Tolu fragrance notes

  • Head

    • juniper berry, orange blossom, clary sage
  • Heart

    • orchid, moroccan rose, lily of the valley
  • Base

    • tolu, tonka bean, golden frankincense, amber

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Latest Reviews of Tolu

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Tolu seems nicely done, but, being decidedly "amberesque" per Ormonde Jayne's description, it's not really my thing. The golden frankincense never steps out much, the base being more a tolu/amber/tonka mix. I didn't pick up any juniper at all, despite OJ listing it as a top note, and the floral heart seems little more than a slightly powdery abstraction: no one would sniff this and go, "Oooh! Egyptian geranium!" Then again, the largely positive reviews have some calling out the orchid note, so you never know. It's likely the top has faded in my sample.

Those below whom I respect have found considerably more in Tolu than I have. Notably, jtd (RIP) describes it as perfumer Geza Schoen's stripped-down, modernized facsimile of Shalimar. I can see what he means by following his analysis note-by-note, but ultimately, when he writes, "Tolu's light version of a dense style might seem inauthentic, like a spray tan or a faked orgasm," that's where I truly have to concur. To my nose, Tolu is at most a picture postcard of the place Shalimar actually is; and it wouldn't have made me want to visit, more's the pity.

Ah, well. Tolu wasn't meant for me by design, and it hasn't convinced me otherwise by execution.
7th May 2022
I am who must set limitations for myself: I am compulsive, can make snap decisions especially in the acquisition of a fragrance for an already overwhelming collection. Sometimes I need to draw the line, learn to be fastidious, discriminating in my expectations from a fragrance, which brings me to Ormond Jayne.

I've sampled many, and they are quite lovely, well done, but I drew the line: if I am going to have one full bottle from this lauded London brand, what would it be? What struck me with the wow factor immediately and kept me transfixed? Tolu. This is the one. The opening is startlingly beautiful orange blossom and lily of the valley contrasted with the watery piquancy of juniper berry. It was like hearing the first few chords of a new song and you already get that ineffable shiver down your spine and hair raising on the nape of your neck. Wow, this magnificent, and you know the majesty of the eponymous resin is already evident, Myroxylon balsamum, the balsam of Tolu.

Tolu has a way with florals that amplify their treble, their radiance, and enhance their spiced facets. Cinnamic in nature, it's as if Tolu emphasized the core of cinnamon's spirit in resin form; its components include cinnamic acid, benzyl cinnamate and vanillin. However, much like benzoin, the sweetness is without sugar, the spice isn't hot, and there is an animalic backbone and sexiness that flirts with the florals and make them all shine and blush.

Winter is the season where this really blossoms with haunting, seductive beauty. One need not douse themselves, as this has a diffusive presence and only one spray can really enchant and persist—the sparkle fades out so slowly that by the time it's gone, you feel grateful that it lasted as long as it had and leaves a trace, a skin scent as good as it gets.

So, I am sure some will try to talk me into building an OJ repertoire, but it will take some convincing, as this one ticks all of the boxes for me.
9th March 2022

Right from the beginning I knew this was going to be a pleasure checking out this fragrance...absolutely beautiful...elegant and classy/classic Oriental without smelling old or stuffy...perfect blend of incensy resin with flowery flavors and touches of green...enjoy...
18th July 2020
Excellent review by JTD below. I agree with most that is said and do not have much to add. It is a rather soft and resinous oriental. Somewhat floral but not much. Beautiful and long lasting. It is true that it reminds us of older oriental fragrances, but it does not feel dated at all. And it does not remind me of granny's fragrances.

It may lean a bit feminine, though not really. The floral aspect is soft and the resinous part dominates. I would say unisex.
23rd July 2018
Tolu is one of perfumer Geza Schoen's early perfumes and one of the perfumes that launched the Ormonde Jayne line in 2002. It's an interesting spin on the oriental genre and provides a glimpse of the techniques and style that would become Schoen's signature. It also demonstrates how a 'contemporary' style ages.

Contemporary independent perfumers have riffed on the oriental perfume since the niche trend started. Just as Christopher Sheldrake did with the Bois series for Serge Lutens, Schoen based Tolu on a close reading of the traditional model. Both perfumers deciphered it, focussing not just on the compositional 'recipe' but the logic behind it---the how and the why. Sheldrake's Bois perfumes were famous/infamous for their optimistic use of woody amber materials, and in this respect there is a lot of common ground in Sheldrake's and Schoen's methodologies. Where they differ is in their relationships to archetypal oriental perfumes.

Sheldrake bent what he found into a distinctly new shape. Shoen also took the genre down to the studs but came up with a different model for innovation: facsimile. Tolu is a clever rebuild of the traditional oriental perfume. In terms of scent Tolu and Guerlain Shalimar run on close parallel paths but they diverge sharply when it comes to texture. Tolu's stained glass luminescence has all of Shalimar's richness but none of the opacity and graininess that makes it seem dated to the modern nose.

Schoen recreates Shalimar's citrus accord with an evergreen/herbal mix. It has a whiff of turpentine, whose citric/lime facet replicates Shalimar's bergamot topnote. The aromatic herbal accord lasts well into drydown, making it an ingenious proxy for Shalimar's famously hefty dose of Guerlinade. As the name implies Tolu's resinous core stems from tolu balsam, which gives the perfume an unwrinkled matte appearance. Tolu's heart is significantly less sweet than Shalimar's but the vanilla is just as pronounced and tolu balsam's hint of cinnamon accents vanilla's woodiness. Leather is as prominent as it is in the Guerlain but without the smoky backdrop of birch tar it is sheerer and decidedly more modern. Shoen gave his perfume a sizable orange blossom note, which differs from the Guerlain's jasmine and rose heart, but adds noticeably to the perfume's suntanned glow.

Tolu's innovative reimagining of an historical genre with contemporary materials made it novel when it was released in 2002 but the particular style of luminosity does date it. It scores exceedingly high on 'radiance' which pegs it as a Millennial Perfume, a cohort of fragrances composed with famously high percentages of insistent woody-amber materials. To Schoen's great credit, Tolu has aged more gracefully than most perfumes of the early '00s. It reads as era-specific rather than outdated. Trend might have followed Shoen, but he lead through innovation.

Part of the charm and appeal of oriental perfumes has always been their over-the-topness. To the modern nose, though, they might be a little much for daily wear, like opera or high drag. For those who do favor the Emeraudes, Tabus and Youth Dews of the world Tolu's light version of a dense style might seem inauthentic, like a spray tan or a faked orgasm. But for those who find traditional perfumes a bit too heavily brocaded Tolu offers an oriental without melodrama.

2nd March 2018
Despite not being wowed at first sniff, I have come around to the pleasures of Tolu. It has a bitter, spicy broom note that slices through the golden, balsamic sweetness of amber to create something that is both fresh and heavy, like a flourless chocolate torte that dissolves into fennel dust on the tongue. The kind of thing that invites you to take a second slice, even in summer. I can see this working as a sort of upmarket Dune. In that sense, this is definitely a floral oriental rather than a straight up ‘golden' amber. It certainly doesn't maintain a strict tolu balsam fidelity. Rather, Tolu has that sophisticated French floral-sandy feel to it that I associate not only with Dune (Dior) but also with 24, Rue Faubourg (Hermes), albeit with the innovation of a sweetly resinous base to tilt it ever so slightly in the direction of Morocco rather than Paris.

The more I wear Tolu, the more I appreciate its subtlety. I used to prefer the caramelized full frontal of one-the-nose resin bombs and ambers to the almost too quiet, too ‘mixed' cloud of balsams, orange blossom, and musks represented by Tolu. But Tolu is, I realize, a mood. It is very perfumey meaning it's been worked and reworked to the same point of abstraction as Coco (Chanel), Dune (Dior) or even Alahine (Teo Cabanel).

Tolu is the quintessential going out perfume for nights along the Riviera, where women and men are beautifully dressed and the warm air smells like a mixture of flowers, salty skin, and the balsamic twang of Mediterranean herbs and umbrella pines lining the promenade. It's easy to argue that there's nothing very unusual about Tolu, but what it does, it does extremely well. I will always have space in my wardrobe for this perfumey, French-smelling take on the warm, golden balsams I love rinsed out with flowers, salt, and herbs.
29th August 2017
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