As administrator of our blog Dee normally chooses the artwork for my posts, which I find helpful since she’s more knowledgeable in the area than I am. Basically, I write the words and she brings the extra flavor. This post is different, because these paintings are my choice.
When I was in Grade 12, our high school band won the local festival and got invited to play in the Nationals in Vancouver. Traveling from our small city of 30,000 in Northern Alberta to the coast was one of the highlights of Grade 12 for me. As is typical for a band trip, we were given a free afternoon in downtown Vancouver to do whatever we wanted. Most of my classmates went shopping, but my friend Lynette and I decided to go to the Vancouver Art Gallery instead. That was where I first saw Emily Carr’s work.
I hadn’t taken any classes in art or art history; music and literature were my areas of interest. So I’d never heard of the painter before I saw her exhibit that day, and I walked in with a completely untrained eye.1 But I remember vividly even now my absolute awe as I walked from room to room, my excitement and wonder as I stood in front of the most powerful images I’d ever seen.2
The shapes were organic, strong, and deeply beautiful. I especially enjoyed the trees; room after room of sinuous, mysterious but restful images. Emily Carr painted the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and stripped them down to their essence. My reaction had nothing to do with an understanding of art, it was purely visceral.
So what does this have to do with perfume? You’ve likely figured out where this review is going, and the relevance of my story.
I tried Ormonde Woman for the first time in April of last year, after saving up for two months for the beautiful sampler pack. It was a Sunday morning, and I still remember like it was yesterday. I sprayed myself in my bedroom in a flurry of getting ready, and then just stopped. And smelled. And stood there for a while. It was instantaneous love, gut-deep and without words.
I walked down the hall to where The Engineer was ironing clothes, and before I could say anything, he lifted his head at my approach. “What are you wearing? You smell fantastic!” He bent his head to my wrist and we both marveled at the fragrance. A little later Archimedes walked upstairs to ask me something and stopped. “Wow, Mom, you smell *really* good today.” The spontaneous compliments continued with everyone I met.
One confusing thing, though, was how different the scent was from what I’d imagined it would be. Everyone had talked about the witchiness of it, that if Ormonde Woman was a color it’d be dark green, that it was a tough fragrance to pull off. The stuff on my skin was rich, warm, amber-y with lush florals. Where was the green? I seriously wondered if my spray sample had been mislabeled. I asked over at NST in one of their open threads if anyone else had experienced something similar, and commenter Rappleyea confirmed that OW smelled like that on her as well.
With time and repeated smellings I was able to pick out the hemlock note. I think part of the reason I didn’t immediately recognize it as “deep green” was because it was so different from what I was expecting; many from the green category do not play well with my skin, and hemlock absolute is quite different from galbanum or verbena or herbal-y notes. Now that I know what I’m smelling, it’s easy to find the hemlock as it weaves in and out of the whole composition; it’s what moves Ormonde Woman from the beautiful category into the more elusive one of beautiful and interesting.
Now when I think of Ormonde Woman, I associate it with the paintings of Emily Carr. Not just because I had a similar reaction on encountering both, but the paintings just seem to fit the fragrance. And it would appear that I’m not the only one; fellow Canadian Krista Janicki used one of Carr’s paintings in her review as well. I’ve heard it said that some people find the paintings brooding and oppressive, just as some find Ormonde Woman difficult to wear. For some reason, that’s simply not my experience.
Out of all of my fragrances, Ormonde Woman is the one that feels like it was meant for me. I know we’re supposed to focus only on the jus, but in this case the backstory and packaging just add to the appeal. I love the red box and the velvet liner, the way the magnetic flap closes so definitively. I love the dark green color of the perfume, and the swirls on the bottle. I love that the black hemlock absolute is sourced here in Canada3 and that there’s nothing else out there that smells like it. Strangely enough, I also love that Ormonde Jayne perfumes aren’t available in North America.
You see, most of the time it’s a bit of a drag living far away from the major perfume shopping centers of the world, but OW helped me realize that there is one very distinct advantage: no one I know has ever even heard of the line Ormonde Jayne, much less worn something from it. The chances of encountering someone else who wears this perfume are very, very small.
What this means is that basically, Ormonde Woman is my bespoke perfume. Mine. My precious. And every time I spray it, the wonder and beauty is right there.
A couple of years ago, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary had a show of Emily Carr’s work, and I went with a couple of friends. And I can confirm that more than 20 years later, her paintings still move me deeply, still go straight past the thinking part of my brain to my emotions, gut-deep and without words.
1In fact, I still look at her work with an untrained eye. I have no idea if her work is even known outside Canada
2Just trust me when I say that images on a computer don’t do these paintings justice. If you ever get the chance, see the originals
3 also known as Black Spruce, it’s almost uncanny how a map of its growing areas looks like a rough drawing of my country
I’ve never, ever done a giveaway before, or mailed something off, but despite my nervousness, Ormonde Woman seems like the perfect place to start. I’ve got my very first package of atomizers coming this next week, and I’ll love to gift someone with 5ml of Ormonde Woman. Just let me know in the comments if you want to be part of the draw. I’ll be closing it Sunday at midnight, Mountain Standard Time.