Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Café Rose (The Jardin Noir Collection)

Subversive. Forbidden. IntoxicatingBewitching. Darkness that is so thrillingly beautiful it “could almost ruin you.”

That was Tom Ford’s goal for his 2012 Jardin Noir collection, a subset of his prestige “Private Blend” line of fragrances. His twist on traditionally innocent flowers encompassed roses, narcissus, hyacinths, and lilies with Café Rose, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth and Lys Fume. I have three of fragrances and have already reviewed Ombre de Hyacinth.

This review is focused solely on Café Rose, a scent that triggered a wide array of emotions, but which ultimately left me feeling cold. To be honest, it was quite overwhelming at times. By the end, I felt simply tired out and beaten over the head. I am admittedly not a huge worshipper of rose fragrances, but there is something almost bullying, cloying, and deeply exhausting about Café Rose.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. According to Tom Ford’s full press release description for the Jardin Noir collection on Bergdorf Goodman’s site, his vision for the Jardin Noir collection is as follows:

Jardin Noir explores the forbidden sides of four of perfumery’s most treasured blooms: narcissus, hyancinth [sic], rose, and lily.

Convention is abandoned and unexpected ingredients converge with bewitching and intoxicating results. Iconic flowers fall open, dropping their innocent facades to reveal the subversive beauty and fierce elegance they normally keep hidden.

The specific description of Café Rose is quite beautiful:

Enticing. Exotic. Seductive. Cafe Rose descends into a hidden labyrinth, where roses’ fine breeding gives way to darker pleasures.

Café Rose was created by Antoine Liu and, according to Fragrantica, the notes are:

Top notes are saffron, black pepper and may rose; middle notes are turkish rose, bulgarian rose and coffee; base notes are incense, amber, sandalwood and patchouli.

Tom Ford fragrances are the oddest thing on my skin because how they smell can vary substantially with how much you put on. Café Rose is no exception. I tried it on three times, each with slightly varying results for the opening stage. On each occasion, I put on less of the perfume with the third time having the very smallest amount. That time, the perfume opened with a faintly soapy musk note that was sweet with an almost vanilla-like undertone to the roses. It was definitely a plethora of white musk, which I am not particularly keen on, I must say.

With that outcome being a slight exception, my overall first impression of Café Rose has always been fruited roses — with only the concentration or degree of the note varying. There is an explosively sweet impression of roses — blood-red and tea-rose pink — with jammy notes that definitely evoke fruit. There is a dark grape, almost like Welch’s, as well as something that smells surprisingly a little like canned peaches.

I suspect the patchouli is responsible for that very “purple patchouli” fruited note; those who dislike it may want to want to steer clear of Café Rose because there really is no escaping it. It’s there almost from start to finish. It also adds a very thick, almost gooey and unctuous feel to the roses which, at times, can feel spectacularly sweet. That sweetness almost verges on “tea rose” territory, and those of you who were around for the infamous ’80s Tea Rose fragrance from Perfumer’s Workshop may shudder in response.

Despite the headiness and painful sweetness of Café Rose, the perfume is never oppressively heavy. Ten minutes after applying it in even a concentrated dose (2 good sprays), it becomes a much lighter, sheerer scent. The sillage drops as well, though this is one very persistent perfume. I don’t detect any saffron in its own right but there is a vague sense of creamy sandalwood underneath all that jammy fruit.

Two hours in, Café Rose turns darker with the presence of black pepper and coffee. The black pepper adds a slightly fiery, peppery bite to the sweetness of the floral note, though at times it feels more like pink peppercorns in a combination that is all too familiar these days. The coffee note is far more interesting. If you’re expecting the aroma of Starbucks or roasted coffee beans, you will be disappointed. Here, it’s more like the wet, black coffee grounds that you empty out of your filter after you’ve brewed a cup. It adds a faintly bitter, nutty, earthy note to that heavily jammy, very fruited rose note.

The fiery pepper and the bitter coffee make a valiant (though not wholly successful) effort at diluting the jamminess of the roses. Thank God for small favours, because, by the two-hour benchmark, my nose was quite oppressed by just how sweet this perfume is. Plus, to be quite frank, there is almost an artificial, synthetic aspect to things where it doesn’t smell wholly natural but, rather, just…. painful. It’s hard to explain, but there is something in this perfume that — no matter how much or how little you put on — simply feels cloying. And, really, there seems to be no escape from it.

That overwhelmed feeling probably explains why I couldn’t detect a plethora of notes in Café Rose. Over the course of its development, the degree of the black pepper and black coffee grinds rose and waned in differing degrees, but the oppressive presence of that very purple patchouli note dulled everything else to a large degree. There was some creamy sandalwood and, I suppose, faint smoke from the incense, but did I mention purple patchouli?

It did fade away, eventually, leaving me gasping like a stranded seal on a beach. At that point, about seven hours later, all that remained was the rose note, accompanied simply by vanilla and powder. Then, in the eighth and final hour, there was merely some vague, amorphous sense of a powdery soapy musk.

Oddly, on the third test, when I wore very little of the fragrance, the painful purpleness was much less. Instead, now, there was just that soapy white musk accord which I cannot stand. It felt clean and fresh, I suppose. If that’s damning with faint praise, it’s because it’s meant to be. 

Café Rose does have its fans, many of whom seem to find it a purely rose and coffee fragrance. However, a good number of people on Fragrantica find it to be a substantially poorer cousin to Tom Ford‘s Noir de Noir. I agree with that assessment. I liked a good portion of Noir de Noir (which I reviewed here) and, though I didn’t like its powdered violet finish, I think it’s a much better, more complex treatment of roses.

On Fragrantica, a number of others keep talking about Café Rose having an oud note — which frankly leaves me utterly bewildered. If I didn’t have a manufacturer’s sample with the card and labeling on the vial, I’d wonder if I tried the wrong perfume. There is absolutely no agarwood in this cloying sweet, peppered aberration.

I’m sure there is more to say on Café Rose — more talk of sillage and longevity, or some positive reviews I could link to, as well as other negative ones. To be honest, I simply lack the energy for that. After living with this bloody thing for two days, and making every effort possible to be fair, I find myself just wanting to be rid of it. I’m tired of Café Rose — on every possible level. I want it gone from my life forever. In fact, since I cannot bear another moment thinking of, discussing, or even wearing this blasted thing, I’m ending this here and now.

DETAILS:
For some odd reason, none of the Jardin Noir fragrances are listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website. They are, however, available at numerous high-end department stores where its price is just like that of other Tom Ford fragrances: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In UK pricing, they sell for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. In the US, you can find Café Rose at Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and many others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods and Selfridges.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, you can also find samples of Café Rose starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.
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Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Ombre de Hyacinth (The Jardin Noir Collection)

Jardin Noir CollectionIn 2012, Tom Ford released his Jardin Noir collection for his Private Blend line of fragrances. The collection consisted of four supposedly dark, twisted, “bewitching” takes on traditionally sweet, innocent flowers: narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily. The fragrances are: Café Rose, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth and Lys Fume. I have three of the fragrances (Café Rose, Lys Fumé and Ombre de Hyacinth) and have tested two of them but, for reasons of length, this review is solely for Ombre de Hyacinth.

According to Now Smell This, Tom Ford had the following perspective and goal for the line:

When you showcase their darker and less innocent aspects, flowers can become so thrilling and beautiful, they could almost ruin you. That was the sensation I was after.

Bergdorf Goodman appears to have the full press release description for the Jardin Noir collection:

Jardin Noir explores the forbidden sides of four of perfumery’s most treasured blooms: narcissus, hyancinth [sic], rose, and lily.

Convention is abandoned and unexpected ingredients converge with bewitching and intoxicating results. Iconic flowers fall open, dropping their innocent facades to reveal the subversive beauty and fierce elegance they normally keep hidden.

OMBRE DE HYACINTHI had extremely high hopes for Ombre de Hyacinth as an ideal Spring fragrance with a slight edge. For one thing, I adore the scent of the flower which I always associate with March and certain cultural festivities in my family. For another, the description of the scent was beautiful:

Sophisticated. Voluptuous. Passionate. Ombre de Hyacinth creates bewitching tension as hyacinth cloaks its voluptuous beauty behind cool, aristocratic finery.

Ombre de Hyacinth was created by Calice Becker and, according to Fragrantica, the notes are:

Top notes are galbanum, violet leaf, magnolia petals and olibanum [frankincense]; middle notes are hyacinth, pink pepper and jasmine; base notes are galbanum, benzoin and musk.

The very first impression I had of Ombre de Hyacinth was soap. Light, airy, aldehydic, floral soap bubbles with an underlying note of powder. Mere seconds later, there was a strong note of zesty, fresh lemon and lime. The zesty lemon soap image was replaced after ten minutes by galbanum’s bitter greenness atop a woody element.

Galbanum is the bracingly bitter, distilled oil from a Persian shrub and it has a definite greenness; sometimes, it also has an earthy or slightly resinous undertone. Here, it was mostly just sharp, mossy,bitter, and fresh. On occasion, it faintly resembled the dark soil of a freshly tilled garden, but I had a much less earthy experience than some. There was also some sharp black pepper which added an even greater bite to the fragrance.

The peppered wood notes continued to increase in prominence, though the scent was still very green and dark. Thirty minutes in, there was a hint of musky jasmine. For those who struggle with jasmine, you might be relieved to know that it only lasted about twenty minutes on my skin before vanishing, and that it was always very sheer and light. All that was left was that impression of black pepper and wood with some amorphous “floral” notes, soap, and a hint of powder. There was the mere suggestion of hyacinth but, at this point, it was far from strong. It most certainly feels nothing like the actual flower to my nose and it’s a definite disappointment.

There was an odd aspect to the florals that I couldn’t pinpoint, so I looked up one of the ingredients that I was not familiar with — “Violet leaf” — on Fragrantica, and bingo! According to their description, violet leaf is a

metallic smelling, green and aqueous note that is common in modern masculine and unisex fragrances, providing a fresher and non-retro note compared to traditional sweet violet.

Yes, metallic, green and simultaneously aqueous was exactly what the florals smelled like. That mélange of notes, when combined with the bitter greenness of the galbanum and the soapy aspect of the aldehydes, was quite an odd twist on the typical fresh, Spring-like floral fragrance. And I can’t say I was crazy about it. 

Hyacinth from PicsToPin ComAfter about ninety minutes, the scent softened further becoming just some vaguely amorphous impression of freshness: lightly powdered, lightly soapy, lightly woody, lightly aquatic, fresh florals with a hint of greenness. Ombre de Hyacinth remains that way until shortly before the fifth hour when — finally — the hyacinth arrives on the scene. On par with the rest of the perfume, it is extremely light, airy, tinged by soap (again), endlessly fresh, and very redolent of Spring. I feel as though I’m repeating myself ad nauseam, but I can’t help it. This is not a complicated scent. And it’s about as “dark” and twisted as a poodle.

Personally, I would have much preferred a more concentrated essence of hyacinth instead of something that is really akin to a generic, fresh floral which just merely happens to have some quiet hyacinth touches. I would also have preferred something far less soapy and aquatic. However, for those who like fresh, clean florals that are sheer (bordering on translucent), Ombre de Hyacinth may be perfect.

This is not a strong floral or even a strong hyacinth fragrance. Everything about the scent is light — right down to its sillage. In the opening hour, the perfume’s projection is moderate and, thereafter, it drops to become very close to the skin. Its gauziness makes it extremely office-friendly. Yet, it has surprising tenacity for something so airy and translucent. All in all, Ombre de Hyacinth lasted just under ten hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

Nonetheless, I think it’s hugely overpriced for what it is. $205 at the low end of the scale seems very high for a light, fresh, soapy floral scent. It’s not exactly an uncommon category of fragrances, after all.

The Non-Blonde reached the exact same conclusion. She had a slightly similar experience to mine which she boiled down to four words: “nice French hyacinth soap.” But at least she was lucky enough to have a heavy hyacinth start at all! I quite envy her, especially as she initially felt as though she were in a Monet painting. (Lucky devil.)

After about fifteen minutes of walking around inside a Monet painting, the fantasy starts to fray at the hem and disintegrate. The abstract floral heart becomes very soapy and loses its best characteristics. There’s nothing narcotic or illicit in a rental vacation cottage out in the country, as clean and quaint as it might be. It smells good, but the composition flattens in front of my eyes (or nose) and loses any depth, shadows, and “decadence” that Ford aspired to have there. [¶] The dry-down remains bathroomy.

I experienced a lot more woody, peppery notes than she seems to have done — not to mention that disconcerting violet leaf metallic, aquatic accord — but, yes, it does really evoke a cottage out in the British countryside, especially once the more peppery notes subside. A less charitable person might just say it epitomizes expensive hotel soap. Or, as one poor sod on Fragrantica wrote, “This on me smells just like Carpet Fresh and Irish Spring soap – for hours”….

Nonetheless, I would be tempted to recommend it to those who like extremely fresh, clean, soapy scents. Except for one thing. To quote the Non-Blonde: “this Tom Ford fragrance is grossly overpriced for what it is.”

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: For some odd reason, none of the Jardin Noir fragrances are listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website. They are, however, available at numerous high-end department stores where its price is like that of other Tom Ford fragrances: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In UK pricing, they sell for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. In the US, you can find the fragrance at: Bergdorf GoodmanNeiman Marcus, NordstromSaks Fifth Avenue, and many others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods or Selfridges. Elsewhere, Tom Ford fragrances are carried in numerous different countries; hopefully, you can find one near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, you can also find samples of Ombre de Hyacinth starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.

Perfume Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon (Les Exclusifs)

Chanel headquarters

31 Rue Cambon is named after Coco Chanel’s apartment above Chanel’s long-time headquarters at the same address, and was introduced to the world in 2007 as part of Chanel’s six-line prestige collection called “Les Exclusifs.”

Chanel's apartment at 31 Rue Cambon. Source: GirlsGuidetoParis.com

Chanel’s apartment at 31 Rue Cambon. Source: GirlsGuidetoParis.com

The fragrance was created by Chanel’s house perfumer, Jacques Polge, and is supposed to reflect Chanel’s personal taste for the classically simple but, also, the baroque. According to Chanel’s own description, 31 Rue Cambon was

[t]he epicenter of the world of Gabrielle Chanel, a place that harmoniously combined her need for simplicity with her taste for the baroque. It took the complex form of a beautiful Chypre fragrance to capture these contrasting passions, also present in Haute Couture, in a scent. This exceptional fragrance combines the mysteries of both sensuality and elegance.

The categorization of the perfume as a “chypre” raised a lot of debate and discussion when this perfume was first released back in 2007. A chypre is almost invariably something that has oakmoss as its core foundational element; and there is absolutely none here. In fact, the century-plus era of the famous “chypre” family of perfumes being one of the most significant and influential is now over, thanks to the EU and IFRA. (I will spare you one of my rants on that subject but, if you want to read more about what a chypre is supposed to be, feel free to use the Glossary linked at the very top of the page.)

Though Chanel’s description references chypres, Now Smell This states that Jacques Polge himself describes the perfume as an “oakmoss-free chypre.” Whatever the oakmoss issue, in an interesting turn of events, Chanel itself does not classify the scent as a “chypre” at all. Instead, on its page listing all the Exclusifs, it categorizes 31 Rue Cambon as a “Smooth Woody Floral.” That’s just as well, because the description sums up 31 Rue Cambon perfectly, in my opinion.

31-rue-cambonChanel offers no notes for the fragrance on its website but, Now Smell This says that the notes are said to include “bergamot, iris, jasmine, patchouli and labdanum.” Personally, I am tempted to agree with  the commentator, cylob“, on Fragrantica, who believes that the full list of notes are as follows:

pepper, bergamot, orris, narcissus, jasmine, patchouli, ambrette, vetiver, labdanum.

31 Rue Cambon opens on my skin with bergamot and aldehydes. The bergamot reads here as a citrusy lemon and not like Earl Grey tea (as it sometimes does). The aldehydes, to my huge relief, are not waxy and extremely soapy but, rather, light and incredibly fizzy. Moments later, there is the subtle breath of jasmine, light and airy, never indolic, heady or narcotic. When combined with the aldehydes, they really fizz in a way that reminds me, with a smile, of YSL‘s Champane/Yvresse. Here, there is a definite feeling of sparkling champagne, only it’s lemon and jasmine in an effervescent accord. There is a subtly powdery note of iris from the orris and, then, vetiver.

The vetiver is very interesting in this opening stage. It’s fresh, green and more akin to lemon grass than to anything dark, earthy or rooty. Its freshness undercuts any chance that the jasmine could be indolic and adds to that overall impression of bright, green Spring colours, flecked with dollops of bright yellow and white.

Field of NarcissusThe colour image of yellow is enhanced by a sense of narcissus hiding behind the other notes, combined with something that very much feels like the bright cheeriness of daffodil (which is often another name for daffodils). The whole thing is very light and sheer, a gauzy veil of floral notes dominated primarily by lemon and fizzy aldehydes, but the feeling of both the yellow colour and of narcissus is there.

Chandelier reflectionsThirty minutes in, the perfume has subtly changed, almost like light shining on a different part of a crystal chandelier and reflecting different facets. The aldehydes and lemony bergamot are joined by a much stronger note of iris, a touch of a pepper, and a suddenly earthier, woodier vetiver whose rootier characteristic has started to emerge. The iris adds some soft powder, but it’s light and far from the sort of powder you find in Guerlain’s signature Guerlainade. Any fear of powderiness is undercut by the dryness of the quiet pepper note. Like the iris, the jasmine is also much stronger now, though still light in texture and still far from indolic. Also emerging for the first time is the ambrette; it’s a flowering shrub that is sometimes called Musk Mallow and whose parts are often used to replicate the scent of (animal) musk. Here, like the rest of the perfume, its musky touch is light, soft and gauzy.

An hour in, the oddest thing happens. The perfume seems to vanish entirely. I was in disbelief, sniffing my arm like a hyena attacking the first food he’s seen in days. Nothing. Gone. 31 Rue Cambon is often bemoaned for its longevity issues, and it’s certainly not the most enduring in the line, but this seemed to be taking things a step too far. Then, suddenly, there was a hint of fragrance: musky, faintly woody floral notes that were too soft and mild to be more than just a vague hint of something. Then, it vanished again.

At the second hour mark, lo’ and behold, like a Jack in the Box, it popped back up! And not only did it suddenly re-appear but it seemed stronger than it had been before. Strong jasmine and sweetness, accompanied by light powder, green notes and vetiver. I can’t account for it. There are ghostly notes, but an entirely ghostly perfume?! It was the strangest thing, but there is no denying that 31 Rue Cambon decided to leave, return, leave and then reappear to stay quite a few times during the time I tested it. I have to wonder if its mercurial nature is why so many people think the perfume has incredibly short longevity. Maybe they’re not sniffing their arm at the right time when it decides to join the party, so they missed its prima donna return?

Whatever the reason, I have to say that I liked 31 Rue Cambon a lot more than I had expected to. All the oft-told stories about how it barely shows up, the low sillage, and the extremely brief longevity issues — not to mention the whole muddy mess involving chypres/non-chypres/modern-take-on-chypres — had left me frowning a little and anticipating a scent that would be problematic. To my surprise, 31 Rue Cambon was very good. And I attribute most of that to the dry-down because it’s absolutely lovely.

In its middle to final stages, the perfume becomes a soft veil of sweetness and green notes. At first, about four hours in, it is soft patchouli, musk, earthy (but light) vetiver, and an amorphous, generalized “floral” accord. The patchouli note is far from the 1970s dark, dirty, hippie patchouli (which I actually quite adore); it’s just a faint whisper that adds a touch of sweetness to the vetiver. The latter is also just the merest breath of depth and earthiness. Actually, sometimes, the perfume just evokes some sort of “green” note without even seeming like vetiver.

Later, about eight hours in, the perfume simply becomes light amber with just a dab of labdanum. It’s a sweet, almost honeyed scent that is not opaque, thick or resinous. I adore labdanum and the depth it adds to ambery elements. Here, it’s too light to have serious body of its own, but it adds a perfect amount of depth to the amber to stop it from being totally translucent and faint. The whole thing feels a little like being in candlelight or in the soft warmth of afternoon sunlight.

Those final hours are quite a sharp juxtaposition to the fizzy, bright opening notes filled with citrus, aldehydes, iris and jasmine. I wouldn’t say the perfume has turned “baroque” — to use one of the descriptive adjectives applied by Chanel to 31 Rue Cambon — because it’s far too gauzy in texture. No, I think 31 Rue Cambon is best described as a mercurial woman who is lightheartedly playful and teasing in the sharp brightness of the morning, and slightly more weighty, sensuous and serious in the warmer, golden light of the late afternoon.

31 Rue Cambon is not to my personal taste and style, and I would never wear it, but it surprised me. In a good way. I think that, if people go into it without any expectation of a “chypre” and just approach it with an open mind, they too may be surprised. It’s a very Chanel scent and oozes that house’s classique, elegant signature. It’s neither revolutionary nor earth-shatteringly unique — but it wasn’t trying to be. That’s simply not Chanel. But it’s very, very good. 

The only significant problem with 31 Rue Cambon seems to be its longevity issues. On average, it seems to last most people around four hours. Some have said significantly less, with one commentator on Fragrantica saying it lasted a mere 30 minutes! If I hadn’t persisted and kept on smelling my arm, I would have given it an hour. Yet, to my disbelief, I could smell lingering traces of the labdanum at the 9 hour mark! And you know how my body consumes perfume! So, I have to wonder if a miniscule fraction of those people simply didn’t realise that the perfume was still on them, except it was like a teasing ghost that completely vanishes only to flit back on the scene, then to repeat  that annoying act a few more times? Not all, but perhaps for a handful?

Either way, longevity is a definite issue, even if you’re not continually sniffing your arm to detect all of 31 Rue Cambon. The problem might be solved if the fragrance came in the stronger eau de parfum concentration; alas, it is available only in the significantly lighter eau de toilette formulation.

Nonetheless, it’s still a scent worth trying. At the very least, it will let you know what all the swooning is about, because this is one very hyped, much adored fragrance. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by the perfume critics, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, Ms. Sanchez writes a veritable ode to 31 Rue Cambon, awarding it 5 stars and raving orgasmically that “I cannot remember the last time, if ever, a perfume gave me such an instantaneous impression of ravishing beauty at first sniff.” In fact, she states, point-blank, that it is “one of the ten greats of all time, and precious proof that perfumery is not dead.”

I think all that goes too, too far. 31 Rue Cambon is good, but it’s not that good! It’s a beautiful scent which floral, aldehydes lovers will love in the opening, and which Orientalists will love in the closing, but it’s really not a particularly breath-taking perfume of ravishing beauty. It’s just a very typical Chanel that exudes elegance.

By the same token, I also don’t agree with Robin at Now Smell This who thinks this is “the best” of the Exclusifs. Out of those that I’ve smelled thus far, I would grant that title to Coromandel. (My review for that is here.) Perhaps that’s because I’m more of an Orientalist than she seems to be. If I weren’t, then maybe I would prefer 31 Rue Cambon.

Since I’m being contrary, I’ll go to the opposite side of things and add that I absolutely disagree with those few Fragrantica commentators who think that 31 Rue Cambon is a scent suited only to a very old, rich woman. To quote one assessment, written by “shabbus”:

This smells of wealth, but also of age. If you were sitting in the lobby of the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and a wealthy dowager entered and sat down next to you while her driver checked her in and made sure her bags were handled by the bellman, her Hermes scarf would smell of 31 Rue Cambon. And so would the Pomeranian on her lap.

No. Absolutely not, in my opinion. For some reason, the 31 Rue Cambon woman reminds me of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Insouciant, breezy, mercurial, unreliable, fizzy, ditzy, but always elegant and feminine, and with the capacity to be slightly more warm, stable and serious at the end. Or perhaps it would be more like this playful side of a retro-looking Jennifer Garner in Chanel in a photo shoot taken in 2009:

Photo: W Magazine, 2009. Via The Daily Mail.

If I were to agree with anyone, it would be with the assessment at I Smell Therefore I Am whose review really encapsulated the overall feel and visuals of the scent:

For me, 31 Rue Cambon sits somewhere between the floral vanilla of Allure and the deep golden hues of Mitsouko.  It’s a bright fragrance, so shimmering at first, and really for a while, that it was hard for me to classify in any useful way.  Where Mitsouko is somewhat like sunshine through a pane of amber glass, 31 Rue Cambon is like sunlight hitting the beige upholstery of a sublimely cosy couch.  It’s well blended, and more than anything it simply smells like “Chanel” to me.

I think 31 Rue Cambon is the perfect scent for a woman wanting an elegant, discreet, soft woody floral with a slightly opulent edge of sensuality. Its soft elegance makes it never out-of-place — whether you’re at the office or on a date. In fact, its low sillage also makes it an ideal perfume for the office.

In a way, the development of 31 Rue Cambon actually feels a bit like a day at the office. Its restrained elegance and fizzy, bright opening evoke the feel of a bright Spring morning, as you go to work wearing a feminine but perfectly tailored and structured Chanel suit with a crisp white shirt underneath. Its surprising ambered warmth and softly seductive edge during its lovely final period is really akin to what happens, hours later, when a woman prepares to leave the office to join friends for drinks by letting down her hair and opening a few buttons of her shirt to reveal just the faintest suggestion of cleavage.

It’s very elegant, it’s very discreet, it’s very Chanel and, for some women, it may be “ravishing beauty at first sniff.”

Details
Cost & Availability: 31 Rue Cambon comes in two different sizes: $130 for a 2.5/75 ml oz bottle or $230 for a massive 6.8 oz/200 ml. You can find it exclusively at Chanel boutiques or on the Chanel website. You won’t find it at Nordstrom, Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue or the like, though I believe it used to be available in-store at Bergdorf Goodman. However, t’s not listed on their site, so your best bet is to go through Chanel itself. As for samples, you can find them at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for the smallest vial (1 full ml).

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm

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

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

Source: Manface.co.uk

Source: Manface.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oleander flowers

Oleander Flowers.

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

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Oud Wood: An Approachable Oud

One might argue that Tom Ford ushered in the new dawn of oud fragrances — whether or not anyone wanted it — when he launched M7 for YSL fragrances in 2002. And, judging by the latter’s market bomb, no-one did want it. M7 was not just a trail-blazer and the first of its kind; it was also too original, unique, bold and, it seems, shocking for a world dominated by the freshness of (the revolting) Acqua di Gio. As I’ve discussed previously in my post on oud as the most popular, new trend in perfume, M7 was far ahead of its time.

Tom Ford Oud WoodWhen Tom Ford left YSL and began his own fashion line, it’s hardly surprising that he tried to remedy what may have been his first official failure. He returned to the oud well and launched Private Blend Oud Wood in 2007. Only, this time, he tried to make the oud (or agarwood) palatable, approachable and mild for the mainstream masses. (To read more about agarwood, you can turn to the Glossary, or to my post on the oud trend linked up above.)

And, he succeeded. Oud Wood is lovely and infinitely easy to wear, especially by the standards of many other agarwood fragrances in the market today. The reason is that — at the end of the day — Oud Wood is not a very oud fragrance at all. This is no nuclear Montale — a niche perfume house that has around 27 oud fragrances, all of which radiate post-apocalyptic intensity. And it’s not M7 either, a much sweeter, more potent, hard-core treatment of the subject. Though I’ve only tried the reformulated version of M7, I have to admit, I far preferred it to Tom Ford’s second foray into agarwood.

Oud Wood is a unisex perfume which Fragrantica categorizes as “Oriental Spicy.” On his website, Tom Ford describes it as follows:

Exotic Rose Wood and Cardamom, blended with exuberant Chinese Pepper, envelop the wearer in warmth. Eventually, the center exposes a smokey blend of rare Oud Wood, Sandalwood and Vetiver. Finally, the creamy scents of Tonka Bean, Vanilla and Amber are revealed.

The full set of notes according to Now Smell This (NST) are:

rosewood, cardamom, Chinese pepper, oud, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean, vanilla and amber.

Oud Wood opens softly. Extremely softly for a Tom Ford fragrance, if I might add. It may be the softest opening I’ve ever experienced for one of his perfumes — Private Blend or regular collection! The very first impression is of rose and sweet, nutty cardamom. It’s lovely. There is also Szechuan pepper, earthy vetiver, and hints of rich vanilla as if from a freshly cut Madagascar bean.

Following in their footsteps is the faintly medicinal tones of oud. There is no huge bite to the oud, and I don’t think it’s mutedness is due to the fact that it is covered by a veil of spice and sweetness. Even putting aside the unique nature of Montale’s fragrances, the oud here is different to others that I have smelled. For example, the By Kilian oud fragrances in the Arabian Nights collection range from cold, stony oud in Pure Oud to almost no oud at all in Amber Oud. Tom Ford’s Oud Wood may be closest to Rose Oud with its rose and soft agarwood, but there is still a difference that is hard to explain. It’s as if the oud has been hidden here such that it’s merely providing small cameo performances here or there. It’s not the star, but it’s also not one of the main supporting actors either.

Thirty minutes in, it remains a fragrance that is predominantly rose, cardamom and oud. The latter has become slightly more prominent now with a heavier element of camphor. Its chilly undertones provide a balance to the rose notes that are frequently present in oud fragrances. And the combination of oud with the nutty, aromatic, sweetness of cardamom is absolutely gorgeous. But, despite that, Oud Wood is still much less sweet, and much dryer, than the (reformulated) version of M7. And, frankly, I think I would have preferred a little more sweetness.

It’s around this time that there is an unexpected twist: I’m convinced I smell mocha! Something in the interplay of the nutty, sweet cardamom with the agarwood and the earthy rootiness of the vetiver has led to a strong impression of mocha ice cream. I’m an enormous fan of the latter, so I’m very happy (though somewhat perplexed). Yet, despite that surprise, Oud Wood isn’t a particularly complex or complicated fragrance. It doesn’t morph or fundamentally change in a huge way, but perhaps that’s why it’s such an easy fragrance to wear.

About two hours in, the vetiver starts to truly emerge and it remains prominent for the length of the perfume’s development. Oud Wood is now primarily a vetiver, cardamom and (vaguely) oud fragrance with the rose becoming increasingly fainter. At the three-hour mark, sandalwood makes its appearance, pushing the rose completely off the stage and blending with the vanilla, cardamom and the earthy vetiver in a truly lovely manner. At times, it seems as though Oud Wood is mainly a vanilla vetiver with hints of oud and spice. At other times, it’s mostly sandalwood with vetiver. The perfume fluctuates and undulates, showing just how well-blended it is.

"The Seine at Le Grande Jatte" by George Seurat.

“The Seine at Le Grande Jatte” by George Seurat.

Four hours in, the perfume is extremely close to the skin and predominantly sandalwood with vetiver. The latter is increasingly sweet, fresh and bright green, reminding me of the aromatic fragrancy of lemongrass more than anything earthy or dark. It’s lovely, especially when combined with the spiced creaminess of the sandalwood. There are faint traces of vanilla and tonka, and the oud occasionally pops up like a fleeting Jack in the Box, but those are all minor things. The dry-down is mostly just sandalwood and vetiver.

I’m truly taken aback by the moderate sillage and brevity of the perfume. The  projection is surprisingly mild and tame for a Tom Ford fragrance. Even more surprising, it has an unusually shortest duration: around 5.5 hours on my skin. I know I have peculiar skin, but I’m not alone in this one. From the review on NST to comments on Fragrantica, a large number of people have noted the average (or, for a Tom Ford, extremely below-average) projection, softness and mildness of the fragrance. On Fragrantica, there are repeated comments about how Oud Wood simply doesn’t last. (It’s enough to make one convinced that Tom Ford intentionally went to the exact opposite extreme of every single thing he did with M7.)

My greater difficulty, and one which has made this review a struggle to write, is that Oud Wood is hard to get extremely excited about. Please don’t mistake me, it’s an absolutely lovely fragrance and, if I had a full bottle, I would wear it. In fact, I would probably wear it frequently! It’s versatile, easy, uncomplicated, rich-smelling and that sandalwood dry-down is simply delicious. Oud Wood may even be my second favorite Tom Ford Private Blend fragrance. (I shall have to ponder that one.)

But it’s simply not remarkable. It’s hard to muster up enormous excitement for what is — by today’s standards in particular — a very average oud. I’m not criticizing it for that, especially as “average” was the express goal! Tom Ford already did “remarkable,” and fell on his tush. Personally, I’m still obsessed with smelling un-reformulated, original M7 but, since both it and the reformulated version have been discontinued, I’m out of luck for the moment. (It sometimes appears on eBay, so there is always hope.)

For those of you who have been unsuccessful with agarwood thus far but who really want to find an accessible oud to try, Tom Ford’s Oud Wood should be right up your alley. It’s really just a spiced, vanilla, vetiver, woody fragrance that simply happens to have some oud in it. It’s neither particularly sweet nor masculine. But it’s infinitely wearable, far from potent, very approachable, and utterly delicious at times. For those of you who have been previously traumatized by the bullying or “frat boy” aspects of some Tom Fords, you too may have better luck with this one. But if you’ve had greater exposure to the plethora of ouds on the market or are looking for a true agarwood fragrance, then this may be too tame for you.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Oud Wood is an eau de parfum, and is available on the Tom Ford website where it retails for: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, $280 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In the US, you can also find it at fine department stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman MarcusSaks Fifth AvenueBergdorf Goodman, and others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods where it sells for £195.00 for a 100 ml bottle or £300.00 for the super-large 250 ml bottle. (They are either sold out of the small 50 ml bottle or else, it’s not listed despite an initial reference to 50 ml on the main page for Oud Wood.) The smaller size is carried at Selfridges where it costs £135.00. Tom Ford Beauty doesn’t seem to be carried by retailers in France, but it is in many European nations from Denmark and Belgium to the Russian Federation. You can use the store locator on the website to find a retailer near you. In Australia, the Tom Ford line is supposedly carried at David Jones stores, but Oud Wood is not one of the 16 Tom Ford fragrances carried on the David Jones website. Elsewhere, Tom Ford fragrances are carried in numerous different countries; hopefully, you can find one near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website.
Samples: You can find samples of Private Blend Oud Wood starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S. Unfortunately, international shipping has leapt up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recent (and large) price increases. It is now $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It is a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.)

Perfume Review – L’Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant: Saffron Delight

Swirls of dark orange from the most expensive spice in the world combine with the rich red of candied roses, the canary-yellow of creamy, custardy vanilla, and the sweet browns of cardamom to result in an instant reaction: “Heaven!”

Safrant Troublant.Source: Olibanum WordPress Blog.

Safrant Troublant.
Source: Olibanum WordPress Blog.

Actually, at first, I just gave a faint moan upon smelling Safran Troublant from the French niche house of L’Artisan Parfumeur. That doesn’t happen often. Incoherent babblings of joy, and mutterings of “Heaven,” followed soon thereafter. The name may translate to “troubling” or “disturbing” saffron, but this is one completely comforting, absolutely delicious fragrance that is perfect for those of you who prefer your perfume to be discreet and unobtrusive. Those of you who prefer more sillage will be disappointed, however. And, all of you should take serious note of its fleeting nature.

Safran Troublant is a unisex, spicy oriental eau de toilette that was created by the famous nose, Olivia Giacobetti, and released in 2002. L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s website describes it as follows:

A potent portrayal of candied roses; alluring and just a little dangerous

Safran Troublant is an unsettling and potent portrait of a candied rose. The sensuality is heightened with the addition of sandalwood and spicy ginger notes. This makes for a seductive and unexpected fragrance, where the saffron serves to highlight the sheer opulence of the rose. Beautiful and a little dangerous to wear.

The notes are:

saffron, red rose, vanilla, ginger and sandalwood.

As a side observation, Fragrantica is flat-out incorrect in its summation of the perfume. First, they have continuously listed Bertrand Duchaufour as the nose behind its creation, despite numerous comments correcting them. They also seem off on the notes, since they insist on listing “passion fruit flower” when no-one — least of all the company itself — has given any such indication or has smelled any passion fruit.

Sholeh Zard.Source: FoodandFarsi.com

Sholeh Zard.
Source: FoodandFarsi.com

The opening of Safran Troublant will be familiar to any of you who have had Indian or Persian saffron-rice desserts. “Sholeh Zard” is a Persian rice pudding with saffron, rose, cardamom and nuts. Its Indian counterpart is “Kheer” or “Payasam.” They’re both utterly addictive, though I personally think the Persian one is significantly heavier on the saffron which is probably why its colour is bright canary-yellow, whereas the Indian version is not. For a wonderful discussion of both saffron and Sholeh Zard, as well as recipe for how to make it, check out Food & FarsiThe Spice Spoon, or the other sites linked in the photos. (But don’t do it if you’re hungry. Really, I warn you. I learnt the hard way, and now I’m famished…)

Safran Troublant’s first minutes are a swirling delight of sugared rose: deep, dark and candied, but richer than anything in mere rose water. This is no cloying, saccharine-sweet tea-rose but a darker, heavier floral. It’s sugared and spiced, making this a great perfume for those who have problems with more traditional or girly rose perfumes. The sweet, almost nutty warmth of the cardamom combines with the almost peppered, earthy sweetness of the saffron to provide a richness to the perfume’s foundation.

Sholeh Zard. Source: Foodival.com

Sholeh Zard.
Source: Foodival.com

The vanilla here is incredibly lush. This is no cupcake vanilla or, even, the vanilla of bottled extract. It evokes tapioca pudding: creamy, heavy, and utterly unctuous. And it’s thick like the brightest, yellow egg custard!

About five minutes in, there is a strong hint of cumin. However, unlike many of my other experiences with the note, it’s not really earthy and never “skanky.” It just adds another layer of earthiness and spice to counter the sweetness of the scent. The ginger starts to make a greater appearance at this time, too. It’s not sharp or bitter but, rather, almost candied.

Saffron. Source: FoodandFarsi.com

Saffron.
Source: FoodandFarsi.com

Neither note, however, is the true star of the perfume. That role is taken almost entirely by the glorious saffron which remains throughout  the duration of the scent. It’s heady, rich, compulsively sniffable, and makes Safran Troublant far more than a simple vanilla or gourmand scent. It is absolutely the best parts of this lovely perfume.

Unfortunately, one of the worst parts is Safran Troublant’s fleeting nature. On one arm, where I put on my usual number of dabs, the perfume vanished entirely within ten minutes. Yes, TEN minutes! I’d read one commentator say that the perfume disappeared on her within minutes of application, but I thought that had to be an exaggeration — even for the typically light, ephemeral L’Artisan line. Apparently, not. On my other arm, however, where I had trebled the dosage due to my utter love for the fragrance, it was a different story. The perfume’s sillage dropped by about 85% within ten minutes but, to my surprise, the perfume itself remained. I can’t quite account for the differences but, clearly, one needs a lot of the perfume for it to stay even as a discreet skin scent.

And it is most definitely discreet! Far, far too discreet for my personal preferences but, for those of you who don’t like intrusive scents or who can’t always find perfumes appropriate for a strict work-environment, it should be utterly perfect. Well, assuming it lasts on you…..

The main criticism of this much-loved scent is its fleeting nature. You all know that I have skin that is incredibly voracious when it comes to perfume, but we’re talking about normal people here! From Fragrantica to Makeupalley, there are endless comments about how Safran Troublant barely lasts. Many give four hours as the maximum, while others give significantly less. The one review I mentioned above about how it lasted mere minutes came from “Goddess Dreams” on Makeupalley who wrote:

Well, well, well, now I too know what it’s like to have a scent that now you smell and then two seconds later “poof” and it is completely GONE! Where did it go? I’d love to know! But my, I love it so much, why did it have to leave so soon? This is ridicilous, I mean I sprayed it on, no joke a good spray I gave it too, but I’m talking within minutes (I was still at the L’Artisan counter and it was GONE – not slowly withered away – GONE ALL AT ONCE WITHOUT A TRACE). But, oh while it was there, for that charming special moment that it lingered on my skin – that was wonderful. I would have paid any money had it lasted only a touch, but my chemistry made NOTHING out of this. While it was there however, magical it was!

Again, on me, the scent remained on the one arm where I splashed it on heavily but, even there, it lasted a mere four hours. And I could smell it only if I brought my nose right up to arm. Still, what a glorious few hours it was. The notes didn’t alter in any way from what they were at the start — this is hardly a complex perfume that morphs and shifts with every hour — and I’m uncertain as to whether there is sandalwood in any significant amount, but the scent was hauntingly beautiful. It’s well-blended, too, and definitely unisex — though it think it may lean a wee more towards the feminine side for men who aren’t enormous fans of rose fragrances.

If I thought Safran Troublant would last in any way on me without constant re-spritzing, I would put aside my usual issues regarding discreet perfumes that are mere skin scents, and buy it immediately. However, at $145 a bottle, it’s a little too expensive for me to be re-applying it every few hours in gallopingly great, hefty doses. Still, I urge you to try it if you can. This is a scent that should appeal to everyone from those who like spiced florals or gourmand fragrances, to those who need low sillage perfumes for the workplace. And, with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, it is a particularly good choice for those who love rose fragrances. Frankly, it may be true love for many — regardless of the date in question.

DETAILS:
You can find Safran Troublant on the L’Artisan Parfumeur website where it costs $145 for a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. No other size is offered, and the perfume only comes in Eau de Toilette concentration. Elsewhere, you can find it at Barneys, Beauty Encounter, or Lucky Scent. Though Sephora now carries the L’Artisan line, this is not one of the seven L’Artisan scents they offer. The same thing applies to Harrods which carries 24 of the brands’ fragrances, but not this one for some inexplicable reason. I also couldn’t find it on Neiman Marcus, Aedes or Nordstrom’s websites where, if it was shown at all, it was listed as “out of stock” (with pricing that was clearly from years ago). However, you can easily obtain samples from Lucky Scent at the link shown above, or at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1ml vial.

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Tobacco Vanille

I’ve tried a number of tobacco fragrances lately and, to my surprise, my favorite has TF Tobacco Vanillebeen Tom Ford’s Private Blend Tobacco Vanille! It was quite unexpected, since I haven’t had a ton of luck in my prior experiences with the line and since Tom Ford fragrances can be a bit too potent even for my liking. (I usually adore powerhouse fragrances, so that says something!) Unintentionally, I seem to have started on the light end of the tobacco spectrum with Hermès‘ airy, ambered, rum and tobacco Ambre Narguilé, before working my way to the heavier, denser, more vanilla-y tobacco and rum Spiritueuse Double Vanille from Guerlain, and ending up with the richest of them all – a chocolate, tobacco and rum scent which I thought was wonderful!

Tobacco Vanille is a unisex eau de parfum which Fragrantica categorizes as “Oriental Spicy.” On his website, Tom Ford describes it as follows:

A modern take on an old world men’s club. A smooth Oriental, TOBACCO VANILLE opens immediately with opulent essences of Tobacco Leaf and aromatic spice notes. The heart unfolds with creamy Tonka Bean, Tobacco Flower, Vanilla and Cocoa, and finishes with A Dry Fruit Accord, enriched with Sweet Wood Sap.

The most complete list of notes that I’ve found was, oddly enough, on Nordstrom’s website which says Tobacco Vanille has:

ginger, tobacco leaves, anise, coriander, tobacco flower, clove, spices, fruit wood sap, benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean.

Tobacco Vanille opens on my skin exactly like a Christmas plum pudding, a sort of Christmas Plum Pudding PuddingDessertz Blogspotdark, blackened, moist-to-dry fruitcake that often is accompanied by a vanilla rum sauce. The similarity is so strong, it’s striking. The rum opening is accompanied by dark pipe tobacco, cinnamon chocolate, and spices. There is a touch of cardamom and ginger, just like in a really strong Chai tea. The subtle ginger note combined with the dark spices renders this a very different scent than Ambre Narguilé or Spiritueuse Double Vanille on my skin. The pipe tobacco is different, too. It’s not as sweet, light or fruity as it is in the other two fragrances, and there are no smoky, incense notes. Here, the tobacco is not like airy hookah smoke, but something a thousand times more dense. There is almost a chewy, black vibe to the whole thing with a faintly bitter underpinning, though I don’t know if it stems from the tobacco leaves, the fruit, or something else.

The rum note here is also different from that in the other two fragrances. It’s not as light or sugary but, rather, like a dark, sullen version. Or, perhaps, it’s just not very rum-like at all in the beginning, though that may well be the result of the amount you put on. I tried Tobacco Vanille twice, in differing concentrations, with the first time involving half my usual dosage. On that occasion, I didn’t get rum so much in the opening as some other strong alcohol. drambuieI couldn’t pinpoint which one but, for some reason, Drambuie consistently came to mind! Drambuie, for those of you who haven’t tried it, is a Scottish liqueur that is made from honey, herbs, spices and single malt whiskey. It’s very much like herbed honey with spices, whereas rum is a much more consistently sweet, dense, heavy black note in my mind. On the second try, with a lot more Tobacco Vanille on my skin, the aroma was unquestionably rum and not Drambuie.

A higher dosage of Tobacco Vanille results in yet another difference: a significantly stronger chocolate note. The more perfume I used, the stronger and darker the chocolate. In my first test, I used half the amount of perfume that I normally use because… well, frankly, one must be cautious in applying Tom Ford fragrances. They can be massive, potent, savage beasts — and I learnt the hard way after Amber Absolute that one should start with perhaps less than what one normally uses. So, using that halved dose, the cocoa note was a bit like a ghost. It popped up here, popped up there, and vanished for stretches of time, before re-emerging like a tease. In my second test, using my normal number of dabs, the chocolate was apparent from the very start. It wasn’t light, dusted cocoa powder either, but more akin to cinnamon-spiced, dark chocolate.

That the rich, dense, chocolate note combined with the slightly smoky aspects of the tobacco almost verges on a chocolate patchouli accord. Though Tobacco Vanille is often brought up in discussions of Serge LutensChergui, the opening make me think of a very different Lutens fragrance: Borneo 1834. Tobacco Vanille lacks the camphorous elements of the latter, but the rich chocolate-patchouli, spiced chai, smoky elements seem much closer to Borneo 1834 than to what I experienced with the lovely Chergui. Chergui is simply not as dense, chewy and dark as Borneo 1834 and Tobacco Vanille. It also has a predominantly honey note, with florals, hay, incense and a very different sort of smoke element. Never once did Chergui call to mind a Christmas plum pudding! I should note, however, that despite the comparison and its sweetness, Tobacco Vanille is not a gourmand fragance. I think the dryness of the tobacco and the spices prevent it from being like dessert. In other words, it’s not cloyingly sweet or diabetes in a bottle.

Thirty minutes in, in my first test at a lesser dosage, the spice notes started to unfurl even more. There is a lovely light note of coriander with its lemony undertones, some candied ginger, and a soupçon of anise. There is also an almost milky accord which makes me think of thick, sweetened tea. The lemony note to the coriander adds to that mental impression of a dark black tea with milk and a sliver of lemon. In conjunction with the dark fruit, spices and tobacco notes, I feel transported to a British gentlemen’s club in Mayfair where High Tea has been served in one corner of a wood-paneled library and where members quietly smoke cheroots or pipes. It’s very masculine, very proper and, yet, simultaneously, for reasons that I can’t quite pinpoint or put into words, it’s also none of those things.

St. James Hotel's Library Bar, Paris. Source: Oyster.com

St. James Hotel’s Library Bar, Paris.
Source: Oyster.com

At a higher dosage, the impression of lemony, thickened, sweetened, dark tea goes away. The gentleman’s library is now serving pure rum, expensive dark chocolates filled with liqueur, and slightly fruited pipe tobacco. A butler brings in Christmas Plum Pudding with a white rum sauce that he sets discreetly to the side, as the gentlemen talk business and smoke away in their club chairs. It’s utterly lovely, either way.

Other perfume bloggers haven’t had quite the same mental association and imagery with Tobacco Vanille as I did. Scent Bound likened it to “loud frat boy” as compared to Spiritueuse Double Vanille‘s “beautiful and constrained young librarian,” though he has often stated that he really likes Tobacco Vanille and wears it when he wants to stand out.

Scent Hound, in contrast, seemed much less enthused about it. He found it to be “very much a 1980s fragrance, sophisticated, big and maybe a bit dated.” Interestingly, Mr. Hound noted: “[t]he first time I wore this, I liked it better than the 2nd time I wore it which made me feel a bit like I was walking around with a ‘Yankee Candle Company’ candle hanging from my neck. For those of you not in the US, that’s not a good thing.” That Yankee Candle Plum Puddingwas an extremely astute observation and dead on. At times, Tobacco Vanille really does evoke a Yankee Candle! Frankly, I rather wish I hadn’t read that comparison because it’s hard to shake the mental association once you’ve noticed it. It’s even harder when you Google “Yankee Candle Plum Pudding” out of morbid curiosity and find that, yes, they actually had such a scent for a limited time!

Despite all that, I find myself really enjoying the perfume, especially in smaller doses where it seems to have more layers and complexity. In my normal, regular dosage for perfumes (3 to 4 large-ish dabs on each arm), it’s a lot more linear and soon ends up as a predominantly rum and tobacco, plum pudding scent, especially in its dry-down.

I should note that dosage may not be the only contributing factor for why I had a slightly different experience than my fellow bloggers. It makes a big difference if one sprays on a Tom Ford scent, as opposed to merely dabbing it on from a vial. Perfume is usually milder or softer when dabbed on, as opposed to when it is aerosolized (if there is such a word). In my case, dabbing on Tobacco Vanille may explain why I didn’t find it to be quite as brash, aggressive and bullying as others have.

Then again, maybe not. After all, I dabbed on Amber Absolute and was well-nigh assaulted by its notes. It was such an 800-pound gorilla that I found it almost unbearable at times. Noir de Noir was also very potent on me (though never anything remotely close to Amber Absolute), as were others like Neroli Portofino and Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. No, the bottom line is that, on my skin, Tobacco Vanille was surprisingly gentlemanly for a Tom Ford fragrance and far from a brute. It had great projection, but not a beastly amount. The real surprise was the longevity which, even by the standards of my voracious, perfume-consuming skin, was much less than for other Tom Ford fragrances. All in all, it lasted about 8 hours on me. On normal human beings, you can easily double and, in some cases, triple that number.

Tobacco Vanille is, thus far, my favorite Tom Ford Private Blend fragrance. I think it’s cozy, comforting, richly heady, almost compulsively sniffable, and completely unisex. I definitely recommend it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tobacco Vanille is an eau de parfum. It is available on the Tom Ford website where it sells for: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, $280 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In the US, you can also find it at fine retailers such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth AvenueBergdorf Goodman, and others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods where it sells for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. Elsewhere, Tom Ford fragrances are carried in numerous different countries; hopefully, you can find one near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, given the potency of Tom Ford’s perfumes as whole, you may want to ordering a sample to see how it develops on your skin. You can find them starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.