Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Noir de Noir: Henry VIII’s Tudor Rose

The Tudor Rose, emblem of the royal house of King Henry VII, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

The Tudor Rose, emblem of the royal house of King Henry VII, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

If the royal medieval dynasty, the Tudors, had a perfume to go along with their rose emblem, I suspect it would probably have been something like Tom Ford‘s Private Blend Noir de Noir For Women and Men. It is a scent that is as rich, baroque, lavish, and earthy as the bawdy, gourmand Henry VIII himself. Noir de Noir is not the delicate flower of Diana, Princess of Wales, whom Elton John called England’s Rose. No, this is Henry VIII’s prime rib to Diana’s scones and clotted cream. It’s rose turned rich and decadent, spiced and meaty, with an earthiness that hints at faintly musky intimacy. It is a scent that I think rose lovers will absolutely adore.

Fragrantica categorizes Noir de Noir as a “chypre” eau de parfum. You can read more about chypres on my Glossary but, in the most basic nutshell, a chypre perfume has a foundation consisting of oakmoss, or oakmoss in conjunction with certain other notes (like patchouli). On his website, Tom FordTF Noir de Noir describes Noir de Noir as follows:

A dark Chypre Oriental, this scent opens with an earthy mantle of richly woven Saffron, Black Rose and Black Truffle, with hints of floralcy. Underneath, Vanilla, Patchouli, Oud Wood and Tree Moss soften the intensity, making the scent a sensual experience.

Noir de Noir opens with the darkest, blackest, most luxuriously rich rose possible. I should confess that I am not someone who is crazy about rose scents (I overdosed on YSL’s Paris when I was 13), but I was very impressed with the opening of this one. This is much more my kind of rose! It made me think of dark, damask Persian or Bulgarian roses with their much sweeter,

A damask rose.

A damask rose.

headier scent than some of their pale European cousins. It’s a very narcotically ripe sort of rose note and so plush, it’s almost boozy. I don’t get the red wine notes that many refer to, but that booziness is such that it actually verges into a fruity realm. To be specific, I have a very strong and distinct impression of Welch’s grape juice or grape jelly. Despite that, Noir de Noir evokes a dark, medieval world of baroque velvet, sumptuous fabrics, rich wood-paneled rooms hung with elaborate hunting tapestries, and tyrannical, grumpy Henry VIII in bejeweled robes striding to a long dining room table covered with ornate silver and mounds of red-blooded, meaty dishes. This is most definitely England’s rose of a different century than Elton John’s pale, blonde Diana!

The sweetness of the rich, damask rose is accompanied by what seems to be a faint flicker of oud but it is so light, I think I may have imagined it. It is definitely not the medicinal oud I’ve encountered in Montale or By Kilian‘s agarwood fragrances, nor the oud of YSL’s reformulated M7. In fact, I tried on Noir de Noir twice to be sure, and, the second time, I was convinced that there was absolutely no oud at all. Zero. Others, such as Perfume-Smellin Things, have reported the same, but Undina’s Looking Glass reported quite a bit of oud when she gave it a test run.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

Equally undetectable to me: oakmoss. At no time did I ever smell the pungent, almost mineralised dusty grey-green bitterness of oakmoss and, again, I don’t seem to be the only one. Perfume Posse also found no oud or oakmoss in Noir de Noir. Given the IFRA regulations on oakmoss, Tom Ford would have had to use either synthetic oakmoss or have the real thing be in such minute proportions as to be basically nonexistent. Judging by the perfume, I would guess that he went with the latter route because this is as much a “chypre” on my skin as Welch’s grape jelly is….

Instead, there is a definite note of sweet saffron with its faintly woody hues and a strong note of black truffle. I’ve cooked with and eaten real black truffles, and its earthiness is profoundly fresh-black-trufflesapparent here. The richness of the black truffle adds heft and meatiness to the rose. It also adds an earthiness that creates a faintly bawdy, sensuous note of body funk to the scent. It is not always apparent and, by the end, it flitters in and out like a ghost. Sometimes, especially in the opening hour, it is stronger and I sniff my arm with a faint trace of concern; I smell a wee bit ripe. At other times, it’s delightfully subtle and just a faint whisper that adds a note of sensuality to the perfume.

The earthiness of the black truffle explains why Noir de Noir is consistently described as a “high-class” or elevated version of Tom Ford’s Black Orchid fragrance, another one of his perfumes which has black truffle at its heart. In fact, there may be more than just an unintentional similarity between the two scents. My best friend, who so kindly sent me my sample of Noir de Noir, was informed by a Tom Ford sales lady that Noir de Noir was apparently the scent that was initially supposed to be Black Orchid. I’m not wholly clear on her meaning, and neither was my best friend, but it seems that Tom Ford may have originally intended for Noir de Noir to be the scent called Black Orchid. The latter came out one year before in 2006, while Noir de Noir came out in 2007, so who knows the accuracy of that story. Still, it is indisputable that the two scents share a similar “Noir” or “Black” theme of florals mixed with earthiness and black truffle.

I haven’t tried Black Orchid but, judging by Black Orchid Voile de Fleur and several other Tom Ford scents that I have tested, Noir de Noir smells far more expensive and not very synthetic. It lacks that almost shrill screeeeeeeeeeeeeeech of the opening, that clanging, loud, almost nose-burning olfactory assault that can be quite brutal at times. I attribute the latter to a very synthetic quality in some Tom Ford’s fragrances: Neroli Portofino comes immediately (and painfully) to mind, followed to a lesser extent by Black Orchid Voile de FleurWhite Patchouli and Violet Blonde.

No, Noir de Noir is a much better perfume than any of those other scents. Luca Turin seems rather enamoured of it, too, giving it a four-star rating in his book, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. He also called it a “rose-chocolate,” as do legions of others. I assume Turkish delightthe combination of black truffle and patchouli gives rise to that impression amongst so many, but I’m afraid I can’t smell any chocolate. What I can smell, however, and what I am convinced Noir de Noir encapsulates more than anything else is Turkish Delight. If you’ve ever had a box, or if you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe from the Narnia series, you will know what I’m talking about immediately. Turkish Delight is a sweet dessert that is often made from rose water and covered with white confectioner’s powders. It smells strongly ofTurkish Delight2 candied violets and that note of candied, sometimes powdered and vanilla-y, violets is an enormous part of Noir de Noir.

As time passes, Noir de Noir becomes more and more like powdered rose-vanilla with a hint of candied violets. At no time did I ever smell rich chocolate, though I do get that faint earthy note of body funk from the black truffle from time to time. Commentators on MakeupAlley seem to share my rose-vanilla impressions for the most part, and one even noted the Turkish Delight comparison, too! In contrast, Fragrantica commentators seem to fall predominantly into the chocolate camp.

One area where I depart from the majority in both camps is sillage and longevity. Even for my skin, Noir de Noir is of very short duration. In fact, it may be the shortest-lasting Tom Ford I have encountered. It became close to the skin about 1.5 to 2 hours in, and lasted for a grand total of 4 hours. There have been a few comments on Fragrantica and elsewhere about the 2 hour mark, so it may not just be me but we can be counted on one hand (or maybe just under two). Contrary to us few oddballs, the vast majority of people report that Noir de Noir lasts eons and eons on them, with some giving 12 hours or more!

If Noir de Noir lasted anywhere close to that amount of time on me, I might be a little more enthused about it. As it is, the very boring dry-down of powdered vanilla rose and violets with ghostly hints of earthy bodily funk is really not fascinating enough for the very high price of the perfume. The smallest bottle — the standard 1.7 oz/50 ml size — costs $205. That’s a bit steep to smell like Turkish Delight, no matter how lovely (and it really was lovely!) the opening notes of boozy, heady rose with saffron. The steepness might be a little more tolerable if the Turkish Delight er… Noir de Noir actually lasted on me but, again, it didn’t.

It’s probably at this point that I should bring up the other perfume to which Noir de Noir is repeatedly compared and you’ll probably be very surprised by what it is: the celebrity scent, Queen, by Queen Latifah. According to Fragrantica commentators on both the Tom Ford entry and the Queen one, it is an almost exact dupe for Noir de Noir! I haven’t smelled it, so I can’t comment, but the reportedly striking similarity may be of interest to you given the price differential. A 3.4 oz bottle of Queen eau de parfum retails for $59 and is currently being sold on the Walgreens website for $28.19 and on eBay for $15.16! In contrast, that same sized bottle of Noir de Noir retails for $280. eBay sellers are also offering the smaller 1.7 oz size of Queen for only $8, whereas the analagous 1.7 oz bottle of Noir de Noir retails for $205.

If the comparisons are true — and at least 44 people voted that they were — then that is quite a spectacular price difference! To be honest, I’m rather tempted now to buy the Queen just to see if they’re right! I’m sure there will be a difference in quality, as even its critics admit that the Tom Ford Private Blend line is of high quality. Plus, according to the Scentrist blog, the reported perfume strength of the Private Blend line (26%) is higher than even the regular Tom Ford line (18%). But, despite that, I’m still tempted to try out the Queen Latifah perfume. Have I mentioned how much I love a bargain or how curious I am?!

All in all, I liked Noir de Noir, though I’m far from its ideal, targeted audience as I’m not usually a fan of rose scents. Still, I’m surprised by how much I liked its opening. As a whole, though, I would have liked the perfume better had its sillage, longevity, dry-down and cost been different. But its richness and earthiness make it something that I think would appeal to many people, men and women alike.

To be totally clear, this is definitely a scent that a man can wear. And, judging by the comments on Fragrantica, a lot of men really love it. Amusingly enough, two of my closest friends — one of each gender — had very opposite reactions to Noir de Noir. My male friend (someone who wears such masculine scents as YSL’s M7) adores it and succumbed to a full bottle after just a few sniffs of the sample. In contrast, my female friend found it a touch too masculine (and she loves Tom Ford’s Oud wood)! I think the dispositive factor will be how you feel about rose. My female friend is, like me, not a huge fan. If you are — and if you like heady rose scents in particular — then I absolutely recommend that you try giving this sniff. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But the Henry VIII lifestyle is not included….

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Noir de Noir 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, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf 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 like rose scents and are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest ordering a sample. 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 $5.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $75.)
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