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:

St. James Hotel’s Library Bar, Paris.

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.

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.

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….

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.)

Perfume Review: Tom Ford Private Blend Amber Absolute

Some perfumes just announce their presence. Tom Ford’s Private Blend Amber tom-ford-amber-absoluteAbsolute is one of those perfumes. While his entire line of fragrances — Private Blend or not — seems to have a very brash, forceful attitude, I think Amber Absolute takes it to new levels. It is known to be the most concentrated and the strongest amber perfume on the market, but it’s far more than just that: it’s also a frankincense monster. To be honest, it reminds me of one of the aggressive, giant gorillas in Planet of the Apes — complete with chest-thumping machoism. I am not a fan.

Amber Absolute is categorized as a unisex oriental eau de parfum. On his website, Tom Ford describes it as follows:

AMBER ABSOLUTE is a honey-colored scent infused with the purest form of Amber, joined by a tenacious refrain of African Incense, Labdanum, Rich Woods and a touch of Vanilla Bean.

There are no further details about the ingredients and no further elaboration of what kind of “rich woods.” Amber Absolute is intended to be a simple scent; it is meant to be little more than pure, concentrated amber with a “tenacious” hint of those other things. To that extent, you could argue that Tom Ford succeeded in his goal. It really depends on how you interpret the “tenacious refrain” part, and the extent to which the amber was meant to dominate.

Bois de Jasmin has an extremely useful discussion of amber in perfume, and I think it would be helpful to share it here:

While amber commonly tends to refer to the semi-precious fossilized resin, in perfumery, the word refers to an abstraction of the complex odors of ambergris. Rich, animalic, warm and salty, this substance regurgitated by the sperm whale, has been sought after since antiquity for its unique scent. Given its scarcity and high price, amber

accords have been devised using materials like labdanum, which approximate the fragrance of ambergris, particularly since purified labdanum contains ambrein, one of the materials that gives ambergris its scent. The classical amber accord in perfumery tends to be sweet and vanillic. The best examples I can offer include Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, L’Artisan Parfumeur L’Eau d’Ambre and Annick Goutal Ambre candle .



I find it unlikely that Tom Ford used pure ambergris in his perfume, so I’m guessing the infusion of “the purest form of Amber” must be synthetic ambergris (or ambroxan) with a healthy, if not enormous, chunk of labdanum. In my Glossary,

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

I elaborate on labdanum which is the distillation of the cistus plant and which imparts a dry, resinous, faintly woody smell. To me, labdanum is generally similar to ambergris (or to its synthetic form, Ambroxan) and to ambery resins. However, I think it has more of a masculine toughness as compared to amber’s sweetness, a touch more edge and a bit of a dirty, animalic spice.



Tom Ford doesn’t explain if his “African incense” is frankincense or what comprises his “Rich Woods.” The former must be Olbanum, and I’ve read some guesses that the latter consists of Guaiac Wood. I suspect that’s true. Descriptions of guaiac wood’s smell range from burning leaves and pepper, to rubbery rosy-sweet honey, to smoky, rubbery, tar-like asphalt. (See Glossary for more details.) All the descriptions apply here.

The reason why I’m spending perhaps a little more time than usual going over the notes is because I don’t find Amber Absolute to be a predominantly amber scent. To me, it’s smoky, peppery, almost asphalt-like frankincense fragrance first and foremost, and only then amber. Amber is merely the context and cocooning wrap, frankincense is the head and heart. And there is way too damn much frankincense!

Amber Absolute opens with a lovely note of spiced rum. It’s all Chinese Five Spice, headed by star anise. I cook with star anise, and was surprised by just how redolent the smell is here. The amber is rich and so boozy, I immediately thought of Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series and his love of rum. Here, the rum note is so concentrated, a mere whiff might make the mighty pirate drunk.

The frankincense is visible too and, initially, it isn’t quite the star player, though it is jostling for the center stage. It’s strong, smoky and has the sharp bite of black pepper. It’s faintly acrid; I can smell it at the back of my nose. There is also a definite burnt asphalt smell which can stem from either the possible Guaiac wood element or from the incense alone. Whatever the cause, the incense or frankincense notes become stronger and stronger. And stronger. It ends up becoming the olfactory equivalent to assault and battery, a most intentional tort.

It is such an aggressive assault that I should point out the need to be extremely careful in how much Amber Absolute you apply. Be careful for your own sake, never mind others. I thought I had been careful, but apparently, not enough. As I repeatedly state, my body consumes perfume. Consequently, for any sort of accurate test, I always use about 3-4 dabs from the small sample vial, smeared up and down each arm. That is the baseline. However, with Amber Absolute, I used far less. I know from prior experience the strength of Tom Ford scents — especially in their opening salvo — but I had also read enough about how Amber Absolute was the strongest amber on the market to know I had to be careful. So, I only put on 1-2 dabs on each arm. Oh boy!

It was absolutely tolerable — nay, lovely — in the opening 15 minutes or so. There, it was a mix of boozy amber (verging on seriously concentrated rum), star anise and spices with an element of frankincense. But the frankincense muscled the supporting players off the stage, took over, and then set up a chest-thumping rhythm of increasing shrillness. What happened to a mere “refrain of African incense”? Oh, right. “Tenacious.” Mr. Ford, I think you’ve confused “tenacious” with obnoxious.

As my prior reviews show, I’m a huge fan of frankincense, so it should tell you something that I found it really too much here. Isn’t this supposed to be an amber scent first and foremost? Frankincense and amber are a lovely combination but, here, there is nothing to really dilute, soften and tame the hard, extremely smoky, almost acrid (and verging on painfully sharp) edges.

Which brings me to my real problem with Amber Absolute: it is not well-rounded for a large portion of its lifespan. It’s too top-heavy on one key note. It’s unbalanced and, unbalanced to such an extent, it clearly must be intentional. I can’t fault Amber Absolute for being a simple, even linear scent; that was what they wanted it to be. But I can absolutely fault it for being painfully unbalanced.

Speaking of linearity, it’s not always a bad thing. I certainly don’t use “linear” as a constant negative. Nor do I need for my scents to always morph and transform like Cinderella. In fact, comfort scents like rich, warm, cozy ambers are one category where I can very much enjoy linearity. It’s akin to having the lovely basenotes (sometimes, the best part of a perfume!) there from the onset but just in different degrees of concentration. But I don’t like this linear perfume.

After three hours of being assaulted and beaten up by frankincense, the charging gorilla decides he’s got better things to do and goes to sit in the corner. The dry-down starts, and it’s a relief. There is salty caramel, vanilla and more of what I consider to be real amber. Soft, nutty, sweet and delicious. The salt of the caramel is balanced by the sweetness, and the whole thing has a lovely touch of smoke. The frankincense is still there, but it’s glowering from the corner and shackled. It’s been tamed enough to almost smell a bit like dirty patchouli, but not quite. The combination is lovely but it’s faint. Like most Tom Ford scents on me, the opening salvo is loud and intense, but when it fades into softness, it’s almost too soft.

Which brings me to something that I often wonder about when it comes to Tom Ford fragrances: olfactory fatigue. I don’t think I experience it with other lines, but I often suspect it is a factor with Tom Ford scents. Most of them open with such an enormous (if not overwhelming) blast that I wouldn’t be shocked if my nose tuned things out after a few hours. I’ve read mentions of olfactory fatigue when it comes to Amber Absolute in particular, so I suspect my assessment of the length or power of the dry-down phase may be strongly influenced by fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a linear scent even then, and there really isn’t a hell of a lot to write about how it unfurls at this stage. I simply am not sure of how strong it is at this point because my nose has been barraged in the preceeding hours.

All in all, Amber Absolute lasted about 8 hours on me with the projection being very good for the first 3 hours, then closer to the skin for the remainder of the time. Given how quickly my body consumes perfume, 8 hours is a long time. On others, however, I have read reports of Tom Ford scents lasting 12-18 hours, and I suspect that Amber Absolute would push things to the higher or highest end of that range.

All in all, I didn’t hate Amber Absolute, but I certainly didn’t love it. I had really expected that I would. In fact, from all that I had read about it and from a friend’s experience with it, I had expected it might be “The One” as far as amber scents go. I have thought long and hard about whether disappointment and very high expectations have contributed to my negative impressions of the scent. I don’t think they have. I’m not judging this as an amber perfume because, on me, it wasn’t one. At least, not a real amber. I’m judging this as a predominantly frankincense perfume in the cocoon of amber. And, even as a frankincense monster, it is not a thing of beauty. For a large portion of its run, it’s not even a thing of comfort. It feels slightly insolent in its extremely aggressive, chest-thumping swagger as it announces: “I’m here! I’m the strongest amber around. And I am absolute!”

So, my hunt for the perfect amber goes on. Maybe it will be Hermès’ Ambre Narguilé from its Hermessence collection, or maybe you can suggest something that I should try. Have you found your perfect amber? If so, what is it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on either Amber Absolute or the best amber that you’ve encountered thus far.


Cost & Availability: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In doing a search today for all sites selling Amber Absolute, I came across a claim that it was just discontinued two months ago, in October 2012. I can’t seem to ascertain the accuracy of that comment. Certainly, Tom Ford’s website has the perfume listed as part of his Private Blend collection. However, I can no longer find it listed on the Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman or Neiman Marcus websites. Neiman Marcus has it listed, but the category is empty and without a picture of the bottle. Barney’s does not appear to carry any of the Private Blend line, so that’s no help. I’m extremely surprised given the enormous popularity of Amber Absolute, but I’m starting to suspect that chap was right and maybe the scent has been discontinued. If you’re eager to try it, though, there is always eBay where Amber Absolute is plentiful. And, of course, Tom Ford’s website, for now at least. If you like amber, I suggest trying out a sample which can be found for $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court.