Neon Iris – Jo Malone London Orris & Sandalwood Cologne Intense Perfume Review

Iris in Neon
Iris in Neon

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m rather fond of Jo Malone London. There is nothing more fun to me than untying the handsome black ribbon off the top of those beautiful yellow-cream boxes and pulling apart waves of tissue paper to reveal a gorgeously-scented treat for me or my home.  There’s joy in those boxes, whether it be a bottle of Cologne or Cologne Intense, a scented candle or a bath oil, or all of the above (if the box is big enough, of course). They do what they do very well and their fragrances, which are odes to perfumery’s most famous and beautiful ingredients, present traditional themes with an eccentrically British twist. They’re often fun, sometimes striking and always eminently wearable. That’s Jo Malone London.

In their Cologne Intense Collection, the brand steps away from their lighter and more ephemeral sensibilities to explore richer notes in higher concentrations. These are often more opulent and exotic fragrances that have a bit more heft to them (but not too much, mind you). This is the collection where you will find ingredients such as oud, tuberose, incense and rose, all in their full, fragrant glory, and presented in Jo Malone London’s unfussy and relatable style. In January, the brand added the next chapter to the Cologne Intense Collection and two more ingredients to their ever-expanding list of notes explored: Orris & Sandalwood.

“This scent was about framing the orris to bring out its unique duality; it is both woody and powdery, floral and deep. We did this by using other woods as well as waiting a picture of the iris flower itself.”

– Pierre Negrin

Orris & Sandalwood, the latest instalment in Jo Malone London’s exploration of intensity was created by Pierre Negrin, the perfumer behind such masterpieces as Amouage’s Interlude Man and Tom Ford’s Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Working with one of his favourite materials within the perfumer’s palette, Negrin states that he loves the complexity of orris, describing the note as a “perfume in itself” due to its varied odour profile which is “warm, sensual, feminine, masculine, violety, woody, powdery”. It’s no surprise then, that Negrin was excited to “create something new with such a classic ingredient”, and that is exactly what he managed to do. Orris & Sandalwood is billed as the next journey within the Cologne Intense Collection, one set in Tuscany during the iris harvest. It’s an exploration of perfumery’s most beautiful and expensive ingredient, all served in the contemporary manner that Jo Malone London is famous for, all with a touch of Pierre Negrin’s signature flair. It’s sounding good already, isn’t it?

Orris & Sandalwood – The Latest Addition to Jo Malone London’s Cologne Intense Collection

The Notes

Top: Violet and Galbanum
Heart: Orris and Geranium
Base: Sandalwood and Amber

How Does it Smell?

The top notes of Orris & Sandalwood are a surprise. The fragrance flickers on like a bright neon sign coloured in shades of fluorescent white and purple. Initially it is very heavy with violet, well heavy by Jo Malone London standards, which is to say not particularly heavy at all. The violet is on the sweet side but it has a subtle undercurrent of fresh snapped peas to give it a green edge. Thankfully the galbanum is subtle enough to add a sense of darkness without destroying everything in sight with its famous bitter bitchiness. Orris is prominent too in the opening and it starts out doughy with just a touch of soft earthiness. Most of the time, orris/iris fragrances are sombre, romantic affairs that feel aloof and hard to grasp. Orris & Sandalwood however, is the polar opposite of this – it’s fun and vibrant, with an inviting personality that easily elicits a smile.

As one expects from a Jo Malone London fragrance, the star player can be found within the name of the fragrance and as the heart develops, orris does indeed become the real focus of the scent. Initially, the note is earthy and bread-y, but as it settles it becomes much sweeter and more powdery. I’d like to say that it is plush, but it never gets quite that far. Yes, there’s a rich texture but the effervescence of the violet provides enough of a luminous sweetness to swing the whole thing more towards a silky feel rather than the usually velvety consistency often found within orris-centric fragrances. In truth, the iris effect starts strong with enough grey, powdery earth to satisfy, but it quickly subdues, taking a backseat to the warm sandalwood base.

Speaking of warm sandalwood base notes, now would be a pretty good time to talk about the final stage of Orris & Sandalwood’s development. I’ve never thought of sandalwood as a good counterbalance to orris, but smelling the blend in this particular fragrance I can see why Jo Malone London and Pierre Negrin opted to pair the two ingredients together. Sandalwood is a smooth wood note with a spikiness that is almost spicy and often pine-like. Sometimes it can smell like freshly-chopped chips of wood and sometimes it can be creamy and vanilla-like. Here, the sandalwood is incredibly soft and smooth. It plays into the hands of the orris like butter and it actually provides a rich foundation that intensifies the silky feel of the iris, topping it all off with a subtle vanilla finish that is creamy but not overly sweet.

Orris & Sandalwood follows Mimosa & Cardamom and Incense & Cedrat in the recent crop of fragrances that prove that Jo Malone London means serious business when it comes to the subject of scent. It’s an unusual twist on two incredibly familiar notes. I don’t think it will be hall of fame worthy for die-hard iris lovers – it just isn’t overtly iris-y enough for that, but it’s a terrific example of how orris can be used as a supporting act, especially with its kissing cousin, violet. Do I wish that the violet-iris effect lasted longer? Sure, but it’s so enjoyable with its neon strobe lights for the period of time that it lasts that I’m more than willing to forgive its more ephemeral qualities. If you love iris, sandalwood or violet, or all three then Orris & Sandalwood is a worthy scent to sniff.


Orris & Sandalwood is available now as part of Jo Malone London’s Cologne Intense Collection: 100ml/£105.

Sample, notes, quotes and image 2 via Jo Malone London. Image 1 is my own.