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

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

OUD FLEUR:

Oud Fleur via chicprofile.com

Oud Fleur via chicprofile.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the succinct list of notes would be:

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

Osmanthus. Source: en.wikipedia.org

Osmanthus. Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

Source: impfl.com

Source: impfl.com

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

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

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

Ginger. iStock photo via Wetpaint.com

Ginger. iStock photo via Wetpaint.com

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

Source: splendidtable.org

Source: splendidtable.org

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

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

Source: taste.com.au

Source: taste.com.au

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOBACCO OUD:

Tobacco Oud via beautyscene.net

Tobacco Oud via beautyscene.net

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

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

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

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

So, a succinct summary of notes would be:

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

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

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

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

Source: visualparadox.com

Source: visualparadox.com

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

Source: gawallen.piczo.com

Source: gawallen.piczo.com

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

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

Tom Ford advert for Sahara Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

Tom Ford advert for Sahara Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

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

Source: openwalls.com

Source: openwalls.com

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

Source: rexfabrics.com

Source: rexfabrics.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

The discontinued Amber Absolute.

The discontinued Amber Absolute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Sahara Noir: Ambered Frankincense

Desert Caravan. Photo: "Artemis." Via Tripwiremagazine.com

Desert Caravan. Photo: “Artemis.” Via Tripwiremagazine.com

In March 2013, Tom Ford released a new fragrance in his Signature collection called Sahara Noir. It is a rich oriental eau de parfum that is aimed at the Middle Eastern market and that is supposedly Tom Ford’s interpretation of their traditional scents. On May 1, Sahara Noir became available world-wide, and I obtained a sample from a kind sales-assistant at Neiman Marcus. The long and short of it is that Sahara Noir is, essentially, a re-working of Tom Ford’s much beloved, now discontinued Private Blend Amber Absolute, only with oud now added to the mix. There are small differences which I’ll explain later in this review but, for all intents and purposes, Sahara Noir is the new replacement for Amber Absolute.  

Tom Ford advert for Sahara Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

Tom Ford advert for Sahara Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

In the press release I found back in February, Sahara Noir is described as follows:

Sahara Noir is rich and exotic; it wraps the balsamic, incense-touched notes of frankincense in gold and honey-coloured light,” noted Ford. “Middle Eastern culture has an extraordinary appreciation for the luxurious, emotional and memorable qualities of fragrance; perfume is worn there in a way that feels very familiar to me. Sahara Noir is my interpretation of this heritage.

Tom_ford_sahara_noirThe press release is actually important because of its detailed explanation of the notes — notes which are quite different from what Fragrantica lists. In the official description of the perfume, the company states:

The oriental woody juice is crafted around a heart of frankincense. This key ingredient is complemented by top notes of cistus essence Orpur® (Orpur denotes a natural ingredient of exceptional quality and purity), bitter orange, Jordanian calamus – an oasis sweet grass – and Levantine cypress, famed for growing in the gardens of the 1001 Arabian Nights.

The heart blends frankincense essence Orpur® , cinnamon, cool papyrus extract, Egyptian jasmine templar and rose absolute from Morocco. A beeswax extraction from Burma lends body and a supple, honeyed-animalic richness.

The warm dry down is laced with amber. It is formed by a special blend of labdanum – labdanum absolute and a rich natural fraction of labdanum known as ambreinol – combined with benzoin, vanilla, cedar, frankincense resin, agarwood and balsam.

The notes on Fragrantica mention only:

Top notes are bergamot, mandarin orange, violet, ginger and basil; middle notes are grapefruit blossom, orange blossom, tobacco and black pepper; base notes are amber, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss and leather.

So, if we combine the two lists together, the full set of notes seems to be closer to the following:

bergamot, mandarin orange, violet, ginger, basil, grapefruit blossom, orange blossom, tobacco, black pepper, amber, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss, leather, Jordanian calamus grass, cistus [labdanum] essence Orpur®, cinnamon, papyrus extract, Egyptian jasmine templar, Moroccan rose absolute, beeswax extract, labdanum, ambreinol, benzoin, vanilla, frankincense resin, agarwood [oud], and balsam.

A slightly different set of notes, all in all, don’t you think?

Camel Caravan. Photo by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

Camel Caravan. Photo by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

Sahara Noir opens on my skin as slightly bitter amber with heavy frankincense. There are: bitter citruses that feel like the fresh oils from the rind; peppery cedarwood; dry tobacco leaves; bitter but crystalized ginger; and black, dirty patchouli. The whole thing sits atop a powerful base of rich, nutty, heavily leathered labdanum (a type of amber resin), infused with strong frankincense. The amber-frankincense duet smells familiar — as it should to anyone who has smelled Amber Absolute. As the seconds pass, light touches of cinnamon and rich, heavy honey are also noticeable. The whole thing is potent and, yet, much airier and lighter than you’d suspect, given those rich, heavy notes. I’m not saying that Sahara Noir is a sheer, translucent, fresh scent by any means, but it doesn’t feel opaque, thick, and molten.

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Less than five minutes into Sahara Noir’s development, the perfume shifts a little and becomes significantly less complex. The citrus notes have all but vanished, leaving behind a scent that is primarily frankincense-infused labdanum amber. Those who don’t like labdanum as a stand-in for amber should perhaps take heed, for Rock Rose or Cistus (its other names) is not to everyone’s taste. Labdanum has quite a masculine, leathery bent to its nutty, resinous, darkly balsamic accord, and I know some amber lovers who aren’t always enthused by its particular aroma.

Swirled into the blend are tobacco leaves, peppery cedar wood, dry papyrus, and the smallest suggestion of oud. The perfume is beautifully blended, so few of these notes are individually distinctive by themselves amidst that dominant pairing of frankincense and labdanum. Yet, by the end of the first hour, the peppery wood notes and oud become much more significant. The tobacco fades away, along with the faint traces of spice and ginger that lurked in the opening. By the 90 minute mark, Sahara Noir is a three-way pairing of labdanum, frankincense and oud. As a side note about that oud, I know a lot of my regular readers really struggle with the note. I do, too, when it is medicinal, antiseptic, fecal, or a bit too much of the noble “rot.” Here, however, it is much more akin to incredibly peppered woods. It’s simultaneously dry, a little bit fiery, and highly sweetened (thanks to the resins and honey)– all at the same time. Yet, for the most part, it is not over-powering or bullying; it is far too overshadowed by the leathery amber and frankincense.

Photo: Federico Bebber. Source: MyModernMet.com

Photo: Federico Bebber. Source: MyModernMet.com

Sahara Noir remains as this triumvirate for hours and hours. I detect absolutely no citrus or floral notes; not a whisper of rose or jasmine anywhere in sight. Midway during the third hour, the perfume becomes richer and softer, turning into a lovely amber with strong oud and frankincense. The labdanum’s leathery edges have been tamed, mellowing into something sweeter and milder with a honeyed accord. The frankincense is in much better balance, though the oud seems to have increased a little in strength. I will be honest and confess that the oud is a little too much for my personal tastes and a little sharp at times, but it is in perfectly equal proportion to the other two notes. Sahara Noir is now a three-way race, with each horse neck-and-neck as they lead into the home-stretch.

With every remaining hour, the triplets soften even further until, finally, Sahara Noir turned into a nutty, honeyed amber with faint traces of smoke and oud. Lurking at the edges is the merest dash of cinnamon, benzoin and vanilla — the latter having a breath of powder — but neither note is very significant. In the final hours, and to my surprise, I could occasionally detect some vague, soft floral notes underlying the amber. It felt most like jasmine, but the whole thing was a bit too muted and amorphous to really tell. Plus, every time I thought I could pinpoint it on my arm, the note flitted away like a ghost. By the very end, Sahara Noir was nothing more than a faint whisper of nutty amber with a soft feel of caramel.

All in all, Sahara Noir lasted just over 9 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. As always with Tom Ford fragrances, I opt for a lesser amount than what I would normally use with everything else. It was Amber Absolute, actually, which taught me it is best to err on the side of caution initially when it comes to the quantity one uses for one of his perfumes. Using the equivalent of two good sprays on my arm, Sahara Noir was generally quite light in feel. It had serious sillage at first which dropped to “average” after the first hour. At that point, someone standing a few feet away wouldn’t be able to detect it, but don’t let that mislead you. When sniffing it, Sahara Noir is very potent, thanks to the frankincense. If you were to spray more than a small amount, I suspect the sillage might blow someone out of the water. I also think a larger quantity would change the nature of the perfume. Time and time again with Tom Ford’s Private Blend fragrances, I’ve noticed that using too much can lead to quite an overwhelming, ’80s-like experience and, more importantly, to the amplification of whatever note is dominant in the perfume. In this case, the frankincense.

tom-ford-amber-absolute

The now discontinued Amber Absolute.

As I noted at the start, Sahara Noir is extremely close to Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute from his much more expensive, more “prestige” Private Blend collection. Amber Absolute was discontinued last year for reasons that I’ve never quite fathomed. It seemed to be one of the big favorites amongst the Tom Ford line as a whole — cherished and adored by a vast number of people, especially friends of mine who enjoy rich amber scents with smoke. I reviewed Amber Absolute and, personally, found the extreme nature of the frankincense to be a bit bullying — and that’s coming from someone who really enjoys the note. For me, the perfume was unbalanced, too shrill and top-heavy with the frankincense, and just a bit too, too much as a whole. I always thought I was in the minority on that assessment, but Sahara Noir makes me wonder if, perhaps, there were more people who shared my views.

You see, Sahara Noir is a much less extreme, more balanced version of Amber Absolute. There is still the labdanum-frankincense accord, but the smoke doesn’t feel acrid and like an 800-pound gorilla. To my nose, Sahara Noir is also slightly more nuanced, along with having a lighter feel and texture, but it’s definitely all relative. There are other — albeit small — differences as well. For one thing, the opening to the two fragrances is not quite the same: the Amber Absolute has much more of a boozy rum, spiced start; Sahara Noir is more citrus-y (for all of about 5 minutes), before turning straight to the labdanum and frankincense. It also has far more dry wood notes, from the very peppery cedar to the oud. Of course, the inclusion of that last element is quite a big difference, though I would argue that — for the most part — it’s a difference of degree and not of kind. The dominance of the core labdanum-frankincense combination in both fragrances makes them much more alike than different, despite the addition of the oud.

All in all, I liked Sahara Noir — but I didn’t love it and I don’t think I’d wear it. For one thing, I’m extremely tired of oud — there seems to be no end in sight to the mania. Everything has oud in it these days. (At this rate, it’s going to be on my bloody pizza next!) Perhaps if I didn’t test at least one oud fragrance a week (and, sometimes, as many three), I’d be more enthusiastic. But Sahara Noir isn’t complex enough to sway my oud fatigue.

For another, while I like frankincense a great deal, I find there is always something a little sharp in the frankincense use by Tom Ford. Sahara Noir lacks the soft, luxuriating, velvety richness of Dior‘s Mitzah, one of my favorite labdanum-frankincense combinations and a fragrance which I thought was much more complex, nuanced, and layered. Perhaps it’s because Mitzah isn’t so focused on just two key notes, and its edges are softened as a result. In particular, both the labdanum and the frankincense in Mitzah are gentler, more rounded, better blended and richer. Perhaps it’s because Mitzah lacks oud with its peppery element which is sometimes a little sharp in Sahara Noir. Whatever the reason, I liked Sahara Noir — but not enough to want to wear it.

As a side note, I cannot help but think Tom Ford decided to tone down his Amber Absolute, while also adding in oud, for marketing reasons. With the inclusion of that note, he could target the extremely wealthy Middle Eastern market, and position Sahara Noir as an exciting new call to their traditional heritage of oud fragrances, as well as heavy, balsamic amber ones. What stumps me is why Sahara Noir isn’t part of his more expensive, potent Private Blend line, instead of the cheaper Signature collection. His intended audience could certainly afford it. I suspect it’s because he didn’t want to underscore quite so easily the enormous overlap between Sahara Noir and a Private Blend fragrance that he just discontinued.

Another source of bewilderment: Sahara Noir is supposedly marketed as a fragrance “for women.” Er…no. I don’t think so! Sahara Noir is as unisex as you can get. In fact, I suspect women who are not used to oud (or heavy frankincense) may blink a little at Sahara Noir. This is not some sweet, gourmand, or spiced soft amber. This is hardcore frankincense and labdanum.

On Fragrantica, the comments thus far seem generally to evince disappointment, though quite a few people really enjoy it. A number of people write about how it is primarily a frankincense fragrance and nothing revolutionary. Well, they’d be right, especially as Sahara Noir replicates Amber Absolute so closely. Two commentators seem to feel it is a complete “knock-off” of Absolue Pour Le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. With that, I very much disagree. I’ve reviewed Absolue Pour Le Soir and think it is absolutely nothing like Sahara Noir. Absolue is not an ode to frankincense and labdanum; it is a stunning floral oriental that is centered around slightly animalic musk with lovely, rich sandalwood and a variety of other elements.

Some have called Sahara Noir “linear,” and I think it is. But I’ve always thought that term is a negative only when someone absolutely hates the notes that are continuing from start to finish. If you love a rich amber infused with the particularly intense sort of smoke that is frankincense, and if you like the slightly masculine, leathery sort of amber that is labdanum, then I think you might enjoy Sahara Noir. However, those who don’t like oud may not be enthusiastic, and those who already own Amber Absolute can probably skip it.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sahara Noir is an eau de parfum which generally comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. It costs $150 or $165, depending on US retailer, or £100.00. On the Tom Ford website, however, it is shown in 3 different sizes: 1.0 oz/30 ml, 1.7 oz/50 ml, and 3.4 oz/100 ml. I can’t seem to find pricing for the smaller sizes anywhere and, on the Tom Ford website, wasn’t able to click on the links to put it in a shopping cart to ascertain the cost. In the US, you can find Sahara Noir sold in the 1.7 oz/50 ml size at department stores such as Neiman Marcus (which lists its price at $150), Barneys (which sells it for $165, for some odd reason), and Bergdorf Goodman (which lists its price at $150). I couldn’t find it on the Saks or Nordstrom websites. In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but I don’t know when they will get Sahara Noir. In the UK, you can already find it at Harrods or Selfridges. Both stores sell the 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £100.00. Elsewhere, I’ve seen Sahara Noir listed on Dubai Duty-Free and Souq.com. 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. Hopefully, you can find a retailer near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website. As for samples, Surrender to Chance doesn’t have Sahara Noir at this moment as it is far too new, but you can try to find it at any of the department stores listed above to give it a test sniff.