Jo Malone recently launched its springtime limited edition collection, The Bloomsbury Set. Once again, the collection has an appropriately English theme. These five fragrances — Blue Hyacinth, Garden Lilies, Leather & Artemisia, Tobacco & Mandarin and Whisky & Cedarwood — were reportedly inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artist Vanessa Bell's Charleston House in Sussex. I say "reportedly" because that information was shared in early press releases, although the Jo Malone website now only refers vaguely to "free spirited artists" living "an unconventional life in their legendary country house."
Samples of Jo Malone's limited editions are hard to come by, so this review is based on visit to a Jo Malone counter and a generous application of two fragrances that particularly interested me. (Usually I try to wear a fragrance three times before reviewing it; my apologies for this relatively cursory research!) The visit itself was funny, because I let my "mask" slip a bit when I approached the counter. I rarely mention that I write about fragrance, for various reasons, but this time I did let my enthusiasm for the literary-artistic subject matter show.
Handsome and well-groomed male sales associate: How can I help you?
Me: Hello! I just wanted to find out more about this special collection.
HAWGMSA: Are you familiar with the concept?
HAWGMSA: [after a slight pause to get back on script] This collection is inspired by a group of artists and their country house in Sussex. Back in the day. In Victorian times.
Things went more smoothly once we got to the actual spraying and sniffing of each scent. I didn't mean to cause problems, but I had no idea that Jo Malone had gotten much less specific about the Bloomsbury Group on their website and (apparently) in their training materials. Also: Edwardian, not Victorian. (You can read more about the the Bloomsbury Group here.)
Sorry! Anyway, what did I think of the two fragrances that I wore that day?
Blue Hyacinth is a floral inspired by the gardens at Charleston House, with notes of hyacinth, geranium and vetiver, and developed for Jo Malone by perfumer Yann Vasnier. It's a big springtime perfume that starts off as a nearly holographic evocation of hyacinth. It's sweet and sharp, with an intense green leafy note wrapped around the flowers. For a while I was reminded of Guerlain Chamade, an old favorite of mine. However, instead of settling into a mossy base with hints of fruit, like Chamade does, Blue Hyacinth gradually softens into a soapy lilac scent. It's pretty, although it feels a bit tame for its bohemian namesakes.
Leather & Artemisia, also developed by Vasnier, was inspired by the house's library, with notes of absinthe, artemisia, orris, leather and cypriol. According to biographies, the Bloomsbury writers and artists did enjoy a glass of absinthe from time to time, and they were aware of paintings by Degas and Picasso that depicted absinthe and absinthe drinkers. I enjoyed the bitter green absinthe note in Leather & Artemisia's herbal opening. However, like Blue Hyacinth, Leather & Artemisia morphed into something different. It lasted on my skin as a more feminine woody-sweet iris with hints of vanilla, like a younger cousin of Frederic Malle Iris Poudre. And it lasted surprisingly well, for a Jo Malone "cologne" — all things considered, I wouldn't mind owning a bottle of this one.
Speaking of bottles, I do like this collection's packaging. The bottles, with their abstract swathes of muted colors, pay homage to the work of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and the brightly polka-dotted and striped boxes refer to the decoration of their Sussex home. I still can't explain the odd omission of any specific Bloomsbury names (photos of Charleston appear on the Jo Malone website, at least), but I'd recommend visiting a Jo Malone counter to take a sniff if you're curious. Just don't let on that you know too much.
Jo Malone The Bloomsbury Set Blue Hyacinth and Leather & Artemisia are available in 30 ml ($70 each).