Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold (2018): Redrawing the Map of Jasmine Sambac {Perfume Review & Musings}

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Courtesy picture @ Jo Malone

Last spring Jo Malone released one more opus in their Cologne Intense collection called Jasmine Sambac & Marigold, an homage to India and its floral culture.

On Jasmine Sambac and Marigold, the Flowers

Also called "Arabian Jasmine", jasmine Sambac is the scent of jasmine which grows in the East. Its scent is particularly luscious and fresh, fruitier than that of Jasminum Grandiflorum of the West. The former eludes animalic improprieties, unlike its Southern European counterpart...

You could think of it as a more innocent - in terms of redolence - jasmine. When it wants to attract pollinators, it does so in more subdued tones leaving its cousin of distant lands to trumpet elephant-like, comparatively speaking that is. Many cheap synthetic reproductions accentuate this uncouth in-the-throes-of-passion - of cheese-eating-passion even - aspect to the point where indeed it not only smells like a zoo but sounds like a menagerie - if for you like for me, perfume smells the way music modulates.

Jasmine Sambac is delicately heady. It has great presence and can be called unforgettable in olfactory terms, not easily to be confused with other jasminey flowers, yet if it captivates your imagination it is also because it awakens a feeling in you of childlike roundness, juiciness and innocence. Clean, cool, a little gourmand, exquisite and addictive, I'll accept all of these terms readily, as for me.

In the East, it is eaten as a fragrant ingredient in rice pastries. You associate it with memories of floating markets in the morning and overheated traffic jams at midday, both to which it brings its succulent notes of fully-formed perfume. In jasmine Sambac a whole world is contained as variegated, colorful and noisy as India, South East Asia - and other lands through which caravans made their way, connecting tastes and cultures.

Today, you can happen on it in the streets of Paris displayed as mounds of garlands peddled on an aluminium tray, by an unique street-seller it seems, in the Latin Quarter; his silhouette reappears from time to time at night when I do photography, just as if it were a ghost of the flower, reminding you of a non-pareil perfume.

Coupled with this near-mythical flower is marigold. Its color is that of monks' robes and saffron spice. One of its monikers is actually "the poor man's saffron." In India, it too is strung into garlands, just like jasmine Sambac, to adorn ritual venues, official ceremonies and women's hair. Its scent is much more contained for me than that of jasmine Sambac. In my memory it is powdery and spicy - a bit carnation like - but I've smelled it with less intent and so have fuzzier recollections of its perfume. You also happen on it at French markets under the name "oeillet d'Inde" literally, the "carnation from India." In English it is called "French marigold." Its names draw a map of its cultural travels westwards from Latin America.

Jo Malone decided to pair both flowers so as to bottle a coherent, plausible scent of India as revealed by the advertising campaign, which features a couple of lovebirds hailing from the subcontinent. Perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui of Mane travelled to the Indian fields of jasmine Sambac to garner first-hand impressions. The perfume is meant to be "dewy" like jasmine sambac collected at dawn. The brand explained,

"Pure white buds plucked at dawn. Fresh with dew. Coveted gems of the colorful Indian flower market. Glowing against vibrant marigold and exotic ylang-ylang. A beautiful contrast of garlands. Entwined with rich benzoin resin. Enveloped by the warmth of vanilla and amber."

How Does it Smell Like?

Sambac Jasmine & Marigold Cologne Intense is a solar composition, with powdery and creamy overtones in which a vanilla a little spicy mingles with a white floral bouquet. An ambergris backdrop is quickly apparent.

Your reaction is that jasmine Sambac is not so much treated on its own as being part and parcel of a popular motif: the solar white floral with a tip of the hat in the direction of the Monoï accord. In other words, it makes you think more immediately of Tahiti than of India. While nuances of sambac are perceptible, it also tends to be overcome by a more generic jasminey accord and an omnipresent ylang. If you wanted to relish the lovely transparencies of sambac, you have to settle for a much more opaque treatment than expected. This is a floriental composition in which the ambery-vanillic base comes to the fore quickly enveloping you in a cloud of powder and cream to the expense of the delicacy of the original floral scent of jasminum sambac.

While some people might appreciate the popular character of this Jo Malone, its nod to a mainstream trend since Azurée Soleil by Tom Ford / Estée Lauder (2007), one could have expected a more storied treatment of the main floral accord. There are no subtle spicy hints to remind you of places you still want to travel to, perfume being often a substitute; there is no real attempt at thought-out authenticity. There are no temples, incense sticks, nor spiritual journeys to be had by inhaling it. Rather than being a travelogue, Jasmine Sambac & Marigold is more of a reminder that vacationing on the beach is a relaxing moment, and this, mind you, on any beach.


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