I’ve tried a number of tobacco fragrances lately and, to my surprise, my favorite has been 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!
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 dark, 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. I 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 Lutens‘ Chergui, 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.
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 was 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.