Monday, December 10, 2012

Ormonde Jayne Sets The Record Straight

Although we often find plenty of reasons to complain about developments in the perfume industry, there's at least one change which deserves to be celebrated: the fact that brands' public faces no longer feel they must pretend to be perfumers. One particular fragrance house which reportedly used to draw a thin veil over the details of its scent production is Ormonde Jayne. Were their perfumes made by founder Linda Pilkington, or were they, in fact, put together by Geza Schoen (Escentric Molecules)?

Perhaps the answer was never that hard to find. Certainly, the nonchalance with which Tania Sanchez names Schoen in her review of Isfarkand suggests that if his involvement was ever a secret, it must have been a pretty transparent one. And besides, purveyors of luxury have tried to exploit the power of mystery since time immemorial, so if Pilkington did keep some aspects of her company's work to herself, she definitely wasn't the first person to do so.  

But anyway, all that's out in the open now. During OJ's recent London launch of their Four Corners Of The Earth scents (unashamedly inspired by the BRIC countries)*, Schoen was presented alongside Pilkington as the perfumes' author. Indeed, it was made clear that he's the person behind all of OJ's previous releases.

I asked the two of them how their relationship works. Does Pilkington actually produce rough, sketch-like formulations? Does she then pass these on to Schoen for technical improvement?

She shook her head. "No, I don't go quite that far. About ten years ago, when I first started, a lot of our formulations were quite bog standard. I have about 30 formulations, and they're all basic accords, which come from a book. Unfortunately, when you read it, you don't know what they hell they are, because you only recognise half the ingredients. So I realised early on that formulation is more complicated than you realise. When I met Geza, my range was lime and lavender and things like this. But then I was able to say to him, 'I'm thinking: osmanthus, tea, this, this, this and this,' and Geza could translate it into a formulation."

"Don't forget," added Schoen, "we did lots of fragrance training. I introduced Linda to ingredients, so that she had a broader mind, and a wider palette in her head. We have thousands of ingredients, of which I use maybe a few hundreds, which is already a lot."

"To put that into perspective," said Pilkington, "I've got about 70 in my head. That's about it."

"It probably would be impossible," said Schoen, "for someone who isn't trained properly in the industry to make a fragrance which actually works. And there are some brands out there which do that, and that's why they don't work, or they don't work in a great way."

Of course, letting the cat out of the bag and allowing an 'external voice' to speak for one's brand in this way isn't without its risks. For the most part, the interaction between Pilkington and Schoen was slick and professional. But I wonder if she felt that he'd veered away from OJ's distinctly Sloane-y politeness when he decided to announce that he considers Mugler's Womanity to be "absolutely hideous. It is the worst fragrance I have ever smelt. The bottle is gimmicky. It looks cheap."

Pilkington chose not to engage with such topics, preferring to focus on less controversial matters such as OJ's well-regarded customer service. 

"I say to all the girls who start at Ormonde Jayne, 'Doesn't matter what anybody looks like. You treat everybody like they're an A1 celebrity.' I remember 10 years ago, a little man coming into the store. He was Sri Lankan. He had open-toed sandals and a little old raincoat. He was very, very sweet. I told him that I had been to his country. He took a sample of the Champaca, because he knew the champac flower from India. And then about a month later, he came back and he bought a bottle of Champaca for his wife. He comes every year and he buys two bottles of Champaca, for the last ten years. When my children were born, he sent a present to the shop, a Hindu book about raising children. And that's what it's all about.

"In the world of the Internet now, somebody can post something unbecoming quite quickly. You get a Google Alert from, say, Hazel-Somebody in Texas, who says she's very disappointed in Ormonde Jayne and she's never going to buy their perfume ever again. The first thing we do is to contact Hazel. We say, 'We're very sorry to hear this. What happened?' And she says, 'You said the perfume would be here within 5 days, but it took 10 days, and you missed my birthday.' And so we apologise to her, and then she goes, 'Oh my God, I can't believe you contacted me!' I want things to stay like that."


*The Four Corners Of The Earth series comprises: Qi (a Chinese tea scent); Nawab Of Oudh (inspired by India); Montabaco (a South American tobacco fragrance); Tsarina (a floral oriental).


  1. This is so interesting, I'm glad you posted this! Now, I wonder how long it will be until I can get my hands on those new fragrances...

    1. Carrie, thanks very much. As for the four perfumes, I have no idea of OJ are going to release them as a sample set.

  2. I don't really care at all that Linda did not produce the fragrances herself. I have met her personally and she is charming and very down to earth. In a way, I kind of admire her more for using a talented perfumer, albeit thinly ceiled behind the scenes. To my mind that speaks volumes about respect for perfume creation.

    1. Michael, I agree that on one level it doesn't matter. But I think a few people feel slightly miffed that the brand seemed to be economical with the truth in the past.

    2. True. Pure speculation on my part, but I wonder how many other perfumers or fragrance houses have also been economical with the truth?

    3. Oh, I'm sure many have. And I'm sure many will continue to be less than transparent. But as the status of perfumers continues to rise, perhaps more brands will realise that they don't need to maintain the same facade they used to in the past.

  3. I have always enjoyed Ormonde Jayne fragrances, but the fact that they are becoming more open about what we already knew or heavily suspected makes them earn my respect.
    I can barely wait to sniff their new creations.
    Thank you for another great article.


    1. Caro, thank you for reading it. And yes, I'm sure this openness will earn the approval of many perfume fans.

  4. I don't really get this blog - Where's the problem? I've been to the OJ studio (I do love Ormonde Jayne's perfumes) and they seem to me to all be very skilled craftsmen, whether it's sowing, mixing bath oils or making candles. I sat at the portrait table and Linda taught me how to create a cologne herself. Why do you dismiss it as sloany?

    1. Hi, Penny. Thanks very much for your comment. I'm not sure there is a problem. I wasn't using the word 'Sloane-y' in a dismissive manner.


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