Saturday 5 March 2011

The Ormonde Jayne Perfume Portrait Service: Pulling Out All The Stoppers To Find Your Perfect Scent

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, photo of view from Peter Jones from, photo of Clear Pill ad from, photo of exterior of store and of Tiare from Ormonde Jayne, photo of spa from, other photos my own.


Angela Cox said...

I think my prescription meds. have most of those side effects already !As for getting young people to read things to you I do it all the time and am sure they think "poor old dear can't read". Holly is rolling around after hearing your post and might recover in time to watch the late film. I agree about the tea , as a child in Bognor I played with that .
I already wear Ta'if and Frangipani and am toying with the pure perfume of Ta'if as my next major purchase . Thank-you for a wonderful read !

Undina said...

Great story!
I love this brand. My favorite is Ta'if (I own it) and only yesterday I was trying to decide what perfume (in addition to my second favorite Tiare that I've already ordered) I should ask my friend who would be going to that store tomorrow to buy for me. I chose Orris Noir but only because I have less of it left in my sample vial then for my fourth favorite Frangipani.
But even though I'm well familiar with the brand and know my preferences I'd love to use that Perfume Portrait service (and probably will when I visit London next time).
Once again, good story. Thank you.

Carrie Meredith said...

Thanks for posting about your experiences. If I could transport myself to London for the afternoon, this is the first thing I would do. I am hopelessly devoted to Woman, with Man, Orris Noir and Tolu not far behind.

Katy Josephine said...

Vanessa, this sounds like an amazing experience! I'm not overly familiar with this line, but Ormonde Woman sounds like one I would enjoy.

The more I think about visiting London, the more I would like to visit London.

Your story reminds me a bit of visiting the DSH studio. What a treat that was!

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela,

LOL re your prescription side effects! I think most drugs have a fairly alarming list, but this one had a couple of novel variants...

You were a child in Bognor? We should talk! I have a 90 year old aunt quite near the front.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Sounds as though we have identical taste - when it comes to the Ormonde Jayne range, for sure! I have only recently discovered Orris Noir, and wore it on the beach in Holland on New Year's Day. It seems eminently suited to winter weather and outdoorsy pursuits and was a fitting way to kick off 2011! I hope you enjoy your bottle - you've got quite a collection now!

Vanessa said...

Hi Carrie,

I hope you are able to visit Ormonde Jayne some day - Woman and Man are two of their best sellers I believe, and there's nothing like them that I have come across, even though I am not big on hemlock myself!

And meanwhile, I am off to your neck of the woods next weekend...

Vanessa said...

Hi Josephine,

I do remember your visit to the DSH studio and kick myself that the one time I was in Boulder was before I became interested in scent...

I think you might well like Woman and possibly also Man and Tolu!

Tara said...

Ha, I did smile when you called OJ's signature note "nasty"! Only because I find it nasty myself. OJ Woman is so witchy it's scary. Ta'if on the other hand is true love, I just adore all that pepper.

The Perfume Portrait service sounds like a success and how nice to hear of such well-trained, unpushy and unsnobby staff.

As for the tube, the weekend engineering works are so bad now that I don't travel anywhere without checking the TFL website's journey planner first. Sorry you had such a rotten time of it.

Oh and congrats on your bottle of Tiare, how lovely.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Hemlock in its concentrated form is pretty witchy, certainly! I do reach for Woman when I am feeling especially steely and efficient, which isn't often, admittedly. I suppose you could say that it's an angular rather than a fluffy scent, but it is undeniably unique and compelling.

I'll remember about the journey planner next time! I always think of tube travel as so quick and seamless, but I was royally foxed last weekend!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for proving my pet theory, Vanessa: the place you need to find is *always* in the fold of the A-Z/guide book map/atlas! Murphy's Law again.

Ah, the charms of the Northern Line and Circle Line. What happy memories you've evoked.

I've been using my Ormonde Jayne Discovery set samples since last November and, as you summarised so well in your previous review, there isn't a duffer amongst them. OH has been anointed with the masculine ones and didn't complain, which counts as Thumbs Way Up In Approval for him!

The Perfume Portrait sounds like a real treat: well worth tackling the Underground (despite Transport for London's perverse desire to keep folk underground and not transport them where they desire to go within London).

Oh dear, OH has just asked if I want "cupulation?" ie more tea. (Lowers the tone he does.)

cheerio, and thanks for the laughs,

Anna in Edinburgh (with camomile tea)

Anonymous said...

Just a "by the way" -- those Clear Pill transit ads are "buzz marketing" for the upcoming film Limitless. There's also a You Tube video of the "drug ad".

So great that your miserable transit trek ended in such a wonderful experience. And I think the real hallmark of true "high-end" stores is exquisite customer service to each person who enters the store. I also remember, many years ago, a sales clerk at a high-end jewellery store who confided that you never can tell how much a person is willing to spend on jewellery by how they are dressed. I would think the same is true of perfume.

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

That fold trick is so annoying, isn't it?

And you are lucky with your successful anointing of Mr Anonymous with the masculines from the OJ range - how delightfully compliant of him!

He sounds like quite a wag with his talk of "cupulation"... Jiggle the cup accidentally and you will get my father's catch-all phrase for displays of physical affection - "filthy slop".

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

The Clear Pill ads are part of a viral campaign? Hahahaha - I did think some of those side effects were a little strange! There's a website as well which is pretty convincing - or not clearly a spoof, anyway. If you haven't heard of the film, as I hadn't, the ad in isolation really does read like the sort of thing you see in the tube, like that lapband surgery that was on billboards everywhere in California, or the buzz about coconut water and all the rest of the pharma- and nutriceutical bandwagon! : - )

That SA's observation about the lack of correlation between expenditure on clothing and jewellery is interesting. I've splashed more of my cash on my fragrance wardrobe, that's for sure!

Carrie Meredith said...

Vanessa, you're headed to Chicago soon? Or the States?

I really hope it's in the cards for Ormonde Jayne to open up a store here. I think it would do well in NYC or Chicago. Fingers crossed.

Vanessa said...

Both! : - ) Plans are still taking shape, but I will be in Chicago on business for a few days the week after next, and maybe also the week after on the way home. That is your neck of the woods, right?

And yes, I am sure Ormonde Jayne could do well in a lot of major cities all over. I sense that it likes to grow steadily, but it is definitely in expansion mode.

Cymbaline said...

If I EVAH' get to London, I'm doing this! My OJ favorites are Woman and Ta'if for winter and Frangipani for summer.
Thanks for doing all the hard work and teaching us how to find the Sloan Square store-what an adventure-Whew!

Anonymous said...

I loved to read through the whole post, you are so funny and entertaining. I hope to do the Perfume Portrait too when I am in London, although it is not as if I needed any more incentives to get an Ormonde Jayne perfume. ;)
Thank you for the lovely distraction from my usual Sunday morning chaos!

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

I hope you make it over here some day - this experience sounds right up your alley! (Like the store, indeed.)

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoriastravels,

Glad to have distracted you from your weekend hurlyburly. And it sounds as though most of us are already dyed in the wool Ormonde Jayne fans!

You've reminded me, I should go to the supermarket really. We are right out of everything except perfume, pretty much...

Ines said...

What a wonderful experience! Do you need to book an apointment for this or can just drop in and they help you? Because the next time I'm in London (have no idea when that might actually happen), I'm going to an OJ store to have a full-blown perfumista spa day. Or an hour. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

The Perfume Portraits don't have to be booked, no, but obviously it is a pot luck thing and the store could be busy at a particular thing. If so, you could always pop into Peter Jones for a bit. : - ) I am sure you would enjoy your spa hour!

Persolaise said...

I think the paragraph which chimed most strongly with me was the one where you ask whether it wouldn't have been better just to smell OJ's actual perfumes. I've seen the Portrait set up at the Sloane Square store too, and whilst I agree that it might be great fun to 'do', it seems like a gimmicky way of choosing a fragrance.

But then I haven't actually gone through the whole portrait process, so I shouldn't prejudge.

And I agree that the shop looks beautiful and Monica's great.

Vanessa said...

Hi Persolaise!

The fun aspect is considerable, but I guess the service is geared more towards your average punter - and I would include myself here - who is not already familiar with the full spectrum of raw materials. I own a few aromatherapy oils that I put in the bath, but this was mostly new territory for me.

And if by "gimmicky" you mean a novel but unnecessary feature of a product, no one could argue with the fact that there is a more direct way of selecting a fragrance. It is perhaps the difference between a speed dating event down the pub, where you might like the look of a couple of people you met on the night, and the process of uploading your profile to an online dating site and having the system throw up possible matches! Both approaches get you from A-B in the end, but you may learn more about the mechanics of attraction using the dating site...

So I guess I see it as an educational and enjoyable detour to arrive at the same point!

: - )

JoanElaine said...

I'm so glad there was a happy ending to all that transit insanity!

It sounds like snobbery isn't on the menu at the OJ Perfumery. How refreshing! I would love to have a consultation there. The two fragrances I have tried from the OJ line didn't work for me, but they smell bloody good in the vial. I'm sure there is an OJ for me. Tolu and Man are what I plan of trying next.

Enjoy your Tiare!!

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

I am sure you would find one that appeals, for the range is small but has most bases covered. What it doesn't have is anything very animalic (which is good) or with noticeable levels of patchouli, in a chocolatey oriental way, I mean.

The Left Coast Nose said...

SO, so, so wickedly jealous!! That just sounds like the most amazing perfume experience!

For some reason, OJ is not a brand you can just reach out and touch here in the States, or at least in San Francisco. Maybe in The Big Apple, but still. That's like, 3,000 miles away rather than 8,000. Al my experience with OJ is through samples, sadly. Boo!

Her genius astounds me, and the thought of getting to go through all of her notes to get an idea of how she wraps her head around them all would be an afternoon for the ages, as far as I'm concerned...

Great reporting, great story, and I'm delighted for you!

Vanessa said...

Hi, The Left Coast Nose!

Lovely to hear from you - I saw Elisabeth Moss in a play in the West End that same weekend and thought of you, as it was thanks to your blog that I discovered about Mad Men. : - )

I am sorry you find yourself in an OJ stockist wilderness, though access to the samples is a good start. As sniffing experiences go, this tour of the individual notes takes some beating.

Unknown said...

That sounds like so much fun! When I visited London, I went to the little shop in the Royal Arcade and the sales girl was so nice. I love many Ormonde Jayne's and I own Woman, Ta'if and Tiare. I think I might get Frangipani someday.

Vanessa said...

Hi kjanicki,

Ah yes, that's the store I visited with a group from Basenotes in 2009, and I agree that the staff there are also lovely.

And given your growing collection, it sounds as though "a little corner of Ontario is forever OJ"!

Rose said...

Oh TFL how do I hate thee... let me count the ways... wonderful you finally found your way but TFL do not help do they. The staff at Peter Jones are so sweet, I'm surprised they didn't walk you around there.

I can't wait to have this experience, it sounds so completely classy. I already think that I am a perfect Ormonde Woman Woman but I would love to be suprised

Vanessa said...

Hi Rose,

I say "Go for it!" You are in the right part of the world for it - just possibly the wrong side of the Thames at worst! : - )