Perfume Reviews – Jo Malone “Sugar & Spice” Collection: Ginger Biscuit and Bitter Orange & Chocolate

Jo Malone just launched her limited-edition Spring collection of perfumes inspired by British cakes and desserts. The collection is called “Sugar & Spice” and numbers five fragrances in all, each in the super light cologne concentration.

Jo Malone Sugar and Spice Collection

Source: Fragrantica

According to Basenotes, the perfumer is Christine Nagel of Mane who “spent time with the Jo Malone Creative Studio eating cake in Fortnum and Masons, Claridges and various other fine cake establishments to familiarise herself with the local sweet treats.” The line includes: Redcurrant & Cream, Ginger Biscuit, Lemon Tart, Bitter Orange & Chocolate and Elderflower & Gooseberry.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

The company has really outdone itself with the campaign for this collection. There is a really fun, bubbly, happy video (see midway down below) featuring Adam Ant’s famous 80s hit, Goody Two Shoes, and also, just in case you missed the food aspects to the collection, the company also released four dessert recipes to accompany the fragrances. (I couldn’t find one for Bitter Orange & Chocolate.) You can find the compiled list of all of them at The Daily Mail, though I will provide the direct link to the appropriate recipe in each fragrance’s discussion section.

I have samples of all five colognes, and I’ll review two of them — Ginger Biscuit and Bitter Orange & Chocolate — in this post. You can find my reviews for the other three perfumes in the collection — Elderflower & Gooseberry, Lemon Tart, and Redcurrant & Cream — here.


The Jo Malone website describes Ginger Biscuit as follows:

Just-baked biscuit. Spiced with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, melting into caramel. Butter-crumbly with roasted hazelnuts. Warmed by tonka bean and vanilla. Irresistible.

Source: The Style

Source: The Style

According to Basenotes, the perfumer, Christine Nagel, had the following vision in mind for the fragrance:

‘I wanted to recreate the equivalent deliciousness of a just baked biscuit enlivened with grated ginger.’ says Nagel, ‘Texture was important in this fragrance; the sharp natural note of ginger is set against the sensation of a baked, crumbly biscuit.’

Notes include ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, caramel, roasted hazelnuts, tonka bean and vanilla.

Ginger Biscuit opens on my skin with a strong note of aldehydes. You can read more about aldehydes and the role they play in perfumery in the Glossary linked at the very top of the page, but, in a nutshell and the simplest terms, aldehydes smell soapy and/or waxy. Here, both aspects are present, though the soap eventually fades after about ten minutes. In those opening minutes, there is also the smell of warm cookies. There are definite and strong notes of vanilla, followed soon thereafter by a light touch hazelnut. Ginger Biscuit smells essentially just like a cookie or biscuit candle, only about a thousand times milder and lighter. 

Unfortunately, soon thereafter, something else becomes much more dominant than hazelnut or sweet cookies. There is now a strong note of alcohol — as in rubbing alcohol. Its sharpness makes me think that the “ginger” component is extremely artificial and synthetic. While you can smell ginger, fleetingly, underneath or around it, the note is much more like disinfectant mixed in with vanilla.

I’m rather horrified. It feels exactly like you’ve gone to the doctor’s office and the nurse has swabbed your arm before taking blood with some antiseptic, except, here, it happens to be cloaked in cheap vanilla. If this is “ginger,” then you can get much more genuine and natural-smelling ginger in some of the pre-packaged jars in your supermarket.

On the barely more positive side, the whole damn perfume is so bloody light and ephemeral, you have to practically douse yourself and wolf at your arm to have much hope of smelling anything detailed. And I’m talking about the very first few minutes here! From a distance of about a foot away, you can smell some extremely generic wafts of vanilla and rubbing alcohol. Further than that, and I wouldn’t count on it for the average spray or two.

After the first twenty minutes, the perfume’s low sillage becomes even less. Then, thankfully, shortly before the second hour, the whole thing dies away entirely. It never changed much beyond the main vanilla and alcohol scent I described above, adding a whole new twist on simple, minimalistic and linear.

Lest it was not clear from this review, I think this is a horribly cheap-smelling, synthetic fragrance. I find it revolting, and I think even Bath & Body Works has better cookie or vanilla “fragrance sprays.” They cost about $14 for 8 oz which is about 7 more ounces than this stuff. For example, one of their vanilla fragrance sprays is Warm Vanilla Sugar. It doesn’t have “ginger” in it but, if we’re using Ms. Nagel’s definition of “ginger,” that’s just as well. I’ve smelled a lot of ginger in a lot of perfumes, and what’s in Ginger Biscuit does not seem at all like real, genuine-smelling, good ginger but, rather, like something concocted in a lab. Warm Vanilla Sugar is hardly the best vanilla cookie scent I’ve tried but it’s extremely affordable, lacks the screechingly sharp disinfectant note, and is a damn sight better than Ginger Biscuit, in my opinion. Plus, the Bath & Body Works fragrances don’t have a soapy undertone in the opening minutes.

I cannot believe Jo Malone is asking $60 for this. And for a miniscule bottle, to boot! Outrageous.

To wipe away the bad taste of cheap chemicals, I suggest watching the wonderful, incredibly fun, bubbly video launched as part of the Jo Malone ad campaign for the “Sugar and Spice” collection. It shows all the makeup and food they used in a “behind the scenes” look. Plus, the classic Adam Ant song is always an incredibly peppy and cheerful way to brighten your day:

Finally, if the perfume isn’t your cup of tea (and I really hope it isn’t), you can always try making the recipe for Stem Ginger Biscuits which can be found at this Daily Mail page.


Jo Malone’s website describes Bitter Orange & Chocolate as follows:

The bite of bitter orange, layered with dark chocolate.  Orange peel counterpoised with warm, powdery cocoa, milky coconut and coumarin.  Sumptuous and addictive.

Basenotes quotes Nagel as saying,  

[this fragrance is] very special and unexpected. Orange is a classic raw material for a perfumer so we chose to shake things up with a mix of bitter and sweet orange notes. When combined with the chocolate many interesting qualities began to develop. The chocolate is dark, powdery and creamy but the orange adds energy and bite.

Source: Jo Malone.

Source: Jo Malone.

Bitter Orange & Chocolate opens with an absolutely gorgeous note of rich orange peel and the darkest of bitter chocolate. The orange is sweet, heady and reminiscent of the Seville oranges used in marmalade, only more slightly sugared. It is mouth-watering, delicious, and a simply lovely, lovely note! The chocolate is simultaneously like the dark slabs used in baking but, after ten minutes, it’s also like hot chocolate.

As time passes, the chocolate note starts to dominate, adding an occasionally dusty cocoa powder appearance to its other two faces. The orange recedes (alas) to the background, popping up in visibility for brief moments here or there, but generally content to let the chocolate take the lead in this dance. I don’t smell any coconut, milky or otherwise. After thirty minutes, there is the vaguest hint of coumarin that starts to pop up. This version of it is sweet and faintly hay-like, but also with vanilla undertones. The coumarin is very subtle, yet it adds an interesting subtext of dryness to counter the sweet overtones. In its final stage, the perfume turns into a sheer veil of powdered chocolate with some coumarin.  

The whole thing is very light, sheer and subtle, with minimal projection. You can detect definite whiffs of it in the opening minutes from about half a foot away. Perhaps less. Soon thereafter, you can still smell it if you bring your arm a few inches away from your nose. At the thirty minute mark, you have to put your wrist right under your nose to detect it, and it becomes even more minimal after that. Its duration was much shorter than some of the fragrances in the line: the fragrance died away entirely after about 1.5 hours.

All in all, Bitter Orange & Chocolate was my favorite out of the collection. I say that not only because I have an oft-repeated love for orange notes but, also, because this fragrance lacked some of the serious deficiencies of the others in the line. It was neither too, too sweet, nor too artificial and chemical-smelling. There were no notes of sharp disinfectant, soap, or synthetics. It was lovely and well-balanced. It’s not a particularly complicated scent — but, then, it wasn’t trying to be.   

The problem is that $60 is a lot for a fragrance that is both very simple and of very short duration. Bitter Orange & Chocolate lasted around 1.5 hours on me, and was barely detectable for much of that time unless I jammed my arm under my nose. Some people don’t mind re-application of their scents, but a 90-minute benchmark requires a lot of re-spraying! Even if someone has skin that doesn’t go through perfume as quickly as mine, Jo Malone fragrances are NOT known for their longevity as a whole. So, when your $60 bottle is a tiny 1 oz., those constant re-applications will finish things off quickly and makes the perfume a bit more costly than it might otherwise appear.

I read somewhere that Jo Malone representatives suggest layering some of these scents with others from her Tea Fragrance Blends collection. That’s fine, and should help in adding some minor modicum of complexity or depth to some of the scents. The problem is, that Tea collection was from 2011 and is no longer available. But even if it were, or even if you used the current Earl Grey & Cucumber fragrance (which is all that remains available from that collection), perfumes can and should be judged on their own merits. They should not be assessed based on how they smell by buying another $60 bottle to help things along. Besides, I highly doubt that layering would significantly change the duration problem.

Like all the fragrances in the collection, Bitter Orange & Chocolate doesn’t suit my personal style or taste, but it is definitely the one I would recommend the most out of the five. You can find my reviews for the other three fragrances in the collection here.

Cost & Availability: Each of the colognes in the range costs $60. There is only one size: a very tiny 30 ml/1 fl. oz. As noted earlier, the set is a limited-edition release, but I have no idea how long “limited-edition” means in the Malone world and when they will be removed. Each fragrance can be purchased directly from the Jo Malone website which also offers free shipping “and the fragrance samples of your choice at checkout.” I don’t know how many samples you can get. You can also find the Sugar & Spice Collection at various stores. For example, here is Bitter Orange & Chocolate at Neiman Marcus (with the other perfumes in the series being listed and linked at the bottom of the page). Bergdorf Goodman also carries the full line. Unfortunately, according to a note on their page, neither Bergdorf nor Neiman Marcus ships to Canada. You can also find the collection at Nordstrom. Bloomingdales carries the whole line, along with some sort of Bonus Offer as well.
If you want to try out samples, you can find them at Surrender to Chance which is where I purchased my set. That set is currently sold out, but you can purchase samples of each individual fragrance starting at $2.99 for the smallest size (1/2 a ml vial). I highly recommend that you sign up for Surrender to Chance’s email and newsletter as they send out their monthly discount codes. If you’re interested in trying out the Malone fragrances (or any perfumes from StC, for that matter), here are the codes for March: 5% off orders with the code: nomoresnow. However, orders over $75 can get 8% off with the code: wewantspring.  Shipping for all orders of any size within the US is $2.95. Due to the massive increase in international shipping rates by the US Postal Service, international shipping has gone up everywhere. At Surrender to Chance, it is — alas — now $12.95 for all orders under $150.

Perfume Review – Arquiste Anima Dulcis: Conquistadors, Convents & Chocolate

It was a chilly day in Mexico City that November, long ago in 1695, and the kitchens of the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria were a beehive of activity. The haughty Mother Superior took the heavy key from the chain around her neck and unlocked the vault with the sisters’ most precious ingredients: bitter, dark chocolate, rich chilies, earthy spices, incense used in their religious ceremonies, and the heaviest of vanillas. The recipe for their famed “Anima Dulcis” was a secret one — even some of the nuns weren’t privy to its true magic. Were there flowers hidden under its dark depths? Was ancient incense responsible for its smoke, or was it darkened patchouli? The Mother Superior smiled to herself as she passed through the convent’s stone passageways and heard the younger sisters’ whispered questions. She, and she alone, would add the finishing touches.

Sao Roque Church, Lisbon, which is a little how I imagine the Royal Convent to appear. Photo: "ToonSarah" on

The chapel of Sao Roque Church, Lisbon, which is a little how I imagine the wealthy Royal Convent in my mind. Photo: “ToonSarah” on

Cornelis de Vos, Flemish Baroque painter, 1584-1651. Source: This Ambiguous Life Blogspot.

Cornelis de Vos, Flemish Baroque painter, 1584-1651. Source: This Ambiguous Life Blogspot.

The Royal Convent of Jesus Maria in Mexico City on a day in November 1695, is the explicit reference point for the “baroque gourmand” fragrance that is Anima Dulcis (loosely translated as “soul of sweetness”). It comes from the perfume house of Arquiste, founded by the Mexican architect and designer, Carlos Huber. Mr. Huber — who just won the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award a few weeks ago — was inspired by the convent’s history and practices after he worked on renovating and converting the building in Mexico City.

Carlos Huber. Source:

Carlos Huber. Source:

As Mr. Huber explains on the Arquiste website, the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria had been founded in 1578 for the female descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors. (Or, at least, the very wealthiest and most aristocratic among them!) It was known for the nuns’ recipes which combined European and Asian ingredients with those particular to Mexico’s ancient history. Octavian, the highly respected perfume blogger of 1000 Fragrances, elaborates further in his beautiful review of the perfume:

The most carnal elements of the baroque cuisine were mixed in unexpected combinations, forgotten by the modern nose. Animalic jasmine, tuberose, petals of white flowers and all the temptations of the flesh were mixed with cocoa and hot spices to produce liqueurs and sweets. The nuns were discovering the fabulous scents of the new world, earlier than Europe. Vanilla, cocoa and tuberose, brought to Versailles, but still a great luxury before their massive use in the next century, made their debut in a Convent where the ancient Maya and Aztec flavors were tested and studied by Europeans. Anima dulcis, a modern interpretation of this magic encounter, tells the story of when the european sensibility started to use the “dark” ingredients of the New World – the discovery of cocoa, vanilla and chili pepper, reported by Cortez 150 years earlier. [Emphasis in the original.]

Using his research (and, I believe, the sisters’ actual recipes), Carlos Huber worked with twoAnima Dulcis perfumers, Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, to encapsulate the Convent’s creations. The result was Anima Dulcis which was released in 2011. It is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental vanilla,” though I think “oriental chocolate” might be a more accurate summation. On its website, Arquiste says the notes include:

Cocoa Absolute, Mexican Vanilla, Cinnamon, Chili infusion.

Those official notes are just the tip of the iceberg. There is no way that the list is complete. I would venture a guess that the complete list might possibly look a little bit like this:

Cocoa Absolute, Mexican Vanilla, Cinnamon, Red Chili infusion, Jasmine Sambac (or some sort of florals), Seville Oranges, Cumin, Cardamom, Patchouli, Incense and, possibly, some sort of ambery resin.

Pre-Columbian chocolate with chilies. Source: CaFleureBon.

Chocolate with chilies and spices. Source: CaFleureBon.

Anima Dulcis opens on my skin with cinnamon-infused dark chocolate. It’s chewy, dusky, and spiced, but also, simultaneously, honeyed. Fiery red chilies counter the sweetness of the vanilla that just barely seems to breathe in the background. So does the earthiness of a dark patchouli — dirty and slightly smoky in the best way possible. The smoky notes seem to be further accentuated by some hint of light incense. It’s a lovely take on vanilla and chocolate, especially with the piquancy from the red chili pepper.

Mexican Hot Chocolate. Source: (Click on the photo for a link and a recipe.)

Mexican Hot Chocolate. Source: (Click on the photo to go to the website where you can find a tasty recipe.)

The chocolate note, however, is the real star. It’s unusual and nothing like the typical sort of chocolate notes which, to me, often feel more like powdery cocoa. At the same time, it’s also not like purely dark chocolate. Here, it’s more like the richest chocolate flourless cake covered with ganache made from bitter chocolate, covered by a dusting of smoky powder, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, decorated with faint slivers of Madagascar vanilla pods, and then set on a plate of spicy, cinnamon red-hot candies. The richness almost has the feel of a British Christmas plum pudding, only tinged with incense.

It’s an incredibly cozy scent that is, at the same time, very sexy. There is a rich, meaty, chewy, dark aspect to it that can certainly be called “baroque” but, to be honest, aristocratic Mexican nuns descended from the Conquistadors are not really what comes to mind when I smell it.

Vermont West Hill House B&B.

Vermont West Hill House B&B.

Instead, I feel transported to a secluded wood cabin in Vermont on a very snowy, wintery night; there, by the light of a roaring fire which casts flickering shadows on the wall, a seduction scene full of deep long kisses and teasing nuzzles unfolds. Cups of spiced hot chocolate filled with dark liqueurs lie empty; the fire releases an occasional tendril of smoke; the light is glowing amber and red; and sensuality underlies the cozy warmth of the scene.

As time progresses, the baroque chocolate notes are joined by something that is definitely floral in nature. It’s lovely, adding a lightness and sweetness to the dry spices, but I can’t pinpoint the exact flower. Perhaps Jasmine sambac, with its earthier, muskier nature than regular jasmine? Octavian on 1000 Fragrances thinks it’s a green lily note and, while I can see some light greenness, I don’t think it’s the delicate lily flower. Either way, the perfume definitely has some sort of floral component. Carlos Huber may consider Anima Dulcis as a “baroque gourmand,” but, to my mind, it is much more of a spicy oriental perfume which just happens to have some gourmand elements. It’s also a very ambery perfume for something that is meant to smell like Mexican hot chocolate, and I wonder if there is some sort of resin in Anima Dulcis’ foundation. Whatever the specific notes, it’s a fascinating and addictive scent. I can’t stop sniffing my arm, and I just barely stifle the urge to put on more.

Nordic Christmas Oranges. Source: Trine Hahnemann & The Times of London.

Nordic Christmas Oranges. Source: Trine Hahnemann & The Times of London.

Two hours in, the perfume shifts and changes a little. It is now predominantly cinnamon orange with red chili peppers. There is a feeling of caramelized cooked fruit, where the caramel has burnt just a little. Or, maybe, it’s more like a sticky, toffee’d orange, salted and sweet, mixed with dark raisins stewed in rum and dark chocolate. It’s really hard to pinpoint; the perfume is superbly blended, leading all the notes to melt together in a decadently luscious, rich whole. The burnt note, unfortunately, lasts a wee bit too long for my liking, and seems to become just a tad bit more bitter and burnt with time. It’s not strong and over-powering — it’s not even the predominant note — but I think I would have liked just a little less of it or, perhaps, a little more sweetness to counter it.

After another hour, it fades, leaving Anima Dulcis as a lovely combination of bitter Seville oranges, dark patchouli, cinnamon, chili pepper and a soft dusting of sweet vanilla. Eventually, at the end of the fourth hour, the perfume turns into a soft amber with spices and just a flicker of orange, before finally ending up in its final stage as sweet vanilla and light white cocoa powder, with just a smidgen of dusty spice.

For all that these notes seem dark and heavy, the perfume itself actually is not. It’s neither narcotically heady nor cloyingly sweet. It’s not a light, clean, airy scent by any means — no laundry detergent freshness here —  but it’s surprisingly not heavy or opaque either. Octavian describes it as “light, woody, airy” and “delicate.” I think it’s a bit heavier than that; I wouldn’t want anyone to think this is a sheer, translucent scent or something like the minimalistic creations made by Jean-Claude Ellena. But, given the richness of some of its components, it is far from thick and never overbearing.

In fact, even the sillage is moderate. In the beginning, you can smell it on yourself but it’s far from overpowering. Someone across the room definitely won’t be gassed by it. After the first hour, the perfume becomes softer and, by the third hour, it was quite close to my skin. By the fourth hour, it took some determined sniffs, putting my nose right on the skin, to detect some of the nuances in the notes. As for longevity, it was moderate on my perfume-consuming skin. It faded away shortly before the sixth hour. On others, I’ve read lengths of time around varying between six and eight hours.

All in all, I really liked Anima Dulcis. A lot. The only thing stopping me from wanting a full bottle is the fact that, for my personal tastes, I would have preferred it if the scent were heavier, headier, and just a slightly bit sweeter. (Just a smidgeon!). I realise, however, that most people don’t share my preference for narcotically heady scents, so I think Anima Dulcis would be a real crowd-pleaser for many. It taps into the current trend for gourmand scents but, in my opinion, it really isn’t one. Those who are expecting a true dessert fragrance will be disappointed. This is not half as sweet as some of the niche Guerlains that are out there. Those, however, who share my feeling that a few of those Guerlains are a bit too gourmand should really look into Anima Dulcis. The same applies to anyone looking for a very high-quality, luxurious take on spicy Orientals without the heavy, boozy or opaque aspects that can sometimes accompany them. I should add that it is most definitely unisex!

Try Anima Dulcis, and see if a perfume twist on a recipe from the aristocratic descendants of the Conquistadors over three hundred years ago touches your sweet soul.

Anima Dulcis costs US $165, CAD $200, £125.00 or €149. It comes only as an eau de parfum and is available only in a 55 ml/ 1.8 oz size. In the US, it is available on the Arquiste website, Barneys, and Aedes. In Canada, the Arquiste line is available at Holt Renfrew Bloor in Toronto (though I could not locate it on the overall Holt Renfrew website), or at Etiket in Montreal for CAD $200. Each store is the exclusive dealer for the Arquiste line in their city. In the UK, it is available for £125.00 at Liberty London. In France, you can find it at Jovoy Paris where it retails for €149. In Germany, it is sold at Aus Liebe Zum Duft. Elsewhere, you can use Arquiste’s “Stockists” page to find a retailer near you. Samples are available at Surrender to Chance where the price starts at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells all 7 perfumes from the Arquiste line in a sample pack for $33.99.