New York is my first love, and it is the only love that has never once disappointed me. From auction houses to Rockefeller Center to dive bars on the Bowery to the Port Authority bus station, I love every inch of it. I have just finished reading Donna Tarrt’s much-anticipated novel The Goldfinch, which is at least in part a love letter to New York, and I smiled when I read a review of the book on Goodreads that said “her depiction of Manhattan is so rosy and strange it reminded me of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” The reviewer is not wrong, and yet the way Donna Tarrt depicts Manhattan is exactly the way I see it, in a perpetual twilight glow. Jardins d’Ecrivains Orlando has its inspiration in a different book, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, and while this inspiration is apparent in its construction, the sense of a twilight glow inextricably ties Orlando the fragrance to The Goldfinch and to New York in my heart and mind.
One of the greatest pleasures New York offers is the theater. Leaning back into a velvet seat and craning your neck to look up at the gilded ceiling, feeling the bustle of activity as everyone rushes to take their seats when the warning bell sounds, seeing the lights dim dramatically, and hearing the overture swell from the orchestra pit– it is exactly this experience that Orlando’s arc creates in my head, with swirls of gold and red and plush textures, and contrasts of dark and light.
The fragrance opens with some prickly spices– orange, pink pepper, and ginger, according to the official notes, which smell to me like a natural version of aldehydes minus the soapiness. Usually I cannot abide aldehydes, but here the effect makes me smile; CaFleureBon describes it perfectly as “a sense of clamorous potential,” which to me is one of the defining characteristics of New York.
Orlando next morphs into a strong, dark, masculine wood with spices and resinous qualities. One of the main characters in The Goldfinch, Hobie, spends his time taking fragments of precious antique furniture and transforming them into not-quite-reproductions (his intent is not to fool, just to make something beautiful out of ashes). At this stage, Orlando is very evocative of Hobie’s workroom, with precious woods (according to the notes, guaiac and peru balsam) possessing simultaneously a vintage and modern feel. There is even a touch of furniture polish to my nose, one of those odd scents I find appealing, having spent a lot of time in antique shops, auction houses, and estate sales as a child. Given that the title character of Virginia Woolf’s novel lives for 600 years without apparently aging, this duality fits the inspiration perfectly too.
There is also brief stage where an aura of gentlemen’s high end shaving gear rises up behind the dark woods. This may sound disconcerting, but it works beautifully; most of the characters in The Goldfinch have fatally flawed fathers, and I can see the fragrance at this stage representing the elusive warmth, stability and strength they are lacking as a result, and the cleanliness that a good home provides.
Eventually, Orlando warms and sweetens without ever losing the undertones of dark wood. On me, it turns into a sweet but not too sweet, clean but not too clean, warm spicy sexy wood scent, all of the previous stages still present but melting into, yes, a twilight glow. It now skews much more feminine, which is highly appropriate given that Wolff’s character starts out male and wakes up as a woman. The drydown provides contrasts of warm and cool, light and dark, and masculine and feminine that make Wolff’s theme apparent. As the Scented Hound notes, it is somewhat prismatic at this stage, presenting different facets every time you sniff. At any rate, the drydown on me is as complex and gorgeous as that of fragrances of twice the price.
Notes in Orlando are orange, pink pepper, ginger, amber, patchouli, clove, guaiac wood, peru balsam, and musk; I should note that it is the first fragrance I have been able to wear containing clove that does not for one second remind me of potpourri. Orlando is available for $110 for 100 ml from Twisted Lily, the wonderful new fragrance boutique in Brooklyn.
This review is based on a sample with purchase I received from Twisted Lily, with whom I have no material connection other than very much wanting them to succeed. Brooklyn is the place these days that most feels like my beloved downtown Manhattan from the eighties and nineties, and Twisted Lily has that authenticity (a well-curated collection from owners with a passion) that has become endangered since lower Manhattan became so gentrified. One of the main themes of The Goldfinch is how love for art is as authentic and motivating emotion as love for people, and though Tartt writes of the visual arts, I have a feeling she would understand how we all feel about fragrance.