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I’m looking forward to trying English Oak & Recurrant and  English Oak Hazelnut, two new fragrances from Jo Malone. In the meantime, I’m thinking about their visuals.

According to perfume Yann Vasnier, “the idea of the forrest [sic] and English oak” was a starting point that Jo Malone wanted to explore. The brand’s Vice President of Global Fragrance Devleopment Celine Roux explains, “The inspiration started with the English oak tree. A powerful and noble symbol, which lies deep in the heart of the English woodland. A place of mystery and enchantment, where legends take root and imagination takes flight. And nowhere better captures this magic and mystery quite like Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, famous for its tales of wandering knights and outlaws – and Robin Hood, of course!”

I’m seeing an additional source of inspiration for the promotional imagery: the story of the Cottingley Fairies, which happens to be celebrating its centennial this year…

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Frances Griffiths, 1917

In July 1917, cousins Elsie Wright (age 16) and Frances Griffiths (age 9) used Frances’s father’s camera to take a somewhat unusual photograph in the countryside near her house. It seemed to show Frances with four small “fairies” dancing in the grass in front of her.

Then they took a few more, showing each girl with a little winged sprite.

As author Hazel Gaynor writes,

Elsie’s mother, Polly Wright, showed [the photographs] to members of the local Theosophical Society, an organization interested in the philosophies of mysticism, spiritualism and occultism. When the photographs subsequently came to the attention of novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the story — like all good fairy tales — grew wings. 

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Elsie Wright

The girls took five fairy photographs in total between 1917 and 1920. Thanks to Conan Doyle’s interest, the photos were evaluated by experts on photography and supernatural phenomena and were decreed authentic. Conan Doyle wrote an article about them for Strand Magazine in 1920, and Elsie and Frances—and their fairies in Cottingley—became a national sensation.

In 1983, the much-older Frances and Elsie confessed that they had fabricated the photographs. Elsie had copied illustrations from a children’s book and they had posed the cut-out figures, attached to hatpins, in the woods. All the same, the “spell” cast by the original images has endured.

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Frances Griffiths

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Screenshot from the English Oak video

The fairies that whiz around Jo Malone’s advertisements for the English Oak colognes bear a certain resemblance to the Cottingley Fairies, no? It’s funny that Jo Malone mentions Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest, but not Cottingley. The parallel is intriguing!

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Jo Malone website

You can read Hazel Gaynor’s article about the Cottingley Fairies at Time.com, here. She has also written a book titled The Cottingley Secret (Morrow/Harper Collins, 2017).

(Wikipedia also has an article about this hoax.)

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Screenshot from the English Oak video

On the other hand, the slender, androgynous young man and woman in the English Oak visuals are definitely not lookalikes for Frances and Elsie….but they seem to have been partly inspired by Victorian photography.

Their intimate, resting pose reminds me of Julia Margaret Cameron’s The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere (1874). The advertisement’s soft lighting and sepia tones also make me think of English photography from this era.

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The female model’s choppy bob and bangs could even be a nod to Lewis Carroll’s photographs of Alice Liddell, his inspiration for another young (fictional) woman named Alice who encountered all kinds of unlikely creatures in her adventures.

I’m enjoying this storytelling from Jo Malone, in any case; and, knowing Vasnier’s work, I have a feeling I’ll like the fragrances too.