Tom Ford Private Blend Champaca Absolute

Tom Ford in W magazine, via Papermag.com

Tom Ford in W magazine, via Papermag.com

A heady, rich, utterly opulent mix of creamy, white and yellow, tropical flowers whose velvety petals are infused with syrupy fruits and sprinkled with a touch of boozy liqueur, before being dipped in dark tea and bergamot, and then nestled in a vanilla cocoon. That’s the essence of Tom Ford‘s Champaca Absolute, a very lush eau de parfum that is part of his Private Blend line. The perfume was released in 2009, and is centered around the eponymous flower, Champaca, an Asian cousin to magnolia. Champaca has an aroma that is a mix of magnolia and ylang-ylang, but it can also have a tea-like aspect with fruited nuances. All those sides are highlighted in Champaca Absolute in a very bold, very sweet, very heavy mix that is not for the faint of heart.

Tom Ford’s description for the fragrance, as quoted by most retail sites, appears to be the following:

A floral oriental composition that is pure and provocative. With its sensuous heart of champaca, the magnolia-like flower that inspired it, this intoxicating nectar heightens the senses with notes of Tokajii wine and cognac as it warms the skin with vanilla bean, amber and sandalwood.

Source: de.osmoz.com

Source: de.osmoz.com

According to Luckyscent, the notes in Champaca Absolute include:

Tokaji [plum] wine, cognac, bergamot, magnolia champaca, orchid, violet, jasmine, vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glacé.

Fragrantica, however, has a slightly different list which is notable for the inclusion of dyer’s greenwood, a variety of the broom shrub that smells of hay. They state:

the top notes are cognac, bergamot and dyer’s greenweed [or broom]; middle notes are champaca, orchid, violet and jasmine; base notes are vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glace.

I think the complete, total list would be a combination of the two, as I definitely detect both the broom and the Japanese plum wine.

Champaca. Source: monstermarketplace.com

Champaca.

Champaca Absolute opens on my skin with an intense, concentrated blast of fruited, plummy, Japanese wine and cognac brandy, followed by tropical champaca. The flower smells of: buttery magnolia; custardy, banana-like ylang-ylang; apricots; and a heavy, syrupy, fruited sweetness. Lurking deep below the heady, over-the-top, floral richness is an almost leathered, smoky nuance. Sticky, cooked, plum molasses swirls in the floral air from the Japanese wine, while cognac is sprinkled all on top. You don’t smell as though you were dunked in a vat of alcohol, but there is a very pronounced liqueured aspect to the fruited sweetness.

I’ve noted a number of times in the past how Tom Ford fragrances can smell very different depending on how much you apply, and Champaca Absolute is no exception. When I applied a lot (amounting to a little over 1/3 of the vial, or the equivalent of 2 big sprays from an actual bottle), there was a definite vein of smoky darkness underlying the heady, sensual flowers. However, when I applied a lesser quantity (about 2 big smears, amounting to a small spray from a bottle), the notes which accompanied the champaca at the opening were quite different. There was no smokiness or leather, little plum, but a lot of orchid infused with vanilla.

Source: Foundwalls.com

Source: Foundwalls.com

Orchid has a very interesting, clear, sweet, delicate smell that can vary in its aroma depending on which variety of the flower is used. Here, in Champaca Absolute, it smelled delicately dewy, liquidy, and like floral nectar that was thoroughly infused with both ylang-ylang and vanilla. The overall effect was to remind me of one of my favorite, opulent florientals, LM ParfumsSensual Orchid. It is a scent with a couple of notes in common with the Tom Ford, namely, orchid, boozy tonalities, ylang-ylang, jasmine, vanilla, and resins.

LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. Source: Fragrantica

LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. Source: Fragrantica

However, the two fragrances differ quite a bit in their focal points and overall feel. Champaca Absolute is dominated by the very unctuous, magnolia-like flower, not the lighter, clearer orchid. The Tom Ford fragrance feels more oriental, ambered, heavy, syrupy sweet, and fruited. In contrast, LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid feels less flat on my skin, less potentially oppressive or weighed down, and much more purely floral. Its tropical touch comes from coconut, not from the custardy, buttery magnolia flower. It lacks bergamot, along with hay or tea tonalities, but includes mandarin orange, almonds, peony, and neroli. At the same time, its boozy note is substantially lighter and more refined. It’s also much fresher and less sweet at its core, and thereby, less potentially cloying in nature. I have to be honest, I much prefer Sensual Orchid’s take on the lush, over-the-top, narcotic, floriental genre.

Broom via pbase.com

Broom via pbase.com

Beyond the minor Sensual Orchid resemblance, a lower dosage of Champaca Absolute also yields other differences from the version I saw with a higher amount. The main difference is that the accompanying notes rise to the surface much sooner, particularly the bergamot, jasmine, and the broom’s hay-like note. There is a more obvious, profound, and long-lasting citrus tonality to the scent, along with increased dryness from the broom. There is also a stronger touch of earthiness in the base that verges on something like mushrooms or truffles, though it is subtle, so its impact is quite relative as a whole. (Still, it’s enough to make me think of Tom Ford‘s Black Orchid which has a truffle note in the base.) Apart from all that, and as noted above, Champaca Absolute does not feel resinous, smoky or dark at the lower dosage; and both the booziness and the fruity undertones are also much weaker. In short, if you apply less Champaca Absolute, you’ll get more of a sweetly floral-magnolia scent that has very different, very altered levels for the rest of its accompanying elements.

Blooming Magnolia tree. Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Blooming Magnolia tree. Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Regardless of the amount that you apply, both versions end up at the same place, sooner or later, so I’ll just stick with discussing the Champaca Absolute I experienced with the larger quantity. This version is fully centered on the magnolia-like flower, with not much interference from the orchid or anything else at first, other than the very fruity accords. The plum wine is powerful during the first 10 minutes, much more so than the boozy cognac on my skin, although both are simply different form of liqueured fruits. At the same time, there is a definite suggestion of something almost like Davana, a rich Indian flower that smells like apricot-y ylang-ylang. There is almost no fresh bergamot to lighten up the notes, no hay, and little vanilla.

10 minutes into its development, Champaca Absolute slowly shifts. The jasmine arrives on the scene, imparting an additional layer of syrupy sweetness to the bouquet. The plum wine takes a small step back, the boozy cognac softens a little, and the perfume feels even richer. There is the first hint of the champaca’s tea-like facet, along with the tiniest whisper of bergamot, though both are very muted at this point. Slowly, very slowly, Champaca Absolute turns more floral in focus. The boozy elements retreat to the sidelines after 30 minutes, and the delicate nectar of the orchid arrives to coat the richer, more unctuous, buttery champaca. There is a touch of broom now as well, but its subtle dryness does little to leaven or cut through Champaca Absolute’s richness.

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

In the base, there is a tiniest whisper of earthiness, though it never smells like marrons glacé or iced chestnuts to me. Interestingly, at the lower dosage, Champaca Absolute reflected a more noticeable, almost truffle-like, mushroomy nuance in its foundation, but it’s not so apparent now. By the same token, the tea-like elements and bergamot feel much weaker at the higher dosage, too. Frankly, the lighter, more minor notes have very little chance of standing up to the power of the heavy floral cocktail. Everything but the flowers, fruits, syrupy sweetness, and the growing touch of vanilla in the base are secondary — and, in some cases, tertiary, acting as a very muffled or muted suggestions at best.

The power of the florals as the showpiece is the main reason why Champaca Absolute doesn’t change much in the hours which follow. All that happens is that certain secondary notes fluctuate in their prominence, order, and clarity. Whether it is the bergamot, the tea, the darkly smoky aspect in the base, or the various fruits, they all basically reach a crescendo by the end of the 2nd hour. After that, they either lose their shape and individual distinction, melt into the base, or generally aren’t a main or powerful part of the scent.

Apricot. Source: forwallpaper.com

Apricot. Source: forwallpaper.com

The champaca (or davana-like) facets of apricot and tea have the greatest shelf-life in weaving about the top notes, along with the bergamot to a much lesser extent, but as a whole, Champaca Absolute is really just a floral blend of lush, tropical, velvety flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness. It is infused with vanilla which increasingly takes over from the fruited elements. They, in turn, become more abstract, feeling merely like a general fruity syrupiness that coats all the flowers.

The more obvious, significant changes to Champaca Absolute involve its projection and feel. Initially, the perfume was very potent, powerful, and intense — regardless of how much you apply. However, with a little over 1/3 of a ml or about 2 sprays from a bottle, Champaca Absolute is extremely forceful indeed. At first. In fact, it’s rather a surprise how quickly the perfume turns soft and the sillage drops. I suspect Tom Ford sought to counterbalance the richness and sweetness of the notes with something that was less dense in weight. If so, then he succeeded in that goal. At the end of the first hour, Champaca Absolute turns softer and weaker. From an initial distance of about 5-6 inches, the perfume’s projection now drops to around 2-3 inches. At the end of the second hour, however, Champaca Absolute hovers just above the skin. And that’s at the very high dose! Granted, it remains there for hours, and only turns into a discreet skin scent at the 6.5 hour mark, but given the serious intensity of the opening moments, I was a little surprised by soft and airy the fragrance becomes later on.

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

By the end of the 2nd hour, Champaca Absolute is a well-blended, seamless blend of lush, tropical, buttery flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness that is lightly flecked with jasmine syrup, hints of ylang-ylang, and a touch of Davana. Tiny streaks of apricots, dark tea, and, to a much lesser extent, fresh bergamot run through it. There is no hay, earthiness, plum, or booziness on my skin. There continues to be a definite element of fruitiness, but it becomes increasingly abstract and indistinguishable from the florals. Only the tiniest suggestion of a dark, slightly smoky, resinous amber ripples through the base. Much more prominent, however, is a smooth, custardy creaminess that has a very vanillic nature.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

In the hours that follow, Champaca Absolute turns into a simple blur of rich florals with tropical creaminess. As noted above, the other notes either fade into the sidelines, or melt completely into the base. The resinous amber, smokiness, and bergamot are the first to vanish around the 5th hour. After that, the apricots and fruitiness. Late in the 6th hour, Champaca Absolute is primarily a sweet floral with a custardy, banana-like richness and sweetness. If I smell very hard with my nose right on the skin and focus intently, I can single out ylang-ylang and jasmine as the most prominent aspects, along with vanilla and a subtle hint of fruitiness. There is a brief flicker of some nebulous, vaguely woody note in the base, but it’s hardly distinguishable as sandalwood. (And it’s most definitely not Mysore sandalwood.)

From afar, though, Champaca Absolute is a mere haze of rich, custardy florals, and it remains that way until its very end. In its final moments, the perfume is a light smear of floral sweetness with a suggestion of something creamy, tropical and fruited about it. All in all, Champaca Absolute lasted under12 hours with a small amount, and a whopping 14.75 hours at a higher dosage. Given how my skin eats up perfumes, that says something. The sillage hovered just above the skin for a good portion of that time, and the perfume felt quite airy in weight, despite the heaviness of its notes up close.

Champaca via tropicalbonsainursery.net

Champaca via tropicalbonsainursery.net

I’m going to say this bluntly, and probably about 15 more times during the remainder of this review, but Tom Ford’s Champaca Absolute is one of those love it/hate it scents that you should not go anywhere near if you don’t love extremely heavy, lush, sweet florals. If you hate the richness of magnolia, stay away. If you can’t bear the sweet syrupy aspects to jasmine, or the custard heaviness of ylang-ylang, stay away. If you don’t like even light amounts of hay, broom, or earthy notes, you may want to pause. If you don’t like intensely fruited notes, especially very unctuous, syrupy, or tropical fruited notes, then run. Same thing if you don’t like fragrances with even light touches of booziness or liqueured aspects. And if you hate fragrances that explode like a heavy, powerful bomb at the start, then you may want to go to the other end of the planet than anywhere which is wafting Champaca Absolute. This is a fragrance for a very particular sort of perfume taste, and it will not be for everyone. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Now, if you happen to be someone whose taste or perfume style suits several of the aforementioned categories — ideally, all of them — then you may find Champaca Absolute to be the best thing ever. However, even if you are one of those people, there is a chance that Champaca Absolute will feel too heavily and oppressive in its flat, dense, richness. I happen to be someone who actually is in the target demographic, and I’m still a little uncertain about the perfume.

I enjoy Champaca Absolute’s opulence and richness, but I really have to pause at times. For one thing, the perfume is a little too monolithic in its feel. If Champaca Absolute didn’t drive over you like a Panzer unit on its way to Poland, then I might handle it better. If the linearity of “heavy florals with vanilla” had been leavened with more changes, I might not feel quite so exhausted by the end. I think it’s a great scent for a “once in a while” occasion, in low quantities; I’m not sure about anything more than that, or about wearing Champaca Absolute on a frequent basis, let alone a daily one. There is something about the scent that feels as though you just ate 6 whole vanilla-frosted cakes, when you merely asked for a single, large slice. Wearing Champaca Absolute for a few days in a row would probably put me off both cake and rich florals for a while.

I suspect that some (or many) of these issues are the reason why Champaca Absolute has received mixed reviews. In fact, on MakeupAlley, the fragrance seems to be quite polarizing. Take this long (edited) assessment by “Mac789” who seemed to initially like the fragrance, before drastically changing her mind:

A wonderful, bitchy-pill white floral that completely disagreed with me. […][¶]

This is not your mother’s white floral, nor is it something that is especially easy to wear. It’s a ballsy scent with a lot going on and it has extreme lasting power.

The drunken spree at the top, combined with the champaca absolute, a sprig of almost mentholated green, and whatever other floral is veering around, blew my mind. Nothing smells like this. Thank you, Tom Ford, for creating a five-alarm fragrance. The florals are rich, bright, and careering towards instability.

French Broom via Wikipedia

French Broom via Wikipedia

Shortly, a strong honeyed broom note appeared. I have never liked broom, although I can’t fault the fragrance for its use. […][¶] I then left the store and let the fragrance air out. Within short order, the base ripped through. This base was fanatical woods and dirt, insistently growing and engulfing, sharpening, smothering, cutting… reaching a splintering zenith from which there was no escape, not by washcloth, shower, or baby wipe…

It stayed with me until the next day, showing off. The experience left me reeling, and also realizing that sometimes the thing that stands out the most is the thing that most attracts–for the wrong reasons.

Champaca Absolute is a standout that I suspect will entrance and enchant people who adore broom, woods, and soil. It’s a highly creative fragrance [… but it]  was too distorted for me to wear, with both giant opener and closer and not a smooth segue from one thing to the next, or perhaps it was my perception that was distorted, since I liked it well enough when I first smelled it. As of right now, though, rather than being that overworked term “edgy,” it pushed me towards the edge.

SOurce: rmwebed.com.au

SOurce: rmwebed.com.au

Others had a very different experience, where the problem was not any earthiness or broom at all, but rather “putrid fruit,” too much tropicality, or just plain fatigue after a while. Some of the shorter responses:

  • This has a problem of arrested development on my skin. No matter how much I spray, it is arrested at a preliminary stage where it is about to bloom and that is it. I also get cognac-sweet top notes but the rest is just a super humid tropical evening without much in particular. Indeed Champaca Abcolute has such a humid, moist vibe on my skin that it wouldn’t surprise me if I started seeing tiny mushrooms popping up on my skin. It also turns acrid, somehow fermented on my skin after a short while. [¶] Still, even I get a meaty tropical flower smell from this. Is it champaca? […] I get something that makes me think of magnolias and other things.
  • Its an alright fragrance. At first whiff this was gorgeous and I had to have it but the drydown was not something that I liked as much. Too floral for me.
  •  It was really perfume intensity and smelled like putrid fruit. Not like a big white floral that I was hoping for. […] The next day I could still smell it on my skin. It finally had become pleasant, but nothing special.
Source: dailymail.co.uk

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Others, however, love Champaca Absolute, sometimes passionately so:

  • [At] the Tom Ford counter […] I tried White Musk (my least favorite), Oud Wood (too masculine), Japon Noir, Noir de Noir (not too bad), but none of them really blew me away until I smelled Champaca Absolute! This fragrance is mysterious, sensual, sweet and surprising. Everything that I was looking for. [¶] The cognac top note really makes this a special fragrance. The sweetness lasts about an hour and then comes the Jasmine, Violet, Orchid and Champaca floral notes. Very nice. The dry down is especially wonderful. The fragrance stays close to your skin all day. I really think this is a timeless fragrance that’s good for any adult age.
  • How lovely! TF Champaca Absolute opens with blast of champaca-scented rice in a container made of fresh-cut bamboo-stem, along with sweet ripe plum. I am a big fan of white florals and I love the real champaca flower. The name is misleading as champaca is never dominant but lingers to the end. [¶] Comparision between TF Champaca Absolute and Ormande Jayne Champaca: OJ is “browner” and denser while TF is greener and more airy. OJ is less sweet and less rice-like. Both are well-blended exotic beauties! OJ is “wilder” while TF is more lady-like. I like both.
  • TF Champaca Absolute by **no means** deserves any kind of low rating or to be compared to Ormonde Jayne et al. Tom Ford went to the most ancient of gardens, where perfumiers have been harvesting for thousands of years, and has captured not just the scent, but the **soul** of champaca (hence the “absolute.”) If it turns putrid as some say, then that’s incompatible skin chemistry my dears, NOT the perfume. When a perfume turns putrid after being sprayed on acid-free paper or linen, then and then only can it be considered a loser. TF Champaca Absolute is EXQUISITE to the extreme, and incredibly lifting, not only for the wearer, but those who experience the waft. […]  Tom Ford has nailed it. That is **exactly** what champaca is… a sacred flower that the eastern cultures maintain inspires a higher peace and joy. [Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]

I’ve spent so much time on the average perfumistas’ mixed responses to Champaca Absolute in order to provide a counterbalance to the bloggers who generally seem to love the fragrance and who also detect very different elements. Take, for example, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin who wrote:

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Despite its name, Champaca Absolute is not a soliflore—the magnolia note is part of a bouquet. Overall, it is a quite a striking blend, full of character and dramatic presence. Like many Private Blends, Champaca Absolute has a certain vintage glamour, yet without a self-conscious retro aesthetic. The richness of the composition is evident throughout: from the top accord, with its dried fruit and candied citrus nuances, to the sugared amber and vanilla base. Set against this gourmand cornucopia is a heady, luxurious floral composition. It suggests the indolic heft of jasmine, the spicy warmth of carnation and the petally radiance of magnolia. While magnolia is only an accent, it fits so beautifully that I forget about wanting a magnolia soliflore experience.

There is a point to the development of Champaca Absolute that reminds me strongly of Tom Ford Black Orchid, or rather what I wanted Black Orchid to be—an unapologetically rich, opulent floral. The late drydown of Champaca Absolute is my favorite part. The dramatic sensuality of the composition mellows down, leaving one with an intimate, warm veil of woods, incense and violets. It is certainly worth waiting for!

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

Then, there is The Non-Blonde who also seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the scent:

Is Champaca Absolute the big  fruity floral in Tom Ford’s Private Blend line? Yes and no, I guess. The floral heart notes take center stage and they are accentuated with sweet round plums and a plum liqueur. But, really, this is not something that belongs in a pink bottle on Sephora’s shelves. The first blast is very alcoholic and boozy. Something between Armagnac and a plum brandy. […] Champaca Absolute smells really really good.

The flowers (jasmine, violet, orchid, champaca) are blended into a single accord of prettiness.It leans to the tropic side, a little loud and exuberant, but after wearing it enough times and learning to listen I’ve begun to smell the softness that lies underneath. It feels like a layer of silk, not quite powdery and not quite sweet- I guess that’s the steamed rice quality of champaca. I have yet to find it when wearing Ormonde Jayne’s Champaca which I like well enough, but Tom Ford’s version works better on my skin for one reason or another.

Maybe it’s the base. Champaca Absolute dries down rich and sweet. After four or five hours it becomes a full blown oriental, even though the floral accord is tenacious enough to still be hover and appear here and there, especially in the heat. I can’t say I get the promised marron glace note, but there is quite a bit of sweet creaminess to satisfy my sweet tooth. [Emphasis and bolding to name added by me.]

On Fragrantica, the reviews are as mixed as they are on MakeupAlley, though a substantially greater number seem to really like Champaca Absolute. Some find the perfume to be a wonderful successor to the tradition of big ’80s powerhouses, or even older ones like Fracas. A handful enjoyed the beginning before being overwhelmed by too much syrupy sweetness over the course of the perfume’s development, and changing their mind. Several dislike Champaca Absolute as being “too perfume-y,” too much like “an old lady perfume,” or too boring in its simple floral nature. Others rave about how it is “seductive,” “glorious,” “exceptional,” their “favorite TF buy so far,” or even their “favorite fragrance of all time.”

Marrons Glacés or iced, glazed chestnuts.

Marrons Glacés or iced, glazed chestnuts.

Interestingly, one of the positive reviews comes from a man. Actually, I know a few men who enjoy Champaca Absolute, probably because of boozy opening, but they are exceptions as this is a fragrance that definitely skews feminine in nature. Still, you may be interested in one man’s Fragrantica assessment:

Champaca Absolute is my favourite TF and in my opinion one of his best.Boozy opening,no doubt,but once the cognac has subsided to a lesser extent the glorious chestnut aroma remains right through the mid notes and drydown. I disagree with previous commentary that its a female only scent and an old womans fragrance or overtly floral. For mine the floral notes are there but take a backseat.Granted its not the most masculine scent going around but its a standout in a bland sea of citrus/aquatics/oriental/woods and can be worn by a guy who is looking for something totally unique and is confident enough to wear it. Longevity is in the vicinity of 6 hours and sillage is close to the skin.
Definitely worth a sample and pleased I have added this gem to my collection of niches 🙂

Whether or not a man can wear Champaca Absolute is definitely going to depend on his personal tastes and comfort zone. I firmly believe that if you feel good in what you’re wearing, that’s all that matters. So if a guy enjoys lushly opulent, boozy florals, then Champaca Absolute is definitely one to consider. If, that is, he fits within all my prior parameters or warnings about both the scent as a whole and its particular notes.

We all have different perfume tastes, and there isn’t a scent in the world which is going to appeal to everyone. Tom Ford’s fragrances tend to be more polarizing in general, due to their intensity, richness, often powerhouse forcefulness, and heaviness. Champaca Absolute is no different. However, it may be a little more of a love it/leave it scent than some of his others. I’ve noticed that people really respond at opposite ends of the spectrum to big, lush, heavy florals. Here, there is the added issue of syrupy sweetness, almost tropical fruitiness, and the other supporting notes like the cognac, broom, and the very subtle earthiness. Making matters even more complicated is that lush intensity, the heaviness, and an 80s-like powerhouse strength. If all of that sounds like your cup of tea, then you should definitely seek out Champaca Absolute. You may want to remember, however, that — just like a very rich cake — a little goes a long way.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Champaca Absolute is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that cost: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; and $520 or €420 for a 250 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The Tom Ford website is undergoing renovations at this time, so its e-shop is down. In the U.S.: you can find Champaca Absolute at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Luckyscent, and many other retailers. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they don’t list many of the TF perfumes on their website. In the UK, you can find Champaca Absolute at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser, or Selfridges in various sizes. The small 1.7 oz/50 ml size costs £140, and the super-large 250 ml bottle goes for £320. In France, the Tom Ford Private Blend line is available at Sephora. For the rest of Europe, all Tom Fords, including Champaca Absolute, are also sold at Premiere Avenue which offers the 50 ml size for €180. They ship world-wide. In Belgium, you can find Champaca Absolute at Parfuma, in Russia at Lenoma, and in Australia at David Jones for AUD$290. In the Middle East, the Private Line is carried at many stores, especially Harvey Nichols, but I also found Champaca Absolute at ParfumeUAE. For other all other countries, I would normally link to Tom Ford’s store locator, but his website is undergoing construction at this time. Samples: Surrender to Chance has samples of Champaca Absolute starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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Tom Ford Violet Blonde

When Tom Ford announced the release of his Signature Collection of perfumes in the fall of 2011, his first creation seemed to complement his new make-up line. It was Violet Blonde, a fragrance that ostensibly celebrated the delicate world of the flower that it was named after. Even the print ads seemed to support that point. Appearances can be deceiving.

Lara Stone photographed by Mert & Marcus. Source: Styleitup.com

Lara Stone photographed by Mert & Marcus. Source: Styleitup.com

According to the Tom Ford press release quoted by Nordstrom, Violet Blonde is an eau de parfum meant to represent “a new era of feminine glamour.” The description goes on to read:

Tom Ford Violet Blonde is an opulent fragrance that reveals a stunning new facet of violet: ravishing, intriguing elegance. Made with some of the most precious ingredients in the world, it is crafted according to the finest traditions of European perfumery.

Top notes: violet leaf absolute, Italian mandarin and baie rose.
Middle Notes: Tuscan orris [iris] absolute, Tuscan orris butter and jasmin sambac sampaquita.
Bottom Notes: benzoin, cedarwood, vetiver absolute, silkolide and soft suede.

Photo: gardenersblog.jerseyplantsdirect.com

Photo: gardenersblog.jerseyplantsdirect.com

Violet Blonde opens on my skin with a potent burst of green, crunchy, leafy, and peppery notes. You can almost feel the fuzzy, soft leaves of a bunch of violets or pansies, except they are covered with pepper. The scent of the actual violets themselves, however, feels hidden and muffled, as though they were shielded behind the leafy green notes. On my skin, they are a whisper of a suggestion at best, feeling dewy and faintly earthy. The violets and their powerful green leaves are all nestled at the base of a dry tree, though the note doesn’t feel very much like cedar to me but more akin to an abstract woodiness. Seconds later, sweetness seeps through like a creeping puddle approaching the flowers, covering them with a delicate, thin syrup. It’s not ridiculously sweet or gourmand; it’s more like clear corn syrup than heavy, gooey honey.

Pink peppercorns. Source: spicestationsilverlake.com

Pink peppercorns. Source: spicestationsilverlake.com

The purple, green, and brown canvas is quickly splattered with splotches of pink from the pink peppercorns, and with cream from a slightly sharp musk. It’s not the clean or white variety, but it has the subtlest touch of freshness about it, serving to lift up the other notes to make them seem lighter than they actually are. As regular readers know, I’m not at all a fan of synthetic musks, and my nose is very sensitive to their strength, so I’m not a fan of this part of Violet Blonde. Thankfully, the note is relatively minor at this point, though that ends up changing later.

Deep in the base, there lurks an extremely subtle vein of fruitiness. It is indistinct and abstract, but it certainly doesn’t smell like mandarin to me. What’s interesting is how the combination of the pink pepper berries and the musk have created the feel of a general pink fruitiness that is lightly spiced. There is a subtle jamminess to the fruit, too, almost as if purple, fruited patchouli had been used.

Violet Leaf via gaertner-und-florist.at

Violet Leaf via gaertner-und-florist.at

All those notes lurk behind the peppery green leaves which are the dominant focus of the scent in the early minutes. The violet flower itself is very elusive, and it becomes even more so 8 minutes into the perfume’s development when the jasmine arrives. It is syrupy, sweet, and very heady. I love big white flowers, so I’m rather thrilled by all this, but the strength of the jasmine basically dooms the violet from every having a chance at a solo act on center stage. In fact, the violet slinks off to the sidelines with a whimper and basically sits out much of the rest of the fragrance like some sort of very embarrassed wallflower. It’s rather disappointing, but perhaps it’s a function of skin chemistry.

Trailing behind the jasmine is the first suggestion of something powdered. Orris is often used in makeup as a fixative and has a powdered aroma, as does iris. Here, there is the tiniest whisper of a rose-iris makeup powder undertone, though it is extremely subtle. Honestly, almost every note in this perfume is subtle and muted on my skin except for the crunchy, peppered leaves in the beginning, and then the jasmine and the musk.

Violet Blonde is quite potent in its opening moments. I used 3 decent sprays from a tiny atomizer, an amount which equals 2 small squirts from an actual bottle. Violet Blonde wafts about me in a billowy, potent cloud that feels as light as a feather, though it is extremely strong in smell. The airy weight of the fragrance is definitely misleading. Violet Blonde’s projection is initially good, wafting about 4 inches above the skin, though that starts to change extremely quickly. As you will see, the opening forcefulness is not characteristic of the scent as a whole.

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

The jasmine soon becomes Violet Blonde’s driving force. Within 20 minutes, its sweetness cuts through a good portion of the perfume’s greenness. Oddly, I can smell more of the actual violet flower now — as opposed to its leaves — than I did at the start, though it keeps playing a peekaboo game with me from the sidelines. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the strongest, I would put the violet note at a 3.5 now, perhaps a 4 for a brief moment. It had begun as a 1.5, so it is an improvement, but it’s all very relative. At the same time, the powder and cedar elements also grow stronger. As a whole, Violet Blonde smells of sweet florals dominated by jasmine and thoroughly infused with leafy, peppered, violet leaves. The main bouquet is lightly flecked by powder, cedar, the violet flower itself, pink peppered berries, and a touch of fresh musk.

Jasmine Rouge.

Jasmine Rouge.

Violet Blonde feels like a juxtaposition of contrasts: heavy but light; headily floral but crisply fresh; sweetly dewy but peppered green; a touch earthy but also a touch powdered; understated and, yet, bold as well. It has that signature Tom Ford opulence, but it is ratcheted down from the levels of many of his Private Blend fragrances. Violet Blonde is not demure, but it is also not particularly flashy or va-va-voom either. Those last two words are what I’d use to describe Violet Blonde’s sibling in the Signature Collection line, Jasmine Rouge, which was released shortly afterwards and which is spectacularly heady in its intensity and punch. Violet Blonde is not. Yet, it feels much less subdued than Tom Ford’s recently discontinued Private Blend Black Violet. On my skin, the latter was quite anemic, muted, and quiet indeed. It also had extremely disappointing projection that didn’t feel like a Tom Ford fragrance at all, never mind one of his Private Blend ones.

Violet Blonde seems to fall midway on the Tom Ford spectrum of power, heaviness, and projection, especially after 40 minutes when it turns much softer. The sillage slowly drops to about 1-2 inches above the skin. The perfume’s weight feels as though it has been cut by 30%, perhaps because the jasmine has now blended into the overall fragrance and has lost a lot of its syrupy sweetness. The powder notes are now much stronger, too.

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

At the end of the first hour, Violet Blonde turns more abstract, and the notes all blur into each other. The sillage drops even further. The overall bouquet is of a woody, slightly powdered jasmine with musk. It is only lightly flecked by green, leafy, peppered notes, and they grow increasingly weak. The powder isn’t enormous; we’re not talking Guerlainade levels by any means. It feels more like a light dusting over the jasmine than a strong, core element. One thing is for certain, the iris is not showing its strong, cold, carroty, or dank facets at all. As for the rose, it’s really a no-show on my skin, though there is sometimes a suggestion of it lurking about the powder. I suspect that is merely my mind making a mental association with the sort of powdery rose smell that some makeup or lipsticks can have.

Violet Blonde is very pretty, but I’m really not keen on the growing forcefulness of the musk which pushes aside the green leafiness, the powder, and everything else it sees. Everything but the jasmine. The musk smells sharp to my nose, and is definitely synthetic. Thankfully, it’s not the fresh, white, laundry, “clean” type, or I’d go out of my mind. Still, it grows stronger and stronger as time passes. All too soon, Violet Blonde devolves to a simple jasmine musk on my skin with some abstract woody notes.

Violet Blonde is a very linear scent whose core essence doesn’t change during the rest of its evolution. All that happens is that the jasmine and musk fluctuate in terms of their strength. At times, Violet Blonde feels as though it has turned wholly abstract, and the notes (other than that musk) have lost all individual shape or identity. To be precise, it starts to smell like nothing more than a generic “floral, woody musk” on my skin. At other times, however, the jasmine appears as a distinct element, before it sinks back down into the general cloud. At the start of the 2nd hour, Violet Blonde’s sillage hovers just an inch above the skin. 60 minutes later, the perfume turns into a complete skin scent. It’s quite a surprise to have a Tom Ford fragrance turn so discreet after 120 minutes.

Catherine Jeltes Painting, "Modern Brown Abstract Painting WinterScape." Etsy Store, GalleryZooArt, linked within. (Click on photo.)

Catherine Jeltes Painting, “Modern Brown Abstract Painting WinterScape.” Etsy Store, GalleryZooArt, linked within. (Click on photo.)

For hours, Violet Blonde continues its trajectory as a simple, sweet, powdered jasmine scent with abstract woodiness and sharp musk. By the end of the 5th hour, there are a two small changes in the base. First, a creamy undertone appears which is lovely. It’s like sweetened woods with a distinct vanillic edge. The latter clearly stems from the benzoin listed in the notes. Second, there is a subtle vein of jammy sweetness that reappears deep down. I can’t pinpoint the source, but, again, it almost feels like a touch of fruit-chouli or purple patchouli. As a whole, Violet Blonde is now an abstract floral scent on a base of creamy woods that are lightly flecked by a vanillic benzoin and strongly infused with fresh musk. The jasmine is just barely distinguishable; all the rest of the notes have faded away or turned wholly indistinct.

The musk starts to finally mellow out and pipe down by the middle of the 7th hour. To my surprise, the violet flower makes a brief, 30-minute reappearance on the sidelines. I guess it was waiting for the musk to shut up in order to make a visit, but it’s still a very shy, quiet, and muted affair. As a whole, Violet Blonde remains on its simple course: a sweet floral musk with creamy woods. The powder fades away by the middle of the 9th hour, as does a lot of the musk, leaving only creamy floral sweetness as the perfume’s dominant characteristic. Violet Blonde remains that way until the end when it dies in a blur of something vaguely floral. All in all, it lasted just over 11.25 hours with very soft, discreet sillage after the end of the 2nd hour.

Photo: Temptalia, with grateful thanks.

Photo: Temptalia, with grateful thanks.

Violet Blonde has generally received very good reviews. I’ll start with my friend, Temptalia, who isn’t even particularly into floral scents but who found Violet Blonde to be “elegant, polished, and subtly feminine–ultimately, a sophisticated, layered scent that’s not as heavy or as daunting as Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection, but in some ways, more refined.” Her review reads, in part:

It opened with strong burst of floral notes with a sweetened, fruit-laced edge over a backdrop of peppery greens. There was an inkling of the greenness from the violet leaf when it opened, but it quickly transitioned to fragrant, floral jasmine, which was the prevailing note on my skin for some time. The jasmine blended with the rooty qualities of the orris (iris root), so it was cool and just softer than crisp; like the first few days of fall, where the air coolly caresses and you realize the seasons have just changed.

I appreciated the damp, mustiness the orris notes imparted–they enhanced the depth and added another layer of nuance.  It made it distinctly autumnal for me [….]  It’s fresh and green and lovely.

Violet Blonde encapsulates some of those qualities–the freshness and green crispness of autumn–but it is more floral than anything else.  It never turned achingly sweet, which is a direction that tends to remind me of youthfulness, and instead, it evolved to an earthy jasmine with soft, creamy woods that took away some of the edginess of the opening of the scent but made it more wearable.

We had an extremely similar experience, right down to the lovely creamy touch that arrives in Violet Blonde’s drydown. I agree fully with her sentiment that Violet Blonde feels elegant, while not being as heavy or intense as many of the Private Blend line. Where we differ is in the feeling of autumn, as I felt Violet Blonde felt more like Spring, but that’s all an emotional, subjective response. (Plus, I’m writing this at the arrival of Spring, so I’m definitely being influenced by that factor. The perfume was released in Autumn 2011, so that might have played a role in the early reviews.)

Source: shamshyan.com

Source: shamshyan.com

Autumn was also on the mind of Bois de Jasmin who gave Violet Blonde a positive review as well:

Although the perfume is called Violet Blonde, the violet in this composition figures more as a green, crunchy leaf, rather than the raspberry redolent flower. As the fragrance settles into the skin, there is a flash of soft, tender violet petals. The delicate sweetness is a very appealing counterpoint to the peppery-green layers that follow. Soon, a strong jasmine note gives its rich hue to the floral and green notes. The cool iris lends Violet Blonde its austere, earthy quality, and when contrasted with the plush jasmine, the effect is memorable and surprising.

The wet, green woody notes underpin the radiant floral core of Violet Blonde, giving it an autumnal feeling of chrysanthemum petals clinging to damp earth. While the leafy and peppery sparkle persists throughout the perfume’s development, there is a musky softness to the drydown that makes Violet Blonde less edgy than it might have appeared initially. It is both a plus and a minus, because while the softness makes the fragrance more wearable, it also reduces its character. Like Balenciaga Paris, Violet Blonde feels too timid to truly make a statement. On the other hand, even if it does not strike me as a bombshell perfume, Violet Blonde is a well-crafted composition. Elegant and polished, it would make a great daytime perfume, a comfortable silk slip of a fragrance.

Source: swirlydoos.com

Source: swirlydoos.com

For Now Smell This, Violet Blonde was “polished chic,” and their review reads, in part, as follows:

Violet Blonde is soft and cushy-powdery, as is the current fashion, but it’s loudly so, in keeping with Tom Ford’s aesthetic. […] The opening is a heady mix of citrus, sweet fruit, violet leaf and violet (violet fans take note: it does smell like violet in the early stages). It’s green early on, and peppery throughout. The fruit notes soften as the top notes dissipate, and the violet fades into a jasmine-heavy floral mixed with a dry, peppery iris. The jasmine is clean, with fruity undertones, and it’s strong rather than rich: the ad copy repeatedly uses the word opulence, but it’s a decidedly modern sort of opulence. The base is pale earthy woods, smooth and creamy, and mostly clean — as was the case with White Patchouli, the earthy notes are there, but they’ve been worked over with a fine-toothed comb; there’s no must or skank whatsoever. […][¶]

Violet Blonde in particular has that same feel of “polished chic” that verges on formal (formal, polished and chic also feature in the ad copy). I likened Black Orchid to a ball gown, and White Patchouli to the upscale New York all-in-black look (trousers, a black turtleneck and boots, big sunglasses, sleek hair, one big piece of jewelry). Violet Blonde, the purple-tinged advertising notwithstanding, I’d put in shades of beige and tan, something rather like the perfectly tailored ladies-who-lunch [wear.][…]

Source: Fabfitfun.com

Source: Fabfitfun.com

I very much agree with her sentiment of a polished chic that is rather in-between things. It relates back to my point on how Violet Blonde feels as though it is midway on the spectrum between something like Jasmine Rouge (or the bold Private Blends), and the more understated fragrances in the line. For whatever reason, the image which repeatedly came to my mind was that of Sharon Stone from the Oscars long ago in 1998, when she made news by pairing her husband’s simple, white, crisp GAP shirt with an opulent Vera Wang ball gown in violet.    

Lest all this sound like Violet Blonde is filled with nothing but fabulousness, let me make clear that the perfume isn’t for everyone. Obviously, you must like both jasmine and powder, and you should not expect a ton of the actual violet flower. Some people seem to struggle with the peppered, green leaves, as witnessed by a few comments on Fragrantica, while others have problems with other aspects of the scent, including its weak sillage. Some of the negative reviews: 

  • The first hour is a torture for me – can’t put up with e cold top notes? However, it becomes more and more unique as it warms up on the skin and blends into the chemistry of the skin. a dry down seems to me very similar to Chanel Allure.. Overall, very interesting and intriguing fragrance. Love it on someone else, rather than on me.
  • Its nice enough but I am slightly disappointed by this ‘mousy’ perfume – I expected Violet Blonde to smell sharp, fresh and more blueish… But its very subtle – it opens with diffuse powder and hints of muted violet. The dry down on my skin is very sweet and musky – like condensed milk. Its much better on clothing – then the violet is more detectable and it has a nice smoky quality.
  • I really really like this perfume but it is so weak… It wears like an eau de cologne on me, I must be anosmic to a fragrance for the first time in my life? [¶] Contrary to several reviewers here I adore the sharp opening. It’s a sexy car screeching to a halt, a dyed, blonde wearing something inappropriate opening the door mid-breaking. It’s awesome and exciting. [¶] After the promising beginning it stays and pleasantly tingles my senses for about 2 hours with suede and iris and a few aldehydic background notes but unfortunately fizzles out shortly after. The bodylicious Blonde becomes a shrinking violet….
  • Bananas, honey, spices, old makeup…the opening on this scent is so awful that I can’t even justify the drydown.
  • My nose does not translate this opening well at all. It just smells like nondescript perfume to me. Nothing stands out for a solid 15 minutes, it is just kind of a mish-mosh of different notes that do not really compliment or play upon each other. They all seem to be competing for first place and nothing is really winning. But if a winner must be chosen I guess it would be the pink pepper. [¶] It finally settles into a soft powdery violet/iris/jasmine that smells nice and rather polite and feminine. But it is nothing exciting or distinct. It just kinda smells like “perfume”.
  • 1972 beauty parlor top note. [¶] As an obsessed gardener, I cannot pick out a violet note at any point and the overall feeling is perfectly fine for downtown big city USA. And it’s not that I despise it, really, if I worked in an urban sophisticated environment and wanted to project the image of a confidant, don’t-mess-with-me woman, this would be perfect. As it is, it’s too mature for me at age fifty.

For every one of those negative reviews (or, in some cases, quasi-negative, mixed reviews), I can show you two more positive ones from other people on Fragrantica. Even the ones that start negatively soon turn positive. Then, there are the many who write long, gushing, rave reviews, calling Violet Blonde “classy,” or a “masterpiece.” My gut feeling about the negative reactions is that the peppered, powdered leafy notes are a stumbling block for some people, coming across as either harsh, too strong, or “beauty parlor”-like, before the jasmine’s sweetness cuts through it.

I’m also going to add that the musk (yes, that bloody musk!) creates a foundational element that feels similar to so many other fragrances out there, especially in conjunction to the creamy woods. I think that would explain the handful of comments comparing Violet Blonde’s drydown with Chanel‘s Allure. Honestly, when you’re getting into the “floral, woody musk” genre, when the florals turn abstract and indistinct, but sit upon a creamy wood base infused with that musk… well, they all end up smelling somewhat similar and generic. It’s not a positive thing in my eyes, and is one of the main reasons why I have such problems with the over-use of the musk in commercial scents.

I may not be as keen for Violet Blonde as some people out there, but I did thoroughly enjoy parts of it. While it doesn’t fit my tastes, I think people who enjoy very feminine, soft, powdered florals may want to give Violet Blonde a sniff. Those of you who love jasmine, in particular, may want to seek it out at one of the many department stores which carries the fragrance. Violet Blonde is a generally elegant, uncomplicated, feminine fragrance which is very well-priced for Tom Ford. It feels as refined as his Private Blend line, but for half the price, particularly as you can find it highly discounted at such places as Amazon or FragranceNet. As you can see in the Details section below, a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for around $110 but can be found for as low as $67. In contrast, Tom Ford’s Private Blend fragrances in that same size retail for $210, and usually can’t be found discounted at all.

 All in all, it’s a pretty scent that should suit some people very well. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Violet Blonde is an eau de parfum which generally comes 3 sizes: 1 oz/30 ml, 1.7 oz/50 ml, and 3.4 oz/100 ml. In the U.S.: you can find Violet Blonde at Sephora where it costs $72, $110, or $155, depending on size. Violet Blonde is also sold at Nordstrom in the larger $110 and $155 bottles. Other regular retailers include SaksNeiman Marcus, Macy’s, Barneys, and Bergdorf Goodman. Discount PricesAmazon discounts the $110 bottle for around $67 and it is supposedly sold by “Tom Ford.” Amazon also sells the tiny 1 oz/30 ml bottle for $56 through a 3rd party vendor. Another discount site is FragranceNet which sells Violet Blonde for roughly $69 and $101 in the larger sizes, with a coupon. FragranceNet has numerous different subsites by country, from Canada to Australia, the UK, EU, South Africa, and Scandinavian countries. To find the discounted price for your country, go to the little flag icon at the very, very top of the page on the far right, click it, choose your nation’s flag, and you’ll be taken to the site appropriate for you with its huge discounted rates. Outside the U.S.: You can find Violet Blonde discounted at various FragranceNet country sites. (See above.) For regular retailers: In Canada, you can find Violet Blonde at Sephora which sells it for CAD$68, CAD$120, or CAD$163, depending on size. I believe Tom Ford is also carried at Holt Renfrew. In the UK, Violet Blonde is priced at £50, £70, or £100, depending on the size of the bottle. You can buy it at House of Fraser for £70 for the 50 ml size. Violet Blonde is sold at Harrods or Selfridges in all 3 sizes. In France, you can find the entire Tom Ford line at Sephora, including Violet Blonde. Premiere Avenue sells the large size of Violet Blonde. Tom Ford is carried throughout the Middle East and Asia, but his website is currently undergoing a change, so I can’t give you his store locator guide for a location near you. SamplesSurrender to Chance sells Violet Blonde for $3.99 for a 1 ml vial. You can also go to any of the department stores listed above to give it a test sniff.

Tom Ford Oud Fleur & Tobacco Oud (Private Blend Collection)

Tom Ford recently came out with Oud Fleur and Tobacco Oud, two new agarwood fragrances to join his original Oud Wood perfume. The latter has only been re-packaged into a new bottle to match its baby siblings and has not changed. As a result, this review will focus simply on Oud Fleur and Tobacco Oud.

OUD FLEUR:

Oud Fleur via chicprofile.com

Oud Fleur via chicprofile.com

According to CaFleureBon, Oud Fleur was created by Yann Vasnier of Givaudan who has made a number of fragrances for Tom Ford. The perfume’s notes on Fragrantica are extremely limited:

rose, patchouli, agarwood (oud), sandalwood and resins.

I tried Oud Fleur twice, and I realised mere minutes into my first test that half of the things I was scribbling on my notepad weren’t on that list. From cardamom to ginger, apricot-y osmanthus, and more, the notes I detected didn’t match up with Fragrantica’s bare bones description. So I did some digging, and I found a much more substantial list at The Moodie Report which is presumably quoting a Tom Ford Press release. It describes Oud Fleur as follows:

Private Blend Oud Fleur is composed around an oud wood core, amplified with additional woody notes: patchouli, sandalwood, incense, styrax, cistus, a leather accord, ambergris and castoreum.

The Middle East’s Damascus Rose heritage is evoked with a blend of Rose Bulgaria ORPUR, Rose Absolute Morocco and Rose Absolute Turkey ORPUR, said to combine fresh petal, nectar and stem-like scent signatures.

This floral heart is enhanced with ginger CO2, cardamom seed oil ORPUR, cinnamon bark Laos ORPUR and pimento berry. The composition is completed with a touch of Geranium Egypt ORPUR, tagette, osmanthus, davana oil and a date accord.

So, the succinct list of notes would be:

pimento, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, three different types of rose absolutes, geranium, tagette, osmanthus, davana oil, a date accord, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, styrax, cistus [labdanum amber], a leather accord, ambergris and castoreum.

Osmanthus. Source: en.wikipedia.org

Osmanthus. Source: en.wikipedia.org

A few words about the ingredients on that list and in the Moodie press release, as they may not be familiar to everyone. “ORPUR” seems to be the name given by Givaudan, the fragrance aroma and ingredients giant, to its ultra, high-end “pure naturals.” Osmanthus is an Asian flower whose aroma can be like that of apricots, tea, and/or limpid, dewy, light florals.

Davana. Source: hermitageoils.com/davana-essential-oil

Davana. Source: hermitageoils.com/davana-essential-oil

Davana is an Indian flower whose aroma is very creamy, rich, and heady with a subtext of apricots and fruit as well. Tagette or tagete is the name of plant in the marigold family that has an odor which is “sweet, fruity and almost citrus-like.” Some sources say that, depending on type, tagette oil can be a little musky, pungent and sharp with herbaceous notes that soon turn into something very fruited, almost like green apples. As for castoreum, I’ll spare you what it is, but its aroma is animalic, very leathery and a bit sharp. On occasion, it will have a slightly civet-like urinous edge that often turns into something deeper, more rounded, sensuous, and musky. Tiny amounts are often added to non-leather fragrances to provide a plush, velvety, rich brownness in the base, and a bit of subtle “skank.” Finally, on a more familiar note, pimento is simply another name for a type of spicy red chili pepper. 

Source: impfl.com

Source: impfl.com

As always with Tom Ford fragrances, the amount you apply impacts the notes that you detect, their prominence, and their forcefulness. In addition, the potency of many Private Blend fragrances means tha it’s better starting off with a lesser amount. As a result, the first time I tried Oud Fleur, I only applied about 2 really giant smears, or about 1.5 sprays. It made the expected difference to the notes in the opening hour. Oud Fleur started with a much more creamy, mellow, soft aroma that was primarily a dewy, pale rose infused with fruited elements and strewn lightly with spices over a very creamy, sweetened wood base. Everything was creamy and soft. There was even a subtle whiff of a very creamy saffron note like an Indian rice pudding dessert lightly sprinkled with cardamom. The rose flits in and out of the top notes, while the patchouli works from the base to add a subtle touch of fruited sweetness. There was just the merest, faintest suggestion of something leathered, dark, and chewy underneath, but Oud Fleur’s main composition was of very creamy woods. 

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

It was one of my favorite parts of the perfume. With a minimal quantity, Oud Fleur’s opening stage somehow consisted of a sandalwood-like fragrance more than an oud one. It never feels like actual Mysore sandalwood, but the impression of something similar has been created through subtle augmentation via the spices and resins. It boosts what feels like a rather generic “sandalwood” base into something very much like the real thing with its spiced, slightly smoked, sweet, golden-red aroma. It’s all largely thanks to that cardamom note with the subtle saffron-like element (which probably stems from the pimento). The final result for Oud Fleur’s first hour is a fragrance that is a lovely, delicate blend of creamy woodiness with sweet, dusty spices and a subtle sprinkling of light rose petals. It’s all incredibly sheer and seems to positively evaporate from my skin within minutes.

Ginger. iStock photo via Wetpaint.com

Ginger. iStock photo via Wetpaint.com

The second time I tested Oud Fleur, however, I applied about 4 massive smears which would be the equivalent of 3 small sprays, and the perfume’s opening hour was substantially different and much more spicy. Oud Fleur began with a blast of ginger, vanilla, rose, patchouli, amorphous, vague woodiness, and a hint of slightly skanky, animalic leather. The leathery element disappeared within seconds, but the somewhat urinous, feline or civet-like edge of the castoreum hovered about for another minute before it, too, vanished. Sweet florals quickly took their place, from the ginger-infused osmanthus to the creamy davana with its fruited apricot overtones. There was a hint of light spice from the sandalwood, then heaps more from a heavy, rich dose of nutty, dry cardamom.

Source: splendidtable.org

Source: splendidtable.org

With a much bigger application, the ginger came to the foreground, but Oud Fleur’s opening hours were also heavily dominated by the pimento which was completely nonexistent during my first test. It added a fiery kick to the fragrance, feeling precisely like the sort of peppered heat of a red chili pepper. The larger application also brought significantly greater definition to the floral notes. Before, Oud Fleur was primarily a creamy wood fragrance that was initially dominated by a dewy, pale rose with some fruitedness, cardamom, and some other vaguely osmanthus-like elements. The second time, however, Oud Fleur opened mainly as fruity-floral fragrance with heavy amounts of chili and ginger, and a lot of the davana flower’s apricot-floral overtones. There was no real incense, and the woody notes were largely overwhelmed.

Damascena roseAn hour into Oud Fleur’s development, the perfume’s main bouquet is of: sharp, biting pimento; dusty, sharp ginger; creamy davana apricots; floral, apricot-y osmanthus; and a heavy burst of rose. There are slight touches of incense and oud, but little sandalwood or leather. The rose alternates between being jammy and fruited (as a result of the patchouli and other accords), and being dewy, pale, soft and fresh. It also waxes and wanes in prominence, like a small wave hitting Oud Wood’s creamy shores before retreating. On occasion, it’s also supplemented by some greenness from the geranium.

Source: taste.com.au

Source: taste.com.au

By the middle of the second hour, Oud Fleur smells like a creamy, almost custardy, almost mousse-y, airy flan infused with slightly burning spikes of chili pepper, then covered with a blanket of lightly sweetened, fruited flowers. The notes have blurred into each other, the fragrance feels increasingly soft, and hovers just an inch above the skin.

If you’ll notice, I haven’t mentioned oud or agarwood in either of my descriptions of Oud Fleur’s opening stage. There’s a reason for that. In both tests, the oud lurked completely at the fragrance’s edges, popping up like a ghost once in a while to give a little animalic “Boo” in the softest of whispers. On occasion, it took on a more musky, leathered feel (thanks to the castoreum and leather accords); at other times, it was more sweet, seeming like Indian oud instead of the Laotian kind on the list. Actually, to be honest, this doesn’t seem like real agarwood at all. It feels more synthetic than real, and it’s certainly not profoundly woody, deep, or dominant. In all cases, however, the note is really like Casper the Friendly Ghost throughout the majority of Oud Fleur’s lifespan. This is an “oud” perfume for people who actually dislike or struggle with oud. 

"Cosmic Swirls Beige" by Jeannie Atwater Jordan Allen at fineartamerica.com

“Cosmic Swirls Beige” by Jeannie Atwater &Jordan Allen at fineartamerica.com http://fineartamerica.com/featured/cosmic-swirls-beige-jeannie-atwater-jordan-allen.html

The differences in the two openings really lasts about two to three hours at most, and then the two roads of Oud Fleur merge into one. Basically, the second, more robust, spiced version of Oud Fleur takes on the soft, gauzy, creamy woodiness of the first version. It merely takes three hours, instead of just under two hours, for Oud Fleur to turn into a creamy flan-like bouquet infused with slightly fruited florals, abstract beige woodiness, the smallest flecks of oud, a tinge of incense, and some amber. Eventually, the floral elements fade away, leaving a generic, indistinct creamy woodiness with a hint of amber and some tonka vanilla. In its final moments, Oud Fleur is a nebulous smear of woods with a tinge of powdered sweetness.

Oud Fleur has decent longevity and low sillage on my skin. With 2 big smears, the perfume opened very softly, became a skin scent after about 90 minutes, and lasted a total of 7.75 hours. With 4 very big smears, Oud Fleur opened with moderate sillage that projected about 3 inches, then dropped after 2 hours to hover just an inch above the skin. It became a skin scent at the start of the 4th hour, and remained as a sheer, gauzy wisp for several more hours. All in all, it lasted just a little over 9.25 hours.

Oud wood with its "noble rot." Source: The Perfume Shrine via Dr. Robert Blanchette, University of Minnesota - forestpathology.coafes.umn.edu

Oud wood with its “noble rot.” Source: The Perfume Shrine via Dr. Robert Blanchette, University of Minnesota – forestpathology.coafes.umn.edu

I think Oud Fleur is a pretty, pleasant fragrance that has some wonderful creamy bits and can be quite lovely at times. It is more complicated than a simple, small application would lead you to believe, and veers from being sweet, sexy and feminine, to being quite cozy in an elegant manner. However, at heart, it’s really a misnamed fragrance that is more a light fruity-floral with spices and some generic woods than an actual oud fragrance. If I’m to be honest, I think Oud Fleur is very pretty, but somewhat over-priced for a fragrance that isn’t very distinctive. I also think those expecting a true agarwood perfume, or something with the heavy, woody richness of Oud Wood will be sorely disappointed. The same applies to anyone seeking a very masculine or true oud. This is not Xerjoff or Amouage territory!

On the other hand, those who liked By Kilian‘s Playing with the Devil (In The Garden of Good and Evil) would probably like Oud Fleur quite a bit. For me, Tom Ford accomplished what Kilian Hennessey failed to do, creating a fruity-floral with a bit of a fiery, spicy bite (the Devil) that turns into soft, creamy, floral woodiness (Goodness in the Garden). By the same token, women who enjoy soft fruity-florals and don’t like oud may greatly enjoy Oud Fleur. Men who are looking for a more woody twist on creamy florals with some cozy sweetness in the base may feel the same way.      

TOBACCO OUD:

Tobacco Oud via beautyscene.net

Tobacco Oud via beautyscene.net

Tobacco Oud is a fragrance that mimicked a wide range of many existing Tom Ford fragrances on my skin. I kid you not, Tobacco Oud had parts that were extremely similar to four different Tom Ford Private Blends. In order: Amber Absolute, Tobacco Vanille, Café RoseSahara Noir, then back to Amber Absolute in the drydown. Make of that what you will when you contemplate Tobacco Oud’s originality….

According to CaFleureBon, Tobacco Oud was created by Olivier Gillotin of Givaudan who made Tobacco Vanille for Tom Ford. The Moodie Report describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:

As its name suggests, Private Blend Tobacco Oud features a tobacco accord inspired by “dokha,” a blend of herbs, flowers and spice-laden tobacco that was smoked in secret five centuries ago during a ban on smoking — and retains its allure as a widely used tobacco today.

Other key ingredients include roasted Tonka organic absolute, coumarin, sandalwood, amber, cistus oil, cistus absolute, cedarwood Atlas ORPUR, patchouli and castoreum. 

So, a succinct summary of notes would be:

A ‘Dokha’ Tobacco accord, herbs, coumarin, flowers, Tonka bean absolute, sandalwood, cistus [labdanum amber] oil, cistus [labdanum amber] absolute, oud, amber, cedarwood, patchouli, and castoreum.

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Tobacco Oud opens on my skin with a burst of amber and labdanum, then hints of tobacco and oud. For those of you who may mistake the two, labdanum and amber have very different smells. As one perfume nose told me in her studio, labdanum is “real amber,” while “amber” is often the compilation of various other notes to create that overall impression. Labdanum has a very particular, completely unique aroma that is dark, slightly dirty, very nutty and toffee’d with subtle, underlying nuances of honey, beeswax, musk, and/or something a bit leathery. It is almost always a deeper, richer, denser, stronger, darker aroma that is less soft, creamy, and cuddly than regular, lighter “amber.”

All of this is key, because labdanum is really at the heart of Tobacco Oud, as well as its forbearer, the now discontinued, labdanum monster, Amber Absolute, and Amber Absolute’s extremely similar replacement, Sahara Noir. On my skin, Tobacco Oud opens exactly like Amber Absolute, with hints of Tobacco Vanille. That last part can’t be very surprising given that the same perfumer also made this new tobacco fragrance.

Source: visualparadox.com

Source: visualparadox.com

After the opening burst of labdanum, other elements emerge. Joining the tobacco in second place is patchouli, adding a subtle jamminess and additional layer of sweetness to the scent. Bringing up the rear are hints of: vanilla; a smoky, very dry, very brittle cedar; a whisper of oud; and a subtle flicker of something vaguely herbal that is too faint to really place. Tobacco Oud’s main, overall bouquet is of a nutty, dirty, dark, rich, labdanum toffee infused with a fruited pipe tobacco, a jammy sweetness, strong cedar, and a hint of vanilla. The perfume is initially rich and strong in its potency, but it’s far from being dense, opaque, or thick in feel. Actually, it feels much airier than the heavy Amber Absolute, even from the start.

Source: gawallen.piczo.com

Source: gawallen.piczo.com

Ten minutes in, other nuances appear under the top notes. There is a whiff of something floral, something almost rose-like, but it’s very minor at first. Much more noticeable is the subtle aroma of burnt beeswax, along with the merest suggestion of a darkened leather coated with honey. Both are side-effects of the labdanum. My skin tends to amplify the note, but it also makes patchouli act like a bullhorn a lot of the times, and Tobacco Oud is no exception. It takes the patchouli and runs with it, bringing out a definite syrupy, fruited, almost fruit-chouli like sweetness. Less than 30 minutes into Tobacco Oud’s development, the patchouli merges into the floral note to create a jammy rose sweetness that completely overwhelms the tobacco. I’ll be honest, I was a bit baffled, but, clearly, it’s the patchouli at play and, as usual, my skin wreaks havoc with it.

As the notes begin to blur into each other and overlap, Tobacco Oud turns into a labdanum, patchouli, and sweetened rose fragrance on my skin with only the vaguest suggestion of tobacco, oud, incense smoke, or cedar. Around the 75-minute mark, Tobacco Oud’s projection drops, the notes become even softer, and the fragrance loses most of its tobacco layer. The jamminess of the rose mixed with the dark labdanum amber creates something that, on my skin, distinctly resembles portions of Tom Ford’s Café Rose.

Tom Ford advert for Sahara Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

Tom Ford advert for Sahara Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

As regular readers will know, I’m not a fan of jammy, fruit-chouli, so it’s a huge relief when it fades by the end of the second hour and Tobacco Oud changes again. Now, it’s a gauzy, sheer, relatively dry-ish amber infused with frankincense and the merest flicker of oud. In short, the third hour opens in Sahara Noir territory, only Tobacco Oud is substantially thinner and weaker in feel. As the review linked above makes clear, I found Sahara Noir itself to be a copy of Amber Absolute, only much better balanced and less bullying, but somewhat lighter, less unctuous, without quite so much frankincense intensity, and with the new (but subtle) addition of oud.

Source: openwalls.com

Source: openwalls.com

So, really, Tobacco Oud has really returned cycled back to the beginning. The main difference is in density, thickness, projection and dryness. Tobacco Oud seems much drier than Amber Absolute, much less opaque, resinous, indulgently dense and gooey in its labdanum. It’s weaker in both weight and sillage, hovering just an inch above the skin at the middle of the third hour. To me, Tobacco Oud is actually much less smoky or incense-heavy than either Sahara Noir or Amber Absolute. Yet, it also feels dryer, probably because the labdanum isn’t such a heavy, rich layer.

Source: rexfabrics.com

Source: rexfabrics.com

Tobacco Oud continues to devolve, reflecting neither of its namesake elements in any noticeable way. Near the end of the 4th hour, it loses the remainder of its incense, turning into a scent that is primarily gauzy, wispy labdanum with a hint of nebulous woody dryness that can just vaguely, barely, be made out as “oud.” Even that goes by the end of the 6th hour. From that pointon, until Tobacco Oud’s final moments, the perfume is a mere smear of soft amber. All in all, it lasted 9.5 hours on my skin with generally low sillage after the third hour.

People’s reactions to Tobacco Oud seem highly mixed, and generally much less enthusiastic than the response to Oud Fleur. On Fragrantica, almost all the talk about Tobacco Oud centers on just how much of those two namesake notes are in the scent, and the degree of similarity it shares to Amber Absolute. A number of people find the two perfumes to be very similar in their opening stage, but dissimilar in overall development, weight, and feel. A few find zero similarity, no doubt because they experienced a heavy amount of tobacco. (Oddly, a number of those bring up Sahara Noir instead.) Obviously, the more the tobacco element manifests itself on your skin, the less you’re likely to think Tobacco Oud resembles Amber Absolute.

To give you an idea of the debate and divergence in opinion, here are some snippets from Fragrantica:

  • Tobacco and Oud you are looking for? Look elsewhere. This fragrance is very similar to Amber Absolute at the top of this, rich with resinous amber but not as rich and less patchouli than AA. This fragrance is slightly drier. This fragrance does not have the longevity and projection that Amber Absolute has. There is no Oud and very minimal tobacco. Once this dries down, it turns into an amber/sandalwood scent with very light spices. […] This is very similar to amber absolute but if you’re an amber absolute fan this would not be a suitable replacement. It definitely lacks the richness that AA has.
  • tobacco oud? this is more amber absolute with just a bit of spices. nice scent and good sillage and longevity.
  • The tobacco is the most prominent aspect of it (considerably more so than the oud), and the note is split between the herbal facets of tobacco leaves and a genuinely dirty smoke effect. The spices are surprisingly grungy for a Tom Ford, and I’m assuming that there’s some civet or some choyas playing up against the patchouli to get this effect. The oud is minimal […] This is all placed over a fairly stock amber base that’s got a vanillic edge, but is largely characterless. It’s the same thing you find at the base of the lifeless Rive d’Ambre. [¶] There’s no connection to Amber Absolute here whatsoever. None. [¶] There is, however, what appears to be a hint of benzoin that draws some parallels to Sahara Noir, but the similarity is minimal. […] As an oud fragrance, it’s lackluster, but it’s on par with the other non-oud ouds from similar brands [.]
  • it is a very simple scent with a deep onslaught of a pipe’a’riffic notion. kinda like a cherry black and mild before it is burnt. i like it but i can’t see myself smelling like this often. it’s more like a novelty item then a fragrance i would wear. however it is a quality product and for someone who is looking for a very specific item. this fits your pipe tobacco needs.
  • Oh dear, love tobacco vanille, love oud wood more. This is nasty

Personally, I was much more interested in what a close friend of mine thought, as she is a die-hard Tom Ford fan whose “holy grail” fragrance is Oud Wood, followed then by Amber Absolute. For her, Oud Wood and Amber Absolute are absolute perfection. She is the very talented, thorough, globally successful beauty blogger, Temptalia, and her review of Tobacco Oud reads, in part, as follows:

Tobacco Oud opens with a burst of smoke, spice, and almost reminds me of incense burning at an altar. It’s dry, like walking in the woods during autumn, when it’s chilly enough that fireplaces are crackling, but there’s no snow or rain yet. Or stepping into a dry sauna–it’s just a lot of smokiness and drier woods to me; I keep thinking cedarwood (which is a note). There’s amber in the background, somewhere, that’s fleeting initially, and then it settles in for a long stay. It morphs into a mix of smoke, spice, amber, labdanum, and the beginning tendrils of vanilla. Finally, it becomes a more comforting, warmer scent that smells of lightly sweetened vanilla with a soft smokiness and a wee bit of spice that lingers. Oud is here and there throughout the first few hours of wear; it’s not the star–the smokiness from tobacco is definitely more in the forefront. If you’re looking for a strong oud note, it’s not in this scent.

The discontinued Amber Absolute.

The discontinued Amber Absolute.

She too has noted how Tom Ford fragrances differ substantially in smell depending on the quantity applied, and I think her observations are useful, along with the ever-helpful comparisons to her beloved Amber Absolute:

I found Tobacco Oud’s metamorphosis was greatly influenced by the number of sprays; less than two, and it was very, very dry and lacked warmth, but three sprays gave me that warmth that I missed the first time I wore it, and that warmth made me understand some of the comparisons to Amber Absolute. With that being said, Amber Absolute is much, much heavier on the amber; it’s headier, thicker, warmer, cozier; when Amber Absolute opens, I get that resinous quality but not the smokiness that I wafts from Tobacco OudAmber Absolute is also sweeter throughout the wear, where Tobacco Oud turns slightly sweeter from the tonka bean after six to eight hours of wear. Even if the two had more similarities than differences, the most marked difference is that Amber Absolute is a monster–it has more projection, longevity, and overall, it is just more potent. Amber Absolute–one spray split between my wrists–is still a skin scent twenty-four hours after I’ve applied and taken a shower.

Tobacco Oud is standing in front of the hearth and warming your hands, a brief respite from the cool outdoors.  Amber Absolute is curling up in a luxurious blanket in your favorite chair and settling in for the night.

Due to differences in skin chemistry, the opening I experienced was much more ambered and sweet than hers, as well as with substantially less tobacco and dryness. Nonetheless, I think she’s absolutely right about the overall differences, and she’s summarized them extremely well. I also agree that Amber Absolute has far greater sillage, weight, and duration.

That said, my dear friend has what I affectionately call “unicorn skin,” because she gets longevity from all fragrances to a degree that is simply unique. I’ve never seen numbers (from anyone!) like what she regularly gets from a single, tiny, split spray of perfume. (Any perfume, any brand — doesn’t make a difference.) She’s in a whole other territory, beyond even “glue skin,” and verging on something completely epic. It fills me with the deepest envy, but it also requires me to caution you that you should not take her longevity numbers as the typical norm.

You should, however, listen to the die-hard Oud Wood and Amber Absolute fan when she tells you that Tobacco Oud won’t satisfy your oud itch, and that it won’t measure up to Oud Wood or Amber Absolute for anyone who is truly passionate about either fragrance. I couldn’t agree more. Tobacco Oud isn’t a bad perfume, but, as this discussion should make clear, it’s incredibly generic and wholly unoriginal.

In essence, Tobacco Oud is like a Greatest Hits remix of the Tom Ford line, only played at a much lower volume, and not in High-Definition or surround-sound. Unfortunately, the sum total effect is not equal to the originals by themselves. I’m truly not sure to whom Tom Ford is marketing this fragrance, especially at $210 for the smallest sized bottle. All the people who love ouds and/or tobacco scents will have infinitely better, richer, more opulent choices elsewhere — often for much less. And, for the exact same price, Tom Ford fans can always turn to his existing line-up (or to eBay for Amber Absolute). I know a ton of guys who own both Oud Wood and Amber Absolute (with a few owning Tobacco Vanille and/or Sahara Noir as well). Layer some combination of those fragrances, and you’ll get a more potent, richer, deeper Tobacco Oud. Why spend $210 for a less distinctive, ersatz copy? Do they really think Tom Ford aficionados are that stupid, or that unfamiliar with the rest of the line? The only possible explanation lies in the perfume industry cycle, and the pressures imposed by annual shareholder reports on large conglomerates like Estée Lauder (which owns Tom Ford). Because perfume originality, creativity, body, depth, and quality aren’t it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Both Oud Fleur and Tobacco Oud are eau de parfums. They come in three sizes that cost: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; and $520 or €420 for a 250 ml/8.45 oz bottle. There are also accompanying bath products to go with Tom Ford’s original Oud Wood fragrance. In the U.S.: you can find the two new Oud perfumes at Nordstrom Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, and Luckyscent (which has just started to carry Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection). I don’t see the new Oud fragrances on the Bergdorf Goodman site, only the original Oud Wood. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list the old Oud Wood on their online website, not the new ones. In the UK, you can find the Oud collection at HarrodsHarvey NicholsSelfridges, or House of Fraser. All four stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00, and the super-large 250 ml bottle for £320.00. In France, Tom Ford Private Blend fragrances are available at the Sephora in Paris, along with Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180, and the large 250 ml bottle for €420. (Scroll down the page at the link above to see the new Oud listings.) Premiere Avenue ships throughout Europe, and I believe they might ship world-wide but I’m not sure. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: I bought my samples of the new Oud fragrances at Surrender to Chance which sells both Oud Fleur and Tobacco Oud (as well as Oud Wood) starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Chine (Atelier d’Orient Collection)

Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Source: wallpaperswiki.org

A gentle veil of sweetened, creamy white flowers. That’s the essence of Fleur de Chine, the latest Private Blend fragrance from Tom Ford. It is part of a brand-new collection of perfumes within his Private Blend line that were released in July 2013. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient, and consists of four fragrances: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisRive d’Ambre, and Fleur de Chine.

Source: The Moodie Report

Source: The Moodie Report

According to the Moodie Report, Tom Ford’s inspiration for Fleur de Chine was the Asian cinematic femme fatale. As Ford apparently told the site:

‘For Fleur de Chine, I imagined the romantic and mysterious women from Asia’s cinematic past – from the ’30s femme fatale in a cheongsam and dark lipstick, to the ’60s Hong Kong heroine of In the Mood for Love [….] I wanted to capture that fascinating, exquisite and slightly scandalous femininity.’

Fleur de Chine is an eau de parfum that was created by Rodrigo Flores Roux of Givaudan, and its full set of notes — as compiled from the Moodie Report, Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance — are:

HuaLan flower, star magnolia, tea blossom, clementine, bergamot, hyacinth, jasmine tea, lilac, syringa, plum, tea rose, wisteria, white peach, peony, hinoki, Chinese cedarwood, amber, Laotian benzoin, styrax and vetiver.

Source: made-in-china.com

Source: made-in-china.com

It might be useful to go through a few of those notes. As Fragrantica explains, Hinoki is a type of light-coloured cypress prized in Japan that emits an aroma of evergreen with lemon. The “HuaLan flower” is a bit more complicated to explain. A Google search brought up the following results: Mo Li Hua Nan, Bai He Hua Lan, Yu Lan Hua, and Hua Lan. The names all seem to be different variations for the same sort of flowering tea where woody-ish-looking, green tea leaves are wrapped around night-blooming jasmine petals in the shape of a ball. I actually tried a number of these in China; you drop the dried ball into hot water and it slowly blooms, just like a flower, emitting a floral aroma infused with that of tea leaves.

I had problems testing Fleur de Chine because it feels like a floral will o’ the wisp with notes dancing in the air just out my reach. I think I have a relatively decent nose, but Fleur de Chine often felt just too nebulous and vague to pull apart. In fact, I initially put some on, then felt as though the fragrance was starting to die on my skin within less than 10 minutes. So I applied another good smear, and then two more, for a total of 5 really big smears! I felt as though I were chasing the notes, and it was incredibly frustrating. My second time around, using my regular, normal application of about 2 to 2.5 really big smears, the fragrance felt even simpler. Alas, in all cases, Fleur de Chine essentially dissolved on itself, and became a rather singular floral fragrance that was extremely lovely to sniff and actually quite seductive at times, but wholly without distinction, body, or complexity.

Source: Wallpaper777.com

Source: Wallpaper777.com

So, let’s start with my first attempt to get to the heart of Fleur de Chine. The fragrance opens on my skin with light, gauzy florals dominated by lilac and hyacinth. The scent is simultaneously watery and a little bit powdery. A minute later, a lemony, honeyed, very rich magnolia arrives on the scene to add some creaminess to the fragrance. It was at this point that I put on my 3rd big smear, and I immediately detected a whiff of plum. It all seemed a little out of my grasp, indistinct, and amorphous, so I put on a fourth and fifth wallop that essentially wet my forearm. It enabled me to detect the hinoki and a subtle tinge of vetiver. Without these additional doses, Fleur de Chine would have been nothing more than thin fizzes of lilac, magnolia, a hint of hyacinth, and a general, ephemeral, lemony, slightly watery, pastel florality. If you’re detecting some frustration in these words, you’d be correct.

Hinoki Cypress gate at a Japanese temple. Source: es.123rf.com

Hinoki cypress gate at a Japanese temple. Source: es.123rf.com

With the 5 huge smears, however, it was easier to detect some nuance to the fragrance. Fleur de Chine’s woody base was quite evident, as was the honeyed magnolia, the bergamot, and the vetiver. Unfortunately, the plum and hyacinth seemed to vanish within minutes, as did the touch of powderiness. Ten minutes into Fleur de Chine’s development, the jasmine started to rise from the depths. At times, the fragrance felt like nothing more than abstract, sweet, white florals with lemony nuances and with dry woods that can just barely be teased apart into cedar and hinoki.

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

Yet, just when I was beginning to give up on the damn thing, Fleur de Chine started to shift. There was something vaguely tea-like wafting around, similar to  the blooming, woody, floral tea balls that I’d tried in China. At the 20-minute mark, Fleur de Chine suddenly became a creamy, velvety magnolia with lemony bergamot, honey, and very sweet jasmine. The latter has a wee touch of woodiness to it, though whether it stems from the HuaLan tea or from the abstract woods in the fragrance’s base, I have no idea. At the end of the first hour, Fleur de Chine is a beautifully soft, seductive, slightly indolic swirl of magnolia and jasmine with lemoned honey and a hint of vanilla. All the other notes — the woods, the vetiver, the lilac, the hyacinth, and the plum — have vanished.

It’s essentially the end of the tale, as Fleur de Chine never once changes from that triptych of notes: magnolia, jasmine, and vanilla. All that happens over the next few hours is that the strength or order of the notes fluctuates. Sometimes, the jasmine is more apparent. Once in a while, especially around the start of the fifth hour, it seems as though the vanilla has taken over entirely. Eventually, everything returns to the primary focus of a creamy, velvety, lush magnolia with its lemony, honeyed nuances. In its final moments, if you want to be really generous, you can say that Fleur de Chine is blurry magnolia with vanilla. It may be more accurate, however, to call it a haze of some amorphous, wispy, creamy, lemony, white floral with some general sweetness. All in all, after applying a large dose of 5 extremely big smears, Fleur de Chine became a skin scent around the end of the 3rd hour and lasted just over 6.25 hours in total on my skin.

The second time I tested Fleur de Chine, I applied my regular dose of about 2 to 2.5 very good smears, and got nothing more than magnolia and lemony honey from the start. Perhaps some of the lemon undertone stemmed from the bergamot, perhaps it was from the magnolia, but the creamy, lush, sweetened floral dominated. About five minutes in, I think I detected a subtle swirl of lilac, followed by a tiny whiff of hyacinth, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. There was also a subtle dryness underlying the floral blur, but it was very intangible. Either way, within forty minutes, Fleur de Chine became a soft, creamy magnolia scent with all its traditional undertones and the merest suggestion of sweet jasmine. The fragrance was initially quite potent when smelled up close, but it couldn’t have projected more than 1.5 inches off the skin. At the 90-minute mark, there was a subtle undercurrent of vanilla, and Fleur de Chine then took on the same trajectory as it did the first time around. It’s also around the 90-minute mark when the fragrance became a total skin scent. Almost 3 hours into the perfume’s development, it died completely. I’m not sure how to describe what it smelled like at that point, beyond saying “indistinct lemony floral.”

Magnolia. Source: desktopwallpapers4.me

Magnolia. Source: desktopwallpapers4.me

Fleur de Chine is too new to have a lot of detailed blog reviews out there. Persolaise has a brief round-up of the four new Atelier scents, and wrote this about Fleur de Chine:

Leather pops up in Fleur De Chine too, but in this case it’s the ‘well-worn handbag’ variety, a la Aromatics Elixir, a scent to which this one clearly owes some allegiance. In fact, it owes allegiance to several others too, because it plays out very much like an homage to classic feminines of decades gone by. The aldehydic opening echoes White Linen, the mossy woodiness is reminiscent of Knowing and the richness of the floral elements could have come straight from Beautiful. In other words, it’s a tribute to all things Lauder, which raises the question of precisely what makes it ‘oriental’.

His experience is night and day apart from mine, but I agree that Fleur de Chine could be something produced by Estée Lauder. It is pretty, perhaps even “chic” as he calls it, and quite seductive at times, but, at the end of the day, I think it is wholly unoriginal and deeply uninteresting.

Over at CaFleureBon, Mark Benhke also detected “a fizz of aldehydes” in the “lightly floral opening of magnolia, hyacinth, and hualan flower.” He writes that “[s]ingly each of these notes have a distinct lightness of being but together they harmonize into something stronger and so what early on seems flimsy develops a spine and really takes hold.” Later, he detected a jasmine tea accord, a hint of wisteria (lilac), and peach atop a base of dry woody notes. There is also something apparently about a lipstick smell: “Deep down in the heart is a hint of a lipstick accord like a red rim on the end of crushed out cigarette; only there to be noticed if you’re looking for it.”

Alas, I don’t seem to have the skin chemistry for anything quite as interesting as all that. The odd thing is that my skin really emphasizes aldehydes, and usually amplifies them into a soapy mess, yet I didn’t experience any with Fleur de Chine. Instead, my skin merely did what it always does: accentuate anything that is even remotely honeyed. I think both bloggers had a much more interesting experience with Fleur de Chine than I did, and yet, to me, neither one of them seems particularly wowed by the fragrance. I find that telling. Persolaise may call Fleur de Chine “chic” and find it to be more impressive than some of its other siblings in the Atelier d’Orient collection, but I read that as quite a relative thing.

Wisteria via placesmustseen.com

Wisteria via placesmustseen.com

Over at Fragrantica, the only thing that seems clear about the scent is that the majority of voters thus far put Fleur de Chine’s longevity at “moderate.” The term is defined by 3-6 hours in duration. The fragrance is too new to have a lot of reviews but, judging by the votes on the notes, a number of people (3) seem to think that wisteria, a flower that smells of lilacs, is the dominant note. Bergamot and magnolia have the same number of votes (3). As for the fragrance itself, absolutely no-one seems passionately over the moon about it. To wit:

  • It reminds me to “En passant” from Frederick Malle, which I love but tends to be more real wisteria. I think this one is a slightly less interesting interpretation.
  • This is beautiful, floral, fresh and slightly rainy. The rain might be the best part. Maybe too powdery for me.
  • Its nice but not unique I suppose. Fleur de Chine is the hardest to fill in my split.

On Basenotes, the sole review for Fleur de Chine thus far describes an experience almost identical to mine:

The top note is nice, with magnolia, jasmine and bergamot opening up with a lovely hyacinth added, and merging with a nice Chinese tea note. Wood is present in the base but overall it is a bit dull towards the end. Two hours longevity on me.

I don’t even know what to say at this point about Fleur de Chine that I haven’t already said in my review for Rive d’Ambre. I think the fragrance is marketed at people with wholly different tastes than my own, or even the usual Tom Ford buyers who like his more opulently heavy, spicy, layered, sometimes bombastic, super-charged scents. The Atelier d’Orient collection seems to be aimed at the Asian luxury market, and at people who may prefer more discreet, gauzy, simple, uncomplicated fragrances. Fleur de Chine is far from being a bad perfume; it is actually very pretty at times, and even somewhat elegant and chic, I suppose. However, it’s also ridiculously over-priced for its wispy, linear, extremely simple, one-dimensional, and short-lived nature. Then again, I’m not the target audience. If I had to choose a favorite from the Atelier line, I would opt for Shanghai Lily which is truly beautiful, though it too turns flat like the rest of its siblings. Still, out of all of them, and on a purely relative basis, it has the most depth, body, nuance, and beauty. I would absolutely wear it if a bottle fell into my lap — but I can’t fathom ever spending money to actually buy it. Quite frankly, there are more interesting, complex, distinctive, and long-lasting fragrances out there for the price.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Fleur de Chine is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that cost: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; and $520 or €420 for a 250 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The line is not yet listed on the Tom Ford websiteIn the U.S.: you can find Fleur de Chine at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Neither Nordstrom nor Saks has new collection up on their website yet. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list 2 of the old fragrances on their online website. In the UK, you can find Fleur de Chine at HarrodsHarvey NicholsHouse of Fraser, or Selfridges. All four stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00, and the super-large 250 ml bottle for £320.00. In France, Fleur de Chine is available at Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180, and the large 250 ml bottle for €420. They ship throughout Europe, and I believe they might ship world-wide but I’m not sure. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: You can buy samples of Fleur de Chine at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Tom Ford Private Blend Rive d’Ambre (Atelier d’Orient Collection)

Tom Ford Rive d'Ambre 50 ml

Source: Harvey Nichols.

Bright citruses turned to softened amber gauziness. That’s the essence of Rive d’Ambre, the latest Private Blend fragrance from Tom Ford. It is part of a brand-new collection of fragrances within his Private Blend line, and was just released in July 2013. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient, and consists of four perfumes: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisFleur de Chine and Rive d’Ambre.

None of the new Atelier d’Orient fragrances are listed yet on Tom Ford’s website, but, according to the Moodie Report and press copy, Tom Ford’s inspiration for Rive d’Ambre was the way that “precious citrus fruits” are a “talisman of good fortune in Asia[.]” As Ford apparently told the Moodie Report:

Source: singaporeflorist.com.sg -

Source: singaporeflorist.com.sg –

‘Rive d’Ambre is inspired by the tradition of presenting precious citrus fruits as gifts,” revealed Ford. “True to my nature, the sparkling fruits are wrapped in rich and warm sensuality.’

That last bit of egoism made me roll my eyes, as did the press copy used by Neiman Marcus for its description of Rive d’Ambre: “Tom Ford Rive d’Ambre is a golden-toned eau de cologne with a veil of colonial elegance.” Colonial elegance? I’m not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole, but my thoughts are slightly sardonic. 

Rive d’Ambre is an eau de parfum that was created by Olivier Gillotin of Givaudan, and its notes — as compiled from Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance — include:

bergamot, lemon, bitter orange, tarragon, cardamom, spearmint, benzoin, pear wood, cognac, tolu balsam and amber.

Rive d’Ambre opens on my skin with a burst of freshly squeezed lemon and bergamot, followed by squirts of slightly bitter oil from the skin of a zested orange that is tart, sweet and bright, all at once. There is also a ton of pepper from ISO E Super, and a hint of some fresh, green herbs that only faintly and vaguely resemble tarragon. Rive d’Ambre has the brisk, very fresh, clear-as-a-bell opening of a citrus cologne that has been modernized to remove any barbershop nuances. The crispness is beautifully bright and refreshing.

Source: wallpaperswide.com

Source: wallpaperswide.com

It takes less than three minutes for Rive d’Ambre to start to soften, and for its edges to start to blur. The fragrance never had a roar to begin with, but it’s turned into a very muted, quiet meow in an astonishingly brief amount of time. In fact, it felt as though the notes were slipping away, out of my grasp, and vanishing into the air, so I actually applied a second dose, for about 4 very large smears, all in all. The same result ensued, even with the greater quantity. Clearly, Rive d’Ambre is meant to be a muted, discreet hint on your skin, and nothing more. Fifteen minutes in, Rive d’Ambre is a soft haze of citruses that are starting to grow warmer, sweeter, and more golden. The fragrance now feels less like a crisp cologne, and more like a slightly ambered eau de toilette strongly infused with citruses. It’s pretty, but it’s also neither very distinctive, nor very original. 

Bergamot. Source: a1.ro

Bergamot. Source: a1.ro

At the end of the first hour, Rive d’Ambre starts to change. From a distance, the fragrance still smells like citruses with a soft, warm glow. Up close, however, if you really, really inhale forcefully at your arm, you can detect a slight woodiness stirring at the base. There is also a really beautiful herbal note that sometimes resembles spearmint, and, at other time, a more pure, sweet, herbal mint. It’s one of my favorite parts, especially given the strong lingering taint of ISO E Super in the fragrance. Eventually, a new note appears in the base, though it’s as soft and muted as everything else to do with Rive d’Ambre. It’s a hint of dry, but boozy, sweetness that just barely suggests cognac.

Mark Rothko, "No. 14-10 Yellow Greens," 1953.

Mark Rothko, “No. 14-10 Yellow Greens,” 1953.

Unfortunately, shortly before the two-hour mark, Rive d’Ambre basically collapses in on itself. The fragrance feels totally flat; the notes have dissolved into an empty, hollow shell of themselves; and everything feels muffled, muted, and hidden. Rive d’Ambre is now primarily an amorphous, abstract hint of flat citruses with dry woodiness atop a sweetened, warm base. By the end of the third hour, the base becomes sweeter with the infusion of the tolu balsam resin, creating a fragrance that is primarily rich amber at the top. A hint of cognac dryness trails a few feet behind, and a whisper of citrus brings up the rear. An hour later, the citrus disappears entirely, and Rive d’Ambre quietly emits amber, a dry woodiness, a hint of sweetness, and an absolutely gorgeous whiff of cognac. The latter is simultaneously dry, and with a tiny subtext of smokiness. The overall combination results in a very pretty drydown that is actually a wee more complex than the early stage of Rive d’Ambre had led me to expect.

Still, the fragrance feels a lot like a will o’ the wisp at times. It’s an airy gauze that’s so sheer, thin, and soft, you have to forcibly sniff with your nose right on your skin to detect anything more than a nebulous “amber.” At its very end, in its final moments, Rive d’Ambre truly is nothing more than an abstract blur. All in all, Rive d’Ambre lasted just shy of 6.75 hours on my skin, but with the use of a double dose. Others have reported 3 or 4 hours in duration, which wouldn’t surprise me at all. If I’d applied my regular dose, I doubt I would have been able to detect any detailed layers to the scent, or that it would have lasted above 3 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It’s a problem for a fragrance with such a high price tag, and it’s one that isn’t limited solely to me.

For the most part, the reaction to Rive d’Ambre seems very short on enthusiasm. On Basenotes, one person entitled his review, “A one-trick citrus pony with little reason to exist.” Another wrote: “very light and non descript and does not last. A poor effort.” Over on Fragrantica, one commentator enjoyed the first hour of Rive d’Ambre but found it quickly “falls off a cliff for me[.]” I’m not sure if that refers to the flatness of the notes or to the longevity issue, given that he also complained about how quickly Rive d’Ambre disappeared on him even with a very “liberal” application in quantity. Interestingly, two people on Fragrantica thought there was little to no amber at all in the fragrance! I suspect that those whose skin chemistry amplifies base notes will detect more amber, while those whose skin intensifies the top notes in a fragrance will have primarily a citric experience.

Source: .popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

If one were in PR, one might positively describe Rive d’Ambre as a bright, warm, citrusy glow. It would be technically correct, but it would also be an extremely good spin on things. Which brings me to my main point about Rive d’Ambre. I think those used to Tom Ford’s signature style in such Private Blends as Tobacco Vanille, Oud Wood, Amber Absolute, and some others will find Rive d’Ambre to be a mundane, generic, unoriginal dullard without character and oomph.

However, in my opinion, Tom Ford is not aiming Rive d’Ambre at them or at me, but at people who actually dislike his usual style. A friend and fellow blogger, The Black Narcissus, lives in Japan, and he told me that the Japanese would never abide the usual Tom Ford heaviness or drama. It seems that some in the Asian market find the usual Tom Ford signature to be overbearing, excessively heavy, and overly oriental or spicy. Being the good businessman that he is, Tom Ford is targeting a very wealthy market that loves luxury goods by offering something more appealing, though I wonder how they’d feel about the PR copy’s reference to “colonial elegance.” Still, it doesn’t hurt that his muted, tamed, conventional fragrance will also appeal to buyers everywhere who appreciate some freshness in their fragrances. For example, in that Basenotes thread, one person actually adores the “unique brightness” of Rive d’Ambre, while another likes how it is a fresher, lighter interpretation of an amber. I can see the appeal of that last point for those who aren’t hardcore amber lovers.

In short, Rive d’Ambre isn’t a terrible fragrance by any means, but what you think of it will depend purely on your expectations and taste. That’s true of all fragrances, but it’s perhaps more true of Rive d’Ambre than most, given its extremely simplicity, lack of body, and muted unobtrusiveness. This is a perfume for people who prefer fresher, more discreet, wispy, gauzy fragrances. It is an utterly safe, conventional, but bright, initially zesty, very crisp citrus that turns into ambered warmth, thereby feeling unisex and avoiding the impression of a traditional men’s cologne. It’s not my style or my taste, but it’s ideal for a specific group of people out there. That said, I think the longevity issue will be a problem for everyone. The reports seem to be consistent: even if you apply a lot, the fragrance will disappear far sooner than you’d expect.

Whether Rive d’Ambre is ridiculously over-priced for what it is then becomes a question of taste. I personally think Rive d’Ambre is absurdly expensive for such a simple, unoriginal, short-lived fragrance, but then, I’m not one whose idea of a perfect scent involves bergamot, lemon, and some amber. So, for me, it’s a total pass. Nonetheless, if you’re a citrus lover who has disliked Tom Ford’s usual brash, bold, or intense style, or if you’re someone struggles with more traditionally heavy ambers, then perhaps Rive d’Ambre will be your version of Goldilocks’ perfume. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Rive d’Ambre is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that cost: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; or $520 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The line is not yet listed on the Tom Ford websiteIn the U.S.: you can find Rive d’Ambre at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Neither Nordstrom nor Saks has new collection up on their website yet. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list 2 of the old fragrances on their online website. In the UK, you can find Rive d’Ambre at Harrods, House of Fraser, or Selfridges. All three stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00, and the super-large 250 ml bottle for £320.00. The smaller size is also carried at Harvey Nichols. In France, Rive d’Ambre is available at Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180. They ship throughout Europe, and I believe they might ship world-wide but I’m not sure. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: You can buy samples of Rive d’Ambre at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Tom Ford Private Blend Plum Japonais (Atelier d’Orient Collection)

Tom Ford does Serge Lutens. Or, to be more precise, Tom Ford tries desperately to be Serge Lutens, but falls flat on his face. That is my grumpy analysis of Plum Japonais, the latest Private Blend fragrance from Tom Ford. It is part of a brand-new collection of fragrances within his Private Blend line, and was just released in July 2013. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient, and consists of four perfumes: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisFleur de Chine, and Rive d’Ambre. Today is Plum Japonais‘ turn.

Source: Neiman Marcus

Source: Neiman Marcus

According to the Moodie Report, Tom Ford’s inspiration for Plum Japonais was the ume fruit:

Plum Japanais, as its name suggests, was inspired by the ume plum. ‘I have always been fascinated by unusual ingredients from exotic cultures,’ Ford revealed. ‘The ume plum…has great meaning in Oriental culture; in Japan and China, it is a sacred symbol of Spring. I wanted to craft a fragrance around the ume, because it has a texture and aroma that is so luscious.’

Now, I have searched and searched for some official word on who is the actual perfumer responsible for the Atelier d’Orient collection, or for Plum Japonais in specific. I can’t find it anywhere, which is slightly unusual these days when a perfumer’s name is frequently mentioned in press releases or in articles about a new fragrance.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens' Facebook page.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens’ Facebook page.

Still, it wouldn’t be important or significant except for one thing: Plum Japonais is a total rip-off of Christopher Sheldrake‘s gorgeous, stunning Fille en Aiguilles for Serge Lutens. It is a fragrance that I love with a passion, and it may be my favorite Lutens that I’ve tried in recent memory. So, you can imagine my grumpiness and sour mood when I thought about how Tom Ford was so blatantly copying about 90% of the Lutens/Sheldrake masterpiece. Yes, there are differences, but they are so minor that I will stick with my numeric assessment that 90% of Plum Japonais is Fille en Aiguilles. It’s so close that much of the detailed break-down of Plum Japonais feels almost redundant (though I will do it shortly), but the main thing you should take away is this: Plum Japonais is Fille en Aiguilles done very, very badly.

Some perfumistas have compared Tom Ford’s style of perfumery to that of a frat boy with his fragrances’ over-the-top loudness and their hyper-sexualized marketing. I don’t always agree because I think Tom Ford is quite capable of producing more restrained, elegant pieces, though his marketing definitely verges on the bold and, sometimes, crass. But Plum Japonais definitely felt like a frat boy took a sledgehammer approach to Uncle Serge’s gorgeously refined, well-balanced, utterly beautiful masterpiece. Fille en Aiguilles may not rank among the best-known Lutens, but it is massively beloved amongst almost everyone who has tried it, some of whom rate it as their favorite Lutens perfume ever. And Plum Japonais simply cannot measure up. It’s as though One Direction attempted to cover John Lennon.

Christopher Sheldrake. Source: jonathanfrantini.com

Christopher Sheldrake. Source: jonathanfrantini.com

During my initial test of Plum Japonais, my irritation was becoming increasingly sharp and hostile, so I decided to make a more concerted effort to find out which perfumer was responsible for ripping off Christopher Sheldrake‘s creation for Uncle Serge. You cannot imagine my shock when I finally dug up the rumoured answer: Christopher Sheldrake himself! [Update: 8/4/13see the note at the end of this review for the information that a different nose seems to be responsible for the creation of Plum Japonais.]

According to the blog, Best Things in Beauty, “[t]he fragrance has been unofficially attributed to perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.” I haven’t seen that attribution mentioned anywhere else, so I have no idea if it’s true or not. But it probably is, given the enormous similarity between the two fragrances — and that just irritates me for a whole new set of reasons. It’s not the fact that Christopher Sheldrake is cheating on Uncle Serge (perfumers are allowed, after all, to work freely where they want, and not just for one client). Rather, it’s the fact that he’s taken his Lutens creation, and so barely tweaked it for Tom Ford that it feels almost insulting to Fille en Aiguilles. It’s damn lazy. And, making matters even worse, the result is a nondescript, utterly imbalanced, very flat, badly done, uninteresting version of Fille en Aiguilles. If Fille en Aiguilles were a person, it should sue for defamation and copyright violation. So, let’s get to Sheldrake’s One Direction-like olfactory copy of the Fille en Aiguilles.

Fragrantica classifies Plum Japonais as “Floral Fruity,” and the notes, as compiled from both that site and Premiere Avenue, include:

Japanese ume plum, saffron, Cinnamon Bark Orpur, immortelle, plum blossom, camellia, agarwood (oud), amber, benzoin, fir and vanilla.

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine, hvmag.com

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine, hvmag.com

Plum Japonais opens on my skin with plum liqueur, plum molasses, brown sugar syrup, lots of ginger, strong frankincense smoke, and a subtle woodiness. It’s totally Fille en Aiguilles. Flittering around Plum Japonais’ edges are saffron, muted traces of fir resin, and candied immortelle. The latter shows off both its sides here: its herbal floral face, and its slightly maple syrup one. Once in a blue moon, the oud will pop up in the minutest trace, feeling as muted as the fir resin. 

Cinnamon tree bark. Source: indiamart.com

Cinnamon tree bark. Source: indiamart.com

Within minutes, Plum Japonais’ syrupy plum sweetness turns darker and significantly woodier. There is almost a burnt undertone to the combination which probably stems from the cinnamon tree bark, which is a whole, different animal than mere cinnamon powder. Amusingly, it’s an ingredient that Sheldrake featured front and center in another Lutens’ creation, the woody cinnamon oriental, La Rousse. The bark has an aroma that is spiced, but more akin to very dry, somewhat bitter, acrid, smoky wood. I wasn’t crazy about its odd nuances in Rousse, and I’m not crazy about it here. Still, it’s very subtle at this point, adding just an indirect effect to the overall woodiness running like a vein through all of Plum Japonais’ sticky, fruity sweetness and smoke.

Ten minutes in, something else rises to the surface. An odd floral note that I assume is the camellia. It’s a very creamy, velvety, white, languid scent with a strange but subtle lemony undertone, and it feels quite out-of-place amidst the increasingly dry, smoky, woody bouquet. The spices feel more noticeable, too. The saffron adds a definite kick of fieriness to the fragrance, though the note is not very distinct in its own right. For a few minutes, it adds such a bite to to the fragrance that it almost seems as though a red-hot chili pepper were thrown into the mix, but that impression quickly fades. By the 15-minute mark, Plum Japonais actually feels a little off-kilter. The lemony, creamy floral camellia attempts to balance out the increasingly harsh smoky-woodiness set amidst all that plum molasses and liqueur, but it can’t pull it off. The note is too muted. And, I still think it feels totally out of place.

Fruit Jam. Source: Bettycupcakes.com (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Fruit Jam. Source: Bettycupcakes.com (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Nonetheless, Plum Japonais is still almost entirely Fille en Aiguilles, only with minor differences. The very piney, evergreen forest hues of the Lutens beauty are practically non-existent in Plum Japonais, the inclusion of “fir” or “fir resin” in the notes notwithstanding. Sheldrake (if it is indeed he who is behind Plum Japonais) has substituted instead a different sort of woodiness to the scent. Yet, woody dryness is hardly the main, dispositive characteristic of Fille en Aiguilles. It’s the bloody spiced plum liqueur infused with frankincense smoke, that trademark Lutens’ signature of stewed fruit made more concentrated and plummy, with brown sugar sap, and heaping, walloping, hefty doses of sharp, black incense. And Plum Japonais has that in spades, from start to finish.

The problem is that Plum Japonais is like a knock-off of an expensive designer suit, only all the proportions are wrong. Lutens’ Fille en Aiguilles is stunningly balanced, whereas Plum Japonais is not. It feels significantly more acrid, more unbalanced in the sharpness of the smoke and the dryness of the woods. And nothing in the first two hours changes my impression, even though some of the other notes wax and wane in prominence. The immortelle occasionally rises to the surface, feeling like the herbal-floral version now, and not the maple syrup one, but it is muted and vague as a whole. The spices feel a little punchier than they did in the opening minutes, and I continue to think that there is ginger mixed in the blend. The camellia, in contrast, has now retreated to the background where it adds just a quiet, shy, creaminess and muted floral whisper to the overall bouquet.

The more interesting thing is the oud. It was just a whisper in the opening, hiding in the shadows behind all that plum liqueur. Now, however, the agarwood is more a wave that surges, ebbs, and then repeats the process. Sometimes, it feels muted, but it becomes increasingly significant at the start of the second hour, turning Plum Japonais into a fragrance where the dry woods almost compete with the incense-infused plum molasses. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly like these dry woods as compared to the richer, deeper, and significantly more interesting pine ones in Fille en Aiguilles.

As for the smoke, it varies as well. On certain parts of my arm, it feels quite bitter, pungent, and harsh, while, elsewhere, it’s more blended into the fruit. I think the cinnamon tree bark is behind some of the differences. Its smokiness in Serge Lutens’ Rousse felt quite acrid and bitter at times, and I think the note here has combined with the frankincense to create a combination that feels quite harsh at times. It’s never the smooth, almost sweetened incense that you’d expect, or, indeed, the gorgeous smoke in Fille en Aiguilles. This is much sharper and drier in nature, with a slightly bitter undertone.

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

It takes 50 minutes for Plum Japonais to soften and lose some of its harsh edges. The plum top notes start to feel flatter, while the smoky oud and the woods in the base seem smoother and less sharp. There is still a bitter, slightly burnt, pungent nuance to the woods, but the perfume as a whole feels a bit less askew and out of balance. Unfortunately, Plum Japonais also starts to feel a little murky and muddy at this time, both texturally and in terms of the distinctness of its notes. It’s starting to blur into a pretty smoky-woody-fruity fragrance just barely dominated by plum. By the end of the second hour, Plum Japonais is starting to fizzle out with notes that feel increasingly amorphous. The sillage has changed too, as the perfume just barely hovers an inch above the skin, if that. Plum Japonais is now just flat, stewed, sweet plummy jam with vague smoke and dry woody notes. In short, the Serge Lutens signature of dried, sweetened, dark fruits with oriental touches, but without the Lutens oomph and drama. At the 3.5 hour mark, Plum Japonais is a total skin scent, and has devolved to mere plummy sweetness barely flecked by some amorphous dryness and smoke. It remains that way until the very end, growing even more hazy, until its dying moments when it’s just vague sweetness.

All in all, Plum Japonais lasted a little over of 6.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, with incredibly restrained, soft sillage after the first hour. I applied quite a hefty portion too, as I had a very large sample from Neiman Marcus, so I basically wetted a long patch on my forearm with the equivalent of about 5 huge smears. If I’d applied my normal amount, I suspect the numbers would be significantly lower.

I have to admit, given the strength of Plum Japonais at first, and the power of Tom Ford’s Private Blends in general, I’m a little surprised at the shortness of time, as well as the restrained nature of the fragrance when taken as a whole. However, the fact that the perfume is ultimately quite subdued makes a lot more sense if you put it into context and in conjunction with the similar characteristics of Shanghai Lily. Both Atelier d’Orient fragrances seem intentionally designed to be more quiet, restrained takes on a spicy Oriental. I suspect that Tom Ford is aiming this collection at wealthy buyers in Asia, buyers who may not appreciate his usual, brash style, or a truly hardcore, intense Oriental in the style of something like Amouage. Plum Japonais is an attempt to give them a more subdued take on a masculine, woody, fruity oriental, with Shanghai Lily attempting to do the same for the more feminine, floral oriental version. That said, I want to emphasize that Plum Japonais is not a masculine scent at all. It’s wholly unisex for everyone except those whose perfume preferences lean towards the fragrances that are either fresh, clean, soapy, dainty, powdery, aldehydic, or some combination thereof.

Plum Japonais is too new for there to be many reviews available for comparison. My sense of how people generally see the Atelier collection as a whole is that they think it’s nondescript and uninteresting, with Plum Japonais being the best of the lot. That does not mean that they think it’s a great perfume, however. The Basenotes review section for the fragrance has only three reviews up at this time. One of them, “kende,” seemed to share my views about Plum Japonais’ development:

The problem is how short lived this wondrous moment is. Within 15 minutes the scent begins to feel more and more flat. The complexities start to vanish and what suddenly remains is a puny, underwhelming “perfumey” base that smells like a very commonplace generic perfume type of scent. This doesn’t take hours, mind you. It takes no greater the length of 45 minutes to unravel from that rich, opulent opening. […]

This perfume could’ve really been something special, that opening is something every perfumista should experience, but there is no backbone to hold Plum Japonais up over the hours. It goes on like a work of art and but feels more and more like a cheap photocopy as the minutes turn to hours. […]

The scent is 4 stars.

The longevity is embarrassing for a Tom Ford private blend. 0 stars.

Kende doesn’t know it, but Plum Japonais absolutely is a “cheap photocopy[,]” and he or she needs to go try Fille en Aiguilles. Over in a separate Basenotes board thread, the common consensus for Plum Japonais is, and I quote, “meh.” As one poster put it, “I’m honestly not impressed with any of the new Atelier scents. I guess this would be the stand out, but thats not saying much.”

No-one talks about Fille en Aiguilles because, as I noted up above, it’s not one of the better-known Lutens fragrances. But the perfume blows Plum Japonais out of the water! It is also significantly cheaper than Tom Ford’s ersatz, wanna-be copy which costs $210 for the smallest version. Fille en Aiguilles retails for $140, but can easily be found discounted at a number of online perfume retailers, with the lowest price I’ve seen being $80. (See the Lutens review for full retail links.) Honestly, writing out that price differential just offends me even more. Plum Japonais is such a total waste of money. It’s one thing to take a great perfume and use it as a source of inspiration for another; lots of perfumers create scents that have some overlap or a common signature. But Plum Japonais is such a completely out-of-whack, wholly unbalanced, fizzling, flat, totally lazy, “cheap photocopy” of such a supremely stunning, refined, mysteriously seductive, incredibly evocative, utterly mesmerizing scent that it’s positively insulting. The irrational side of me feels like shaking Christopher Sheldrake — who may be my favorite perfumer ever — and asking him, “Why? Why??!!”

In fact, I think I’m too irate to continue this review.

[UPDATE: 8/4/2013– According to one commentator to the blog, “Mike,” who left an answer below, Christopher Sheldrake did not mutilate his creation because Yann Vasnier of Givaudan is the actual nose behind Plum Japonais. Mike cites as sources two unnamed bloggers who contacted Tom Ford. He later directed me to a review at CaFleureBon which states that Yann Vasnier is the creator of Plum Japonais. That review was posted just yesterday, a few days after my own, so the information wasn’t available to me at the time, but I’m very grateful to Mike for telling me about it. I would like to extend to Christopher Sheldrake my heartiest apologies for thinking he had plagiarised himself with a bad copy, and for wanting to shake him like a rag doll.]

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Plum Japonais is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that retail for: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; or $520 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The line is not yet listed on the Tom Ford websiteIn the U.S.: you can find Plum Japonais at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. I don’t believe Nordstrom or Saks has the new collection yet. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list 2 of the old fragrances on their online website. In the UK, you can find Plum Japonais at Harrods (which only has the small size), Selfridges (which carries both sizes), or House of Frasier (both sizes). The small size is also carried by Harvey Nichols. All the stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00, while the super-large 250 ml bottle costs £320.00. In France, Plum Japonais is available at Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: You can buy samples of Plum Japonais at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Tom Ford Private Blend Shanghai Lily (Atelier d’Orient Collection)

The dainty, fragile, green lily transformed into a smoky, spicy, rich flower of the Orient. That is the essence of Shanghai Lily, the latest Private Blend fragrance from Tom Ford. It is part of a brand-new collection of fragrances within his Private Blend line, and was just released in July 2013. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient, and consists of four perfumes: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisFleur de Chine, and Rive d’Ambre. I’d heard that the first two were the best, so I focused solely on those, starting with Shanghai Lily. (You can find my review for Plum Japonais here, but, to summarize it in a nutshell, Tom Ford tried to copy Serge Lutens and his gorgeous, magnificent Fille en Aiguilles. Tom Ford failed. Badly.)

Tom Ford Shanghai LilyNone of the new Atelier d’Orient fragrances are listed yet on Tom Ford’s website, but, according to the Moodie Report, Tom Ford’s inspiration for Shanghai Lily was the famed, ancient Silk Road:

This fragrance began with a dream of the Silk and Spice Roads – the ancient, Asian trading routes for luxurious and precious goods[.] I imagined caravans piled high with treasures, and being surrounded by a multi-sensorial abundance of opulence.

 Fragrantica classifies Shanghai Lily as an “Oriental Floral,” and says the notes include:

spicy notes, floral notes, olibanum [frankincense], vanilla, bitter orange, pink pepper, black pepper, cloves, jasmine, rose, tuberose, vetiver, cashmere wood, benzoin, castoreum, labdanum, guaiac wood and incense.

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. "Smoke and Lily" series. Source: Trendland.com http://trendland.com/henry-hargreavess-smoke-and-lily-photography/

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. “Smoke and Lily” series. Source: Trendland.com http://trendland.com/henry-hargreavess-smoke-and-lily-photography/

Shanghai Lily opens on my skin with the daintiest of lily notes. Fresh, green and airy, it turns within seconds into something sultry and smoky. Sharp incense smoke, a touch of resins, and a cloud of spices transform the white flower into something dark, thick, rich, and heady. There is a subtle orange note lurking alongside which feels, simultaneously, bitter and like the concentrated oil from a freshly grated orange rind. Quickly, a hint of cumin rises out of the dusty spice blend, smelling sweet and strong, and flecked with incense smoke. It’s quite unexpected, but cumin-phobes should not worry. It lasts all of about three minutes.

Shanghai Lily’s base is interesting. In those early minutes, there is a surprising, almost foody aroma of sweet, yeasty bread that pops up out of nowhere. It’s a scent that I’ve now come to associate with certain kinds of beige woods, not only cashmere blends or the ersatz “sandalwood” in some fragrances, but also, sometimes, guaiac wood. The latter often has a very dry, smoky aroma that can sometimes feel like burnt autumnal leaves but, here, in Shanghai Lily, it’s taken on a sweet edge at first. Later, it turns sour and bitter in one of my least favorite aspects of the fragrance. Also lurking in the base is castoreum. It has a plush, velvety feel which adds to the amber and resinous notes that make up the base. The overall combination is a heady, slightly musky, velvety amber mixed in with dry, smoky woods.

The top notes in Shanghai Lily are initially all about the smoke and spices. The fragrance is heavy with a gorgeous burst of ancient, oriental, frankincense mixed with the fiery kick of black pepper and a powerful note of cloves. The way that the trio combines with the bitter orange is vaguely reminiscent of my precious holy grail fragrance, vintage Opium from YSL, but the similarity is fleeting. For one thing, Opium has a powerful start of juicy plum, citruses, and bergamot, and the minor, muted sprinkling of bitter orange in Shanghai Lily cannot compare. For another, vintage Opium was centered on true, Mysore sandalwood, with a heavily resinous feel, real animal musk, and a good amount of castoreum. None of the notes in Shanghai Lily can compare in depth, quantity or intensity, though I’d bet that Opium — that legendary, glorious, benchmark oriental fragrance — was a strong inspiration for Tom Ford. The heavy infusion of cloves mixed with incense is too clear a signal.

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. "Smoke and Lily" series. Source: Trendland.com http://trendland.com/henry-hargreavess-smoke-and-lily-photography/

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. “Smoke and Lily” series. Source: Trendland.com http://trendland.com/henry-hargreavess-smoke-and-lily-photography/

Shanghai Lily’s opening minutes are not much about the lily, though that soon changes. At first, the lily is hidden and muted behind the heavy veil of that gorgeous clove-incense-spice mix. Less than 10 minutes into the perfume’s development, it starts to emerge in much greater strength. It feels as though a Stargazer lily has suddenly been dunked in a syrup made from dark resins, bottles of cloves, and a hearty, exuberant, uninhibited tossing of frankincense. Flickers of vanilla dance all around the edges, adding to the sweetness of the floral bouquet. The castoreum feels much more distant now than in the opening, as does the dry, woody guaiac, but there is still a subtle muskiness that infused the scent.

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

Shanghai Lily becomes increasingly floral in nature. The lily is joined by jasmine that is potent, heady, and languorously indolic. There are hints of rose and tuberose that flitter about, and something that resembles the purple, airy, fresh delicacy of violets. The overall bouquet is infused primarily with frankincense smoke and cloves; the orange and cumin are long gone by the twenty-minute mark. Yet, for all the heady, heavy, oriental opulence of the florals, Shanghai Lily has some dryness, too. The smoke and lurking, distant guaiac wood create some balance to the sweetness, ensuring  that it’s never pure goo or syrup. Still, the fragrance is extremely potent in strength, and somewhat heavy in feel, at least initially.

Source: fr.123rf.com

Source: fr.123rf.com

At the end of the first hour, Shanghai Lily is primarily a quartet of cloves, lilies, jasmine, and frankincense atop a base of amber and woods, and it remains that way for a number of hours. Although the notes don’t change significantly, the lily and jasmine do fluctuate in strength, as do some of the background florals like the tuberose. I also noticed that the lily becomes much more prominent when the fragrance is worn in the heat and humidity.

The main change in the first few hours, however, is in texture. Around the 90-minute mark, the perfume’s edges blur, and the notes start to overlap. Shanghai Lily still emits its main bouquet of notes, but a lot of the sweetness has faded, as has the strength of the smoke. The dark, syrupy resins underlying the scent seem much fainter, too, though the vanilla still lingers. Shanghai Lily feels much drier and woodier, with slightly more peppered, smoky woods that now have a somewhat sour, bitter edge to them. Still, as a whole, Shanghai Lily is a rich, spicy floriental with a dry, woody smokiness. It’s not as dense in feel, and it hovers just an inch above the skin with substantially reduced sillage as well.

One thing I’ve always noticed about Tom Ford fragrances is that it is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to dosage and application amounts. His Private Blend fragrances, in particular, carry a wallop at first, so spraying your usual amount of perfume can be a deadly thing. Not only is their projection enormous, but the potency of the Private Blends can overwhelm the nose, sometimes making it harder to detect all the subtle nuances. Spraying (as opposed to dabbing) simply compounds the problem, as aerosolization just makes fragrances stronger. With Shanghai Lily, as with many Tom Ford fragrances, I tested it twice, with the second time focused solely on the perfume’s range and sillage in the first 3 hours. The first time, I was recklessly dabbed on a very large amount — about 4 large smears or the equivalent of 2 extremely large sprays– and the sillage was unbelievably potent at first. The perfume also showed a good range of layers and notes. However, during my second test, I applied only about 2 medium-ish smears (the amount you’d get from about 1 moderate spray), and I noticed a difference. Shanghai Lily turned flat, amorphous, and abstract shortly after the first hour. The notes all blurred into each other, and the fragrance lacked significant nuance. It’s something to keep in mind when you test the fragrance for yourself.

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. "Smoke and Lily" series. Source: Trendland.com http://trendland.com/henry-hargreavess-smoke-and-lily-photography/

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. “Smoke and Lily” series. Source: Trendland.com http://trendland.com/henry-hargreavess-smoke-and-lily-photography/

Yet, even with the greater dosage, Shanghai Lily becomes a skin scent much faster than that initial power and potency would lead you to believe. Less than 2.25 hours in, Shanghai Lily is just a sheer, unobtrusive, soft veil right on the skin. It’s also almost wholly abstract in nature, a vague puff of white flowers just barely dominated by lily and which have a slightly bitter, spicy, incense nuance. Around the start of the third hour, that odd, sour bitterness in the woody base bothers me even more, but I’m starting to be distracted by something else: the vanilla. The light flecks of vanilla that darted around Shanghai Lily’s edges in the opening are now becoming very noticeable.

At the end of the third hour, the vanilla starts to feel like the only individually distinct, concrete note in the spicy, floral blur, and it’s quite lovely. It’s creamy, frothy, airy, and very smooth. It almost feels rich enough to be called “custardy,” but the note is ultimately too sheer and gauzy for that adjective to truly apply. It’s a very well-balanced element that is far from sweet, thanks to the woody dryness and the black, frankincense smoke underlying it. From this point forwards, for the next three hours, Shanghai Lily is primarily a dry, smoky vanilla scent on my skin. The other notes — from the amber and spices to the florals — are wholly nebulous, amorphous, and tangential blurs in the background. Around 6.25 hours in, even the vanilla turns hazy, and Shanghai Lily is nothing more than smoky sweetness. It remains that way until the end, though the perfume’s smokiness sometimes seems much stronger than it was during the nebulous middle stage.

All in all, Shanghai Lily seems to have three distinct stages. In the first, the fragrance is dominated by a very spicy, smoky floral quartet of notes (lily, jasmine, cloves and incense) atop a plushly ambered base. In the middle stage, the perfume becomes more vague, hazy, and the edges between the notes blur. It also becomes woodier, and drier. There are growing hints of vanilla which helps Shanghai Lily transition into its final stage of being a very airy, frothy, vanillic confection infused with dry smoke. In its final moments, the fragrance is merely a lingering trace of smoky sweetness. Shanghai Lily lasted just over 9.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with a large dosage (about 4 large smears), and the projection was extremely soft after the first potent hour. I suspect those numbers would differ dramatically if one sprayed, instead of dabbed, and if one sprayed on a lot.

I like Shanghai Lily, quite a bit, and, yet…. it doesn’t move me. It hits all the right notes on paper: I adore the walloping clove-incense combination; I love lilies and tuberose; and I enjoyed the drydown. But Shanghai Lily didn’t evoke anything emotionally, it didn’t transport me, or conjure up visions in my head. I like it more than a number of existing Tom Ford Private Blends, but something is holding me back. I don’t know what it is, but I suspect the nebulousness and the flatness of the notes after the first 90-minutes have a lot to do with it. Something about Shanghai Lily simply doesn’t seem as interesting as it might have been, given those notes and that powerful spicy, complex beginning. I suppose the fragrance just seems to go a little downhill, a little too quickly, and nothing about the middle phase or even the last one is all that interesting, dramatic, or original. When I smell the opening, I perk up a little, but I suspect I’ll remember Shanghai Lily in the months to come as “that perfume with the really lovely opening that I should have liked more but ultimately didn’t, because it wasn’t interesting.” None of this is helped, of course, by Tom Ford’s prices which have just gone up to $210 for the smallest size. I could tolerate a fragrance that goes from interesting to amorphously flat and abstract, if Shanghai Lily weren’t such a muted creature with a hefty price tag. And, yet, I have to repeat again, it’s actually quite a lovely perfume. It simply isn’t lovely enough, for me, especially for the price.

Bois de Jasmin doesn’t share my ambivalence towards Shanghai Lily. She adores it, though she wishes she didn’t, given Tom Ford’s prices. Her review reads, in part, as follows:

I like my flowers with a twist, and Shanghai Lily is a white floral with a dark mood. The jasmine and tuberose are warmed up and cossetted with plenty of spices and dark resins, which is already interesting. But the best part is that nothing about Shanghai Lily is heavy or oppressive. Instead, it sparkles from its gingery top notes to the incense accented drydown. […]

As much as it pains me to admit it, given Ford’s price tag, Shanghai Lily is beautiful. I love how it sizzles with pepper and clove, which are then toned down by orange. The promised lily is composed out of different floral notes, and its waxy white petals take shape slowly out of rose, violet, and jasmine. And then suddenly, you have on your skin a corsage of Madonna lilies powdered yellow with sweet pollen.

Later, the lilies wilt, leaving you with the scent of an antique rosewood box that not only smells of wood shavings, but also of incense, musk, and something earthy and smoky. The sweetness is mild, the darkness is tempered, and yet without being heady or dramatic, Shanghai Lily clings to the skin for hours. […] (On the other hand, if you want something to announce your presence, this won’t fit the bill).

At the end of her review, Victoria says Shanghai Lily is significantly easier to wear than some other famous florals, like Serge Lutens’ “femme fatale” perfume, Fleurs d’Oranger: “[Shanghai Lily] is mild stuff, but it’s also easier to carry.” Perhaps that’s my problem. My style is not about “wilting” and “mild stuff.” I like hardcore Orientals that bloody well epitomize “heady or dramatic,” and “mild stuff” simply doesn’t cut it for me. I want my damn vintage Opium, not some wanna-be copy that wimps out after an hour and descends into a nebulous blur, while charging me $210 for the dubious pleasure.

For everyone else, however, Shanghai Lily may be the perfect ticket. Those who find Amouage‘s intense, heady, opulent, complex, powerhouse Orientals to be too much will undoubtedly be grateful for the tame, mild version offered by Tom Ford. It’s a very feminine floriental that is unobtrusive and subdued, but with great longevity, and some interesting bits. It’s easy to wear, versatile, approachable, and may even be suited for conservative office-environments if you’re extremely careful with the amount you apply. And I really do think it’s a sexy, seductive scent. In fact, I have no doubt that Shanghai Lily will be a best-seller, especially as Tom Ford doesn’t have anything else quite like it. (If I’m not mistaken, it is his first non-oud Oriental that is primarily floral in nature, and with heady white flowers instead of the usual roses.) So, I definitely encourage those of you who love white flowers and Orientals to give it a sniff, but if you’re used to really dramatic, heady, smoldering scents like those from Amouage, I fear you may be a little ambivalent as well.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Shanghai Lily is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that retail for: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; or $520 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The line is not yet listed on the Tom Ford websiteIn the U.S.: you can find Shanghai Lily at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. I don’t believe Nordstrom or Saks has the line yet. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list 2 of the old fragrances on their online website. In the UK, you can find Shanghai Lily at Harrods or Selfridges. Both stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00 or £320.00 for the super-large 250 ml bottle. The smaller size is also carried at House of Fraser and UK-5th Village. In France, Shanghai Lily is available at Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: You can buy samples of Shanghai Lily at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.