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Jo Malone Saffron Cologne Intense is currently priced at $145 for a 100-ml bottle and can be purchased at most fine department stores (as well as the Jo Malone website). My review is based on a complimentary sample I received on a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco. (Which I requested after smelling this fragrance on my friend Undina – it was gorgeous on her!)
Images: film still of Neal Casal (top) and dancer Emily Corney (middle) from the video for Casal's song "White Fence Round House" is from the cinematographer's website (todd-bell.com). The video was shot by Todd Bell and directed by Piper Ferguson. The Jo Malone bottle image is from Fragrantica.com.
It’s that kind of tug I feel when I’m wearing Saffron Cologne Intense. The casting out, the coming home, and the ways we attempt to “sweeten the distance” (to borrow another line from Casal).
My eyes fall open with the first light,
Make my way down to the ocean burning blue.
Each day I'm cast a little farther,
Each day the current pulls me closer down to you.
October 12, 2014:
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Jo Malone Saffron Cologne Intense:
Sea Foam, Deeper than You'd Think
I am not a cologne person—and by that I mean “cologne” as it was traditionally used in perfumery to describe tonic fragrances that are the antidote to summer heat, thanks to their uplifting amounts of citrus and herbal-aromatic briskness. Don’t get me wrong: I love those smells—there is a bottle of Crabtree & Evelyn Hungary Water that I bought purely for the beauty of its rosemary note—but it sits on my dresser mainly as a decoration because it lasts less than half an hour on my skin. For many people, that’s the beauty of colognes: by virtue of their alfresco natures, they are meant to be applied often, and a cologne composed with natural citrus notes is so lithe and lively that one truly wants to indulge.
And yet, somehow I never do. Being at home every day, it would be easy enough for me to run upstairs and spray on some more cologne or, better yet, keep a bottle in my fridge, but for some reason, even that seems like too much bother. I think the real reason for my aversion, though, comes down to taste: while I appreciate the sparkling effervescence of colognes, perfume refreshment is not what I’m after. Even in a summer swelter, I prefer complex perfumes that unfold on the skin—and colognes composed largely of volatile top notes don’t unfold much. I want the full story, “the whole enchilada” of an undulating perfume, with all its secrets, to entertain me for hours.
Except, of course, when there is an exception.
And that’s precisely what Jo Malone Saffron Cologne Intense is for me. Aptly named cologne, this fragrance has all the substance of sea foam. Does it last long? No. The “intense” modifier in its name is appropriate, as it fares better than citrus colognes, but I get about four hours of wear if I’m inside my air-conditioned house and two hours if I’m outside in the heat. Does it have much sillage? Not on me—not after the first ten minutes—although it wafts nicely when my husband wears it, thanks to the hair on his arms. So, why do I love it? Well, have I ever mentioned the utter charm of sea foam? To me, that’s what Saffron Cologne Intense smells like: the scent of the sea—the fine and frothy edge of it—on a warm sunlit day, caught in a waffle cone. It is not a gourmand fragrance, but it has a gourmand edge: a silky slip of an amber accord that is just vanillic enough to cradle the saffron note. And what a true and beautiful saffron note it is! Saffron is often described as smelling like dried hay, yet to my nose a good saffron note smells warm and iodine-like: a concentration of summer sunlight on sea water; a bit of dried kelp, with its vegetal, briny and medicinal odours. That in and of itself might not sound appealing, but it is compelling—and when such a saffron note comes to rest on a lightly sweet and creamy base, it becomes intoxicating. Saffron Cologne Intense isn’t a child-like scent (it smells great on a man’s skin), but it is a scent that takes the most direct path to childhood memories: it is the seashore—that intense pull that the ocean exerts on a child’s psyche that is imprinted over and over again, at the start of every vacation when the ocean first comes into view. Such that by the time you’re an adult, the moment you exit the Garden State Parkway to embark on your beach town at the Jersey shore, the scent of water you can’t (yet) see has you leaning out your car window to breathe it in.
The list of notes the Jo Malone company reveals for this fragrance is brief—incense, pink pepper, pale woods and saffron—and I’m on board with that brevity. I can’t detect the incense in Saffron Cologne Intense, but I’m not unhappy about it. For once, I’m satisfied with simplicity and immediacy. (OK, there are some other simple fragrances that charm me as well, but there aren’t many).
While most colognes smell brisk and one thinks of them in cooling terms, the interesting thing about Saffron Cologne Intense is that it evokes a sense of warmth. It’s a very delicate warmth—a warmth not achieved by throbbing spice, or smoky wood, or liqueur richness—and though I’m not sure what to attribute this warmth to (except to note that saffron strikes me as a warm smell), the fact that it is achieved with sheerness makes this one of those rare fragrances, like Hermes L’Ambre des Merveilles, that sort of fascinates one in the way that a pashmina shawl fascinates. How can it be so gossamer and so warm?, one wonders. The overall composition seems too frothy to convey the scent of ocean water that has been heated by the sun, but its base of pale woods—which to me smells like a combination of Australian sandalwood and something lightly almondy and vanillic, like tonka bean—tenderly cocoons the saffron and draws out its warmth. Though I would not call this a gourmand perfume, it does have enough sweetness that it sometimes presents a gourmand facet, recalling a very thin cookie, like a sand tart, infused with saffron.
A fragrance friend recently pointed out that Saffron Cologne Intense is similar in spirit to Bottega Veneta eau de parfum, a perfume I described as smelling like suede, ocean air and sea-foam taffy. And thinking on that some, I realize how deeply riveted I am by anything that smells of a combination of sea air and confection (as witnessed also in my review of Micallef Vanille Orient). The marriage of the two creates a yin-yang dynamic in which a sense of majestic awe (the ocean) somehow dwells in the same place where there is a feeling of contentment, represented by the confectionery part of the fragrance. It’s a romantic ideal, really—this notion that it might be possible to lead a life in which the quest for what is grand and exotic and larger-than-life can coincide with the sweet steadiness of a tame existence.
And perhaps because I know that if such an ideal could be achieved, it would be a constantly churning, push-pull relationship at best, when I do get a whiff of it, it makes me feel wistful. I think of a song I love by Neal Casal—"White Fence Round House"—and the lyrics: