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



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.



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.



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:

Hinoki cypress gate at a Japanese temple. Source:

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:

Magnolia. Source:

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:

Magnolia. Source:

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

Wisteria via

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.

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: -

Source: –

‘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.



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:

Bergamot. Source:

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.



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. 

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:

Christopher Sheldrake. Source:

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,

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine,

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:

Cinnamon tree bark. Source:

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: (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Fruit Jam. Source: (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:

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source:

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.]

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:

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. “Smoke and Lily” series. Source:

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:

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. “Smoke and Lily” series. Source:

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.



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.



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:

Photo: Henry Hargreaves Photography. “Smoke and Lily” series. Source:

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.


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.

New Perfume Releases: Tom Ford Atelier d’Orient Collection

Tom Ford is releasing a new collection of fragrances within his Private Blend line. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient and will consist of four perfumes: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisFleur de Chine and Rive d’Ambre.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Now Smell This (“NST”) has the press releases for each scent which is provided below. The only site I’ve found that has the details of the notes for each fragrance is Miss Fashion News, so I’ve added that underneath the NST quote:

Shanghai Lily ~ “Opulent. Tantalising. Elegant. Tom Ford’s Shanghai Lily eau de parfum is a floral oriental scent that transports the senses into a world of rare and opulent ingredients from the historic silk road. Warm spices, elegant florals and addictive notes of vanilla and frankincense create a hazy reverie of glamour and temptation.”

NOTES from Miss Fashion News: bitter orange, pink peppercorns, black pepper, clove, jasmine, rose, tuberose, vetiver, cashmere wood, benzoin (Laos), castoreum, cistus, gaiac wood, vanilla and incense. 

Plum Japonais ~ “Delectable. Luscious. Sensual. Tom Ford’s Plum Japonais eau de parfum reveals the extraordinary beauty of the ume plum by juxtaposing it with a lush and unconventional mélange of exotic asian ingredients. Rich and luxurious, it is a fragrance with irresistible complexity.”

NOTES from Miss Fashion News: saffron, cinnamon bark (Laos), immortelle, plum blossom, camellia blossom (Japan), agar wood, amber, benzoin (Laos), fir balsam absolute, and infusions of vanilla.

Fleur de Chine ~ “Dramatic. Smouldering. Seductive. Tom Ford’s Fleur de chine eau de parfum is an unequivocally romantic and haunting floral fragrance touched with a reverence for the great scents of the past. Precious asian flowers, including hualan flower and star magnolia, are arranged in a bouquet of rare beauty for a scent that lingers on.”

NOTES from Miss Fashion News: blossoms of tea, magnolia, fresh clementines, white peach, bergamot, hyacinth, hinoki wood, leaves of jasmine tea, plum, rose tea, wisteria, amber, peony, benzoin from Laos, styrax, Chinese cedar, and vetiver.

Rive d’Ambre ~ “Ornate. Compelling. Warm. Tom Ford’s Rive d’Ambre is a golden toned eau de cologne with a veil of colonial elegance. Precious citrus fruits – a talisman of good fortune in asia – are beautifully illuminated by a warm and seductive amber background.”

NOTES from Miss Fashion News: essential oils of bergamot, lemon and bitter orange with notes of tarragon, green mint, and cardamom [along with]… cognac oil [and] tolu balsam[.]

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

The collection is already out in the UK at Harvey Nichols, along with other British department stores like Harrods and Selfridges. The price for the 50 ml/1.7 oz bottles is £140.00, while the massive 250 ml bottles are retailed at £320.00. No word yet on when precisely the collection will hit the U.S. or elsewhere, and what the U.S. pricing may be. However, Miss Fashion News says that European pricing is €180 for 50 ml and €430 for 250 ml.

Lastly, Miss Fashion News also has some more information about the story associated with each scent — such as how Fleur de Chine is meant to reference the 1930s-1960s femme fatales of the Chinese silver screen — so you may want to glance at that, too, if you’re interested. Also, while Now Smell This has a more generalized, press release description of the scents, there are additional details in the comment section from its UK readers who have already given the four fragrances a quick sniff. So you may want to check out the responses if any of the fragrances intrigue you. One interesting tidbit: one poster says that the UK prices seem to have gone up for these four fragrances as compared to the other Private Blend perfumes. And looking at the Harvey Nichols’ prices in British pounds, I would agree. So, U.S. pricing is bound to also increase from the current $205 rate for the small 1.7 oz/50 ml bottles.