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Pssst. This review is a secret.

Dionysus whispering to a faunI am not that young; I’ve had time to accept that I’m always the last to know.

Still, it always surprises me.

After years of hearing about “Ormonde Jayne Woman” this and “Ormonde Jayne Woman” that, I just broke down and simply bought a sample from the Perfumed Court.

It wasn’t going to magically come my way in any other fashion, and I wanted to smell it. Goodness knows why; I had smelled Tolu and Isfarkand, and they did absolutely nothing for me.

But a time comes when enough is enough and I simply wanted to know.

I can keep samples for ages without cracking them but this one I was excited to finally try. Last night I dabbed some drops in the crook of my elbow to go to sleep with, figuring that if it was really as unlikeable to my nose as the previous Ormonde Jaynes I’d tried, I’d just wash it off.

Imagine my surprise when I sniffed and realized I was wearing a perfume I knew well.

Did everyone else know? Is it a well-kept secret? Do polite people not bring it up because it starts flamewars on perfume boards everywhere and no one else can stand it any more? Is this something I’m supposed to whisper about behind my hand? If so, I didn’t get the memo.

But I do know what I smell, and what I smell is Ava Luxe No. 23.

This isn’t just a passing resemblance. I know No. 23. I sleep it in half the time; I have bottles in my desk and purse as well as on my bureau. No. 23 is my number one go-to scent. If I can’t figure out what else to wear, if I want something calming and non-distracting, if I want something I can wear any time, anywhere, or, as I said, if I’m just going to sleep, I wear No. 23.

Well, No. 23 is a darn sight like Ormonde Jayne Woman.musical score of a Handel aria

Don’t get me wrong, there’s clearly different levels of craftsmanship as well as quality of ingredients. Ormonde Jayne Woman opens with the flutter of close-to-the-ground greenness everyone talks about, as if a 30s exotic dancer had a fan made of fern fronds instead of feathers. It also progresses less linearly, and has more flourishes along the way. There are splashes of glittery darkness, like marcasites, in these woods.

If No. 23 is an elegantly simple hymn, Ormonde Jayne Woman is the full chorus with the orchestra. It isn’t that it’s richer and deeper. The brilliant mix of “black hemlock”, whatever that is (I believe I can smell this accord in both), the faintest touch of cardamom rendering it mysteriously sweet and delicious without being recognizable, slightly green florals, and sandalwood – celestial sandalwood – is the same in both fragrances, and that sandalwood soars. But I hear more notes in Ormonde Jayne Woman. There are more flourishes, more runs and arpeggios, and instead of four voices singing that major chord, there are perhaps a hundred. If you can smell more scent molecules (and there is some evidence you can, as most natural materials have far more scent molecules in them than synthetic ones, and thus many natural perfumes automatically have an extremely rich complexity), there are more molecules hitting your nose from the evaporation of Ormonde Jayne Woman, certainly.

Instead of the sublime (but, as I say, linear) No. 23, Ormonde Jayne woman progresses more; it starts out greener, and ends up rather less musky and more complex. Actually, to my nose, it smells more human and less meditative, less like a temple fragrance. No. 23 always smells like the sky to me. Ormonde Jayne Woman, somehow, lives here on earth.

Nonetheless, it’s as though you had two tapes of the same musician performing the same song, but one’s “unplugged” and one’s with full regalia, the band, extra speakers and backup singers. Both are gorgeous and undeniably similar experiences. There are differences, but it’s the same tune.Snippet of Handel's "Messiah" for four voices

So, what the hell, blogosphere? Did everyone know this but me and just not say? Ormonde Jayne Woman is beloved of perfumistas everywhere; No. 23 is Ava Luxe’s most well-known perfume. Seriously, I’m the first blogger to own them both? I don’t buy it. No, I’m not the first to notice; heck, there’s a MakeupAlley poster who just posted last month that they’re very similar scents. Given the cost differential, this is valuable news!

A scent so distinctive is bound to be noticed when it turns up twice. According to Fragrantica, Ormonde Jayne Woman was launched in 2002, Ava Luxe No. 23 in 2007. It’s pretty clear which would be a copy of the other, if one were so inclined to determine that. Is this why the blogs don’t talk about it?

Perhaps I need a followup post about the advisability of comparisons. I personally think it’s interesting when one thing smells very similar to another, and don’t particularly think the worse for either producer. But then I have a complicated relationship to creative rights. It’s one thing to create a scent “In the Style of Ormonde Jayne Woman” and market it in just that way; it’s quite another to create the same scent and give it a different name. At least to me. I didn’t mind finding out that my beloved Fragonard Lune de Miel was in fact extremely similar to Lancôme Trésor. There are some differences; I think Trésor manages to smell both thicker and cheaper. But it was interesting to know the relationship – the conversation, as it were, between the perfumers. Obviously it’s a smell that many would find beautiful.

No. 23 by Ava Luxe is an incredible experience. I have given it away and never had anyone disappointed by it. I wear it all the time – and I have hundreds of perfumes to choose from. It’s not just an extraordinary value; it’s an extraordinary perfume.

Does the fact that it is so similar to Ormonde Jayne Woman detract from it? Not to me; but I fell in love with No. 23 first. I can well imagine that if it had gone in the other direction, I might not be that pleased to discover another scent at a fraction of the price was so similar to my beloved friend. But if so, is it anything other than sour grapes? The specific scent that is Ormonde Jayne Woman can only be had at that price point; the fact that the scent of No. 23 is extremely similar and can be had at a different price point doesn’t detract from the first scent, does it?

As much as I adore and love No. 23 (and I have backup bottles, oh yes I do), I actually immediately decided that I would like to own Ormonde Jayne Woman. I believe that that $300 decision (well, if I get the parfum) was probably enabled by my familiarity with No. 23, not hurt by it. I love the scent of Ormonde Jayne Woman because it is similar to something I already love, but different. More, yes, in some respects, but more crucially, different. An amplification of an idea I already believe in.

For those who want to go the other way, who already know they love the Ormonde Jayne perfume, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t want to know that while they’re saving up for the Ormonde Jayne experience, the No. 23 experience can be had sooner.

But then I am the sort of person, yes, who owns several lily perfumes despite owning some vintage Diorissimo, has tobacco scents beyond Back to Black, and vanillas in addition to Tihota. I’m in favor of the ultimate but always glad to meet supporting characters. The singers behind the star have stories just as interesting, as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, if you’re interested, if I’m not the very last to know, and you know anyone else who also doesn’t know this little secret: feel free to pass it on.

Image is Un Secret d’un haute (Top Secret) by Hippolyte Moulin, photo by mharrsch. Used under Creative Commons license; some rights reserved.

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9 comments to Pssst. This review is a secret.

  • Whaaat? Really? I just added Ormonde Jayne Woman to my list of stuff to sniff and it’s #23? Which you gave me samples of…. wait…what?

    I am stumped. That is totally NOT how the reviews list it.
    Now I HAVE to try it.

    • Judith

      I know, superwierd, right? But it’s really true. I’m not the most sensitive nose in the world but it’s really *obvious*. CanNOT figure out why more sites don’t report on it. I feel like I’m breaking a code.

      Yes, you have #23. Yes, it smells like that. 🙂 Prettier, more elegantly done, but yes. Just like that.

  • I’ve never tried No. 23 by Ava Luxe (or any other perfume by this creator to that matter) and I like Woman by Ormonde Jayne a lot (actually, I’m wearing it right now). But I do not think Serena Ava Franco knew OJ’s perfume when she created her composition. So even if these two are really similar it might be just a coincisence. Also there is always a possibility that your nose plays tricks on you: there might be notes in one or both perfumes that you do not smell or perception of which is different for you – that why some other people who smelled both might not find them that similar. So no conspiracy – just too many perfumes out there.

    But I know exactly how you feel! 🙂 Coincidentally I’ve just published a post about my experience similar to yours, just with different perfumes.

    • Judith

      I’m not qualified to comment or whether it is or isn’t a coincidence, I think. I mean, it’s not like a rose and oud perfume isn’t done a million ways, right? So it’s not impossible to imagine that this particular outstanding mix of notes was stumbled upon by two different perfumers.

      It is really possible that my nose doesn’t read as others’ do – but that was why I was interested in the recent MUA commenter who smells just what I do. And I think I’ve smelled enough perfume by now to recognize close resemblances when I smell them (like Tresor and Lune de Miel). I find them more interesting than objectionable, as I said.

      I just find it surprising that no one else has mentioned how very similar these two are, given how much people rave about OJW on the boards and how hard it is (and how expensive it is) to get!

      I absolutely adore Ava Luxe’s perfumes and I have *many*. I wore one to my wedding! Highly recommend for a less expensive indulgence. But it is at the whim of Serena’s life; sometimes the business goes on hiatus for a while, sometimes scents are discontinued, sometimes they come back a little different (a little cheaper, I suspect).

      I think her original Madeleine limited edition Christmas perfume is a masterpiece and if you ever seen any, buy it or tell me about it! (The later reissue Madeline, different spelling, is also fantastic and I’ve given it as a very successful gift too!)

      Off to read your post on the similar topic! 🙂

      • As somebody who doesn’t know a thing about Ava Luxe’s perfumes, I was just speculating but it was based on the fact you stated two paragraphs later – “OJW […] how hard it is (and how expensive it is) to get”. Today it’s much easier to find a sample for OJW but in 2006-2007, when No. 23 was created, it was a very rare bird – that’s why I thought of a coincidence rather than anything else.

        The number of perfumes smelled and a level of experience has nothing to do with what we can or cannot smell. I’ll try to explain.

        Have you tried Santal 33 by Le Labo? I read at least a couple of reviews that mentioned sweetness in it (at Olfactoria’s Travels and All I am – a redhead). I cannot smell it. At all! It’s not “not too sweet” to my liking – it’s not sweet at all. And since it’s not the only perfume in which I do not smell sweetness (but in many others I do!) I figured out that there is some element that my brain/nose doesn’t process the same way as Birgit’s or Ines’ brain/nose. Now imagine that there is another perfume that has a similar to Santal 33 composition but uses some other element to add sweetness – the one that I can smell. For Birgit and Ines both perfumes will smell very alike when for me they will be quite different. So it might be that for some of those people who tried both perfumes they smell different because they do not smell some notes in one of them whereas you and that other person on MUA can smell all. Or the other way around, maybe you cannot smell some note in one of them which makes one of them smell different for those who can smell it.

        • Judith

          Ah, Undina, you philosophical gem!

          It is an interesting question, isn’t it? How do we know if things we smell are “similar”? The notes are invisible, after all, and hard to agree upon, especially among such untrained noses as almost all of us amateur bloggers are.

          I HAVE tried Le Labo’s Santal, and I truly can’t imagine anyone calling it “sweet”. That said, though, “sweet” is a personal evaluation. What I find sweet or spicy-hot or dark or light is in reference to my opinions, in my head. On the other hand, if I smell rose in a perfume, there either is or isn’t rose in the perfume. Well, that’s an oversimplification too – is there natural rose in the perfume? A headspace synthetic? An “accord” created to smell like rose? No matter how you slice it, though, rose – in all its facets – is something we all agree smells like rose, whereas sweet is a judgment that clearly varies wildly by sniffer.

          In this way, these two perfumes are very similar. I used the music metaphor because I thought it would help, but I could use more visual metaphors:

          These two perfumes aren’t just as similar as my photo of a woman, and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. They are as similar as da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and a photograph of the “Mona Lisa” that has been Photoshopped to soften and blur the edges.

          Very similar.

          As I said, I’m not qualified about whether they were intended to be copies. Serena’s a perfumer, so she may well have tried OJW before she created her own 23, no matter how expensive it is or how hard to get for the average American consumer; or, as I said, she might not have, since perfume is one of those things where there are limited palettes and probably even limited ways to construct them.

          Nonetheless, I can’t imagine how anyone who smelled these two scents together would say they are anything other than extremely similar. I think it’s something budding perfumistas would want to know, because if they really wanted to try, or even wear, OJW, and couldn’t get their hands on it right away, I think they would be very happy with 23. So I was thinking of it as more a PSA than anything.

          It’s so fun to smell what other people are smelling and discuss it, isn’t it? Because we are amateurs (at least I am) and developing our joint vocabulary is so *interesting*. Not to mention the differences of experience. My dry skin gets rid of topnotes so fast, for instance, I sometimes want to smell things on other people just to get all the variety of exciting topnotes other people describe!

          • Just in case you’re curious, here is a link to Birgit’s reviews of Santal 33 that I mentioned (I can’t find the second one, but I remember reading it):

            • Judith

              Interesting. I agree completely with her read on it, except the sweetness. She said, it’s something on her – very un-dry skin? Look how beautiful she is – that is amplifying the mint and getting sweetness from it.

              I tried it on and I got NO sweetness, but I can sort of see how this could happen. I very much doubt Santal 33 would smell that way on 10 out of 20 people, though. It seems very low probability to me. I really didn’t find it at all sweet. Sweet is a judgment call – but no sweet in my judgment of Santal 33!

What do you think?