I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Monday, 1 April 2013
DeathByChocolate – ‘Bitter Orange & Chocolate’ by Jo Malone
Today I smell like Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
And this is a good thing. I’ve been waiting for Jo Malone’s Sugar & Spice Collection since press
launches last year. This deliciously fun
quintet of 30ml fragrances by nose Christine Nagel have all been inspired by quintessential
British desserts. Nagel took a crash course in tasting puddings, biscuits, looking
at the peculiarities of fruity, creamy, nostalgic baking. The results are a
mixed bag, however two of them are very good and one of these is exceptional.
I do like the work that Christine Nagel has
been doing at Jo Malone. Bought in by Dom de Vetta (now running his own brand
Shay & Blue) when Jo and her husband left the brand, she has done hushed
and excellent work fine-tuning the scented impressions of what can sometimes be
perceived of as a safe and bourgeois brand. Nagel has access at Mane, where she
spent years training and working, to some amazing molecules and the latest
techniques in aroma chemistry. These connections and her work alongside Pierre
Bourdon have worked very much in Jo Malone’s favour. I have posted a piece
previously on Nagel’s glittering Rose
Water & Vanilla. This will always have a place in my heart (and collection);
it is veryseductive, the rose petals washed through with icy silvered water,
connecting me directly to my childhood in the Middle East.
I always smell in roses a deep crimson link
with my travels as a child. And it’s muskier in the lingering drydown, resonant
of store-cupboard spices like pepper, star anise and saffron. Nagel played with
this aspect too in her Velvet Rose and
Oud, a thicker, more textured rosaceous perfume, lit through with the
ubiquitous pull of odiferous oud.
Not every thing Nagel does works. The
highly anticipated Wild Bluebell was
for me wildly disappointing. The campaign was SO beautiful and when it
launched, the windows and stores looked and felt very special. But the scent
itself? A pale mauve whisper of a thing. An insipid floral that had more in
common with lily of the valley than bluebells. There was a nothing wild about
it, it felt tame and safe, a pretty trinket of a scent for timid consumers. It
could have been remarkable. It sold well and continues to do so. But I fear
this was a triumph of marketing over scented content.
But I will always look out for Nagel’s
work, she is not afraid of change and experimentation. Like a chef playing with
menus she is keen to surprise and delight her olfactory audience. I was very
excited by the announcement last year of this Sugar & Spice Collection – Bitter Orange & Chocolate, Ginger
Biscuit, Lemon Tart, Redcurrant & Cream and Elderflower & Gooseberry.
I am a sucker for a fun gourmand scent. The idea of a top French perfumer
interpreting English desserts is laden with cultural brilliance. The normal
French obsession for fine patisserie and delicacy of taste compared to what
they perceive as heavy old-fashioned puddings. It could have been horrible of
course, sickly and laced with chemicals, fizzing with aldehydes and
Britney/Christina type berry effects. But Nagel’s work on a previous tea
collection for Jo Malone was evidence she can do lightness and homage with
frivolity and serious perfumed intent. Indeed the Earl Grey & Cucumber was re-released earlier this year and
added to the permanent collection.
I know that the gourmand strain of
perfumery really divides people. When Olivier Cresp, Vera Straub and Thierry
Mugler unleashed the unashamedly porno-gourmand bomb that was the original Angel on an unsuspecting world in 1992,
they transformed the scented landscape. A fragrance with no flowers. Blasphemy.
But oh my… we smelt delicious. Those that wore it felt sinful, ornamental and
gaudy. Others loathed it passionately, labeling it with the same room-clearing
status as Dior’s insdiuous Poison, Givenchy’scattle stunning Amarige and the infamous Giorgio
of Beverly Hills, a scent that could bring aircraft down. I have always
loved it and have been impressed over the years by its various re-incarnations,
particularly the glorious Hélène Darrouze collaboration two years ago that
ramped up the cocoa until it seemed to blizzard around you. Last year’s
leather-soaked flanker was just as stunning, but was just pipped at the post by
the giddy version of Alien, which
added a suede effect and a very moreish apricot note.
People I know who dislike the gourmand
school of perfumery are horrified by the idea of smelling like food. They like
a clear line of definition between the sweetness of consumption and the odours
we choose to decorate our skin with. I on the other hand love the concept of
skin as a carnal and sensualised surface to be worshipped and consumed.
Scenting it with chocolate, caramel, candyfloss, coconut, milk makes the body into
a gustatory and olfactory canvas. Obviously, it’s personal how we perfume
ourselves, but as we apply, but rogue thoughts of lovers roaming our surfaces,
inhaling and desiring our aromas are persuasive and sinful.
I believe in perfumed transgression. Unisex
fragrances are generally dull and please neither side in their attempts to fulfil
the boy meets girl remit. As a guy you should don a woman’s oriental when
searching for the full blown vanillic spice hit, layer some Shalimar with Ropion’s Vetiver Extraordinaire. Caron’s Tabac Blond is sublime with a lick of
Miss Dior. And likewise girls, play with your inner butch, play with beeswax
and fougère notes. Chanel’s Antaeus
smells fabulous with L’Artisan Parfumeur’s delicious memory-scented Drôle de Rose. And Penhaligon’s magnificent
steam-filled Sartorial, all cloth and
machine oil, is lovely interspersed with bursts of Balenciaga Paris Essence. I love patisserie boys, dusted in sugar
and girls in tuxedo fragrance notes. It’s all about scented drag.
Orange & Chocolate is incredibly fun and flirty. It smells
startlingly real. Orange is of course a classic note in perfumery and generally
married to other citrus notes like bergamot, lemon, lime, yuzu, grapefruit and
aromatics like vetiver, lavender, basil and tarragon. In baking it compliments
chocolate to near perfection, in mousses, cakes, ice cream, cookies, dark and
milk chocolate. Marrying the elements together in fragrance form is witty but
obviously fraught with sticky dangers. It could have been so over-sweet and drenched
in sugary excess. I was expecting it to be sweet and smooth, with a twist of
orange. There was a chocolate cream liqueur I drank to excess years ago, velvety
and addictive with a delicious bright orange note treaded through it. It was
this that made the tipple so moreish (and less sickly, truth be told). My first
spray of Bitter Orange & Chocolate
reminded me so much of this compulsive boozy delight. The clever addition of
coconut and lovely coumarin layer up the gourmand factor, but also soften and
round off the edges, giving everything a slow melting quality I find
The key to balancing this fragrance is
lightness and Nagel’s patisserie take on chocolate. Much as I love the Terry’s
Chocolate Orange thing, there is a sophisticated edge to the cocoa content. It
is rich with an earthy almost patchouli like intensity. She is working with 70%
cocoa if you like, tempered with the milky white 70s tones of coconut and the
rubbed vanillic tobacco note of coumarin. The orange note has been done with
verve, it drips through every aspect of the composition, staining everything.
It is strong, a glossy lacquered juiciness that smears out the drydown. Nagel
apparently used both sweet and bitter oranges to shake up the mix a little.
This has worked beautifully against the dusty chocolate landscape of shifting
The other scent in the collection I thought
was excellent was Ginger Biscuit.
Again I have no great love for ginger in fragrances, it just reminds me of
cheap body scrubs. But this delicate and warm fragrance was scrumptious.
Nagel said: ‘I wanted to recreate the
equivalent deliciousness of a just baked biscuit enlivened with grated ginger. Texture
was important in this fragrance; the sharp natural note of ginger is set
against the sensation of a baked, crumbly biscuit’.
notes of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, caramel, roasted hazelnuts, tonka bean
and vanilla. It really has a light and airy feel to it, a just baked aroma that
despite how it sounds is not at all sickly or sweet. The hazelnut note is
really good, gently toasted and balanced with the spices and the convincing
grated ginger note gives the overall composition a lovely effect of crumbled softness
on the skin.
I found that layering Ginger Biscuit
and Bitter Orange & Chocolate was
bloody amazing. I know Jo Malone is big on the layering thing but I have never
really been convinced. But combining foodie scents makes more sense to me and
spraying Ginger Biscuit over the
chocolate fragrance only seemed to emphasise its impasto beauty. The ginger
holds it’s own and the two fragrances marry incredibly well, rolling over each
other like playful lovers.
Lemon Tart is a fascinating take on lemon meringue pie,
with citrus, lemon thyme, verbena and a meringue accord to give texture and
personality. If only this lasted. Sadly it doesn’t. It opens with a startling
just-out-of-the-oven sticky sweet pie note, all swirls of meringue and sharp
lemon tang, but then plunges far too quickly into a flat and generic sherberty
lemon note with no real backbone. It smelt a little cheap after an hour or so.
Redcurrant & Cream uses the latest fragrance
technology at Mane to extract from soft fruits such as strawberries and
raspberries. A fresh cream note has been added and white musks for texture and
air. Inspired by Summer Pudding it smelt very odd to me, echoes of Marc Jacob’s
Daisy and touches of something alien,
like wet plastic which would not leave my nose.
of the five, Elderflower & Gooseberry
could have been beautiful. Gooseberries are an unusual fruit with a
distinctive, brittle floral aroma when cooked. But the addition of lychee I
think is a mistake, it is a slippery cold note and it pulls attention away from
the work that Nagel has obviously put into creating the two main fruit notes. The
fragrance smelt split and messy.
be interesting to see how well this new collection does in terms of sales. I
think it is a delightful and fun quintet of perfumes that will make anyone
smile. Perfumery should not always be so serious. These have been made to wear
with abandon, smile in, flirt in, gad about and gossip in. However, worn with
intent, they make us edible, good enough to eat, so go on.. bite me, lick me.