Dead Letter Office: Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café- Decaffeinated

When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.

Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.

If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.


Jean-Claude Delville

There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.

Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.

Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.

It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

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