The most famous gems in the world are the inspiration behind a relatively new perfume house, Orlov Paris, and its debut collection. Unlike many other brands that use jewels as marketing hyperbole, the link here is a personal and logical one. As Orlov’s website explains, its founder, Ruth Séry, comes from a family that has been in the diamond business for generations, and she herself seems to be both a diamond cutter and diamond dealer in Antwerp.
But she is also a perfume lover, and, when she learnt that all her favourite fragrances were made by the same man, she “told herself that if ever she founded her own fragrance house, she would work with Dominique Ropion. No one else would do.” He agreed to create five fragrances for her, each inspired by a different legendary gem, like the 100.10-carat “Star of the Season” or the 29-carat canary-yellow diamond called “Flame of Gold,” once owned by the Hollywood star, Greer Garson. All five are pure parfums (extrait de parfums), and were released in the fall of 2015.
Today, I’ll look at two of the five fragrances, Star of the Season and Cross of Gold, with Orlov and Flame of Gold to follow in the next post. In order to keep this review at a manageable length, I won’t provide the company’s official description for each scent in full as I usually do, merely the relevant portions regarding to the note list. I also won’t quote comparative reviews, but I will give you the general gist of people’s opinions on Fragrantica and a link for you to read their comments in full if you’re interested. So, let’s begin.
STAR OF THE SEASON:
Orlov’s description for Star of the Season and its notes reads, in relevant part, as follows:
Rare Indian sandalwood is sprinkled with cinnamon, cumin and clove, drizzled with caramel and infused with vanilla. Iris concrete unveils dark chocolate facets, bolstered with velvet-smooth patchouli and amber. Rich Turkish rose absolute adds berry and mulled-fruit facets.
According to Luckyscent, the succinct note list is:
Orange blossom, iris, rose, cinnamon, cumin, clove, caramel, vanilla, patchouli, sandalwood
Star of the Season opens on my skin with fruitchouli-drenched florals dusted with a few small pinches of earthy, slightly skanky, and rather stale smelling cumin. The flowers lie atop a base of generic woodiness before being cocooned within a cloud of white musk that is simultaneously clean, fresh, vanillic, and dripping with white sugar. In short, it’s a fruity-floral given a semi-gourmand treatment with just a touch of earthy cumin. The latter doesn’t last for long and begins to weaken a mere 10 minutes into the fragrance’s development, but it is the only thing that really separates Star of the Season from any number of similar mainstream fruity florals.
A number of niche lovers seem to breathe Dominique Ropion’s name with awe. I am not one of them. While they venerate him for a handful of famous Malle fragrances, I think the full body of his work paints a very different picture. As his Fragrantica page demonstrates, he is the absolute king of the department store fruity-floral and their flankers: Lancome’s La Vie Est Belle (and its 9 flankers); Tresor (and its flankers); Flowerbomb (and its flankers); Mugler’s Alien (and its flankers); Lady Million (and its flankers), and… well, you get the picture. (He’s even made a celebrity fruity-floral, Jennifer Lopez‘s Live, though that one doesn’t have a flanker as of yet.)
In short, if you come across a diabetes-inducing, saccharine-coated, pink berry floral drenched in a tsunami of laundry clean musk and vanillic sugar, there is a good chance that he created it. It’s not something I admire or respect, but so long as this tired formula (and broken record) stays in the mall, I can ignore it. But when it shows up in the niche field with a significantly more expensive price tag, virtually no olfactory difference in scent, and little to no discernible elevation in quality, then I get annoyed. And that is the case here with Scent of the Season, at least on my skin. Except for the short-lived cumin, it is basically yet another flanker, a more heavily sugared version of La Vie Est Belle, or a fusion of that scent and Flowerbomb. One of Mr. Ropion’s other (allegedly) “niche” creations, A Lab on Fire’s Mon Musc A Moi was the same way on me, leading me to wonder if he’s either incapable of or unwilling to drop certain olfactory crutches and formulaic accords when he makes his fragrances. In my opinion, they all smell alike: overly simplistic, overly synthetic, typically linear, shapeless blurs of synthetic florals, drenched either in laundry clean musk, tooth-aching sugary sweetness, goopy, pink berried jam, or some combination thereof.
The problem here is that Orlov’s version of this tired formula is not something that you could buy for $60 at Sephora or $19.99 at TJ Maxx, even if it smells almost exactly like it, in my opinion. This costs a rather unbelievable $330. For that amount, it’s not unreasonable to expect a distinctive and original composition. But the only olfactory distinction between Star of the Season and something like Ropion’s Flowerbomb on my skin is the cumin note — and that isn’t even a major part of the scent. In fact, it weakens after 10 minutes amidst the ballooning clouds of fruitiness and vanillic sugar, and then disappears almost entirely at the 40-minute mark.
Around the same time, all the notes blur together. There is no clearly delineated orange blossom, iris, cinnamon, clove, or sandalwood on my skin. The floralcy is wholly generic and indeterminate, a rosy-ish blur suffused with goopy fruitchouli, vanilla, increasingly caramelized sugar, and white musk. This core bouquet doesn’t change in any dramatic way in the hours to come; there are merely shifts to the order, prominence, or nuances of some of the notes. For example, to my growing horror, Star of the Season grows sweeter and sweeter (and sweeter) as the caramel and sugary vanilla surge to the forefront, intertwining with the fruitchouli molasses and the increasingly laundry-like clean musk. The only minor positive in this sea of banality is a quiet, subtle creaminess that emerges in the base after 90 minutes, turning Star of the Season into a sugar-frosted, pink berried floral with vanilla, clean musk, and fluctuating, lesser streaks of caramel and cream. Once in a blue moon, a hint of something vaguely, nebulously woody pops up in the background, but it’s a fleeting, elusive whisper (that smells synthetic and not remotely like real sandalwood on my skin).
The gourmand notes take over roughly 3.5 hours into the fragrance’s development. Star of the Season is now a sugared vanilla drizzled with caramel and a few dollops of fruit jam. The creaminess has largely disappeared, while the faceless floralcy has been subsumed within growing amounts of white musk that are beginning to smell like the Bounce fabric softener sheets in my laundry room. The main focus, though, is the vanilla. Over time, the musk becomes just as important. By the end of the 6th hour and the start of the 7th, Star of the Season becomes a simple blend of clean, sugared, vanillic musk and remains that way until its end.
I tested Star of the Season twice, always using several generous smears amounting to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle. The projection was average, opening at about 4 inches, while the sillage was somewhere between 6 to 8 inches, probably because my skin amplifies the reach of any fragrance with a lot of white musk. After 90 minutes, the numbers dropped, both becoming quite soft. It took 4.25 hours for Star of the Season to turn into a skin scent, and the fragrance typically lasting 8 and 8.5 hours, depending on test. I find that low for a pure parfum, but I was relieved because I couldn’t stand the scent.
Judging by the reviews on Fragrantica, though, I’m in a distinct minority. The comments there at this time are all positive, with descriptions like “absolutely stunning,” a “5 star vanilla fragrance,” or “a perfect mixture of vanilla and a warm woody scent.” So, if you love vanilla gourmands or gourmand fruity florals, then you should ignore me and try Star of the Season for yourself. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy it. Whether you love it enough to actually spend $330 on it may be another matter, though.
CROSS OF ASIA:
“The Cross of Asia” is a legendary diamond that was first discovered in South Africa in 1902, weighing a whopping 280-carats before it was cut. Orlov describes its namesake scent as follows:
Dominique Ropion has studied ylang-ylang closely in order to bring out each of its facets. Surprising hints of green apple and crystalline pear. Spices, enhanced by cool coriander and essence of cypress. A glowing rose note and heady white floral effects, set off by orange blossom, tuberose and jasmine absolutes. Finally, a lash of leather reveals the yellow bloom’s secretly animal nature…
Luckyscent quotes that description, but gives the following note list:
Geranium, ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, amber, musk
I’ve tested Cross of Asia a number of times, and there are basically two different versions of the opening hour on my skin, one that is centered on the ylang and one that is all about the tuberose. The two versions always end up merging after 60 to 75 minutes, becoming the same — a clean, green-white floral driven predominantly by the tuberose — but the differences are worth noting since this is a fragrance that is supposed to be “ylang ylang in all its facets.”
In Version #1, Cross of Asia opens as an abstract floral with a delicate, indeterminate character that gives off a yellow feel but which, initially, doesn’t translate as ylang ylang at all. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the flower to take shape, but it’s an incremental process. First, there is a subtle butteriness; then, inch by inch, minute by minute, a gradually deepening of the note, turning yellower, stronger, and more solid in shape. The faintest spiciness takes hold, followed by a whisper of something velvety that is sweet and vaguely custardy. If you squint, you can almost see (or smell) the contours of something ylang-ish taking shape, but it’s a shimmering abstraction in these earliest minutes, a suggestion more than a concrete reality.
Then, about 15 minutes in, the ylang suddenly appears. It’s a blurry, shapeless version of ylang from a distance, but the bouquet now smells unquestionably of ylang ylang up close. Woven into it is a whiter and greener floralcy, but that’s as hard to pin down as the ylang was at first. Finishing things off is clean musk and a subtle, rather tonka-like powderiness.
Cross of Asia remains as a ylang ylang fragrance for the next 30 minutes, but changes are in sight. The tuberose is starting to take shape in the same incremental fashion, and slowly cuts through the ylang, diluting its presence, turning the bouquet greener, crisper, and dewier. As the first hour draws to a close, Cross of Asia has turned into something quite different, a tuberose dominated fragrance that skews almost entirely green-white in colour. The buttery ylang is merely an elusive whisper now, a few dying gasps that are silenced roughly 75 minutes into Cross of Asia’s development. At that point, the fragrance turns into Version 2.
To put it another way, Version 2 skips the entire ylang prologue and starts as a tuberose fragrance right off the bat. In two of my tests, Cross of Asia opens with non-indolic, fresh, and clean tuberose that feels as green as the flower’s unopened buds. It’s infused with a dewy or watery floral greenness, the inevitable white musk, and a green fruitiness that, once in a while, actually smells a little like crisp green apples. Other elements quickly follow suit. An extremely thin, screechy, synthetic sandalwood runs through the base. For a brief moment, a few minutes at best, a sliver of caramel sweetness lurks in there as well, though it never translates into actual “amber” at any point in the fragrance’s development. In the background, flashes of geranium leafiness pop up, but they’re minor and heavily muffled on my skin.
For the most part, Cross of Asia’s opening bouquet in this version is centered almost entirely on a dewy, crisp, green tuberose, layered with a similarly green fruitiness and an excessively clean freshness atop a generically woody base. It is gauzy, almost translucent, in feel and body. All of it feels synthetic to my nose, and something is irritatingly sharp, though I can’t figure out if it’s the geranium, the white musk, or the sandalwood.
Regardless of opening version, the rest of Cross of Asia always develops the same way. The timeline merely changes depending on whether there is a ylang prologue or not. For the purposes of clarity, I’ll simply talk about the changes as though we’d always started with the tuberose bouquet.
Roughly 20 to 30 minutes in, Cross of Asia shifts a little. It starts to grow sweeter and fruitier. More importantly, the jasmine makes its first appearance, hovering first on the sidelines, then joining the tuberose on center stage a short time later. Its arrival adds richness and heaviness to the fragrance’s body, ending the gossamer translucency. Once in a blue moon, the jasmine emits whiffs of indolic blackness and headiness but, generally, it’s as crisp, clean, bright, and fresh as the tuberose.
Cross of Asia’s second and core stage starts to take shape roughly 45 minutes into the fragrance’s evolution. The jasmine is now so prominent that it has become the tuberose’s second-in-command. The screechy, synthetic sandalwood becomes equally significant not longer after, exploding out of the base to become the other big player on center stage. The tuberose is always the unquestioned star of the show, but these other elements circle around it, turning Cross of Asia from a gauzy floral centered primarily on tuberose into a floral woody musk with a heavier, richer feel.
Smaller changes take place around the same time. The tuberose’s dewy wateriness is replaced by Ropion’s standard, sugar-drenched vanilla, while the green, vaguely apple-ish note becomes a minor blip on the sidelines. At the 90-minute mark, a more abstract fruitiness takes its place. From time to time, I find it resembles that blasted pink berry that Ropion loves to stick into so many of his mainstream fragrances, but I may simply be a little traumatized at this point.
Cross of Asia changes again about 2.75 hours into its evolution when it turns into an almost bridal floral bouquet. It’s a blur of fresh, green-white flowers infused with intensely sharp and clean musk, equally sharp white woods, a ghostly hint of a pinkish fruitiness, and a new type of sweetness that sometimes reminded me of Guerlainade-style tonka. It’s basically the same tonka-like note that appeared in the background of Version #1’s ylang prologue but, like so much else in this fragrance, the details are hard to pin down amidst the blurriness of the notes. Still, wherever it comes from, the Guerlainade-like vibe is nice in conjunction with the blend of white flowers, and an infinitely more appealing, smoother version of sweetness in my eyes than the granulated sugar variety.
I just wish that the various flowers were clearly defined, solid, concrete elements instead of a shapeless, generic morass of whiteness, but that seems to be as futile a wish as hoping Ropion could make a fragrance without a veritable tsunami of musk (and/or sweetness). It’s simply how he does things. While it’s my issue and my Achilles heel, I think these elements contribute to the fragrance’s lack of distinctiveness and rather forgettable simplicity. In two months time, I doubt I’ll be able to recall what distinguishes one particular Orlov floral from another.
It doesn’t help that so many of the fragrances share a similar drydown that is essentially some sort of sweet, sugary, and clean musk with one extra accompaniment tossed in. In Star of Asia, the accord was vanilla and some caramel; in Flame of Gold, as you will see later; it’s woodiness; and, here, in Cross of Asia, it’s a generic, green-white floralcy.
That’s what kicks in a mere 4.5 hours into Cross of Asia’s evolution when the long drydown begins. From this point forth, I waft nothing more than floral white musk with pops of greenness and soapy cleanness. In the background, once in a blue moon, there is something elusive that is either fruity or sugary. It’s too insubstantial and ghostly to really pin down. At the end of the 5th hour and start of the 6th, the musk turns sharper and cleaner. It’s starting to smell like a greener version of my floral-scented, Bounce fabric softener sheets for the dryer.
This unfortunate, laundry-floral bouquet goes for hours. To be precise, an additional six hours in one test, with Cross of Asia finally dying 13.5 hours from its start. In my second test, it lasted a bit longer, just a hair under 14.75 hours. I attribute both numbers to the fact that my skin holds onto white musk like crazy and longer than the average person’s. (As a side note and point of clarity, I actually tested Cross of Asia four times in total in order to get a handle on the opening changes and the role of the ylang, but I scrubbed the fragrance in the last two tests after 6 or 7 hours when the drydown began.)
On Fragrantica, there are only two reviews thus far from people who have actually tried the fragrance, and they’re split. One woman loves it, calling it “smooth and classy. Starts off with some fresh tuberose and ylang-ylang. The jasmine is not indolic but light and airy. Underneath I get a rounded rosiness that is really nice.” The second review is from a man and is negative. “Alfredo86” writes: “A synthetic and unpleasant tuberose-geranium concoction. I can’t believe this comes from Dominique Ropion, much less its price tag. Get his Pure Poison for Dior instead: it smells 5 times better and it’s 5 times cheaper.” I agree, Pure Poison is a much better tuberose, and a more appealing scent as a whole. In fact, I own it, and I’d wear it any day over Cross of Asia.
The sad thing is, Cross of Asia was actually the most appealing of the quartet that I tried, at least before it turned into the inevitable white musk fest. I certainly preferred it to Orlov which was a scrubber on me and which I’ll discuss next time along with Flame of Gold. I had such hopes for the latter because it was the one woody composition out of the lot but, as you’ll see next time, it turned out to be overly simplistic soliflore that was linear, synthetic, insubstantial, and terribly banal.
ALL IN ALL:
What I had originally hoped to do was to review all four of the fragrances in the same point in order to provide ample evidence of my overall conclusion, which is that this is one ridiculously overpriced collection in my estimation. But I’ll raise the same point here, even if we haven’t gotten to the other two (even more depressing) fragrances yet.
Each Orlov fragrance costs $330, and that’s an astonishing amount, in my opinion. To me, none of them have a demonstrably greater, unquestionable hike in complexity, quality, luxuriousness, or even basic olfactory profile from mainstream fragrances that you can find in a mall for less. Yes, a few of them are better, but not massively more so than Flowerbomb, La Vie Est Belle, Pure Poison, or any number of similar fragrances. Whatever negligible improvement there may be, it’s not enough to warrant $330 a bottle, if you ask me. (And don’t get me started on $1,890 for the Elixir version that has the exact same juice, just in a fancier bottle with a small diamond in it.)
To me, an even bigger problem is that the Orlov fragrances are terribly boring. At best, they’re unmemorable. At worst, they felt like an utter chore and slog to wear. I ordered my samples in December 2015, tried all four, and felt so apathetic (or negative) about most of them that I couldn’t summon up the energy to do the necessary further tests, let alone write about them. I put it off for almost four months. These are precisely the sort of compositions that have made testing or wearing perfume an increasingly joyless affair for me.
Orlov is not solely to blame, but it’s reflective of a larger problem. I’m beginning to despair about the state of niche perfumery in general, finding it’s taking on too many attributes of the commercial sector. Like, for example, the way so many fragrances smell alike. I sometimes feel as though I’m writing the same review under a different name because so many things smell the same! (I think there are a variety of factors to blame. One is the loss of a wide range of raw materials due to IFRA/EU restrictions, and the accompanying rise of a handful of trendy synthetics, especially in years when a hot, new one is released and all the niche perfumers flock to use it. Another is the way all the brands, niche or otherwise, jump on the same thematic bandwagon, be it oud, caramelized vanilla gourmands, smoky leather with woods, or saccharine-dusted, pink berried, fruity-florals. A third reason is the fact that niche brands have an easier time selling things at a luxury or super-luxury price if the scent is familiar rather than edgy or “out there.” In that sense, the mainstream aesthetic is trickling upwards to impact niche when the flow of influence used to be the reverse.)
What really depresses me, though, is when “niche” brands present fragrances that are wholly mainstream in olfactory composition as something ostensibly original, distinctive, unusual, and/or interesting, and then jack up the prices to create the illusion of “luxury” as well. In my opinion,”niche” is not supposed to be a Sephora or Macy’s fragrance stuck in a fancier bottle with little appreciable or major improvement in quality, just a bigger price tag and fewer retailers. That’s not my idea of what these fragrances are supposed to smell like, and why we’re willing to pay the price differential. But that’s what I see happening more and more lately — and Orlov is a perfect example of it, in my opinion.
When I get over my gloom, I’ll write about Orlov’s Orlov and Flame of Gold.