Reading was one of my favorite pastimes as a child. Still is. I have fond memories of the local library, every visit to its hushed environment felt like slipping into a different world. I can’t put into words how much it meant to be able to gome with three never read before books every week. The children’s section was right at the front, near the librarian’s desk (probably so she could keep an eye on us) right under the only windows of the room. I remember little me sitting crossed legged on the floor, books all around, absorbed into some story, the warm sun rays caressing my face and making the dust particles dance lazily in front of my eyes. To this day, 25 years later and the library long gone, there’s no perfume to get me back to that room better than Ormonde Woman. And it’s not because it smells of books, dust, wood floor and polishing beeswax, because it doesn’t. At all. It’s because it smells like something from a fairytale.
Some of my most loved stories were the ones written by Comtesse de Ségur gathered in the volume Old French Fairy Tales: Ourson, Princess Rosette, The little gray mouse, Blondine, Good little Henry. It’s difficult to pin down what made them so fascinating to my innocent mind that I remember them even now, as an adult. I’ve reread them recently and I think it was the combination of glitter and darkness. The descriptions of dresses, food, interiors, jewels were luscious, brimming with texture, colors and detail. They were intensely appealing to my innate sensualist. And then the darkness: the cruel punishments, the greed, the violence, the ugly, the scary creatures, the loneliness, the rejection. Everything that made them suspenseful and impossible to put down. They were a little strange, not the kind to give you nightmares but just enough to fire your imagination.
So is Ormonde Woman: somehow strange but not enough to make you fearful, delicious but not in the edible kind of way, familiar and yet novel as if a foil of the unreal has been superimposed over your well known places.
How does this smell? Well, it starts with a bright emerald greeness, warmed up by the sweet touch of spices like cardamom and coriander. I can definitely detect cardamom, not so much coriander. There is a faint citric zestiness present though, so I’ll chalk it up to coriander. All this might give the impression of a classic eau de cologne opening but it’s not the case. It smells a lot duskier and plusher, and there’s also this honeyed, ambered , coniferous, almost incense like breeze. Black hemlock is supposedly used in large amounts in this fragrance, and I presume that this is the ingredient that smells of pine needles. A quick search on Google confirms my impressions. Black Hemlock oil absoute has dark green and woody, fruity, musky nuances. Ormonde Woman becomes warmer and creamier as time passes by, pine cones rolled in violet icing sugar, scattered over vanilla custard. There’s a hint of powder and delicate bitterness that stops the perfume verging into full blown gourmand territory. It’s rich, sophisticated, memorable, unique and spellbinding. It’s like stepping into a forest you’ve known all your life, on a full moon night, only to find those woods covered in soft moss the color of Colombian emeralds, the pine branches dusted in amethyst powder, sweet like violet candies, sparkling silvery cobwebs finer than silk stretching over the old pathways lined all of a sudden by fantastically large velvet jasmine flowers. The moon throws flickers of nacre light and lures you deeper and deeper inside the eerily quiet, dream like forest. And you follow in spite of yourself, your reason and the sensed danger. Like Blondine going into the enchanted lilacs forest only to be lost to the world for more than seven years.
I want to get out of the way the only thing I don’t like about this perfume: its name. I don’t want to be and I’m not an Ormonde Woman. Same as in I’m not a Chanel, Dior, Guerlain or any other brand one. I prefer more abstract, evocative names, but this small detail aside, the fragrance itself is splendid, unlike anything else I’ve ever smelled. It’s not often that my better half can’t find descriptors and real world correspondences for what he is smelling but it happened tonight with a paper strip perfumed a few days ago with Ormonde Woman (by the way on paper, this thing’s longevity is unreal, on skin it lasts about 8-10 hours). He took a couple of sniffs and proclaimed: “I don’t know what this is, but it smells AMAZING!” And this is all you need to know.
*The image used is an illustration by Virginia Frances Sterrett for the first edition of Old French Fairy Tales