Intense Travel Tales

Fragrance stories that look beyond traditional notes

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Intense Travel Tales

The lush grapevines of the fabled Hanging Gardens; the unloading of fresh jasmine at a kaleidoscopic flower market in India; the beautification ritual of Namibian women using red soil and myrrh. These are just some of the extraordinary stories behind Cologne Intense, the decadent collection of captivating fragrances from Jo Malone London.

The ten-piece collection presented in jewel-toned glass bottles – whose colours hint at the precious ingredients and rich stories behind each scent – is shaped by treasured rituals and locations around the world. Surprising, perhaps, for a brand that has long been considered the bastion of Britishness. But as Céline Roux, Jo Malone London's revered Global Head Of Fragrance, explains, this doesn’t change the DNA of the brand's fragrances, it simply expands on it. ‘Yes, we are a British brand inspired by Englishness. But,’ she adds, ‘we travel. And this has allowed us to have “olfactive diversity”.’

This diversity, however, goes beyond the well-trodden path of notes and ingredients. Rather, each fragrance in the Cologne Intense collection is steeped in anecdotes from fascinating jaunts – past and present, real and imagined – that invite the wearer to explore a breadth of customs and heritages. ‘Of course, ingredients are key,’ explains Céline, ‘but increasingly it was the stories and experiences of other cultures and countries that brought the fragrances to life.’ 

The collection began with oud – an intoxicating resin and one of the most expensive raw materials in the world. But Céline’s inspiration came more from the stories behind this precious ingredient, one that has been synonymous with the Middle East for centuries. ‘Twelve years ago, there were not many oud fragrances available beyond the Middle East. And so, we wanted to create one that felt true to Jo Malone London while celebrating the traditions of the region.’ For this, she went back to the origins of oud’s use, when people used the haze of smoke from the bakhour (a fragranced smoke created by burning oud on a bed of charcoal) to scent their hair, clothes and homes. ‘I absolutely loved this idea and found it so inspirational. I wanted to capture that concept and celebrate this tradition. By adding bergamot, we created the fragrance Oud & Bergamot Cologne Intense, one that feels true to the freshness that Jo Malone London is known for.’

Likewise, the genesis of Myrrh & Tonka Cologne Intense also began with Céline delving into an age-old practice, one perhaps less widely known. ‘I went to the Namibian desert and met a local community of women who cover themselves with red soil, mixed with the resin of the myrrh tree. This beautiful, almost ornamental way of wearing scent is similar to how one might wear jewellery.’ Another trip, this time to southern India, formed the basis of Jasmine Sambac & Marigold Cologne Intense. ‘After visiting a jasmine field at 5am where the women were picking the buds, I went on to experience the effervescence and bustle of the flower market. There were marigolds everywhere, people buying flowers, others wearing them in their hair. And then the truck with the jasmine flowers arrived. It was extraordinary. It took everything to another level.’

While many of Céline’s inspirations came from her travels, others required a hefty dose of imagination to translate them into the fragrances we know today. One such example is Cypress & Grapevine Cologne Intense, which she says was inspired by one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. ‘I once saw an exhibition in Paris at the Institut du Monde Arabe. One of the rooms was dedicated to the fabled Hanging Gardens. As I walked around, I listened to the audio describing the grapevines of this enchanting garden, and that the king loved to drink the wine from the grapevines while eating figs. I learnt that he created the gardens for his beloved wife because they were located in the desert and she was missing the mountains. And so, legend has it, this incredible feat of architecture was built just for her.’

A journey that began at a museum in Paris led Céline on to the British Museum in London to see a fragile relic from the gardens and, later, to a professor in Oxford, who is considered one of the world’s authorities on the subject. They spent hours together. ‘And then,’ recalls Céline, beaming, ‘I finally got the professor to try the fragrance that had been created to capture the gardens. She smelt it and said, “You’ve got it. You are there. The ingredients chosen are perfect”.’


The process of transporting fragrance lovers through smell could, Céline admits, be simpler, not as vivid. But that has no appeal for her. ‘You know, when bringing on board other perfumers to help with creating scents, I could give them a brief that says, “OK, I would love you to create a beautiful vetiver fragrance or a glorious sandalwood.” And I’m sure we will deliver something. But, ’she asserts with a smile, ‘this doesn’t really take anyone on a journey. Which is why I always say, that while we are a very British brand, this – Cologne Intense – is our opportunity to travel.’ 

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