New Perfume Review Zara Rain Collection- What If?


In comic books there is a tradition of “what if?” stories. Things like what if Bruce Wayne’s parents were not killed in front of him, or at all? It is fun to consider the changes that would make. I can’t say perfumery lends itself to this except maybe one is playing out in the Zara Rain Collection.

I continue to say the best kept secret at the mall are the fragrances being sold in Zara stores. They have really been expanding their offerings over the last couple of years. Collaborating with top perfumers on their releases. One of the best of these has been the one with Jo Malone since 2019. This is the perfumer who founded the brand not the brand itself. Which brings me to the “what if?” part of things.

Jo Malone

Ms. Malone sold what was one of the first success stories of independent perfumery to Estee Lauder in 1999. She would stay on in a creative capacity until 2006. In 2011 she would create a new independent perfume brand called Jo Loves. Zara contacted her in 2019 to create new perfumes for them. The reality is the existence of the original brand and the sequel has been a win-win for perfume lovers who enjoy the style of perfume she makes. Which is where the Rain Collection comes in. More than anything she has done previously this made me think of it as a “what if she was still the creative director at her first brand?”

One of the things which has come around again is an appreciation for transparent type of fragrance. Especially by the younger generation of consumers. The four perfumes in the Rain Collection made me think of how Ms. Malone’s initial way of making perfume is just what this perfume buyer is looking for. I’m going to do hot takes on all four.

No. 1 Rose Petal Drops– This is a crisp fruity floral of blackcurrant and rose. Around it, Ms. Malone weaves tendrils of baie rose, lychee, amber, and vanilla. The lychee is the part of this which gives the rainy quality with its humid sweetness in between the keynotes.

No. 2 Bergamot & Leather Spritz– iris infused leather has become a popular accord in perfumery. Ms. Malone’s version sandwiches it between lavender and an oud accord. The latter is tuned ideally not to overwhelm but to add subtle texture to everything.

No. 3 Citrus Meze– This is a classic citrus mixture of grapefruit and neroli. It is refreshing and floral in all the right places. What livens things up is the use of the biologically degraded version of patchouli called Akigalawood. It has all the spicy aspects of the parent material without the earthiness. Here it adds just the right amount of zest to the citrus.

No. 4 Amber & Fig Cashmere– The center here is a mixture of fig ingredients to give an accord of the green leaves and the creaminess of the fruit. Ambrox provides a dry woody counterpoint. This is really all there is to this. The best thing about it is the ambrox never takes over the whole thing. The fig pushes back from beginning to end.

If you’re starting to venture out shopping again add a stop at Zara to your list of places to check out. Inside you will find surprisingly good perfumes. And a great “what if?” story in the Rain Collection.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Zara.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zara Hip Hop Red Apple- DJ Jo’s Apple Remix

One of the benefits of being part of the online fragrance community is sometimes I get a needed reminder. The latest version happened because of the crazy avalanche of samples I received over the last twelve weeks of the year. I prioritized the best I could, but I was bound to forget something. A week ago I got a nudge from one of my Facebook perfume groups to go back and find the recent Zara releases. Thanks to them I found Zara Hip Hop Red Apple waiting for me.

I mentioned last year that I think of Zara as one of those great bargain perfume finds at the mall. The brand works with top-notch perfumers and regularly releases good things. In 2019 they started a collection called Emotions where they worked with independent perfumer Jo Malone. Yes, that Jo Malone. She has been back to making perfumes on her own. The first grouping was eight numbered perfumes of which No. 7 Fleur de Patchouli was a good example of the aesthetic. Here she blended fresh peony over an earthy patchouli with cedar frame. It was simple and refreshing. Which is a good way to describe all of them.

Jo Malone

Last fall they added five new fragrances to the Emotions collection. Three of them were made with a fruity giggle. It seemed this time the brief was “summer fun”. Ms. Malone delivered that especially in Hip Hop Red Apple.

What drew me to Hip Hop Red Apple over the others was apple. Any time I can enjoy a different fruit as a focal point I’m going to gravitate to it. DJ Jo mixes three different apple beats on her perfume turntable.

The entire progression is through different crispness of apples. She begins with the tartness of green apple. There is a distinctive snap to the early going. The second apple to appear is a less tart yellow apple given some contour through berries. The berries create a more recognizable fruity heart accord. Over time out of that rises a juicy red apple which is what predominates over the final hours.

Hip Hop Red Apple has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I didn’t notice it but there is a candy-like quality because on the days I wore this Mrs. C said she smelled apple hard candy. I found the entire trio of apples emotionally buoying. They exude the idea of running around outside. All the Emotions collection seem like Ms. Malone is enjoying herself. Hip Hop Red Apple is DJ Jo’s remix of apple.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples I received from Zara.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger- The Original Niche Holiday Perfume

As we approach the completion of the first twenty years of this century I have been peeking backward. It reminds me of the days when I was cycling, and I would start pedaling up a gradual grade. After some time I would glance over my shoulder in surprise at how far I had climbed. Because I am focused on the newest things, I need something to make me look back to see how far niche perfumery has come. Even though they are famous brands today they all started at the bottom of a hill they didn’t know if they could climb. Which is why I want to mention some of the first releases in those lines in this column. Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger could be said to be the first Holiday Limited Edition niche perfume.

Anyone who knows perfume knows about Jo Malone. They were one of the first big niche perfume brands to have large-scale success. Where they started in 1990 was someplace quite different.

Jo Malone was an aesthetician working in London. In appreciation for her first 20 clients she decided to make a special fragrant present. A Festive Season treat built around the spices of nutmeg and ginger. Even thirty-plus years ago the word got around and in 1990 she would release the first Jo Malone perfume, Nutmeg & Ginger. In so many ways right from the start the brand aesthetic was in place. It is quite amazing to realize how this simple perfume doesn’t feel outdated. It feels just like it did in the beginning, a scented Holiday treat.

It is a perfume built around the two named ingredients each filled out into accords. Ginger is flanked by lemon and neroli. They provide a softening effect to ginger which can be too zingy. They add a citrusy floral wreath around it. The nutmeg is given cinnamon and clary sage as its partners. The cinnamon and nutmeg conjure up Holiday cookies while the sage gives a green holly-like effect. A lovely creamy sandalwood wraps it all up in a sweet creamy woody embrace.

Nutmeg & Ginger has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know Jo Malone as a brand is not Under the Radar, but I suspect few of you have thought of Nutmeg & Ginger for a while. That makes it worthy of being given some current attention. Especially if you’re looking for a good fragrance to wear during the Holidays. Just like it was created for thirty years ago.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café- Decaffeinated

When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.

Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.

If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.


Jean-Claude Delville

There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.

Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.

Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.

It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Jo Malone 101-Five to Get You Started

You have probably walked by the display of bottles in your local department store. Dozens of clear bottles with a black and white label on them with the name of Jo Malone. There is a simple elegance in the display but you look at all those bottles and wonder where to start. This edition of Perfume 101 will give you some suggestions on just how to do that with one of the best bang for the buck brands in the department store.

Lime Basil & Mandarin– This wasn’t the first Jo Malone fragrance, that was 1990’s Nutmeg & Ginger. It was the second one and it has become the flagship fragrance in the line. Back in 1991 the idea of taking strongly herbal notes like basil and thyme while matching them with citrus on top over a woody base was not as common as it is 23 years later. Perfumer Lucien Piguet would take the citrus cornucopia centered on mandarin and juxtapose it with a heart of sage and basil along with iris. It all ends with a lilting amber, patchouli and vetiver base. There is a reason this perfume has lasted so long it really is a new classic.

Amber & Lavender– In 1995 very few people knew who Bertrand Duchaufour was. Jo Malone tapped him to make Amber & Lavender. It was his first signed fragrance. These kind of time capsules in perfume form are interesting. Amber & Lavender shows M. Duchaufour’s desire to use contrasting notes to form texture and depth was there right from the start.  He sort of condensed the core of Lime Basil & Mandarin into the top notes of Amber & Lavender as petitgrain along with basil and rosemary give the herbal and citrus tension. The heart takes a Provencal lavender and allows it to be a little more herbal in character. This opens space for spices like cinnamon and nutmeg the opportunity to flow in around the floral nature. The base is vetiver, oakmoss, amber, and musk which provide a dark green finish. This was where M. Duchaufour started and you can see, in hindsight, some of his favorite techniques in play already.

da and gl

Dark Amber & Ginger Lily– By 2008 Jo Malone had created an impression that they were all about making lighter brighter fragrances. Dark Amber & Ginger Lily would shatter that impression as perfumer Andrea Lupo would compose a gorgeous woody gem. Dark Amber & Ginger Lily opens with ginger and in 2008 there were so many poor uses of ginger in perfumes. Here it was used as a foundation for cardamom and pink pepper. The lily comes in the heart and it carries a watery quality. The floral character is enhanced with a bit of jasmine and rose. This all leads to an as advertised dark amber made even darker with leather, patchouli, and sandalwood added in. I remember getting this sample back then and I just couldn’t believe it was Jo Malone. This would start a trend of having some deeper compositions every year.

Vanilla & Anise– I am a sucker for vanilla and licorice and 2009’s Vanilla & Anise gave me both. What perfumers Celine Barel, Clement Gavarry, and Pascal Gaurin created was a perfume featuring both vanilla and licorice but the most transparent perfume featuring these notes I own without sacrificing one iota of depth. Fennel and star anise provide the lighter licorice quality in the top notes. A floral intermezzo of vanilla orchid and frangiapani usher this in to a rich musky vanilla base with a grace note of clove to add an exotic fillip to keep it from being too vanilla.

Sakura Cherry Blossom– I live near Washington DC and when the cherry blossoms herald the coming of spring I revel in the delicate scent as I walk along the Tidal Basin in the snow of petals falling around me. In 2011 perfumer Christine Nagel made one of the only perfumes I think captures the inherent fragility of the cherry blossom. By opening with a bergamot and cardamom zephyr into an even more opaque cherry blossom accord. It all ends on an equally transparent base of rosewood and musk. It is one of my very favorite perfumes by Mme Nagel.

I hope this guide gives you a reason to stop by the Jo Malone counter next time you walk by it.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke