When Ormonde Jayne announced the launch of La Route de la Soie collection, I silently exclamed: Finally someone did it!
Having in mind all perfumes with “soie” or “silk” in the name, and on top of that all the perfumes and collections inspired by travelling, spices, fabrics, or theming the East, I thought: “Silk Road is so great and so important that it is surprising that it hasn’t been themed already… “.
Just thinking about the collection finally representing the long, uncertain, and dangerous land routes that for more than 1500 years led from the Mediterranean through Asia to China, and back, connecting East and West, overwhelmed me. Think of all the possibilities such a rich historic material offers: endless interpretations, multi-focus, the interplay of olfactive influences, and the exploration of perspectives on what we now cherish as our own cultural and olfactive heritage. Yes, I was intrigued!
The number zero, umbrella, and anaesthesia – to mention just some of the goods that came to us by the Silk Road – are parts of our daily life. While folding a paper or reading a book not many of us will remember that paper originally came to Europe on Silk Road, in trade and exchange with China. Even if we know the origin of all mentioned, we rarely think of them as imported. The paper, umbrella, compass, or seismograph are “ours” – we internalized them on every cultural level.
The foundations of our whole cultural identity, science, and everyday life are built on goods and knowledge that came to us from the East, through Silk Road. Today we perceive the oriental heritage as our own, as who we are.
While summing up my expectations and gathering all I could remember about Silk Road around the initial thoughts: “Finally, someone did it!” and “I wonder how it hasn’t been themed before”, a twist happened: I thought that every perfume creation ever crafted around myrrh, incense, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon or pepper – to mention just some – echoes the story about Silk Road.
The history of perfumery – born in the Renaissance, in the same century the Silk Road was closed for good – does that too. European perfumery rose on a technical platform also imported from the East, by the Silk Road: along with maceration (already known in the ancient civilizations), a distillation of essential oils (invented in the 8th century) is a product of Arabic knowledge and technical skills. The Arabs were also the first to distil ethyl alcohol from fermented sugar, thus providing a new solvent for the extraction of essential oils. All this knowledge which came to Europe through Silk Road was written in Arabic manuscripts, and once they were translated into Latin (12 – 15 century) it got incorporated into the western civilization, to foundations of modern Europe. In a way, every perfume ever made echoes La Route de la Soie. Still, it hasn’t been explicitly themed in a collection, until now …
In November 2020, with all seven parts of La Route de la Soie proudly presented, Linda Pilkington, the founder and the owner of Ormonde Jayne will celebrate the 20th birthday of the house which now stands for sophistication and excellence in perfumery.
The big anniversaries are important and should be great-themed, and the Silk Road theme in perfumery is as great as it gets.
Linda Pilkington chose the direction from west to east: Tanger, Damask, Levant, and Byzance are launched in this April, and the launch of the final three in the collection of seven perfumes is planned for October 2020.
The very essence of the first four parts of the Ormonde Jayne Collection revealed itself when the dull, investigative “historian bug” in me forgot about history or geography and all other narratives today attached even to perfumes when they in any way refer to complex connections between East and West.
Marco Polo, my alleged countrymen from the 13th century, and all the unknown merchants and travellers who for many centuries made their living by bringing to Europe Chinese silk, oriental spices and – most importantly – eastern knowledge (and plague, but that’s my “historian bug” talking again) suddenly felt like historic backdrops of the perfume. Perfumes deliver meanings in the most direct and purest form, and maybe I needed a direct olfactive impact on my limbic system to override factual knowledge and to fully grasp Ormonde Jayne’s interpretation:
La Route de la Soie isn’t about the interpretation of distant lands, the historic exchange, or imported heritage.
The first four perfumes in the collection do not tempt us to think about the complex Western identity, and oriental influences coming from our distant, pre-colonial, pre-imperialistic past.
It is exactly the opposite:
Similar to the mechanism by which we tend to forget that the paper originated from China while reading a beautifully illustrated, content-rich magazine, we also tend not to think about the time before perfumery was born while smelling a gourmand.
But, that does not mean the origins disappeared completely. By celebrating the history of the house, Ormonde Jayne reminded us of the origins of perfumery, too.
The first four perfumes from La Route de la Soie collection are served with a sophisticated lightness in the most indulging contemporary form – a gourmand, the oriental’s offspring. They are all about us and now, about the present and global olfactive tastes and profiles. They convey the message that past influences keep being transformed, modernized, and changed, but only if they are deeply internalized.
The internalization of a Silk Road Ormonde Jayne served in a gourmand form is presented in an honest, fully self-identifying way. I can not think of a house whose spirit of creativity through the whole 20 years reflects and emphasizes more the idea of oriental heritage as a completely inseparable part of identity. Within Ormonde Jayne’s olfactive poetics, East is always interpreted with emotional closeness as we approach a friend with whom we share unbreakable bonds.
The first four parts of La Route de la Soie collection are named after two towns (Tanger and Damask) and two historic territories (Byzance and Levant). The leading accords and compositions of all four perfumes – gourmands, but not just – mark that the middle-eastern toponym in the name of the perfume and the dominant note is related:
There is an explicit association between edible citruses in Tanger (tangerines!). Barely few would not immediately associate Damask with roses.
Levant and Byzance are the compositions named after historic territories – not towns, so the diversity in olfactive accords of different profiles emphasizes plurality. Byzance – a historically truly diverse, heterogenic, and multicultural empire – joins together fruits, milk, leather, and flowers. Levant – not so internally diverse – is represented as a bouquet of different flowers.
That’s where the factual correspondence and straightforward associations end, and the creation moves to the exclusive territory of emotions and perfumery itself.
The sun shines on neroli in full bloom. From dawn to dusk, only shades and accents change.
Early on, the fresh air is infused with the scent of just bloomed neroli: bright, sparkling citrus freshness soon warms up, and the sun is climbing to the zenith. Early stages of the Tanger smell as if I took a freshly picked, small, round and ripe tangerine – the sweet-smelling embodiment of the Mediterranean sun – and rubbed it between my palms, skin on the skin.
The heart of Tanger is occupied by creamy-lactonic ylang-ylang, The citrusy accents cut through the warm creaminess, like joyful crickets in the high noon of a warm summer day. As the atmosphere slowly moves towards the afternoon siesta, the sweetness becomes thicker and warmer, and the brightness is gradually replaced with soft shades. Tanger lands on the balsamic carpet of benzoin and vanilla. The discrete mossiness gives a soft plush texture, additionally dried with cashmeran. The refined vanillic sweetness feels serene. Mostly thanks to cashmeran, in the quiet, dusky finale, Levant left on my skin the scent of dry terracotta stones, still infused with the heat, reflecting the Mediterranean sunset.
Notes: Ylang Ylang, Italian Mandarin, Italian Bergamot, Rose Petals, Wood of Cashmere, Neroli, Moss, Dry Amber, Madagascar Vanilla, Balsamic Accord
Damask is an opulent, deep and round rose-themed fruity floral of many subtle twists: cheerful and refined gourmand layer is contrasted with a deep sensual musk, and tamed with mineralic and woody freshness.
Damask starts off as a plentifulness of roses: big and fully bloomed red and pink royal petals are gathered together for a fruit feast on a bright, sunny day. Roses have dressed their best gowns: the oily glow underlines fresh silky petals.
Though a full-bloomed grandeur suggests refined maturity, the atmosphere could not be more unformal and easy-going, as if roses are saying: “Let’s have a feast and be happy!”
Fruits are served, and the colours of berries are matching tastes and shades of petals, but in this floral-fruity feast not a drop of juice was spilt, not one berry was jammed! The delicate elegance prevailed and all possible slips to the known and common floral-fruity ground are subtly avoided.
Later on, when roses are fed, someone opened the window: the mild dusky and mineral air mingles between the petals saturated with fruits. The musk is here. This is alive musk: not a white-clean cloud, but the one which mimics body presence. The mineral, slightly cold and firmer undertones mixed with the maturely sensual warmth of musk bring ambivalence, almost as if this fruity-floral comes with a subtle warning:
– This royal lady-roses, beautiful in their cheerfulness and captivating in the way they enjoyed the fruits, they still have thorns somewhere beneath their petal gowns, you know? And the thorns could have pierced the skin of the berries, they could have even crushed the fruits! It is just that the roses did not want to… Today.”
Notes: Blackcurrant, Italian Lemon, Pear, Rose, Jasmine, Pink Berries, Mineral amber, Musk, Vetiver
Levant slightly stands apart from the previous two vivid, joyful gourmand companions. This is a nicely blended, but still a bit conventional floral woody musk: a bouquet of tender, delicate flowers on the shady, but still fresh amber-woody and musky base.
Imagine a bouquet of different flowers blended into a sheer, light, transparent delicacy, unsweetened, and kinda introverted. My association was a young face with delicate features, a light complexion, and big brown eyes. He or she peeks through the curtains, looking outside, at streets full of life. I remained polarised about the Levant through many tests: it felt so “not different enough” from quite a lot of light floral-woody musks out there. But, something persistently forced me to reconsider youthful, casual, fresh flowery Levant: it was the dose of thoughtful calmness as if coming from out of time, I kept going back to.
Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin, Tangelo, Rose Petals, Lily of the Valley, Peony, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Cedarwood, Amber, Musk
Byzance, the gourmandiest of the four, is a beautifully crafted soft, plush oriental of many layers and slow but playful moves. Opposite Damask, which served berries as a feast on a beautiful sunny day, Byzance feels chambery and intimate.
The odorant, juicy and sweet berries, the softest pale suede, milkiness and iris with buttery, woody and powdery facets create an atmosphere of whispering softness, glossy lips, plush skin, and sweet, creamy, milky indulgence and reassuring warmth – almost an atmosphere and the scenery for some modern version of One Thousand and One Nights tale.
As the berry sweets, pronounced in the opening slowly dive into full-bodied milkiness, and the drydown seems to announce a dessert served on a suede plate, things get both simple and complicated, and the plot is thickened by the captivating milkiness:
Infused with nutty woodiness, and joined with berries and vanilla, the milkiness evokes a dessert (a pannacotta, maybe?), but Byzance escapes the trap of fully entering the gourmand territory. Warm, buttery milkiness is also wrapped around a slightly powdery iris evoking nurtured refinement and warmed-up skin, However, the association to sophisticated cosmetics is playfully contrasted with more profane berry lip-gloss touch. Finally, dry, firm, and refined suede juxtaposed to milky berry sweetness and plush, iris brings vivid, enveloping warmth.
A plentifulness of lactones enriches Byzance all the way from the top to the bottom: through the milkiness, in a beautifully crafted way, everything is cross-matched and perfectly balanced, and Byzance – a truly complex and captivating creation – smells enveloping, refined and playful, instantly approachable and intimate.
Blackcurrant Buds / Milky Accord / Pink Berries, White Wood / Wood of Cashmere / Iris Butter, Moss, Suede, Madagascar Vanilla, Balsamic Accord
The artistic interpretation need not be factual to be faithful, and the faithfulness in the first four parts of La Route de la Soie amazed me on so many levels: there is faithfulness to the personal creative vision and history of Ormonde Jayne house and faithfulness to a deeply internalized legacy of Silk Road.
As a touchingly beautiful way to celebrate not only the history of the house but also the common history of East and West – the history of us all, La Route de la Soie collection could not be more firmly grounded in our global fragrant modernness.