SATURDAY AFTERNOON FRAGRANCE TESTING AND HAND MASSAGE AT JO MALONE, TOKYO

 

 

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Like many perfumisti, I have a slightly ambivalent attitude towards Jo Malone. While there is something undoubtedly crisp and attractive in the packaging’s neat simplicity, the unfussed, clean brightness of the company’s scents quite appealing in a day-wear, easy-urban kind of way, every time I personally try them on I am never fully satisfied in their conclusions. But if any established perfume house’s success is based on wallet-opening top accords and immediate, commercial appeal, then it is probably Jo Malone. Which does, I realize, perhaps, sound like damning the company with faint praise. Yet, in my opinion, this is no mean feat (how many current perfumes, the ones you find at the airport or in the high street, actually do smell nice? Most of the fragrances in this shop undeniably do).  Plenty of perfume lines come and fall by the wayside over the years, yet Jo Malone is still going strong after two decades on the scene, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. I remember the UK launch of the brand in 1994 and all the features they were getting in magazines; how appealing their Lime, Basil, & Lime Cologne (now a deemed a modern classic) instantly seemed: there was a pared down luminosity there that contrasted favourably with the concept-heavy presentation of the contemporary perfumes, and it is this streamlined, pure-in-daylight vibe that seemed to be reeling in the shoppers mid-Saturday afternoon in the expensive Tokyo shopping area of Marunouchi.

It was something of a strange coincidence that following my very personal, almost vicious attack on the often painful process of perfume shopping in Japan the other day (centred particularly on the Hermès boutique that is in fact just a few shops down from Jo Malone), I should, out-of- the-blue, get an invitation from a friend to go and have a free hand massage and fragrance testing session at the main Tokyo store, back in Marunouchi, this Saturday. I hadn’t seen Emiko for a long time, and I thought it might be a nice way to spend the afternoon together before going to a much more surreal and bizarre event in Roppongi planned later for that evening.

Killing time before our rendezvous in front of the store, I ventured, a touch apprehensively I will admit, into one of the stores along the street – Baccarat –  wondering if there might not be something affordable for my mother’s upcoming seventieth birthday. I was bracing myself for the inevitable, detestable froideur of the assistants, but no, they were very personable and helpful in fact, though I did end up leaving the store empty handed (rather pricey, shall we say…)

But the potential, incremental, rehabilitation in my mind of this area, following my overblown Hermès trauma, did, delightfully, continue at Jo Malone where Emiko and I were seated in a corner by the bright n’ breezy staff, presented with drinks, and received our relaxing, scented massages while getting a good chance to properly look around and sample what was on offer. Emiko’s introduction to the brand had come from a friend’s birthday gift that had included some Lime, Basil & Mandarin products she had really liked (“..because that’s what girls do. We give each other soaps and creams…”)  She also, besides that scent, however, knew nothing of the fragrances available in the shop and was anticipatedly open to suggestions, thus giving us a wide spectrum of scented possibilities and a fun afternoon of exploration ahead.

 

 

 

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The complimentary massage, which apparently is available to all customers at all the Jo Malone boutiques ( I hadn’t realized ), is an interesting way to get acquainted with this English company’s famous layering/ blending philosophy, typified interestingly in the in-store massage, which requires you to select a body wash, body crème, and cologne, all preferably in a different scent, to test this philosophy out in person.

More familiar with the Jo Malone range than Emiko, I was therefore more in a position to reject the possibilities I didn’t want (Red Roses, Pomegranate Noir, Vanilla Anise, none of which I like; also the possibly over-fêted Lime, Basil & Mandarin in truth, whose play-out I find a little bit sour and unconvincing). For Emiko I think the choice was almost baffling, initially. With over 25 colognes, including the just-released-in-Japan Cologne Intense series, to choose from, it was difficult perhaps to know where to start. On the counter, initially, were some current Japan-friendly favourites, including English Pear & Freesia, and the shampoo-tastic Nectarine Blossom & Honey, which I have even considered buying in the past as a work scent for its bubblicious, blossom-soapy, hair product-smelling sheen. Emiko certainly liked that one, as well as the Pear, which I have also sampled before, enjoying the fresh, brief-lived pear note before being irked by some woody/plastic/oudh note that turned up most unwelcomingly later in the dry down.  Emiko was also quite intrigued by the Cologne Intense Rose Oud that had been placed alongside those two on the counter (though tellingly didn’t try any on). This was, I think, the first time that Emiko has been exposed to Oud, but as she is to be going on a business trip next month to Dubai anyway, I told her that there would be a lot more of where that came from over there, and probably of richer, finer quality too. She will probably smelling such scents wherever she goes.

I myself also thought this perfume was quite well done; rounded, velvety, with just the right balance of deep and sweet, though that particular genre of scent at the moment just leaves me feeling suffocated, perhaps because of the much discussed recent oud overload in the perfume market. Saffron Cologne Intense has a gorgeous initial opening of very palpable iris and saffron, but, predictably, the tightly-woven, obviously synthetic ‘blond woods’ et al that surfaced in the blend quickly bored me, and I know this isn’t something I could personally wear.

We couldn’t decide which scents to try, and I wondered if our assistant was possibly getting a touch restless. What layering combos should we go for? I thought for a moment. Emiko is someone with hidden depths, I feel, and so I suggested, on a whim, rather than tying ourselves to the more conventionally girly and pretty, trying something entirely different. How about something tauter, dry, spiced: ‘masculine’?

 

 

 

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I have always liked, and almost bought on a number of occasions (a recurring theme, here, you notice? I keep almost buying their perfumes) Jo Malone’s Nutmeg & Ginger, as I am a very big fan of nutmeg as a spice and a scent and find that it is somewhat underused in perfumery. Duncan loves it too, but we have usually found that the bottle we have of Cacharel Pour Homme (with added nutmeg essential oil by me) has sufficed for all our nutmeg needs. The Jo Malone interpretation is also very good, if a touch too straight – as in just nutmeg and ginger, linear, almost flat. The Body Crème was something of a revelation, though, quite gorgeous actually; thick, heavily scented, with a convincing, subtle, spiced profundity that would do very nicely in the coming winter months.

 

 

 

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We both said yes instinctively to that one, and so Emiko’s massage began with the frothy, highly pleasant Nectarine Blossom body wash, followed, almost counterintuitively, by the Nutmeg, which I thought suited her magnificently, giving her aura a pleasing, slightly distancing, modern female gravitas. Finishing off cleverly with her selection of Wild Fig & Cassis, a very green and sharp fig scent, brought out even more focus and clarification to the ensemble, which we both agreed was very pleasant indeed.

Now it was my turn. I just decided to go for the Grapefruit body wash for the initial stages, as I was feeling lazy, and I found I liked this detergentish variant better than the cologne, which I find somewhat uninspiring and a bit of a dud after about ten seconds. Here the grapefruit was given more room to laugh and breathe, and though I felt a weeny bit embarrassed having my hands and arms frothed up in a room full of Japanese shoppers (not to mention the people passing by outside), I did find the experience quite relaxing. The assistant doing the massage routine was very sweet and vivacious; in fact the entire shop had a very lively, almost laid-back buzz to it that I was very pleased to witness. It’s still Marunouchi, and you can definitely smell the money in the air, particularly during peak shopping hours on a Saturday afternoon, but this was fun, and I felt the store had achieved something like the ideal balance between friendliness and casual luxury.

 

But, decisions, decisions. I had to now decide on the crème. Perusing the list of options, I found that for some reason I just couldn’t face any of the recommended possibilites except Orange Blossom, not a note I often wear but do quite enjoy on occasion for its pillowy, summery ease, and this did smell really quite nice on me, almost like orange infused chocolate, which is in fact one of my favourite indulgences in the world. I decided, then, to finish it off with Vetiver Cologne, one of Jo Malone’s most pleasant and easiest to wear of fragrances; light, vetivrish, citrussy, and a combination (with the orange blossom) that the assistant had never seen before. It was very good, actually (Emiko emphatically approved), even if the light, briskish, vetiver was being somewhat drowned out by the lovely, but almost bosomy, white, bouncing orange flowers that were now emanating from my arms and hands. 

 

 

 

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It was time to leave. There were others to be massaged. By this point Emiko’s blend had settled in nicely into her skin, and she was happy, if not enamoured with it. Was it too…..dark? Too serious? Did she think that a smell like that would bring her mood down? She didn’t think so, necessarily, she said, but then added, a touch mischievously, “I’m not sure it would bring it up though either”.

 

 

Just before leaving, I decided to just sniff just a few more perfumes. The musk note in Iris & Musk was way too strong (and vulgar) for me, and I couldn’t smell any amber, nor any patchouli, in the Cologne Intense Amber & Patchouli, just a generic block of something strong and purportedly ‘oriental’. The new Peony & Blush Suede struck me as quite effective, though: the body crème in particular hinting of late night business affairs in some London boutique hotel, with a suggestive, middle ground sass of very light, skin-caressing suede like-centre, and a floral, modern, urban top. I don’t think I would get on very well with a woman who wore this, but I would very happily stand behind her on a department store escalator.

 

Finally, as a last sampling, perhaps because I was smelling a touch chocolatey anyway ( I was also wearing Shalimar as my scent for the day, with some Chanel Gardénia for good measure stroked strategically on my clothing), I unwisely decided to then drench myself in the  Blue Agave & Cacao Cologne, which did in fact have quite a pleasant cocoa-ish dusting in its finish, but which also had that same, generic flatness that does seem to run through so many of the company’s fragrances, a two dimensionality I am not happy in sporting myself. But tough luck, I was stuck with it now, and Emiko said it smelled quite nice anyway so I decided to just take her word for it and let the perfume work its course over the rest of the day.  

 

Before leaving, Emiko got her friend some Lime, Basil & Mandarin soap and bath oil for her friend’s upcoming birthday (thus perpetuating the girly soap traditions of her generation; and Japanese girls do love to carry around designer bags). It was nice to physically buy something in the shop, though, after the fun we had had there (we almost felt obligated), and all in all, this was a very enjoyable way to begin my weekend: I would definitely recommend trying this layering experience to anyone who has dipped into the Jo Malone range but isn’t the kind of person comfortable lingering in shop while trying everything on. The massage experience offers a chance to go deeper into a series of fragrances whose lack of depth, ironically, is unfortunately perhaps their ultimate weakness, but whose fresh and appealing easy, pleasant- smelling immediacy it would be almost difficult, and churlish, to deny. 

 

 

 

 

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18 Comments

Filed under Flowers

18 responses to “SATURDAY AFTERNOON FRAGRANCE TESTING AND HAND MASSAGE AT JO MALONE, TOKYO

  1. Dearest Ginza
    So pleased to read that the horror of Hermes is receding, or at least being replaced with happier experiences.
    I used to feel somewhat unfulfilled by Jo Malone, as I did with Guerlain;s Aquas Allegoria, but their more literal, water colour interpretations have really caught my nose over the last year, perhaps they provide contemporary contrast to so many of the opulent grand dames I’ve been encountering.
    Whatever the reason I seem to like them more, though I can;t help but feel that the global success of the brand must in part be due to the incredible machine of Estee Lauder of which it is now a cog…
    One last thing, you set me thinking… are perfumed products, creams, powders and so forth a more popular way of giving and receiving the gift of scent in that part of the world.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I know exactly what you mean. The Grand Dames analogy is perfect: one doesn’t only want to be watching Visconti and Resnais: sometimes you need a spot of morning TV. And that aqueous simplicity can be quite appealing at the right moment.

      As for creams and so on, Emiko did seem to be hesitant about buying an edt, as her friend might not have liked to wear perfume (she didn’t know). Soap and bath oil seems like a safer option.

  2. Dubaiscents

    Hmmm, I didn’t know that anyone could get a free hand scrub/massage. I might have to try that out someday. I am with you, I really like the premise of this line but, I have not found anything that I must own. Maybe I should set my sights on the bath products instead of the fragrances since I usually can’t make myself pay for the really expense bath stuff from my favorite lines (ie. Amouage, FM, etc.) but, I do like to layer to keep things interesting and longer lasting.
    I hope Emiko has a wonderful trip to Dubai! You need to think of something great she can bring you back (even Duty Free has an amazing selection of perfumes!).

  3. Renee Stout

    I’ve always been rather ambivalent about the Jo Malone line myself. I like to ponder the depths of a perfume that I’m wearing and this line, while nice and pretty, doesn’t go deep enough for me.

  4. Lilybelle

    I love the simplicity and “pure-in daylight” quality of the Jo Malone line that you mention. I always enjoy sampling them, but you know I still haven’t tried any that I couldn’t just as easily live without. I have Anise Vanilla cologne (haven’t worn that in ages) and Red Roses bath oil. I liked the lilac-rhubarb one very much, but not enough to buy one, and I had Orange Blossom a few years ago, but ended up giving it away. I liked French Lime Blossom. I’ve sampled I don’t know how many other forgotten ones. Most of them are pleasant, innocuous, light, even lovely colognes, somewhat insubstantial and not to be taken too seriously (that is how I think of the Pacifica line, too, which is priced way lower and doesn’t have the cachet of JM, yet I enjoy every bit as much). I think Mr. Dandy is right in the Estee Lauder machine having a great deal to do with the line’s global success and longevity at this point. The JM body creams and bath oils are great. I like the idea that the fragrances are intended to be layered. I was even given a small insert with suggestions on which ones layer well together. I’ve always found the SAs at Jo Malone (here, at Saks and Nieman Marcus) to be friendly, approachable, AND generous with samples. I enjoyed reading about you outing with Emiko. I think fragrance shopping with you must be a fun way to spend an afternoon. 🙂

    • I wonder. Unless I come over all opinionated……

      I hadn’t realized that Jo Malone had been monopolized by Lauder until the dandy mentioned it, actually. Crafty ol’ Estee: Malone makes a good contrast to their own brand I think (so slick, so airbrushed and thick..)

  5. Marina

    Spot on. Your experience is much like my own. My girlfriends and I all bought some. I do love the Lime Basil one but they last 5 minutes.

  6. Rafael

    These Jo Malone fragrances. So confounding. You want to believe and just can’t somehow. (Cue: Depeche Mode, Personal Jesus)

  7. emmawoolf

    Thanks for this, N. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about Jo Malone, also. Their Fragrance Layering TM (sic) concept is, to me, just a flauntingly commercial way of them making you buy two products instead of one! I bought one of their overpriced bath products, I think it was the Lime and Basil shower gel, to take on honeymoon (back in 2000 – yikes) – I vividly remember the visit to the Sloane Square branch, and black cab ride home afterwards, which all seemed terribly decadent (it was). Until recently there was nowhere you could by JM in this neck of the woods (but a massive JM concession has just opened in Jarrold’s new perfume dept, which is actually amazing, I must tell you about it soon) but a few years ago I bought the Vetyver in a trip to the capital, which I was on the point of sending to you, because I’ve hardly used it. I ultimately find it too bland, too citrussy, yet predominately also too warm, if you somehow know what I mean – I feel hot wearing it! (perhaps this is my age…). Infinitely prefer the Guerlain, even the reformulated one, there’s just no comparison. x

    (Your Saturday department store ablutions, however, do sound most delightful). PS have you tried the “Jo Loves..” range? This is the fragrance line that Ms Malone herself is said to still have a hand in (no pun intended), if I am not mistaken.

  8. emmawoolf

    d’accordo – it is yours. PS anal subeditor in me must point out that over here, it is Vetyver with a y! (but I appreciate that in Japan, it may differ) x

    • It’s like Nina’s Patchoulie and its wilful ‘e’; for me there is a difference in nuance, soul, and atmosphere in the vetivers, and the vetyvers: the latter somewhat more Nick Drake-ish and solemn. Ultimately, though I am more of a vetiver man I think.

      • emmawoolf

        that’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of it like that. I would put the Jo Malone in the former and the Guerlain perhaps in the latter, then. x

  9. jennyredhen

    According to Jo Malone’s website the most popular fragrances are Nectarine Blossom and honey, Pomegranate Noir, Lime Basil and Mandarin, Orange Blossom , Peony and Blush Suede. I have tried Peony and Blush suede. At first I didnt like it but now I find it pretty for a dreary winters afternoon trip to the Mall for groceries or to lighten up the office.To me it smells very pink with some mauve mixed in. The worst things about Jo Malone perfumes is how expensive they are and the fragrance doesnt last long on the skin. I agree with the Perfumed Dandy …they are an interesting addition to the Perfume scene… the plain bottles, the simplicity..

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