Into the woods with Jo Malone to discover the new English Oak fragrance
Eau de enchantment
There's a bit of magic bottled into Jo Malone's latest cologne, the English Oak, and it's charmed with a quintessentially Brit spirit — though it's more apt to say it's a cologne collective as the house is rolling out two unique edits that each plays up different aspects of the majestic oak. Envisioned by Jo Malone as a spellbinding concoction that embraces the earthy allure of a lush woodland, the English Oak takes inspiration directly from Epping Forest, a botanical expanse that lies between Greater London and Essex. Formerly a royal forest, the ancient oaks are as bewitching as they are wise, standing tall from the moss-covered ground to cloak the air with a woodsy aroma.
Rooted in mystery and nobility, this is precisely the English Oak captured by master perfumer Yann Vasnier and Celine Roux, the global head of fragrances at Jo Malone. So taken with the oak's accords, which differ from the usual sandalwoods and cedarwoods, the duo has hence harvested the wood into roasted oak absolute — the base essence used in the cologne. In the first iteration, the English Oak & Hazelnut is layered with cedarwood for a spicier depth, topped by fresh notes of green hazelnut. Its variant, on the other hand, is a brighter scent, buoyed by roses and ripe redcurrants. So why the oak wood? What's behind this singular ingredient that turns out a pair of compelling fragrances perfect for wearing alone, or even better, layered together to maximum effect with the house's fragrance combining trait? Let Vasnier and Roux lead you by the nose into the heart of the English Oak...
How did the English Oak story begin?
Yann Vasnier (YV): Three years ago I sat down with Celine and shared a very special accord with her, which she instantly loved. The idea of the forest and english oak was something Jo Malone London had wanted to explore, so it was perfect timing. This was the start of English Oak & Hazelnut.
How did you go from concept to creation?
Celine Roux (CR): The concept of the English Oak started from the idea of the English forest and Yann's first accord. We worked together, going back and forth with the different ingredients to get the twists just right; and visited different forests during the process. Yann and I also went to the location where the oak was extracted, which was incredible. It was really exciting to see the place where the roasted oak absolute was created. All you needed was a gust of wind to smell the piles of freshly-cut logs all around you.
Were you always planning to make two fragrances or did it evolve?
YV: The brief began with one fragrance, but as we experimented we discovered an equally compelling scent combination. The original concept, English Oak & Hazelnut, was spicy and woody with a more angular feel while the second took on a rounder and juicier character. This became English Oak & Redcurrant. In the end we loved both equally, and that's how the English Oak collection was born.
How did you feel about oak as an ingredient?
YV: Oak is a beautiful, noble wood. It's powerful and iconic. In perfumery you often find sandalwood and cedarwood, but oak has something unique. It's majestic and mysterious. Oak exists as an ingredient, but for this project we created an exclusive variant of the wood; a roasted oak. Our roasted oak absolute has a beautifully rich, smoky feel that adds real depth to a fragrance. And like any rich wood, there's an addictive quality and sweetness to it due its phenolic nature. I was very excited to work with it and create something unique for Jo Malone London.
Tell us about the exclusivity of roasted oak absolute. Has it been used in perfumery before? What makes it special?
YV: The oak moss is very important and iconic in perfumery and has been used for a long time, but the oak wood itself isn't widely used. To unlock the rich and noble properties of its wood we opted for a process, exclusive to Jo Malone London for five years, in which washed wood chips are roasted at high temperatures, yielding up a rich, deep and smoky-sweet absolute; creating a warm and enveloping base.
Tell us about the twists in each fragrance.
CR: For Jo Malone London, it was really important that the twists belonged to the English forest. I wanted them to be authentic, and that's when we decided on redcurrant and hazelnut. It was these ingredients that enabled us to showcase our creativity and individuality with the fragrances.
Why are these ingredients such a good combination?
YV: Both fragrances have similar structures and elements, but each one pushes and highlights certain ingredients. English Oak & Hazelnut uses green hazelnut, which is very unique and creates a greener, more aromatic feel with a spicy spin. Its moss notes also help to reinforce the natural scent of the forest. English Oak & Redcurrant is much warmer and rounder with rose, amber and white musk.
What was most challenging about creating the fragrances?
YV: The ancillaries! We experimented with both scents, but found that English Oak & Redcurrant translated better into candles and bath & body. We worked incredibly hard to make sure each one was perfect — the lab even ran out of letters to label our submissions and had to create a new code for us!
Which fragrance combining options would you suggest for each?
CR: All of our fragrances are designed to be layered, and this collection is no exception. I love English Oak & Hazelnut with Basil & Neroli for a lively, citrus fragrance that's a little flirty. English Oak & Redcurrant layers beautifully with Blackberry & Bay for a truly fruity combination. The two fragrances in the English Oak Collection can also be combined together for a fresh, spicy scent highlighted with a bright and juicy twist.
The English Oak collection is available at all Jo Malone boutiques, $72 to $208