Tom Ford Violet Blonde

When Tom Ford announced the release of his Signature Collection of perfumes in the fall of 2011, his first creation seemed to complement his new make-up line. It was Violet Blonde, a fragrance that ostensibly celebrated the delicate world of the flower that it was named after. Even the print ads seemed to support that point. Appearances can be deceiving.

Lara Stone photographed by Mert & Marcus. Source: Styleitup.com

Lara Stone photographed by Mert & Marcus. Source: Styleitup.com

According to the Tom Ford press release quoted by Nordstrom, Violet Blonde is an eau de parfum meant to represent “a new era of feminine glamour.” The description goes on to read:

Tom Ford Violet Blonde is an opulent fragrance that reveals a stunning new facet of violet: ravishing, intriguing elegance. Made with some of the most precious ingredients in the world, it is crafted according to the finest traditions of European perfumery.

Top notes: violet leaf absolute, Italian mandarin and baie rose.
Middle Notes: Tuscan orris [iris] absolute, Tuscan orris butter and jasmin sambac sampaquita.
Bottom Notes: benzoin, cedarwood, vetiver absolute, silkolide and soft suede.

Photo: gardenersblog.jerseyplantsdirect.com

Photo: gardenersblog.jerseyplantsdirect.com

Violet Blonde opens on my skin with a potent burst of green, crunchy, leafy, and peppery notes. You can almost feel the fuzzy, soft leaves of a bunch of violets or pansies, except they are covered with pepper. The scent of the actual violets themselves, however, feels hidden and muffled, as though they were shielded behind the leafy green notes. On my skin, they are a whisper of a suggestion at best, feeling dewy and faintly earthy. The violets and their powerful green leaves are all nestled at the base of a dry tree, though the note doesn’t feel very much like cedar to me but more akin to an abstract woodiness. Seconds later, sweetness seeps through like a creeping puddle approaching the flowers, covering them with a delicate, thin syrup. It’s not ridiculously sweet or gourmand; it’s more like clear corn syrup than heavy, gooey honey.

Pink peppercorns. Source: spicestationsilverlake.com

Pink peppercorns. Source: spicestationsilverlake.com

The purple, green, and brown canvas is quickly splattered with splotches of pink from the pink peppercorns, and with cream from a slightly sharp musk. It’s not the clean or white variety, but it has the subtlest touch of freshness about it, serving to lift up the other notes to make them seem lighter than they actually are. As regular readers know, I’m not at all a fan of synthetic musks, and my nose is very sensitive to their strength, so I’m not a fan of this part of Violet Blonde. Thankfully, the note is relatively minor at this point, though that ends up changing later.

Deep in the base, there lurks an extremely subtle vein of fruitiness. It is indistinct and abstract, but it certainly doesn’t smell like mandarin to me. What’s interesting is how the combination of the pink pepper berries and the musk have created the feel of a general pink fruitiness that is lightly spiced. There is a subtle jamminess to the fruit, too, almost as if purple, fruited patchouli had been used.

Violet Leaf via gaertner-und-florist.at

Violet Leaf via gaertner-und-florist.at

All those notes lurk behind the peppery green leaves which are the dominant focus of the scent in the early minutes. The violet flower itself is very elusive, and it becomes even more so 8 minutes into the perfume’s development when the jasmine arrives. It is syrupy, sweet, and very heady. I love big white flowers, so I’m rather thrilled by all this, but the strength of the jasmine basically dooms the violet from every having a chance at a solo act on center stage. In fact, the violet slinks off to the sidelines with a whimper and basically sits out much of the rest of the fragrance like some sort of very embarrassed wallflower. It’s rather disappointing, but perhaps it’s a function of skin chemistry.

Trailing behind the jasmine is the first suggestion of something powdered. Orris is often used in makeup as a fixative and has a powdered aroma, as does iris. Here, there is the tiniest whisper of a rose-iris makeup powder undertone, though it is extremely subtle. Honestly, almost every note in this perfume is subtle and muted on my skin except for the crunchy, peppered leaves in the beginning, and then the jasmine and the musk.

Violet Blonde is quite potent in its opening moments. I used 3 decent sprays from a tiny atomizer, an amount which equals 2 small squirts from an actual bottle. Violet Blonde wafts about me in a billowy, potent cloud that feels as light as a feather, though it is extremely strong in smell. The airy weight of the fragrance is definitely misleading. Violet Blonde’s projection is initially good, wafting about 4 inches above the skin, though that starts to change extremely quickly. As you will see, the opening forcefulness is not characteristic of the scent as a whole.

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

The jasmine soon becomes Violet Blonde’s driving force. Within 20 minutes, its sweetness cuts through a good portion of the perfume’s greenness. Oddly, I can smell more of the actual violet flower now — as opposed to its leaves — than I did at the start, though it keeps playing a peekaboo game with me from the sidelines. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the strongest, I would put the violet note at a 3.5 now, perhaps a 4 for a brief moment. It had begun as a 1.5, so it is an improvement, but it’s all very relative. At the same time, the powder and cedar elements also grow stronger. As a whole, Violet Blonde smells of sweet florals dominated by jasmine and thoroughly infused with leafy, peppered, violet leaves. The main bouquet is lightly flecked by powder, cedar, the violet flower itself, pink peppered berries, and a touch of fresh musk.

Jasmine Rouge.

Jasmine Rouge.

Violet Blonde feels like a juxtaposition of contrasts: heavy but light; headily floral but crisply fresh; sweetly dewy but peppered green; a touch earthy but also a touch powdered; understated and, yet, bold as well. It has that signature Tom Ford opulence, but it is ratcheted down from the levels of many of his Private Blend fragrances. Violet Blonde is not demure, but it is also not particularly flashy or va-va-voom either. Those last two words are what I’d use to describe Violet Blonde’s sibling in the Signature Collection line, Jasmine Rouge, which was released shortly afterwards and which is spectacularly heady in its intensity and punch. Violet Blonde is not. Yet, it feels much less subdued than Tom Ford’s recently discontinued Private Blend Black Violet. On my skin, the latter was quite anemic, muted, and quiet indeed. It also had extremely disappointing projection that didn’t feel like a Tom Ford fragrance at all, never mind one of his Private Blend ones.

Violet Blonde seems to fall midway on the Tom Ford spectrum of power, heaviness, and projection, especially after 40 minutes when it turns much softer. The sillage slowly drops to about 1-2 inches above the skin. The perfume’s weight feels as though it has been cut by 30%, perhaps because the jasmine has now blended into the overall fragrance and has lost a lot of its syrupy sweetness. The powder notes are now much stronger, too.

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

At the end of the first hour, Violet Blonde turns more abstract, and the notes all blur into each other. The sillage drops even further. The overall bouquet is of a woody, slightly powdered jasmine with musk. It is only lightly flecked by green, leafy, peppered notes, and they grow increasingly weak. The powder isn’t enormous; we’re not talking Guerlainade levels by any means. It feels more like a light dusting over the jasmine than a strong, core element. One thing is for certain, the iris is not showing its strong, cold, carroty, or dank facets at all. As for the rose, it’s really a no-show on my skin, though there is sometimes a suggestion of it lurking about the powder. I suspect that is merely my mind making a mental association with the sort of powdery rose smell that some makeup or lipsticks can have.

Violet Blonde is very pretty, but I’m really not keen on the growing forcefulness of the musk which pushes aside the green leafiness, the powder, and everything else it sees. Everything but the jasmine. The musk smells sharp to my nose, and is definitely synthetic. Thankfully, it’s not the fresh, white, laundry, “clean” type, or I’d go out of my mind. Still, it grows stronger and stronger as time passes. All too soon, Violet Blonde devolves to a simple jasmine musk on my skin with some abstract woody notes.

Violet Blonde is a very linear scent whose core essence doesn’t change during the rest of its evolution. All that happens is that the jasmine and musk fluctuate in terms of their strength. At times, Violet Blonde feels as though it has turned wholly abstract, and the notes (other than that musk) have lost all individual shape or identity. To be precise, it starts to smell like nothing more than a generic “floral, woody musk” on my skin. At other times, however, the jasmine appears as a distinct element, before it sinks back down into the general cloud. At the start of the 2nd hour, Violet Blonde’s sillage hovers just an inch above the skin. 60 minutes later, the perfume turns into a complete skin scent. It’s quite a surprise to have a Tom Ford fragrance turn so discreet after 120 minutes.

Catherine Jeltes Painting, "Modern Brown Abstract Painting WinterScape." Etsy Store, GalleryZooArt, linked within. (Click on photo.)

Catherine Jeltes Painting, “Modern Brown Abstract Painting WinterScape.” Etsy Store, GalleryZooArt, linked within. (Click on photo.)

For hours, Violet Blonde continues its trajectory as a simple, sweet, powdered jasmine scent with abstract woodiness and sharp musk. By the end of the 5th hour, there are a two small changes in the base. First, a creamy undertone appears which is lovely. It’s like sweetened woods with a distinct vanillic edge. The latter clearly stems from the benzoin listed in the notes. Second, there is a subtle vein of jammy sweetness that reappears deep down. I can’t pinpoint the source, but, again, it almost feels like a touch of fruit-chouli or purple patchouli. As a whole, Violet Blonde is now an abstract floral scent on a base of creamy woods that are lightly flecked by a vanillic benzoin and strongly infused with fresh musk. The jasmine is just barely distinguishable; all the rest of the notes have faded away or turned wholly indistinct.

The musk starts to finally mellow out and pipe down by the middle of the 7th hour. To my surprise, the violet flower makes a brief, 30-minute reappearance on the sidelines. I guess it was waiting for the musk to shut up in order to make a visit, but it’s still a very shy, quiet, and muted affair. As a whole, Violet Blonde remains on its simple course: a sweet floral musk with creamy woods. The powder fades away by the middle of the 9th hour, as does a lot of the musk, leaving only creamy floral sweetness as the perfume’s dominant characteristic. Violet Blonde remains that way until the end when it dies in a blur of something vaguely floral. All in all, it lasted just over 11.25 hours with very soft, discreet sillage after the end of the 2nd hour.

Photo: Temptalia, with grateful thanks.

Photo: Temptalia, with grateful thanks.

Violet Blonde has generally received very good reviews. I’ll start with my friend, Temptalia, who isn’t even particularly into floral scents but who found Violet Blonde to be “elegant, polished, and subtly feminine–ultimately, a sophisticated, layered scent that’s not as heavy or as daunting as Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection, but in some ways, more refined.” Her review reads, in part:

It opened with strong burst of floral notes with a sweetened, fruit-laced edge over a backdrop of peppery greens. There was an inkling of the greenness from the violet leaf when it opened, but it quickly transitioned to fragrant, floral jasmine, which was the prevailing note on my skin for some time. The jasmine blended with the rooty qualities of the orris (iris root), so it was cool and just softer than crisp; like the first few days of fall, where the air coolly caresses and you realize the seasons have just changed.

I appreciated the damp, mustiness the orris notes imparted–they enhanced the depth and added another layer of nuance.  It made it distinctly autumnal for me [….]  It’s fresh and green and lovely.

Violet Blonde encapsulates some of those qualities–the freshness and green crispness of autumn–but it is more floral than anything else.  It never turned achingly sweet, which is a direction that tends to remind me of youthfulness, and instead, it evolved to an earthy jasmine with soft, creamy woods that took away some of the edginess of the opening of the scent but made it more wearable.

We had an extremely similar experience, right down to the lovely creamy touch that arrives in Violet Blonde’s drydown. I agree fully with her sentiment that Violet Blonde feels elegant, while not being as heavy or intense as many of the Private Blend line. Where we differ is in the feeling of autumn, as I felt Violet Blonde felt more like Spring, but that’s all an emotional, subjective response. (Plus, I’m writing this at the arrival of Spring, so I’m definitely being influenced by that factor. The perfume was released in Autumn 2011, so that might have played a role in the early reviews.)

Source: shamshyan.com

Source: shamshyan.com

Autumn was also on the mind of Bois de Jasmin who gave Violet Blonde a positive review as well:

Although the perfume is called Violet Blonde, the violet in this composition figures more as a green, crunchy leaf, rather than the raspberry redolent flower. As the fragrance settles into the skin, there is a flash of soft, tender violet petals. The delicate sweetness is a very appealing counterpoint to the peppery-green layers that follow. Soon, a strong jasmine note gives its rich hue to the floral and green notes. The cool iris lends Violet Blonde its austere, earthy quality, and when contrasted with the plush jasmine, the effect is memorable and surprising.

The wet, green woody notes underpin the radiant floral core of Violet Blonde, giving it an autumnal feeling of chrysanthemum petals clinging to damp earth. While the leafy and peppery sparkle persists throughout the perfume’s development, there is a musky softness to the drydown that makes Violet Blonde less edgy than it might have appeared initially. It is both a plus and a minus, because while the softness makes the fragrance more wearable, it also reduces its character. Like Balenciaga Paris, Violet Blonde feels too timid to truly make a statement. On the other hand, even if it does not strike me as a bombshell perfume, Violet Blonde is a well-crafted composition. Elegant and polished, it would make a great daytime perfume, a comfortable silk slip of a fragrance.

Source: swirlydoos.com

Source: swirlydoos.com

For Now Smell This, Violet Blonde was “polished chic,” and their review reads, in part, as follows:

Violet Blonde is soft and cushy-powdery, as is the current fashion, but it’s loudly so, in keeping with Tom Ford’s aesthetic. […] The opening is a heady mix of citrus, sweet fruit, violet leaf and violet (violet fans take note: it does smell like violet in the early stages). It’s green early on, and peppery throughout. The fruit notes soften as the top notes dissipate, and the violet fades into a jasmine-heavy floral mixed with a dry, peppery iris. The jasmine is clean, with fruity undertones, and it’s strong rather than rich: the ad copy repeatedly uses the word opulence, but it’s a decidedly modern sort of opulence. The base is pale earthy woods, smooth and creamy, and mostly clean — as was the case with White Patchouli, the earthy notes are there, but they’ve been worked over with a fine-toothed comb; there’s no must or skank whatsoever. […][¶]

Violet Blonde in particular has that same feel of “polished chic” that verges on formal (formal, polished and chic also feature in the ad copy). I likened Black Orchid to a ball gown, and White Patchouli to the upscale New York all-in-black look (trousers, a black turtleneck and boots, big sunglasses, sleek hair, one big piece of jewelry). Violet Blonde, the purple-tinged advertising notwithstanding, I’d put in shades of beige and tan, something rather like the perfectly tailored ladies-who-lunch [wear.][…]

Source: Fabfitfun.com

Source: Fabfitfun.com

I very much agree with her sentiment of a polished chic that is rather in-between things. It relates back to my point on how Violet Blonde feels as though it is midway on the spectrum between something like Jasmine Rouge (or the bold Private Blends), and the more understated fragrances in the line. For whatever reason, the image which repeatedly came to my mind was that of Sharon Stone from the Oscars long ago in 1998, when she made news by pairing her husband’s simple, white, crisp GAP shirt with an opulent Vera Wang ball gown in violet.    

Lest all this sound like Violet Blonde is filled with nothing but fabulousness, let me make clear that the perfume isn’t for everyone. Obviously, you must like both jasmine and powder, and you should not expect a ton of the actual violet flower. Some people seem to struggle with the peppered, green leaves, as witnessed by a few comments on Fragrantica, while others have problems with other aspects of the scent, including its weak sillage. Some of the negative reviews: 

  • The first hour is a torture for me – can’t put up with e cold top notes? However, it becomes more and more unique as it warms up on the skin and blends into the chemistry of the skin. a dry down seems to me very similar to Chanel Allure.. Overall, very interesting and intriguing fragrance. Love it on someone else, rather than on me.
  • Its nice enough but I am slightly disappointed by this ‘mousy’ perfume – I expected Violet Blonde to smell sharp, fresh and more blueish… But its very subtle – it opens with diffuse powder and hints of muted violet. The dry down on my skin is very sweet and musky – like condensed milk. Its much better on clothing – then the violet is more detectable and it has a nice smoky quality.
  • I really really like this perfume but it is so weak… It wears like an eau de cologne on me, I must be anosmic to a fragrance for the first time in my life? [¶] Contrary to several reviewers here I adore the sharp opening. It’s a sexy car screeching to a halt, a dyed, blonde wearing something inappropriate opening the door mid-breaking. It’s awesome and exciting. [¶] After the promising beginning it stays and pleasantly tingles my senses for about 2 hours with suede and iris and a few aldehydic background notes but unfortunately fizzles out shortly after. The bodylicious Blonde becomes a shrinking violet….
  • Bananas, honey, spices, old makeup…the opening on this scent is so awful that I can’t even justify the drydown.
  • My nose does not translate this opening well at all. It just smells like nondescript perfume to me. Nothing stands out for a solid 15 minutes, it is just kind of a mish-mosh of different notes that do not really compliment or play upon each other. They all seem to be competing for first place and nothing is really winning. But if a winner must be chosen I guess it would be the pink pepper. [¶] It finally settles into a soft powdery violet/iris/jasmine that smells nice and rather polite and feminine. But it is nothing exciting or distinct. It just kinda smells like “perfume”.
  • 1972 beauty parlor top note. [¶] As an obsessed gardener, I cannot pick out a violet note at any point and the overall feeling is perfectly fine for downtown big city USA. And it’s not that I despise it, really, if I worked in an urban sophisticated environment and wanted to project the image of a confidant, don’t-mess-with-me woman, this would be perfect. As it is, it’s too mature for me at age fifty.

For every one of those negative reviews (or, in some cases, quasi-negative, mixed reviews), I can show you two more positive ones from other people on Fragrantica. Even the ones that start negatively soon turn positive. Then, there are the many who write long, gushing, rave reviews, calling Violet Blonde “classy,” or a “masterpiece.” My gut feeling about the negative reactions is that the peppered, powdered leafy notes are a stumbling block for some people, coming across as either harsh, too strong, or “beauty parlor”-like, before the jasmine’s sweetness cuts through it.

I’m also going to add that the musk (yes, that bloody musk!) creates a foundational element that feels similar to so many other fragrances out there, especially in conjunction to the creamy woods. I think that would explain the handful of comments comparing Violet Blonde’s drydown with Chanel‘s Allure. Honestly, when you’re getting into the “floral, woody musk” genre, when the florals turn abstract and indistinct, but sit upon a creamy wood base infused with that musk… well, they all end up smelling somewhat similar and generic. It’s not a positive thing in my eyes, and is one of the main reasons why I have such problems with the over-use of the musk in commercial scents.

I may not be as keen for Violet Blonde as some people out there, but I did thoroughly enjoy parts of it. While it doesn’t fit my tastes, I think people who enjoy very feminine, soft, powdered florals may want to give Violet Blonde a sniff. Those of you who love jasmine, in particular, may want to seek it out at one of the many department stores which carries the fragrance. Violet Blonde is a generally elegant, uncomplicated, feminine fragrance which is very well-priced for Tom Ford. It feels as refined as his Private Blend line, but for half the price, particularly as you can find it highly discounted at such places as Amazon or FragranceNet. As you can see in the Details section below, a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for around $110 but can be found for as low as $67. In contrast, Tom Ford’s Private Blend fragrances in that same size retail for $210, and usually can’t be found discounted at all.

 All in all, it’s a pretty scent that should suit some people very well. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Violet Blonde is an eau de parfum which generally comes 3 sizes: 1 oz/30 ml, 1.7 oz/50 ml, and 3.4 oz/100 ml. In the U.S.: you can find Violet Blonde at Sephora where it costs $72, $110, or $155, depending on size. Violet Blonde is also sold at Nordstrom in the larger $110 and $155 bottles. Other regular retailers include SaksNeiman Marcus, Macy’s, Barneys, and Bergdorf Goodman. Discount PricesAmazon discounts the $110 bottle for around $67 and it is supposedly sold by “Tom Ford.” Amazon also sells the tiny 1 oz/30 ml bottle for $56 through a 3rd party vendor. Another discount site is FragranceNet which sells Violet Blonde for roughly $69 and $101 in the larger sizes, with a coupon. FragranceNet has numerous different subsites by country, from Canada to Australia, the UK, EU, South Africa, and Scandinavian countries. To find the discounted price for your country, go to the little flag icon at the very, very top of the page on the far right, click it, choose your nation’s flag, and you’ll be taken to the site appropriate for you with its huge discounted rates. Outside the U.S.: You can find Violet Blonde discounted at various FragranceNet country sites. (See above.) For regular retailers: In Canada, you can find Violet Blonde at Sephora which sells it for CAD$68, CAD$120, or CAD$163, depending on size. I believe Tom Ford is also carried at Holt Renfrew. In the UK, Violet Blonde is priced at £50, £70, or £100, depending on the size of the bottle. You can buy it at House of Fraser for £70 for the 50 ml size. Violet Blonde is sold at Harrods or Selfridges in all 3 sizes. In France, you can find the entire Tom Ford line at Sephora, including Violet Blonde. Premiere Avenue sells the large size of Violet Blonde. Tom Ford is carried throughout the Middle East and Asia, but his website is currently undergoing a change, so I can’t give you his store locator guide for a location near you. SamplesSurrender to Chance sells Violet Blonde for $3.99 for a 1 ml vial. You can also go to any of the department stores listed above to give it a test sniff.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The specific description of Café Rose is quite beautiful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Ombre de Hyacinth (The Jardin Noir Collection)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm

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

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

Source: Manface.co.uk

Source: Manface.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oleander flowers

Oleander Flowers.

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

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Tobacco Vanille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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