An Unexpected Majesty


– a review of Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Tsarina’

Opulence, luxury, complexity. What do you think about when you read these words as they relate to perfume? Do you think of perfumes or houses that come to mind with all their own associations and aspirations, or are you anything like this slightly jaded post-punk catastrophe and begin to wonder whether there’s a particular thesaurus for perfume copywriters that pulls out these words at the drop of a new perfume launch and think jaded, cynical and more than a little sarcastic thoughts:

Right. Of course it is. It couldn’t possibly be anything at all else!

Then again – such are the tribulations of a perfume writer’s life – there are moments when those words light their own fragrant bonfires underneath a combustible imagination with all that entails.

In perfumista terms, such moments are when lemmings are born. Your curiosity is aroused, your fragrant imagination awakens, and all cynicism instantly thrown right out the window.

Maybe this one. Maybe this time. Maybe…

That jaded cynic was yours truly reading of the launch of Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Four Corners of the Earth’ collection of perfumes, but my own experience with Linda Pilkington’s line told me that this wasn’t so much a product of florid PR copy but instead more firewood for that superheated imagination I call my own.

I can count on one hand the Ormonde Jayne perfumes that weren’t instant – and consistent loves, as well as the ones I’ll keep close by always – Tolu, Frangipani and Orris Noir, and the ones I’ll covet with a fury until I can call them mine. All with their own unique stories to unfold, all of them perfect for my own chemistry, all of them their own redolent bywords for, well, opulence, luxury, complexity.

Not only do I admire Linda Pilkington’s dedication and meticulous attention to detail, I also emphatically admire the imprint of her personal and highly refined aesthetic in her line.

So there I was those months ago, reading up on ‘The Four Corners of the Earth’ collection and the extravagant launch at the Orient Express, no less – Nawab al Oud, Montabaco, Qi and finally, Tsarina, and I knew I was in trouble. So much so, when a fellow Ormonde Jayne fan and perfumista friend offered a little Tsarina for sale, I swept in with no qualms at all and bought a decant – blind.

‘Baroque, complex, silks in sweeping dresses and fabulous jewels…’

Bring it on!

Now that I have it and have spent time with it, now that I know something of this Tsarina’s moods and caprices, I’m thrilled to say that this time, this one delivers on all my aspirations and wraps them up in sables and silks, but that’s no way to pay homage to such imperial – and imperious – majesty.

She enters the room and begins her story with a bright, sharp, diamond flash of mandarin and bergamot, but it takes no time at all before an elegant and supremely restrained hint of coriander and cassis usher in that opulence with fragrant, silken intimations of the florals at the heart, and such a bouquet of marvels they are, too.

Hedione – with its airy jasmine facets sparkling in the candlelight, freesia and jasmine sambac wafting all their flowery allure, yet these are no blushing ingénues but ladies in bloom, announcing an arrival in their clarion tones…

Iris. A magnificent, regal, velvety-suede iris that doesn’t require your adulation so much as demand it, just this once, so you don’t forget your proper place. This is an iris neither cold nor intimidating, but make no mistake – it knows to display its majesty well, and it waltzes so flawless, so perfectly beneath those crystal flower chandeliers, as you admire and adore her, you glimpse something of those warm, sweet secrets underneath. Vanilla and sandalwood, cedar, labdanum, the musky intimations that for all her majesty, she is still very much all woman underneath the silks, jewels and brocades of jasmine, iris and suede that declare and define her.

There are many surprising twists and turns in Tsarina, ostensibly a floral oriental but in fact, much, much more than that. It is nothing like the notes list originally led me to expect but very much more – a statement, unforgettable entrance and indelible memory both, undeniably feminine yet with strength and steel underpinning it. Not for the unassuming, the diffident or the eminently discreet – it makes a declaration and makes no apologies,demands no excuses, unless it were an excuse to wrap yourself in a sable-lined brocade mood, to sparkle spectacular in a baroque heartbeat beneath a crystal chandelier as only you can.

I could say this another way. No matter what quotidian, mundane life you lead and decisions you make, some days and some moments, you want to feel invincible, imperious, regal.

Wear Tsarina. Remember – for a moment, for an evening, for yourself, for posterity, for celebrating your own unique and unexpected majesty:

You own your world and everything in it.

It’s time to go and claim it for your own.


Tsarina was made by Linda Pilkington of Ormonde Jayne in collaboration with perfumer Geza Shoen. It is available at Harrods Black Hall Perfumery, London and at Ormonde Jayne boutiques.

Notes: Mandarin, bergamot, coriander, cassis, hedione, freesia, jasmine sambac, iris, suede, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla, labdanum and musk.

With thanks to Andrea, who made it possible.

Illustration: Her Imperial Majesty Maria Feodorovna at her coronation, 1881.

Black Satin Bloom

– a review of Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Orris Noir’

With all the flowers used in perfumery and aromatherapy, there is one flower I truly worship and adore.

Not orange blossom for its instant-happy vibe, not the endlessly elegant lily with all its fragrant glories, not tuberose for its come-hither siren song, not jasmine sambac or grandiflorum, beautiful as they are, not rose in all its infinite variety, nor even violet, although I love violet, too.

Of all the blooms I love, there’s something about…iris. Some element of mystery, some near-indefinable cool I can never quite grasp and find eternally fascinating, and I own not a few irises. Chanel no. 19 in EdT and EdP, Dior Homme and Homme Intense, Guerlain’s Iris Ganache, Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist, Odin NY 04-Petrana, Miller Harris Terre d’Iris…oh, yes, I love iris!

Orris butter, which gives us that haunting scent, tends to add elegance as well as a touch of restrained, chill aloofness, never more beautifully than in Chanel no. 19 and Iris Silver Mist. The point is – both of these immortal irises are cool, distant, even a touch intimidating.

Still another iris has made it into my iris-centric Hall of Fame, an iris – or should I say, an orris – neither cool nor intimidating, and yet…it has to be one of the most sublime iris perfumes I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

May I introduce you to Orris Noir by Ormonde Jayne.

The first time I tried it, it was indeed swoon-worthy, so I did. I was not completely discombobulated until a few days later, when I was about to wash what I dub the Holey Cardigan of Alexandria – an ancient, gray wool cardigan that has been part of my lucky/superstitious writing uniform since I began to write in earnest. As I was about to toss it in the washing machine, I noticed a trace of scent so utterly haunting, it stopped me, well, cold. That chilly finger of perfumed epiphany raced down my spine and made me shiver in my laundry room, trailing goose bumps of a kind dedicated perfumoholics will know.

Orris Noir is that rarest of rhizomes – a warm, decadent, sensuous, come-closer kind of iris. It starts out spicy, warm with davana, coriander, pink pepper and a bright burst of bergamot that keeps everything suspended in air, before it settles down in to the main attraction, an iris so sumptuous and opulent with the added touch of jasmine sambac, pimento berries and bay, so plush it might as well be olfactory silk velvet in a singular hue somewhere between purple and black. The heart of this orris continues to sing well into its dark, smoky drydown of incense, myrrh, patchouli, Chinese cedar and gaiac wood, and if those notes read like a recipe for the very best kind of trouble, you would be right.

It takes a certain level of confidence and experience to wear Orris Noir, or I could easily see it wearing you. This is not a perfume for shrinking violets or demure demoiselles. It’s a purple-black velvet aura, or if you prefer, a thick, voluptuous swathe of midnight-black satin that glows on your skin like a hint of anticipation, a spicy suggestion of promises you might want to keep. Orris Noir will most emphatically get you noticed, but what you do with it is up to you! No other iris I’ve encountered is so warm, so inviting and so all-out seductive, not just to your surroundings, but to you as well. Wear it to make an impression, wear it for a special night out, wear it when you need just that little bit of extra oomph, wear it when you want to feel…fabulous, warm, spicy and above all else, when you want to feel feminine with a capital F, or woman with a capital W!

On a big night out a few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to road test Orris Noir. How well would it hold up under the harrowing, sardine conditions of a very hot, humid rock concert with about eight hundred metalheads, rockabillies and Gothaholics? Would it last long enough to make any impression if I did manage to make it backstage?

I applied half a sample vial, just to make sure. I wore Orris Noir in my hair, my pulse points, a few more I invented just for the occasion and my clothes. My companion mumbled something about not being responsible for the consequences if I got too close, which could explain why he spent most of the show at least nine feet away. But last it did and beautifully so, through the opening act and the headliner and through eighty loud, glorious minutes, blooming all the way on to a tour bus with four flirting testosterone bombs who definitely noticed the perfume a certain blonde in red and black was wearing. A woman knows how to tell. The blonde meanwhile – that would be me – felt audacious enough, sexy enough, even confident enough to flirt right back.

Thanks to Orris Noir, which forever after will have associations of a night to remember. If that’s not the right kind of association to have with such a haunting, seductive perfume, then, pray tell, what is?

Top: Davana, pink pepper, coriander seed, bergamot
Heart: Iris, sambac absolute, pimento berries (allspice), bay
Base: Incense, myrrh, patchouli, Chinese cedar, gaiac

Orris Noir is available from the Ormonde Jayne website.

Disclosure: Sample provided by Ormonde Jayne for review.

Image: Black Iris Publishing

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.