In my journey through the world of fragrance, I’ve found it easy to ignore Ormonde Jayne, its quiet English classicism at odds with my quest for the strange and the shocking. There’s a certain arrogance that goes along with huffing extreme fragrances such as M/Mink, Patchouli 24, or Mazzolari Lui and living to tell the tale – a little like Johnny Knoxville, happy to have his balls smacked with a plank as long as there was video evidence to replay later.
But friends, to do that too long is to underestimate the sheer comfort of things that are beautiful or classically built. The things that made me overlook Ormonde Jayne fragrances the first time around – their subtlety, their easy grace, their quietness – are exactly the things that make me appreciate them now.
My way into the brand was via Ormonde Woman, a fragrance that proved to be a scarring experience the first time I tried it as a newbie, but later revealed itself to be a gingerbread house on fire in a forest full of oily violets and dark, sugared grass. Intoxicated and unable to get it out of my mind, I bought a bottle. To me, it has this incredible quality of being both as heavy as a velvet gown and as airy as a wisp of woodsmoke. I am careful with it, though, as it is a perfume every bit as mercurial as Mitsouko.
For a while, my interest stopped there. I wasn’t taken with either Tolu or Ta’if, and so didn’t bother to try the rest. That was, until one day last summer, I fished around in my sample box looking for something crisp and green to go well with a planned walk in a nearby castle grounds with my children, and stumbled upon Tiare. I will always remember marveling at the champagne-like quality of the lime and green notes fizzing gently around the oily but fresh white flower petals, the damp, mossy drydown a perfect reflection of the elegance of the castle lake and grounds. It was the first sample from the Ormonde Jayne sample set that I drained completely.
Then, another pause, until I went on holiday to France this June and decided to take all my Ormonde Jayne samples with me. Sweating our way through the forests and fields of the Sologne and Loiret, I decided that, really, nothing was more French or more crisply elegant than Tiare, and I knew eventually that I might have to buy a bottle. Like Cristalle, it might not suit the damp, cool conditions back home in Ireland, but its easygoing crispness would be perfect for the Dream-Me, the one who lived in France, getting fat and happy on the simple pleasures of good bread, cheese, and wine.
But shockingly, I also came around to the pleasures of Tolu, whose bitter, spicy broom slices through the golden, balsamic sweetness of amber to create something that is both fresh and heavy, like a flourless chocolate torte that dissolves into fennel dust on the tongue. The kind of thing that invites you to take a second slice, even in summer. I can see this working as a sort of upmarket Dune.
Orris Noir was another unexpected love. I’ll be honest, I fell in love with Tsarina from the mega exclusive Four Corners of the Earth line first, but found Orris Noir to be a more than adequate substitute for the wheaten, smooth-as-a-pebble creaminess of the costlier Tsarina.
Orris Noir is a fantastic advertisement for the Ormonde Jayne style of building a fragrance, in that it is composed of many different layers, all of them as light as air, which when laid one on top of another become a dense, velvety mass. To me, this scent has three or four distinct things going on: the first is a doughy iris as dense as a ball of bread dough studded with boozy dried fruit, second is a creamy, anisic myrrh with the same sticky, almost crystallized texture as found in other myrrh scents such as Bois d’Argent and Myrrhe Ardente, the third a smoky, dry incense that suffuses the perfume with a woody radiance (probably the Iso E Super and the Chinese cedar), and last but not least, a bright jasmine that fizzes as sweetly as a glass of freshly-poured Coca Cola. Somehow, all of these elements hang together as naturally and as lightly as a silk shawl.
Black Gold was not a sample included in the sample set, but instead sent to me by the very kind people at Essenza Nobile in response to a shameless begging letter (you try it too, and see what happens). I feel a bit guilty about this for two reasons, the first being that the 2ml or so that they sent me must have cost a lot (actually, I just looked it up – it’s €15, which is steep but not as bad as I had feared), and the second, because if it’s really good, then I’d be reviewing a perfume that costs considerably more than most people are willing to spend.
Oh, and before you write to me to tell me that perfume reviewers should never take price into consideration when talking about a perfume, let me just warn you: don’t bother. Although I’m perfectly able to judge a perfume on its own merits, I also belong to the real world. I am just like you – a perfume buyer, user, obsessive, and, by necessity, a budgeter. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make price a part of the value equation. We do that ourselves anyway as regular consumers, simply by mulling over the pros and cons of our next purchase. At the very least, price is important when it touches upon an extreme, either a perfume that costs an unfeasible amount of money or barely anything at all, and how that extremity of price relates back to the perfume’s overall quality. Saying that price and value don’t factor into perfume criticism at all is silly – that’s like saying to Jay Raynor of The Guardian, tell us exactly how disappointing that small pile of couscous with lamb at Le Cinq was, but whatever you do, don’t mention that it cost €95, for fear (God forbid!) that the reader might infer some kind of cost-value judgement.
Black Gold is perfectly in line with the Ormonde Jayne house style, which is to say that it seems to be made up of hundreds of different layers of tulle and yet has the tensile density of velvet. It has to be said, Black Gold is every bit as stunning as its gold-plated billing makes it out to be. Even the most grudging of Basenoters were impressed. One spray is enough to know that you’re in the presence of something quite special indeed.
The opening feels familiar, yet turbo-charged with something. The sherbet-like fizz of mandarin, lemon, and mandarin is intoxicating, and the touches of clary sage and juniper berry familiar to anyone who loves Tolu.
Immediately after the initial “Ormonde Jayne” blaze of citrus, pepper, and herbs, the true character of the scent reveals itself; a confident duet between a particularly arid, aromatic sandalwood (one can almost visualize the reddish dust of felled heartwood in Mysore) and a hot, dusty carnation, these two accords whipping each other into a vortex of scent. The texture is key here, fuzzy and misty, like a cloud of aldehydes or dust particles whipped up by a storm or the pale, fine fizz on a glass of sparkling rosé. The quality of the sandalwood is indeed most excellent, displaying as it does the peculiar character split between dry and milky of real santalum album.
Although there are no piney terpenes here, the hallmark of inferior santalum spicatum from Australia, the sandalwood used in this fragrance is not at all sweet or unctuously creamy. In fact, coupled with the herbs and the spicy carnation, something about it strikes me as gentlemanly, in the same way that the sandalwood in Santal Noble is. Later on, these same woods appear rubbed down by nuggets of creamy amber resin, their toffee-like sweetness filling out all the gaps in the wood and giving the scent a deep, velvety warmth.
However, there is also a very dry, peppery oud note in the drydown, which brings the fragrance closer in feel to Ormonde Man than to Tolu, which was perhaps the direction in which Black Gold had been drifting. The oud adds a certain….something. It is not exactly animalic, but something a little dark and salty, tending towards carnal. This could be a touch of Ambroxan or real ambergris, or, of course, it could also simply be the listed oud coupled with the vegetal musk of ambrette. Either way, the ending is as shimmering and as translucent as the rest of the scent – it floats off the skin like cloud, never heavy or sullen.
Worth the price? Most definitely. Personally, I’d buy it in a heartbeat if it was priced at the same level as the regular line, but it’s not within my budget and therefore I have no plans (or should that be ambitions?) to own it. But for those who can stretch to it, I’d say buy it – without reservation. There’s plenty of haute luxe perfumes around these days at that price level anyway, but an Ormonde Jayne is a classically-built Rolls Royce compared to a flashy Lamborghini, and therefore, for my money, as close to a sure bet as you can get. Solid, elegant, beautiful: those are the three words I’d pick to describe Black Gold.
You can buy Black Gold here.
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