term. Mosses and ferns grow so prolifically they almost take on a sentient life form of their own, ferns so lush, so large and so green it seems they could easily eat you under a full moon, and a few hours later, all that would remain would be one heavenly scented fougère burp, a sigh, a rustle of the trees above and order is once again restored – the order of the forest, where humanity is but a passing intrusion, until the next full moon. If any location on Earth could embody J. R. R. Tolkien’s Entwood to me and make me utterly believe in the existence of Ents, it would be a temperate rainforest.

Such a forest is what Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids pays homage to in her perfume “Olympic Rainforest” – an ode to the Olympic National Forest of Washington, and the largest expanse of temperate rainforest anywhere on Earth. I have never been to Washington, never seen that timeless forest or those monster ferns and mosses, but it just so happens that a member of my household went to college at Evergreen State in Olympia and has many happy memories of the Olympic peninsula. He was the obvious test subject. With no knowledge of perfume as such – beyond the standard male “I know what I like”, and with only the name to go by, his first statement was: “Oh. Oh! Oh, I like this! I’d wear this! This is great!” He promptly demanded I apply more – so I did. These few hours later, I have not heard a word of complaint, apart from the occasional “I still like it”.

Olympic Rainforest” is a fougère. Indeed, with those full moon man-eating ferns, how could it not be? But unlike so many other fougères of tarnished reputation and cursed ubiquity (Drakkar Noir, I’m looking at you!), this has nothing of the barbershop vibe so many of them nosedive into. This fougére is not your standard Harris tweed-wearing, well-mannered British gentleman exuding stiff-upper-lip suavity.

Instead, this fragrant green imp likes to take a walk where the wild things are, out where nature is never tamed or subjugated. It walks that verdant, fern-encrusted path where nature awes the human with its scale, its greenness and the splendor of its trees, that atavistic breath of growth and life that seems so much larger and more timeless than our own, exhaling the kind of oxygen that really does recharge all your interior batteries. And did I mention that just like the Olympic peninsula itself, it is…green?

Straight out of the bottle, there is that kick of lavender that characterizes so many fougères, but also a citrusy swirl, too, not lemon but bergamot, a bergamot with teeth, and I like bergamot with dentition. Beware the ferns!
Juniper sneaks in on stealthy feet, waking me all the way up to that atavistic forest, and a hint of wood, old-growth wood, rich in the centuries-old sap of the seasons, the quickening of spring and the slow drip of autumn, the deep, deep sleep of winter and the still of a breathless, warm summer day in the shade. There are florals in the mix somewhere, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you precisely what they are. Cedar I found and maybe a dash of pine, a smooth, fresh cedar without any of that pencil-shaving edge that Atlas cedar can have. It smells redder and somehow richer, the pine without any aerosol associations whatsoever.

I’m reminded of a few lines from an old, old Welsh poem…The Câd Goddeu, or The Battle of the Trees, from the Book of Taliesin:

When the trees were enchanted,

In the expectation of not being trees,

The trees uttered their voices

From strings of harmony,

The disputes ceased

Breathe in. Breathe out. You are at one with the trees, the ferns, with every living thing that grows around you.

‘Olympic Rainforest’ is incredibly well-blended and tenacious – there are still verdant, woody traces over nine hours after I applied it on my skin.

If you love fougères, if you love to evoke that call of the wild and take an olfactory hike in a virgin, untouched forest, you will love this. I do, but it veers just a little too masculine to my nose. On my roommate, it’s heavenly. It must be all that testosterone. Call it the Green Man.

Thank you, Doc Elly, for that walk on the real wild side, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Somehow, ferns will never appear quite the same again…

If this is a taste of things to come – as indeed it is, since I have plans to review as many of Olympic Orchid’s scents as I can – then my nose is in for several treats. Doc Elly is undoubtably a perfume talent to watch for – and I haven’t even started on those orchids yet!

When I do…watch this space! 😉

Image: The Quinault Rainforest, WA