After a full year of living almost entirely in my own neighborhood, with my only "travel" being scattered visits to other essential destinations within a ten-mile radius (occasional check-ins at my workplace, a few doctor appointments, quarterly haircuts), I recently spent a warm April afternoon in Manhattan just for fun. My outing included my first in-person fragrance shopping since January 2019, including a well-timed trip to Sephora.
Jo Malone's Summer 2021 limited edition "The Brits: Marmalade Collection" was on my to-sniff list, so I was happy to spot testers of all five fragrances on Sephora's fragrance wall. The collection includes two relaunches, Blackberry & Bay and Elderflower Cordial, and three new fragrances: Rose Blush, Orange Peel and Tangy Rhubarb. Rose Blush is a forgettable, "pink"-smelling lychee-and-rose thing. I somehow forgot to smell Orange Peel. But I fell for Tangy Rhubarb and Elderflower Cordial, and ended up purchasing a bottle of each; partly because the annual "Beauty Insider" sale was happening, mostly because I wanted to celebrate my return to real-life fragrance-shopping on such a beautiful day.
My favorite of the new Marmalade scents is Tangy Rhubarb, inspired by "unruly rhubarb plucked from the overgrown garden." It was developed by perfumer Nicolas Bonneville, with a composition of rhubarb, orange, clary sage and cedar notes. I look forward to rhubarb every summer, when I can buy a few stalks or, better yet, a strawberry-rhubarb pie at the farmers market. This scent is both tart and sweet, like rhubarb flavored with some orange zest and sugar — enough sugar to temper its edges, but not enough to totally eliminate the "hint of bitterness" that Jo Malone mentions. It's a fairly linear fragrance that remains bright and cheerful on my skin, with some very sheer musk emerging more in the base. I've long enjoyed quick spritzes of Eau de Rhubarb Écarlate whenever I've passed an Hermès counter but I've never quite been able to justify buying a bottle; Tangy Rhubarb's similar effect, with a lower price and better longevity (on me, at least), won me over.
My second choice from the collection is Elderflower Cordial, a relaunch of Elderflower & Gooseberry from the 2013 "Sugar & Spice" collection. It was designed by Christine Nagel to evoke "delicate elderflower buds harvested from the hedgerows on a cloudless morning...complemented by hawthorn and mixed with the tartness of summer-green gooseberries," with a base of additional "dried fruit" notes.
When this perfume was originally launched as Elderflower & Gooseberry, the brand described it as "a voluptuous gooseberry fool." (A fool is a chilled dessert involving puréed or stewed fruit folded into sweetened heavy cream.) This earlier messaging is truer to the fragrance. Elderflower Cordial is more of a fruity-dessert scent than a fruity-beverage scent — and, in case you were wondering about any possible likeness to St. Germain, I took a few sips from the bottle in my cupboard (in the interest of research!) and didn't find a strong correspondence to that drink, either.
Instead, Elderflower Cordial opens with an intriguing bitter green note that reminds me of angelica before the powdery white blossoms of the elderflower are conjured up for us. The flowers stay, and the fruit notes appear in a juxtaposition of tartness and sweetness, just like ripe berries layered in whipped cream and vanilla custard. Elderflower Cordial is definitely more sweet than sparkling, with a further dry down that recalls almond milk. I like it a lot, for its fresh-yet-cozy feeling, even through it's not quite what's being advertised.
One last reason I couldn't resist picking up a bottle (or two) from this collection during my first post-vaccination shopping spree? The packaging: small bottles with retro lettering that are modeled after vintage milk-glass marmalade jars (I found an example for comparison here) but also remind me of toiletries that might have been available from brands like Yardley in the 1960s. We can all use a little nostalgia nowadays (or anytime), as well as a feeling of a fresh start, and I found both moods in these two perfumes. I guess I really needed a day out!
The Jo Malone Marmalade Collection fragrances, including Tangy Rhubarb and Elderflower Cordial, are available in 30 ml Cologne, $74 each.