You have probably walked by the display of bottles in your local department store. Dozens of clear bottles with a black and white label on them with the name of Jo Malone. There is a simple elegance in the display but you look at all those bottles and wonder where to start. This edition of Perfume 101 will give you some suggestions on just how to do that with one of the best bang for the buck brands in the department store.
Lime Basil & Mandarin– This wasn’t the first Jo Malone fragrance, that was 1990’s Nutmeg & Ginger. It was the second one and it has become the flagship fragrance in the line. Back in 1991 the idea of taking strongly herbal notes like basil and thyme while matching them with citrus on top over a woody base was not as common as it is 23 years later. Perfumer Lucien Piguet would take the citrus cornucopia centered on mandarin and juxtapose it with a heart of sage and basil along with iris. It all ends with a lilting amber, patchouli and vetiver base. There is a reason this perfume has lasted so long it really is a new classic.
Amber & Lavender– In 1995 very few people knew who Bertrand Duchaufour was. Jo Malone tapped him to make Amber & Lavender. It was his first signed fragrance. These kind of time capsules in perfume form are interesting. Amber & Lavender shows M. Duchaufour’s desire to use contrasting notes to form texture and depth was there right from the start. He sort of condensed the core of Lime Basil & Mandarin into the top notes of Amber & Lavender as petitgrain along with basil and rosemary give the herbal and citrus tension. The heart takes a Provencal lavender and allows it to be a little more herbal in character. This opens space for spices like cinnamon and nutmeg the opportunity to flow in around the floral nature. The base is vetiver, oakmoss, amber, and musk which provide a dark green finish. This was where M. Duchaufour started and you can see, in hindsight, some of his favorite techniques in play already.
Dark Amber & Ginger Lily– By 2008 Jo Malone had created an impression that they were all about making lighter brighter fragrances. Dark Amber & Ginger Lily would shatter that impression as perfumer Andrea Lupo would compose a gorgeous woody gem. Dark Amber & Ginger Lily opens with ginger and in 2008 there were so many poor uses of ginger in perfumes. Here it was used as a foundation for cardamom and pink pepper. The lily comes in the heart and it carries a watery quality. The floral character is enhanced with a bit of jasmine and rose. This all leads to an as advertised dark amber made even darker with leather, patchouli, and sandalwood added in. I remember getting this sample back then and I just couldn’t believe it was Jo Malone. This would start a trend of having some deeper compositions every year.
Vanilla & Anise– I am a sucker for vanilla and licorice and 2009’s Vanilla & Anise gave me both. What perfumers Celine Barel, Clement Gavarry, and Pascal Gaurin created was a perfume featuring both vanilla and licorice but the most transparent perfume featuring these notes I own without sacrificing one iota of depth. Fennel and star anise provide the lighter licorice quality in the top notes. A floral intermezzo of vanilla orchid and frangiapani usher this in to a rich musky vanilla base with a grace note of clove to add an exotic fillip to keep it from being too vanilla.
Sakura Cherry Blossom– I live near Washington DC and when the cherry blossoms herald the coming of spring I revel in the delicate scent as I walk along the Tidal Basin in the snow of petals falling around me. In 2011 perfumer Christine Nagel made one of the only perfumes I think captures the inherent fragility of the cherry blossom. By opening with a bergamot and cardamom zephyr into an even more opaque cherry blossom accord. It all ends on an equally transparent base of rosewood and musk. It is one of my very favorite perfumes by Mme Nagel.
I hope this guide gives you a reason to stop by the Jo Malone counter next time you walk by it.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.