Just in time for autumn, Jo Malone has launched its English Oak collection. Both fragrances in this collection, English Oak & Hazelnut and English Oak & Redcurrant, were developed by perfumer Yann Vasnier and will join the brand's permanent line. English Oak & Redcurrant features notes of redcurrant, pink pepper, mandarin, rose and roasted oak; English Oak & Hazelnut is a composition of green hazelnut, cedar, vetiver, amber and roasted oak.
Even before I had a chance to smell this fragrance duo, I was captivated by the promotional imagery, with its sepia-tinted images of androgynous models perched in enormous oak trees. When I noticed the animated fairies that appear in some of the images, I thought I recognized a source in English photography of the early 1900s. (I've written about this parallel elsewhere.) All in all, pretty hard for me to resist, so off I went to a department store with a Jo Malone boutique to sample both scents.
English Oak & Redcurrant is described as "[t]he forest at dawn. The juicy bite of redcurrant. The zest of green mandarin. The freshness of rose softened with white musk. Enveloped in roasted oak." Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to that sensory evocation for me. I like the tart red currant in the intro, paired with the oak (more greenish young wood than "roasted") and light nutty note, but that combination is too quickly replaced by lots of ripened apple and softly musky ambrette without much of a supporting base. And, in a way that's all too typical for Jo Malone, English Oak & Redcurrant fades from my skin in an hour or two, maximum.
English Oak & Hazelnut, stepping deeper into the forest, is "[a]n enchanted walk. The crunch of green hazelnut. The spice of elemi. The earthy woodiness of vetiver cooled by emerald moss carpets. On a warming base of roasted oak." It's less gourmand than it sounds, and it does last much longer on skin than English Oak & Redcurrant. On the other hand, it seems to skip too quickly into a base of dry vetiver and wood — yes, definitely oak rather than sandalwood or cedar, and it's sharp and a touch smoky in an way that interests me, but it feels a bit blunt. It may also come across as too masculine for many Jo Malone customers.
After feeling slightly disappointed in both fragrances, I wondered: what would happen if I layered them? I don't usually pay much attention to Jo Malone's suggestions for "combining" perfumes (even though this brand pioneered that concept), but in this case, the Redcurrant and the Hazelnut fit together nicely and end up smelling like a total, well-rounded fragrance. The red fruits and ambrette (and the subtle rose) mesh smoothly with the rooty notes and the nutty woods, and the whole thing feels more balanced and even "glows" a bit. If you've ever explored the Liquides Imaginaires or Frapin lines but wished you could find something sheerer and more casual, you might want to try this mix from Jo Malone. (Of course, you'll end up buying two bottles to get the desired effect.)
All in all, English Oak & Redcurrant and English Oak & Hazelnut didn't cast quite the spell over me that I'd anticipated, but who knows, you may have better luck with them as separate scents. On the other hand, the visuals are still some of my favorites of 2017.
Jo Malone English Oak & Redcurrant and English Oak & Hazelnut are both available in 30 ($65) and 100 ($135) ml Cologne. English Oak & Redcurrant is also available in matching shower gel, body cream, and a candle. For purchasing information, see the listing for Jo Malone under Perfume Houses.