Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm

Perfume tastes never develop in a vacuum. Like ducklings, we are imprinted by the things around us, especially from an early age. Our childhood experiences, the perfume tastes of our family, the first scents we were exposed to and adored — these all help to shape our tastes as an adult. My early childhood experiences happened, at one point, to involve an excessive amount of lavender. Unlike other smells to which I was exposed at the time — such as orientals or powerhouse, indolic florals — I ended up having some hesitancy about the ingredient for much of the rest of my life.

As a perfume blogger, however, I try to keep an open mind and to be fair to all sorts of scents. But the reality is that perfume is a highly subjective thing, and some people are simply not the ideal, target audience for certain types of fragrances. Such is the case with me and Tom Ford‘s Private Blend Lavender Palm — a scent I can appreciate, but can’t relate to on a personal level. Some perfumes have changed my mind about ingredients that I previously struggled with, but Lavender Palm doesn’t. I find it quite schizophrenic and discordant at first, then far too simplistic and unbalanced. The very high cost for what later becomes a very simple fragrance further guarantees that I would absolutely never wear it. However, I think there are some who may find this to be a delightful twist on the more traditional lavender fragrances.

Source: Manface.co.uk

Source: Manface.co.uk

Lavender Palm is a unisex eau de parfum which Fragrantica puts in the category of “Aromatics.” The perfume was created for Tom Ford by Yann Vasnier and is described by Selfridges as:

Tom Ford’s creative take on the free–spirited ethos and chic elegance that defines California. It is a sensuous yet stylish remix of earthly lavender, bright citrus, moist palm leaf accord, clary sage, sensual woods and smooth tonka bean.

For some, Lavender Palm actually does seem to evoke California. One of my closest friends tried it months ago and wrote to me that, as he left Nordstrom’s, a waft of air brought out the perfume and strongly reminded him of home. He actually is from Southern California originally; and he had no clue about Tom Ford’s goal when he wrote to me. Others seem to have had the same impression, such as the reviewer at CaFleureBon who imagined Palm Springs and the big parties in the 1970s at the famous Kaufmann House. I’ve lived in California — both Northern and Southern — and I’m afraid I don’t see it.

According to Fragrantica, the notes in Lavender Palm are as follows:

two types of lavender, bergamot, lemon, clary sage, lime blossom, pink and white oleander, olibanum, green moss and vetiver.

Lavender Palm opens on my skin with an immediate burst of lavender and lemon, but there are vague hints of other things hiding underneath the surface. Less than a minute in, they start to rise to the surface. There are florals, but also, some very woody, earthy, musky, and herbal elements. The latter borders almost on the medicinal at times; it is sharply pungent and with a subtle whiff of something camphorous. At the same time, one can definitely smell a very root-y type of vetiver. It’s not fresh, bright or green, but dark brown and smoky.

Oleander flowers

Oleander Flowers.

There is also an extremely disconcerting talcum powder note that smells simultaneously of irises and of babies. It has to stem from the oleander plants which Fragrantica describes as having “talcum-like floral note, with hints of pollen sweetness.”  Here, the talc is a very disconcerting note when placed side-by-side with the earthy vetiver and the very pungent herbaceousness of both the lavender and the clary sage. When you add in the scent of the top of a baby’s head, it borders on the jarring and discordant for me. It’s almost as if the perfume is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — two completely separate perfume personalities in one bottle.

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

Twenty minutes in, there is an odd creaminess that suddenly appears, along with an increasingly strong impression of medicinal camphor. I can’t pinpoint the cause, though I suspect it results from the clary sage (which is not the same sort of sage that you use in cooking). In my prior dealings with the plant, it smelled sweet, fresh, and with just a hint of lavender or peppermint. Fragrantica, however, describes the plant as having a “bracing herbaceous scent that smells like lavender with leathery and amber nuances, thus very popular from old times for perfumed products.”

Even if that’s the version which I’m smelling here, it doesn’t explain the more medicinal edge to the perfume. I can’t attribute it to either the Lavender Absolute or Lavandin (a lighter version of the scent) which CaFleureBon says were used in the perfume. And it doesn’t smell like the sort of pungency one finds in moss or oakmoss, either. It can’t come from the olibanum, because that’s just another word for frankincense. No, what I’m smelling are intensely mentholated, medicinal notes that almost resemble the camphorous aspects of pine trees or cypress wood.

But Lavender Palm isn’t finished yet. There is also something that is an oddly salty, almost aquatic note. It’s not wet, exactly, and it’s also not exactly like the beach, so it’s hard to explain but there is definitely an oddly aquatic element. I thought I was hallucinating, so I did a Google search for the “Lavender Palm and aquatic.” It turns out that I’m not the only one. One blogger, Full Time Ford, (and who seems to write about nothing but Tom Ford) wrote a whole review about how the perfume reminded him of the Adriatic Sea. But, on Basenotes, another poster (“rogalal“) was not so enchanted, writing:

That aquatic “seaweed” smell comes in and the lavender goes all metallic and artificial. At this point, it’s really only the leftover cumin that’s keeping Lavender Palm from smelling like hundreds of commonplace metallic aquatics. The base is a dark mix of piney tar smell and quinoline (that dark leather smell used most notably in Tuscan Leather), but the aquatic chemical smell sticks around, keeping the lavender very metallic and fake-smelling.

I don’t agree with a number of things in that review, not the least of which is the mention of cumin! (Really??!) I certainly don’t think the lavender ends up smelling metallic or fake. But I am glad to see that he also experienced the same aquatic smell and that he too noted a pine-tar smell.

So, to summarize, at the end of the first thirty minutes, I am simultaneously smelling: lavender, lemon, earthy vetiver roots, salty aquatic notes, something bordering on creamy, as well as mentholated and medicinal elements, iris, talcum powder, and the head of a newborn baby. I find that to be completely schizophrenic. Forget what I said about two perfumes personalities in one bottle. This is not bipolar; it’s Sally Field’s famous Sybil with multiple personality disorder.

To be fair, when I tried Lavender Palm a second time and put on much less, I had a different experience. As with many Tom Ford scents, the amount you use can impact what you smell — which is why I usually test each one at least twice. Using a lesser amount, I essentially smelled just lavender, lemon and vetiver — in one straight linear line. There were brief hints of more herbal elements like clary sage but, basically, it was just a big, simple, flat-line. I’m not sure if that’s much better….

In both tests, however, the perfume’s middle and final stages essentially turn into a simple triad of lavender, vetiver and lemon. No benzoin, no tonka, no vanilla, no soft mosses. Instead, the vetiver which often dominated over the lavender with hefty notes of earthiness and smokiness, and some occasional flickers of lemon. There really isn’t much more to say than that.

I like the idea of a lavender perfume that isn’t the usual soliflore or a predictable lavender vanilla scent. And I expected to love a lavender perfume that included vetiver, bergamot, and frankincense (which is one of my favorite notes). Unfortunately, this is just not a scent for me. I couldn’t wrap my head around that odd, schizophrenic opening in the first hour and then, subsequently, I found the fragrance both simplistic and imbalanced with the excessively top-heavy vetiver.

For those who are looking for a bright, fresh lavender, I don’t think this is the one for you, either. While the perfume is much lighter than many of the fragrances from the Private Blend line, it is light only on a relative basis. The earthiness and smokiness of the vetiver and the dark woods give it a far greater heft than what you may be used to in more conventional, sweet lavender fragrances. Those elements may also render it too masculine for some.

It may be perfect, however, for those who are looking for an unobtrusive but woody lavender perfume. From CaFleureBon to Basenotes to Fragrantica, the majority opinion is that the perfume is average to moderate in sillage and projection, especially by the standards of a Tom Ford fragrance. Unfortunately, it is also reported to have below-average duration. (I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a CaFleureBon reviewer say that!) On me, Lavender Palm had moderate-to-low sillage for the first hour, and then became close to the skin after two hours. All in all, on my perfume-consuming skin, it lasted about 6.5 hours — which is very low for a Tom Ford, especially from the super-concentrated Private Blend collection. On others, I’ve read reports ranging from “it does not last” to 6 hours to 10 hours. The huge Tom Ford fan blogger, Full Time Ford, claims he found faint traces on his skin over 24 hours later — but that sounds like a pretty unique case from all that I’ve read.

The real issue may be the cost. Tom Ford Private Blend perfumes are never exactly cheap. But, in my opinion, they normally have a lot more complexity and depth than Lavender Palm. One of the Fragrantica commentators who loved it and found it “simplistic… but done incredibly well” seemed to have drawn the line at the price:

What is though no laughing matter is the criminal price they charge for what is essentially a lemony lavender.

I think it more a vetiver-lavender, but I agree with his general point. Even more so when one considers that lavender is hardly the most expensive ingredient around. Lavender Absolute may be a slightly more costly version, but still, it’s lavender — and $205 for the very smallest bottle? (As a side note, in its limited-distribution run at just the Beverly Hills boutique, a 250 ml bottle was priced at $950. Yes, you read me correctly and no, that is not a typo. $950!!! The prices was adjusted downwards when the perfume was fully launched in January 2012.)

Nonetheless, as I always say, price is subjective, as is the whole issue of perfume itself. In fact, I think perfume is one of the most subjective things around, so if this is a scent that intrigues you, I hope you will give it a try at the very least.

But you may want to do it soon. Lavender Palm was released in limited distribution less than two years ago (in the fall of 2011) and just a year ago (in January 2012) on a world-wide basis. Yet, for reasons that I simply cannot understand, it is not listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website! It’s not in the Private Blend section, the Women’s fragrance section, the men’s fragrances, or in any other part of the “Beauty” section. Believe me, I searched repeatedly!

I have read nothing to indicate that it has been discontinued, so I have no explanation for its omission unless, perhaps, Tom Ford is contemplating removing it from the line? The thing is, perfume houses rarely come out with an official announcement that they’re discontinuing something; it’s too much of a declaration of failure. Instead, they usually start by removing it from their website, and then wait for all their stock with retailers to be used up. Or vice-versa. I fear that may be what is happening here, though, if that is the case, then it must have be an extremely poor seller for Tom Ford to pull plug just a year after its global release. On the other hand, the recently discontinued Amber Absolute is still shown on the website, as are some of the musk line which I’ve read were discontinued, too. (You can find a list of discontinued Tom Ford fragrances at the Perfume Shrine but it is only updated as of Spring 2012.) So, who knows what is really going on? 

In the end, whatever my feelings about the scent itself, I give Tom Ford and Yann Vasnier enormous credit for imagining such an unusual twist on lavender. Salty, aquatic notes and floral, talcum powder, with earthy vetiver and heavy woods as well – it’s very creative and different. 5 points to Gryffindor!

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: As noted above, this perfume is not listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website. It is, however, available at numerous high-end department stores where its price is just like that of other Tom Ford fragrances: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In the US, you can also find it at fine retailers such as Neiman Marcus, NordstromSaks Fifth Avenue, and many others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods where it sells for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. It is also sold at Selfridges. Elsewhere, Tom Ford fragrances are carried in numerous different countries; hopefully, you can find one near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, you can also find samples starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.

18 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm

  1. Lavender Palm was a real disappointment for me. I, as a person that really likes lavender perfume, wanted to sample LP for quite a long time. I got a chance to do so few months ago when I got a sample in a Perfume Posse Swapmania. It smelled weird and definitely not worth the money Tom Fords wants to be paid for it. There are many more much better and much cheaper lavenders on the market. Just try Laboratorio Olfattivo Noblige, Vero Profumo Kiki, ELDO Antiheros or SL Encens et Lavande. They’re much better and complex. I especially like Noblige.

    • It *does* smell weird, imo, but I can’t decide if it that’s because of some of the underlying notes or if it’s because the perfume is so far from the more traditional, conventional takes on lavender? All I know is that — when a perfume blogger who loves lavender, as you do — shies away from it, then that’s probably not a good sign for other lavender lovers.

  2. I like lavender but you lost me at the aquatic note. I also won’t pay those prices for Tom Ford scents. I haven’t tried this and it’s possible but I might like it but won’t be seeking it out.

    • Heh, I lost me at the newborn baby’s head note…. As for Tom Ford’s prices, they are tough. I would definitely seek out Tobacco Vanille if I didn’t have to pay full retail, but this one? Never. And, sadly, it’s not even because of the lavender part.

  3. I don’t typically love lavender and usually pass by scents that feature it, so I was surprised by how much I liked this one. I’m not sure I would have ever paid full price (I paid about $155 shipped for my bottle), but I obviously liked it enough to drop a bit of cash on it. To be fair, I don’t pay full price for most things and I’ve paid full price for a very small number of bottles in my collection. I haven’t worn Lavender Palm in a while because it’s been chilly and I think of it as a warm weather scent (probably because of my association of this scent with beachy Los Angeles), but I’m going to warm, sunny, beachy CA next week for work and will probably bring some for the occasion.

    The thing in particular that surprised me most in this one was the silage and projection of this one. I so, so, so rarely get a whiff of my own scent without actively trying, but I was outdoors and in a slight breeze I could smell it in all its beauty which was just so impressive to me. I’m not sure if that’s a problem with my nose or my skin that most perfumes don’t project much on me, but that was what really sold me on it. I know this one isn’t particularly popular, but I like to think of it as one of the undiscovered gems of the line. More for me. 🙂 I wouldn’t be surprised if they are pulling the plug, I rarely see it mentioned and I feel like I’m one of the few ardent defenders of this scent. LOL. Great review, though, I really enjoyed reading it. I’m looking forward to wearing it again as it’s been a few months since I last tried it and I’ll wonder if my opinion has changed at all. Sometimes revisiting things after a while tempers my enthusiasm, but sometimes it increases it. 🙂

    • Perhaps it all depends on how much one loves dark woody notes? You aren’t necessarily approaching this as a lavender perfume or from the perspective of a lavender lover. Plus, you love those deeply woody notes and vetiver. So, for someone like you, it would be perfect. Plus, you’re a guy. I suspect that women who are more traditional in their tastes and those who are expecting a more conventional lavender perfume may be sorely disappointed.

      I’d be interested to know what you think of the scent if worn in chillier weather. Does it develop in a different way? Do you like it mostly for its associations with warm, beachy California and because of its sillage/projection on you? Also, when you give it another shot, do me a favour and see if you detect aquatic notes and the scent of a newborn baby’s head….. 😉

      • Haha, I will have to try it in the cold and see. I don’t remember ever getting a baby’s head vibe from it (though I got that smell EXACTLY from L’eau d’Hiver), but I suppose it’s possible. I think I liked it because of its associations and projection, but I think I also liked it because it wasn’t what I usually go for, so I liked that it represented a broadening of my horizons, even though as you mention it may not be a traditional lavender. I honestly didn’t even have a desire to try it until the lady at the counter sprayed it at which point I became quite taken with it. But yes, I love woody scents and vetiver a lot, so I have to assume that played a role in my liking it, even before I knew that was why I liked it! Maybe I’ll try it tomorrow or this weekend. 🙂 But I still have a few of the samples you sent to test! Choosing is always such a difficult endeavor. I had been working off mostly samples/decants for a while, and then I thought my bottles were being ignored. But now I’m ignoring all my samples. LOL. Clearly, I ascribe too much feelings of longing and neglect to non-cognizant items, but still, it’s a tough habit to shake! 🙂

  4. I think Yann Vasnier deserves a big bravo for managing to create a different lavender. I think lavender together with vanilla and tuberose are the most oppressive materials. You have to try very hard to make a different one and Lavender Palm is not a typical lavender. I got all those kaleidoscopic facets you describe and yes, it is schizophrenic but it is not boring. What more can anybody ask for nowadays?

  5. I have a sample of this and will try it soon (maybe this weekend?) and share my impressions.

    Have you tried Jasmin Rouge? I got a purse spray sample of it when I bought Violet Blonde last year. Have you tried Violet Blonde????

    • I have Jasmin Rouge to try out but haven’t sniffed it yet. I almost never try something until I’m ready to review it, and have a good 8 hr minimum to just focus on all the notes and development. Just putting things on and then going out to do other things doesn’t let me concentrate enough for things to be fair. 🙂 So, Jasmine Rouge is in the big pile of TFs, awaiting testing as I rotate through brands/types/genres of scents. 🙂

      I have tried Violet Blonde on a few occasions but the last was ages ago and, based on what I recall, I would far prefer that to Lavender Palm. But that isn’t really saying much given my feelings for the latter. For some reason, at the time, parts of Violet Blonde really reminded me of L’Heure Bleue from Guerlain.

  6. I don’t care for lavender as a rule – and still shudder as I remember my experience with Chanel Jersey – but I would cross the road to smell a “disconcerting talcum powder note”, which on closer reading is by no means the oxymoron it appears.

    • I definitely agree. Powder notes can be very tricky for me. Even more so if they smell remotely synthetic. They didn’t smell that way here, but the twist on a floral talc *in conjunction* with the other notes… not something I would pay Tom Ford prices for!

  7. Lavender always seems like such an ‘old lady’ kind of perfume to me. I was in a drug store the other day and saw, not TF’s, a lavender mix perfume, was almost tempted to try it.

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