I had toyed with calling this post something like "A Sliding Scale of Scent Selection Strategies", and was going to compare all the different ways of choosing a perfume, from blind buys in T K Maxx - "It's cheap, so how bad can it be?" - to being advised by sales assistants intent on pushing the latest DKNY flanker in the largest unit size possible. But I have already written a post about Ormonde Jayne with a form of the verb "slide" in the title, and decided two slidey posts might be pushing it.
So anyway, my meeting with Linda Pilkington last Friday was not to be, owing to a "signal" lack of crew on my scheduled train, but I said I would drop into the new store near Sloane Square on the Saturday instead. It proved to be a bit of a challenge getting across town from my hotel in St Pancras, partly due to my own incompetence and partly to a few rug pulling stunts on the part of Transport for London.
For starters I took the wrong branch of the Northern Line - via Bank instead of Charing Cross - though I later discovered that this was because the Charing Cross line had been closed, and everyone looking for the Northern Line was automatically steered down the remaining branch. Once on a train, I quickly realised it was going well out of my way. I got off at Moorgate and was about to take the Circle Line eastbound, when I heard an announcement about engineering works at Tower Hill, so I jumped on a tube heading west instead, insofar as compass directions are meaningful in a loop scenario... Are you keeping up so far? : - ) : - )
This circuitous route eventually took me to Sloane Square. I stood in the rain outside the station and rummaged fruitlessly in my handbag for the store details. In their absence, I was reliant on the combined knowledge of several passers by (none of whom were local), a sales assistant with Internet access in Ortigia(!) and three separate members of staff in Peter Jones, including their Customer Services Manager, who walked me to a window of their arty cafeteria and pointed down at the street below. "Okay, so it's not that street there, but Pavilion Road is sort of up a bit and to the left." Having just about absorbed these aerial directions, I promptly got lost looking for the "florist exit" of the store, before emerging blinking into the street, none the wiser now that I was on the ground.
By now somewhat bedraggled from the drizzle, I dived into a Chanel boutique, where two assistants pored helpfully over my 20 year old street guide, as loose pages fluttered softly onto the glossy hardwood floor. At the heart of the problem was the fact that Pavilion Road was on the fold of the book, which was not helped by the tiny print and my failing close sight. I am fast getting to that desperate stage where I have to annexe a young person every time I want to read.
Now in narrating this sorry tale I am not saying that the new Ormonde Jayne store is particularly hard to find - granted, it is tucked away in a little alley, but it is still only a stone's throw from Sloane Square. However, my initial failure to bring the address, coupled with the curved balls served up by TFL, my decrepit A-Z and dodgy vision all conspired to make the journey more arduous than was necessary. I should probably have taken the Clear Pill, for which there were numerous advertisments in the underground. If I took it every day, I'd be "LIMITLESS" apparently, able to unlock my potential and "become the perfect version of myself". Clearly, a better map reading version of myself would be a good start.
Unfortunately, the Clear Pill seems to come with a lot of baggage in the way of side effects, to wit: "paralysis, psychosis, amnesia, extreme sexual appetite, brain damage, irreversible coma, homicidal blackouts and sudden death."
So in deference to Monica and Bona, the staff of the Ormonde Jayne store, who were lovely and welcoming when I did eventually make it, it is probably best that I wasn't taking this pill during my visit - I don't suppose they'd have thanked me if I had had a homicidal blackout on their premises, especially if I had selected one of them as my victim moments before the attack.
Oh dear me...that was a bit of a longwinded introduction, and I realise that I may have shed a few readers somewhere around Paddington on the anticlockwise section of the Circle Line, but for anyone still reading, MY PERFUME PORTRAIT EXPERIENCE STARTS HERE... The store itself is a triumph of elegant design, featuring the orange and black livery that is the unmistakable calling card of Ormonde Jayne. There was lots of gleaming black marble - or gleaming black something - on the display surfaces and the walls. The lighting was discreet and twinkly; the product reverentially displayed. The sense of awe and wonder I felt in this sleek temple to high end scent was on a par with the feelings evoked by a visit to an upscale jeweller's or a prestigious art gallery. I could also liken my response to a grown up version of my childhood excitement at visiting Santa's grotto in our local department store - also with gift (for girl aged 50-55), as it turned out...
I was invited to sit down at a big counter and offered a selection of Ormonde Jayne's own handmade chocolates and a cup of jasmine tea with a real jasmine flower in it. You were supposed to wait for the flower to open fully before drinking the tea in which it bobbed. It was a novel take on my customary infusion method of mashing the tea bag against the side of a mug with the back of a spoon, and though the delicately fragrant tea was very refreshing, I joked with the staff that I couldn't quite rise above the sensation of drinking a rockpool through the tentacles of a sea anemone.
Then Monica, the store manager, kicked off by explaining the idea behind the Perfume Portrait service, namely to invite clients to sniff a selection of raw materials to identify which ones they liked or disliked, thus narrowing the choice of perfumes from the Ormonde Jayne range which they would be invited to sample. Key preliminary questions focused on the occasion this scent was intended for, perfumes the client had worn in the past, and any other information they could provide about their tastes in fragrance.
So then we started testing the various individual fragrance oils, on the end of black lacquered stoppers impregnated with each scent. These were arranged in seven families: "Hesperidic", "Delicate Floral", "Intense Floral", "Balsamic", "Oriental", "Woody" and the intriguingly named "Atmospheric" category, but I preferred not to know what each oil was - or even what family it belonged to - as I proceeded to smell each in turn.
Now I don't wish this post to act as a "spoiler" for anyone who might be planning to try out the Perfume Portrait service themselves, so I will just give you a flavour of how my blind testing went. Predictably, I was pretty rubbish on the whole, though in fairness, at this level of concentration it can be difficult to recognise certain odours, even very familiar ones.
Out of 21 fragrance oils I correctly guessed just two on the first attempt: mandarin and vanilla! The vanilla extract was white and crystalline and so scrumptious-smelling that I would happily have sucked the stopper like a child's dummy (pacifier)! Several oils I got on the second attempt, like gardenia and tonka bean, and I was often in the right general ballpark: for pimento I said cloves, and for pepper I guessed spice or woods.
Bizarrely, I got freesia and iris root round the wrong way, which makes me realise that I am probably only familiar with the more austere scent of the iris flower. I also didn't recognise the champaca note at that concentration, which surprised me as I know how it smells in the OJ perfume of that name. And when I smelt hemlock (arguably OJ's signature note, being the first company to use it in perfumery) and also moss, to both of those I am afraid I just said "nasty!"
So that was all a lot of fun, and quite instructive: I emerged from the process with some clear likes and dislikes, but also some in-between notes, which I decided I might enjoy in small doses. It now fell to Monica, who had been logging my comments along the way, to tot up my stated preferences within each family of oils, cross match that information with the families into which each Ormonde Jayne fragrance is classified as belonging - also bearing in mind that some perfumes fall into multiple categories - and make recommendations from their range of 12 scents.
Before this experiment, I would have said I had pretty broad tastes, but if I could only have two styles of perfume in my wardrobe those would have to be citrus (for daytime) and probably woody oriental (for evening wear). Looking at my score card, I have come out as squarely in the Hesperidic camp, closely followed by Delicate Floral, Oriental, Woody and Atmospheric on an equal footing, all of which feels about right. My least favourite fragrance style came out as Intense Floral (true). (Ormonde Jayne don't do any ragingly civetty scents, or those would doubtless have come out bottom, as it were.) Some intensely floral scents I do actually like, but don't really feel are me. And then my response to resinous fragrances was a bit mixed, which is also true. I do love some incense scents, but they shouldn't be overtly resinous in the sense of "piney". The only thing that puzzled me about the way the oils were grouped was "frangipani", which is classed as a delicate floral, and which I think of as quite intense - though I do happen to like the note, as I do ylang-ylang - in moderation, anyway.
From her analysis Monica shortlisted five perfumes: Osmanthus, Frangipani, Orris Noir, Ta'if and Tiare. This was a pretty canny selection, because unlike most clients who will go through the Perfume Portrait process, I came to it already knowing my favourites from the range, namely Orris Noir, Ta'if and Tiare, and was curious to see if we would come back to these by starting from first principles and identifying my preferences amongst the base ingredients. Additionally, I own Osmanthus Interdite by Les Parfums d'Empire and Ajne Calypso, a frangipani and jasmine scent, so I do dabble in these other fruity/floral directions.
At this point, Monica offered me my choice of fragrance to take home, a generous gesture that caught me completely offguard! With spring round the corner I opted for Tiare - one of the releases from the past two years that has most impressed me. We also talked about Ta'if, the most strongly indicated fragrance from the Perfume Portrait exercise, and a big favourite of mine for winter. Apparently it is a popular choice amongst Middle Eastern clients, including as a men's fragrance.
So what conclusions would I draw about the Perfume Portrait service as a method of orientating clients towards the perfect scent? Couldn't they just sniff all twelve OJ perfumes rather than the 21 base oils, you may be wondering? Well, sure they could, but this is so much fun! Now I don't think the exercise is totally foolproof, given that some of the oils are a bit intense and may put people off at that level of concentration - whereas they might like them well enough in the more attenuated strength at which they would typically end up in a finished formulation. However, I definitely think that the service is broadly indicative, and that the chances are that the shortlist that comes out the pipe will include at least one fragrance the client will like a lot - it my case, it was all three of my favourites!
Beyond that, there were two other great aspects to the Perfume Portrait service in my view. The first was the educational value of smelling oils blind and guessing what they were. I believe that that process alone could tip some ordinary perfume consumers into becoming full blown perfumistas. And given the pleasure that we fumeheads derive from fragrance, the possibility of converting even a few souls through a practical sniffing exercise could only be A Good Thing.
And then there is the whole pampering aspect, for, quite frankly, the care taken by the staff to understand your taste in fragrance, together with the beautiful store environment (not forgetting the chocolates and novelty tea), is as relaxing and therapeutic as a spa treatment. So, Santa's grotto, a spa, it comes to much the same thing. This experience could not be further removed from the "spray and pray" method of scent selection that obtains in your average department store - the staff at Ormonde Jayne have a thorough knowledge of their product line and the fragrance market in general, and clearly care about matching you with the right scent, as opposed to foisting one upon you that they are supposed to promote.
And yet - complimentary bottle aside - I wouldn't have felt pressured to make a purchase at the end of the session, and the one friend I know who has also had her Portrait done said the same. So from the consumer's point of view, as retail experiences go, it doesn't get better that this. And one thing that is also worth mentioning is that I didn't feel at all uncomfortable either in this stylish store - despite my dishevelled appearance and casual ensemble. I was even wearing a pea coat from Asda(Wal*Mart!), and when one of the girls helped me on with it, I swear she didn't visibly flinch. : - ) I remember feeling more awkward in Space NK in Bath, which is a bigger and more mainstream chain. The sales assistant there clearly resented me using the testers.
To sum up, I had an interesting and most enjoyable time, and left the store in a far less frazzled state than I had arrived. If you are not familiar with the Ormonde Jayne range or think you know your tastes in scent but fancy having these hunches "subjectively verified" by sampling individual components, the Perfume Portrait is well worth a shot.
PS I must also apologise for getting Monica's and Bona's names mixed up at one point. Both names feature "on-a" after all, and the black uniforms fuelled my confusion. Now what was that freephone number for the Clear Pill...?
Ormonde Jayne's blog features the new store here.
And here is a link to Ormonde Jayne's website.
Photo of tube map from studioincite.com, photo of view from Peter Jones from panoramio.com, photo of Clear Pill ad from thoughtsinflight.typepad.com, photo of exterior of store and of Tiare from Ormonde Jayne, photo of spa from bannatynespa.com, other photos my own.