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.
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.
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.