British perfumery often gets overlooked in favour of its continental cousins, but the UK perfume scene is thriving – full of colourful characters and memorable fragrances, which are as eccentric as many Brits are themselves.
Jo Malone is probably the most famous British perfume brand on the planet, its recognisable yellow bags and boxes tied with black ribbon almost as desirable as its unique and memorable scents. It was probably one of the first brands to talk about scent layering, where you remix your favourite fragrance by blending it with another (kind of like buy two get one free).
Sleek and sophisticated and appealing to all genders, the names are equally minimalist and to the point. These scents smell like nothing else, which stand out in an otherwise very homogenous fragrance world. The names contain no dreamy adjectives or lofty nouns, but instead offer a no-nonsense summary of the notes, leaving your nose to do the rest.
The founder of the same name is no longer with the company, which was taken over by Estee Lauder in 1999 (Malone stayed on as Creative Director until 2006). Lacking any formal training, Malone was a facialist who blended a scented oil and body lotion for her clients. Word soon spread which slowly spawned a fragrance empire.
She since said that she regrets leaving the brand and went on to found a second perfume line Jo Loves in 2011. And yet Jo Malone the brand has gone on to produce equally stunning yet slightly offbeat scents, not to mention candles that have helped put them on the fragrance map. We road-tested a few of the more well-known scents (as well as a few unusual concoctions) to see which ones are worth investing in.
How we tested
We tested how each scent warmed up on the skin and how long it lasted for, as well as its originality and how the bouquet developed over time. We also went for a fragrance profiling session at Jo Malone in St Pancras (available to all customers) where we were taken through some of the brand’s bestsellers and new arrivals by team member Laura, and also learned how to layer different pairs of scents and which are preferred by certain types of customer.
The best Jo Malone fragrances for 2021 are:
- Best for an intriguing (yet wearable) men’s scent – English oak and hazelnut: £102, JoMalone.co.uk
- Best for something fruity but sophisticated – Pomegranate noir: £102, JoMalone.co.uk
- Best for lovers of the countryside – English pear and freesia: £102, Selfridges.com
- Best for an uplifting citrus classic – Lime, basil and mandarin: £102, Selfridges.com
- Best for a fun, floral fragrance – Peony and blush suede: £102, Selfridges.com
- Best for a subtle yet sensual scent – Wood sage and sea salt: £102, JoMalone.co.uk
- Best for something light and fresh – Earl Grey and cucumber: £102, Selfridges.com
English oak and hazelnut, 100ml
Best: For an intriguing (yet wearable) men’s scent
Hazelnuts are sexy – who knew? We certainly didn’t until we caught a whiff of this clever concoction. When it comes to popular gents’ scents, according to Laura at Jo Malone, this is a common choice among male shoppers passing through the St Pancras store, and a few spritzes will tell you why.
With its creamy, enveloping hazelnut and warm earthy notes of cedarwood and English oak, it’s nothing like any “gents’ scent” you’ve ever smelled but at the same time it’s extremely wearable and oh so dapper. It’s delicate enough to be worn during the day but smart enough for evening too – the longer it warms up on the skin, the more attractive it gets.
Pomegranate noir, 100ml
Best: For something fruity but sophisticated
Not your typical fruity fragrance but the pomegranate is one of the oldest edible fruits known to humankind. Dark with slightly bitter undertones, it’s not the cheery, pretty apple and pear notes that pop up in many mainstream fragrances. Pomegranate noir is one of the classics and for good reason. “It’s our Marmite fragrance” Laura concedes, “people either love it or they hate it.”
Pomegranate noir definitely captures this fruity darkness, with sharp sweet accords with smoky undertones, making it perfect for the evening and the colder months without being too masculine. If you find it’s too much on its own, combining it with Jo Malone’s English pear and freesia or peony and blush suede can add a side of dramatic, smoky allure to these two scents for evening.
English pair and freesia, 100ml
Best: For lovers of the countryside
While many people see France and Italy as the main inspiration for “escapist” perfumes, you just need to take a trip to the beautiful English countryside or any of the city’s wonderful parks to know that this country has a variety of flowers, plants and fruit to draw olfactory inspiration from.
As a proudly British brand, Jo Malone excels in these types of scents, and English pear and freesia is case in point. A bestseller, its cheery notes of pear blend beautifully with a delicate floral freesia accord, it’s very, very wearable. An evergreen fragrance that’s sharp enough to wear during the colder seasons, while mellow so as not to be too cloying for the warmer weather. If you could bottle a Sunday teatime costume drama in scent form, this might come close. It comes in a fetching fluted bottle, and for a limited time, an eye-catching pear box.
Lime, basil and mandarin, 100ml
Best: For an uplifting citrus classic
Probably one of the most recognisable (and copied) perfumes on the planet, this scent encapsulates what W magazine beauty director Jane Larkworthy told the NY Times of Jo Malone: “You didn’t smell anything cloying; you just smelled clean and curious, and the curious part is that you were like, What is that?” This is definitely clean and curious, with fresh herbaceous and slightly pungent notes of basil clash beautifully with zesty lime and bright, sparkling mandarin, for something that’s fresh and uplifting yet mysterious at the same time.
It’s a cologne for people who find traditional colognes too flimsy and fleeting. The basil note definitely adds a vegetal element which might not be to everyone’s tastes. Our tester prefers to smell basil when it’s stirred through pasta with Parmesan cheese, but that’s the point of this scent – it’s meant to be unusual and original.
Peony and blush suede, 100ml
Best: For a fun, floral fragrance
The most fresh, fun and girly of the bunch, this practically blooms out of the bottle with sweet floral freesia top notes. Freesias are known for their bright colours and strong scents, the brash cousin of the more demure rose, known for blooming in the late summer. This definitely stays true even in the colder weather, blending beautifully with our skin throughout the day without feeling suffocating as some stronger scents can sometimes do, like a heavy coat you can’t unbutton, whereas this comfortably sits on the skin like a sheer silk scarf. Youthful and spirited without being flighty or twee, it has a crisp bite of red apple at its heart but not too much to overpower the rest or make the whole thing smell like a fruit bowl.
Wood sage and sea salt, 100ml
Best: For a subtle yet sensual scent
Salty scents are ideal for those looking for something a little different. But rather than just remind us of “aquatic” fragrance – created to evoke the salty sea air – salt accords can have a seductive side to them too, as is the case with Jo Malone’s version.
Our skin smells of salt after all, and the brand’s wood sage and sea salt scent does a great job of recreating that musky warmth, for a “your skin but better” effect, heightened by aromatic notes of sage. This was a huge hit when it originally launched and it’s no wonder; when first sprayed on it seems fairly soft and unassuming. But once it warms up on the skin it really comes into its own, becoming more charismatic as the woody sage notes come to the fore.
Earl Grey and cucumber, 100ml
Best: For something light and fresh
Jo Malone is one of those brands which often dials up its “Englishness” without becoming veering into twee territory, and this perfume is a prime example. Inspired by our never-ending love for a decent cuppa, this scent blends the aromatic bergamot that characterises Earl Grey tea, with that distinctive freshness of cucumber and a soft base of vanilla and musks – the perfect way to pep up flagging spirits. Once this had evaporated, the dry down is incredible, slightly warm honeyed sweetness that was eerily familiar – reminding our tester of their nursery school classroom (play dough, finger paints and biscuits to be exact).
The verdict: Jo Malone scents
Although Jo Malone is mostly known for its flagship lime, basil and mandarin fragrance, we think English oak and hazelnut is a far more intriguing prospect. A seductive gents’ scent that is unique without being too polarising. It’s just so beautiful and long-lasting, and we love how it develops on the skin and becomes quite a different scent entirely by the end of the day.
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