Perfume Reviews – Tom Ford Private Blends Black Violet & Jasmin Rouge

The famous French author, Stendhal, once said “Beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness.” I think that quote applies to perfume, too. Stendhal’s quote and his brilliant classic, Le Rouge et Le Noir (“The Red and The Black”) came to mind when I decided to review Tom Ford‘s Red and Black perfumes in his Private Blend collection: Jasmin Rouge & Black Violet. Good perfume can lead to happiness but, alas, only one of Tom Ford’s fragrances holds that promise.

BLACK VIOLET:

TF Black VioletPrivate Blend Black Violet was released in 2007, the creation of perfumer, Clement Gavarry, and is classified on Fragrantica as Chypre Floral. Personally, I would call it more an Aromatic Woody scent, for reasons that will soon become apparent. Tom Ford’s press release for the perfume, as quoted in part by Nordstrom, describes Black Violet and its notes as follows:

Crisp citrus surrounds a modern pulpy fruit accord fused with black violets. Woody accents fold into oak moss, adding the universally comforting sensation of warmth.

Notes: lemon, lime, mandarin, orchid, violet, cedarwood, torchwood, vetiver, oakmoss.

Black Violet‘s opening phase is going to be a shock to anyone who expects the name to actually live up to its promise, because there is nary a violet in sight. Not one. Even more surprising, Black Violet starts as the most classic of men’s colognes. There is tart lemon juice, lime, and bergamot that is exactly like a man’s cologne or aftershave in its thinness and lightness.

Source: hdiphonewallpapers.us

Source: hdiphonewallpapers.us

Lurking below is vetiver and, even further below, is the faintest touch of some woody note. At first, it’s not spicy, peppered, or smoky, but just something vague. Ten minutes later, however, it starts to take on form and some weight, becoming a quiet dryness. If you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with violets, you’re not alone. There’s certainly none at the start. Same story with the mandarin notes which may have provided some beneficial juiciness or sweetness. There is also no oakmoss (the foundational element for a true “chypre”) that I can smell. While that is not surprising in this day and age of IFRA/EU restrictions on perfume ingredients (especially oakmoss), I don’t smell even a synthetic version in any concrete, substantial, distinctive form. If it’s there, it’s not detectable to my nose.

Vetiver roots, the primary source of the essential oil. Photo:  Herbariasoap.com

Vetiver roots, the primary source of the essential oil. Photo: Herbariasoap.com

Thirty minutes into its development, Black Violet slowly becomes a dry citrus scent with vetiver and flickers of a lightly smoked wood accord. The lime, lemon and bergamot no longer feel individually distinct or separate; they’ve just morphed into an overall “citrus” note. The entire perfume feels incredibly thin in weight and low in sillage. I have the hardest time accepting that this is an “eau de parfum” — the second strongest concentration of fragrance after pure parfum — instead of eau de cologne, the very lightest concentration. In fact, I’ve smelled a number of men’s eau colognes that are significantly more potent than Black Violet. 

Source: Lovetextures.com

Source: Lovetextures.com

Then, exactly at the one hour mark, Black Violet suddenly changes completely. The citrus men’s cologne aspect retreats and, in its place, is a dewy, earthy floral in the most muted, generalized, amorphous of ways. The floral tone is delicate, damp and green, never feeling quite like violets, but more like some random, delicate, purple flower mixed with what feels like a dash of lilac or hyacinth. It’s a ghostly note that pops up, only to dart away, before eventually returning to start the whole tease all over again. The lingering traces of citrus are similarly subtle, hiding in the background, too. More easily apparent is a cool, earthy note that is just like the dark, damp garden soil first thing in the morning. It’s not rooty, dirty, or dank, but lightly floral.

For the span of the second hour, Black Violet remains as a translucent mix of earthiness, dewy florals, and microscopic flickers of citrus — all muted, indistinct, and so close to the skin that it’s extremely hard to detect. It becomes softer and softer with every moment, turning floral muskiness atop some creamy, woody element tinged with a tiny drop of amber, before finally ending as nothing more than musky woodiness. All in all, Black Violet lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes on my skin with at least 90 minutes of that time being essentially so translucent that I thought it had vanished completely. When I say this perfume is thin in weight, hazy in feel, and close to the skin, I’m really not kidding.

It’s not just me and my perfume-consuming skin, either. The Non-Blonde had an extremely similar experience to mine, from the men’s cologne aspect right down to saying “I can barely smell it after three hours.” She’s much kinder and more generous to the perfume than I am — calling it an “abstract ‘smells good’ veil” at the end — but then, I think she’s probably a nicer, more diplomatic person as a whole. My problem with the scent is this: 1) that it is so vague in form and definition that it’s practically nebulous after the men’s cologne opening; 2) I was disappointed by the generic woodiness which followed; 3) the damp, abstract floral stage was pretty, but too translucent and brief to justify the price of the perfume; and 4) given all these issues, along with the microscopic sillage and terrible longevity, it feels completely outrageous to ask $205 for the smallest bottle of this supposed “eau de parfum.” (Yes, I tend to get peevish about perfume prices when the fragrance is so generically vague, fleeting, and sheer.) Even if you purchased Black Violet off eBay for a lower price than retail, I simply don’t think it’s all that special.

JASMIN ROUGE:

Tom Ford Jasmine RougeA significantly better perfume, in my opinion, is Tom Ford‘s Jasmin Rouge which was released in 2011 as part of his Private Blend collection. (As a side note, Fragrantica lists it as being part of Tom Ford’s lower-level, cheaper Signature Collection, but that is not how Tom Ford categorizes it on his website.) Jasmin Rouge was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and was the winner of the 2012 Fragrance Foundation FiFi Award for “Best New Fragrance for Women” in the “Speciality Luxe” category. It’s a sophisticated, refined scent that is beautiful in its opening, smells very expensive, and is definitely worth a sniff, even if its full development isn’t perfect enough to perhaps warrant a full bottle. 

Tom Ford describes Jasmin Rouge as follows:

Voluptuous.  Sensuous. Audacious. Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge is a voluptuous, saturated, spiced floral. An unexpected blend of precious sambac jasmine sepals absolute, an ingredient never used before in perfumery with dusky clary sage and rich spices, it unveils a new facet of jasmine’s erotic decadence. Jasmin Rouge is as audacious as lacquered red lips. Its deep red bottle evokes lush and hedonistic glamour.

It’s a bit of hyperbole but, as one who love jasmine fragrances, I think it’s generally quite accurate, at least for Jasmin Rouge’s opening stage. There is definitely a voluptuous sensuality to the perfume; and its concentrated, saturated nature takes jasmine to both hedonist levels and very glamourous ones. 

According to Fragrantica, the notes in Jasmin Rouge include:

Top notes: bergamot, mandarin, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black and white pepper.

Heart: Sambac jasmine, broom, neroli, ylang-ylang, clary sage.

Base: Mexican vanilla, labdanum, leather, wood and amber notes.

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Despite this plethora of notes, Jasmin Rouge is a soliflore: a fragrance centered around one main note. Yes, there are varying nuances from start to finish, but it’s primarily a super-concentrated jasmine perfume in nature, so those who can’t stand the note or find that jasmine turns plastic-y on their skin should probably stop reading here.

Jasmine peacock created from jasmine flowers. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmine peacock created from jasmine flowers. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmin Rouge opens on my skin with seemingly every possible variation of the flower: green and fresh; spicy; indolic, lush and heady; fruity; and lightly musky. The very first minutes are filled with a surprising purple note that is exactly like very dark, Concord grapes. The note soon disappears, replaced by flickers of citrus and mandarin dancing about in the background. The heady, rich, velvety jasmine is the one, true star, however, evoking a summer’s evening when the night-blooming jasmine cast out their fragrant tendrils across the sky like sirens calling to Odysseus. It’s sweet but also airy, potently strongly, and spectacularly stunning.

Jasmin Rouge calls to mind what would be my favorite jasmine soliflore, if it actually lasted on my skin: Serge LutensÀ La Nuit. It is a perfume that many consider to be the gold standard for jasmine soliflores, and it’s truly an exquisite fragrance. Unfortunately, it has the lifespan of a squashed gnat on my skin. (Seriously. 30 minutes tops!) Like the Lutens, Jasmin Rouge is a super-charged, rich, heady jasmine fragrance. Unlike the Lutens, the opening of the Tom Ford perfume has beautiful touches of orange blossom, mandarin and slightly bitter, dry neroli underlying its star. I also detect something that feels like ylang-ylang, though it’s not listed in the notes. And, unlike the Lutens, Jasmin Rouge actually lasts on the skin.

Source: 4coolpics.com

Source: 4coolpics.com

In that lovely opening stage, the fruity-floral bouquet sits upon a base that is, at first, creamily sweet and daintily touched by a milky, light vanilla. Slowly, slowly, the base starts to turn drier, woodier, and spicier; it minimizes the fruited elements and helps prevent any excessive sweetness. So, too, does the slightly green feel of the perfume. It’s almost as if leaves have been brought in to keep the jasmine from turning ripe, over-blown, cloying, or with that feeling of decayed excess that truly indolic flowers (like jasmine, tuberose or gardenia) can sometimes project. Don’t get me wrong, Jasmin Rouge is indolic and heavy — almost boozy in its initial extremeness — but it’s also simultaneously green, fresh and light. It’s a marvelous tight-rope act, and I could not stop sniffing my arm.

Diane Millsap painting, "White Floral I" via Ebsqart.com. (Link to retail page embedded within.)

Diane Millsap painting, “White Floral I” via Ebsqart.com. (Link to retail page embedded within.)

Two hours into the perfume’s development, Jasmin Rouge starts to lose some of its flair. It’s now woodier, drier, lighter, and sits much closer to the skin. There is still a spicy green nuance to the flower, but much of the perfume’s depth (and most of its powerful projection) has dropped out. The citrus, mandarin, orange blossom, and neroli touches seem more nebulous; the perfume’s body seems less lushly opulent and juicy; and there is a slight (just slight) tinge of smokiness at the very edges. I’m not quite as obsessed with the scent now, though I suspect those who want a dry, less purely floral element to their fragrance may be happier.

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.)

Jasmin Rouge’s drydown begins midway around the fifth hour, when the perfume quietly emits woody notes with touches of smoke, pepper and musk. The jasmine is no longer the dominant note; it feels just as green and spicy as before, but it’s sheer and muted. Jasmin Rouge is now more of a bland, abstract woody fragrance where the light, beige notes just happen to be infused with jasmine, rather than the other way around. In its dying moments, just over 8.25 hours in, Jasmin Rouge is simply an amorphous, vaguely ambered, woody scent. All in all, it has good longevity, especially for a soliflore. It has extremely intense sillage at first, but the projection starts to drop after the first hour and the perfume becomes a skin scent by the start of the third hour.

I liked Jasmin Noir a lot more than most of the critics and bloggers out there. Their main issue is with the bland final stage, and I agree with them to an extent. However, I don’t dismiss the perfume as readily as they do. Bois de Jasmin‘s summation pretty much encapsulates the overall perspective of the blogosphere: “Jasmin Rouge is simply an up-market version of a familiar crisp fruity floral. Though it is lovely, it does not offer any revelations.” I think the perfume is better than that. It smells rich, doesn’t smell cheap or synthetic, screams luxury, is both green and lush, and oozes sex appeal and sensuality. I haven’t found a ton of jasmine soliflores to do that — with the exception of the stunning À La Nuit (with its zero longevity on my skin). And I can’t get over how beautiful the green spiciness is! I do wish Jasmin Rouge had retained more of its juicy, opulent, heady beginning for longer (since I prefer my pure florals to remain as such), and I would have also preferred less woods, but all that is a matter of personal taste.

The real question is whether Jasmin Rouge is special enough for the cost. I can only say that I think it’s worth the cost more than most of the other pure florals I’ve tried from Tom Ford. (For example, I thought the Jardin Noir Collection was terribly over-priced for the scents in question. I couldn’t stand Ombre de Hyacinth, and I thought Café Rose was both cloying and exhausting.) In short, it’s all relative. I would absolutely wear Jasmin Rouge if a bottle fell into my lap, but would I actually buy it? I don’t know, especially as I have issues with Tom Ford’s retail prices. If it means anything, I definitely plan on looking on eBay, since Private Blend fragrances can be found there for much more reasonable rates.

The bottom line for Jasmin Rouge is that you have to really love jasmine to wear it. Those who don’t may find the perfume to be the equivalent of death by white flowers, especially if their skin chemistry tends to turn jasmine plastic-y or sour. Those who love the note will undoubtedly adore Jasmin Rouge’s opening, and the unusual spicy greenness underlying such a lush, concentrated, heady bouquet. I’m less certain as to how they’d feel about the drydown, however, or the perfume’s linearity — it all depends on one’s taste. But Jasmin Rouge is absolutely worth a test sniff, so skip the Black and go for the Red. If perfume is nothing other than the promise of happiness (to paraphrase Stendhal), then Jasmin Rouge’s opulently heady, spicy florals and very feminine, sensual, sophisticated, refined manner might possibly be your ticket there.

DETAILS:
BLACK VIOLET – Cost & Availability: Private Blend Black Violet is an eau de parfum and 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. It is listed on the Tom Ford website. (However, it doesn’t seem clear how you can purchase it from there as I don’t see a shopping cart capability for the perfume.) In the U.S.: You can also find Black Violet at fine department stores such as Nordstrom, BloomingdalesNeiman MarcusSaks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but I don’t see Black Violet listed as one of their 2 Tom Ford fragrances on the online website. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods or House of Fraser. Both stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £135.00, or £300.00 for the super-large 250 ml bottle. The Selfridges website is currently out of stock of the perfume, but you may want to check later. For the rest of Europe, Premiere Avenue is one of the few online retailers that I’ve seen carry Tom Ford fragrances, and it sells Black Violet for €180, €260 or €420, depending on the size.  It is a French site that ships worldwide. I know that Tom Ford Beauty is carried in-store at a number of other retailers throughout Europe, from Denmark and Belgium to the Russian Federation. You can use the store locator linked below on the website to find a retailer near you. In Australia, I saw Black Violet listed on a number of retail sites via the GetPrice website, with prices starting at AUD$220. It is also listed on the Feeling Sexy Australia website for AUD$249.95, but I have no clue if that’s a reputable site or not. The Tom Ford line is supposedly carried at David Jones stores, but Black Violet is not one of the handful of Tom Ford fragrances carried on the its 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 probably get free samples of Black Violet from any of the department stores listed above, in-store, but you can also order a sample from Surrender to Chance, starting at $3 for a 1/2 ml vial.
JASMIN ROUGE – Cost & Availability: Private Blend Jasmin Rouge is an eau de parfum and retails for: $205, £135.00 or €180 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280, €260, £300.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. It is listed on the Tom Ford website, but it doesn’t look as though you can buy it directly off of there. In the U.S.: Jasmin Rouge is carried at department stores such as NordstromBloomingdalesNeiman MarcusSaks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf GoodmanOutside the U.S.: In the UK, you can find Jasmin Rouge at Selfridges or Harrods, both of which sell all three sizes of the bottles: the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £135.00, the 100 ml bottle for £195, or £300.00 for the super-large 250 ml bottle. For the rest of Europe, Premiere Avenue is the first online website that I’ve found to carry the full Tom Ford line, including all three sizes of Jasmin Rouge. Here is the link for the smallest cheapest size, the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle which retails for €180. The company ships worldwide, I believe, but you need to email them to ask for the full details. (I did find an Italian vendor, Vittoria Profumi, but it’s selling the same bottle for way over retail at €265.) In the UAE and Dubai, I found Jasmin Rouge at Souq.com. Australian vendors of Jasmin Rouge proved to be hard to track down, especially as Fresh was out of stock of the perfume (which it sells for AUD$259), but I’m sure there are others out there. For all other countries, you can use the Tom Ford’s Store Locator guide linked up above in the Black Violet section. Samples: You can probably get free samples of Jasmin Rouge from any of the department stores listed above, in-store, but you can also order a sample from Surrender to Chance, starting at $3 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Arabian Wood: The Mossy Forest

Names can be misleading — and that is definitely the case with Tom Ford‘s Private Blend Arabian Wood. Though rumour has it that the perfume was originally a bespoke, unique creation for a sheikh, Arabian Wood is neither Arabian nor particularly woody. (It’s not very masculine, either.) Instead, it is a woody, floral chypre fragrance that takes you to a very verdant, mossy, flower-strewn forest floor in the middle of a secluded glen. 

Photo: Nora Blansett.

Photo: Nora Blansett.

Whatever the truth to the rumour of Tom Ford creating a custom-blended perfume for a well-known, wealthy sheikh, Arabian Wood was released in 2008 as a fragrance exclusive to the Kuwait market, before being made available world-wide in 2009. Neiman Marcus provides Tom Ford’s press release description for the scent:

[T]his woody chypre was inspired by the extraordinary confluence of the Middle East’s past and present aromatic wonders.

Tom Ford Arabian WoodCapturing the mystique of Arabia, a rare combination of precious woods, opulent green notes, rich florals, and exotic spices provides a footprint or modernity outlined in ethnic tradition. 

This exotic experience opens with top notes of aromatic lavender with the bold floralcy of Bulgarian rose, freesia, orange blossom, and green galbanum, brightened with sparkling bergamot. These effervescent notes are enhanced with hand-picked rose de mai. 

The heart pulses with the warmth and sensuality of lavish florals, including ylang ylang, rose absolute, jasmine, gardenia, and luscious honey and orris.

The base notes blend patchouli with cedarwood, oak moss, sandalwood, and honey, while tonka bean and radiant amber leave a distinct trail of opulence.

I always get extremely excited when I see a long list of notes, as it portends a fragrance with enormous depth, and Arabian Wood puts many fragrances to shame with a mind-boggling 28 notes. (Yes, I counted.) The most complete list comes from Nordstrom and reads as follows:

bergamot, freesia, lavender, orange blossom, Bulgarian rose, May rose, galbanum, gardenia, geranium, iris, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, clove, honey, apricot, cedarwood, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, moss, oakmoss, amber, tonka bean, vanilla, honeycomb, raspberry.

Arabian Wood opens on my skin as the most classic of aromatic fougères. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a fougère is a category of fragrance — often colognes, but not always — that have a citrus component atop a strongly herbal base that usually consists of lavender, coumarin, oakmoss, or some combination thereof. Here, Arabian Wood begins with a very traditional cologne opening of citrus with strong oakmoss that reminds me of Givenchy‘s Monsieur de Givenchy.

Dried oakmoss or tree moss.

Dried oakmoss or tree moss.

The scent is simultaneously light and aromatic, but with simply massive amounts of oakmoss. The first time I applied Arabian Wood, I went with a lesser dosage (about 2 big smears from the dab bottle), since moderation is often the wiser path with Tom Ford’s Private Blend line. But I was frustrated with the perfume’s projection so, the second time, I decided to apply almost three times as much. Quantity definitely impacts the nature of the moss with a lower amount creating something far more velvety, plush, fresh and brightly green in image. At the higher application level, the moss was much more akin to that in traditional chypres or fougère fragrances: dusty, dry, grey, mineralized, and with a sharply bitter component. Also fluctuating was the prominence of the galbanum. At a lower level, the galbanum in Arabian Wood isn’t sharply, bracingly dark but, rather, softer and with a gentler, earthier tone that rather evoked the damp, loamy floor of a forest. 

Fresh moss and lichen. Source: Lars Dahlin at Flick.

Fresh moss and lichen. Source: Lars Dahlin at Flick.

On both occasions, however, there were other notes lurking under the strong green facade. As the minutes passed and that initial burst of cologne-like citrus faded, there were noticeable accords of: herbal lavender; peppery cedarwood; earthy, dark, rooty vetiver; and what definitely felt like dry hay (coumarin). I don’t particularly like lavender but, here, it is modest and very well-blended into the very aromatic, herbal, sum total. When you throw in the very muted, almost ghostly hints of red-brown cloves, fuzzy geranium, and the slow start of a mossy patchouli, the final vision is really hard to escape: Arabian Woods transports you to the forest.

It’s a small, secluded part of an incredibly green Irish valley, a small nook where tall, red-brown trees cast shadows over the forest floor filled with touches of purple from almost hidden lavender bushes, darkened green-black galbanum, wet black soil, and a vast carpet of moss that varies from the brightest Emerald Isles green to the more pungently, lichen-like grey. There is simply nothing about the desert or Arabia in the picture that the perfume weaves — now or later. 

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

Mossy forest in North Wales. Photo: Jimpix.co.uk free e-cards.

The initial burst of aromatic fougère and bitterness makes Arabian Wood a fragrance that, at first glance, seems very masculine. But, like the name, that too is misleading. With every passing minute, the citrus element wanes, while the green notes from the oakmoss, galbanum and geranium soften. The patchouli becomes more prevalent, but this is no 1970s, dirty, hippie, black patchouli. It’s softly mossy, almost green, and infinitely velvety. It’s beautifully blended in, just adding the perfect touch of sweetness to the notes. Arabian Wood is a true chypre under every possible definition of the term. I don’t know quite how Tom Ford managed it given the IFRA/EU restrictions on oakmoss, but this doesn’t smell like an ersatz, quasi or fake chypre at all!

Flowers in the Forest posterWithin less than the twenty minutes, the flowers arrive on the scene, pushing their way up through that earthy, rooty soil and slowly taking over the moss. The florals march in two by two, the rose and jasmine, unfurling in slow bloom. Trailing in their footsteps is orange blossom and ylang-ylang, then honey, and, finally, a touch of powder taking up the rear. It feels like a procession of notes determined to eradicate any vestige of sharpness, bitterness or strong masculinity from that opening. Almost like light coming in through the trees to brighten the darkness and the overwhelming blanket of green. The softening of the perfume extends also to its sillage. Arabian Wood drops sharply in projection after the first hour, hovering a bare inch (if that) above the skin. It is possibly the gentlest chypre I have experienced in a while.

By the start of the second hour, the perfume is truly pretty. The sandalwood has joined the party on the forest floor. It’s beautifully creamy, and its richness feels very much like the real thing, not a synthetic version. Together with that velvety patchouli, it’s a strong backbone for much of the perfume’s remaining development. The whole thing is a perfectly balanced, nuanced, layering of notes where jasmine and orange blossom vie with the rose, all over a rich woody base of moss, patchouli, sandalwood and honey, with powder and faint touches of peppery cedar. There is great sweetness in the scent that grows stronger with every hour, as more of the honey comes out. I also continue to smell something in the background that calls to mind coumarin’s dry hay notes but it is subtle. What I absolutely do not smell is any trace of lily-of-the-valley, gardenia, apricot, or raspberry to my nose; not on either of the two occasions that I tested the perfume.

By the start of the third hour, Arabian Wood is a sweetly honeyed, patchouli, sandalwood skin scent with very abstract floral notes. There is the feel of rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang, but it’s all blended into one very harmonious whole where the individual components are not particularly distinctive. What is individually noticeable, however, is the the increasing powdery undertone to the perfume. It doesn’t smell like a clear, definite, iris accord, nor like Guerlain’s sort of powder. Rather, the floral notes just feel as though they’re being filtered through a light dusting of powder, almost a bit like sweet pollen. It has to be the orris but, if so, it’s orris and iris done very well. Perhaps the honey is the reason since that is now a much stronger component of the perfume.

Arabian Wood remains that way for another 6 hours when the tonka bean arrives, followed by muted vanilla and some musk. The perfume is now very much soft oakmoss-infused patchouli, sandalwod, honey, tonka bean, powder, lightly sweetened musk, and dry, amorphous woody notes. It’s almost like a Guerlainade feel in some ways, but not quite. Perhaps because it seems more modernized in some ways, as well as more woody. Whatever the reason, Arabian Wood remains that way until it finally recedes away. With the lesser dosage, the longevity clocked in at around 6.5 hours; using three times as much made the perfume last about 8.5 hours. But throughout, the sillage after the first thirty minutes was low.

Arabian Wood is a lovely perfume by itself, but I keep hearing how extraordinary it is when layered with some other Tom Ford Private Blend fragrances. Specifically, Private Blend Oud Wood, Bois Marocain, and Italian Cypress. I haven’t tried the combinations myself, but I can see how Arabian Wood’s slightly feminine, floral, chypre qualities would go beautifully with more spicy or dryly wooded fragrances. Whatever Arabian Wood’s sandalwood and muted cedarwood elements, it’s really not a woody fragrance, per se. It’s most definitely a floral chypre, after that very intensely masculine beginning where it was all aromatic fougère. Nonetheless, I don’t want that to put off male readers. This is a unisex fragrance, and Arabian Wood is definitely worn by men. In fact, I obtained my sample as a very generous gift from a male reader, Ross, who loves to layer it with Tom Ford’s Oud Wood.

All in all, I very much liked Arabian Wood, but I wasn’t swept away. It doesn’t feel distinctive enough in some ways. It has the advantage of being an exceedingly gentle, smooth, richly-nuanced chypre that isn’t frightening in bitterness or pungency, but I think those who have a vast knowledge of vintage chypres may not be brought to their knees. And, for me personally, the extremely low sillage was very frustrating. I wanted more of the plush, soft, patchouli-sweetened mossiness, but at times, I had to forcibly inhale at my arm to detect the notes. Even applying three times the amount that I usually use for Tom Ford’s Private Blend didn’t solve the problem. I have problems with longevity, not sillage, and the Private Blend line is usually extremely powerful, so I have to admit to some surprise.

On Fragrantica, the votes are completely split on the issue of sillage. There are 6 votes for “soft,” 7 for “moderate,” 5 for “heavy,” and 4 for “enormous.” Clearly, it all depends on the person’s skin. The comments are also split, with some finding the perfume very soapy, others saying it has absolutely nothing arabian or woody about it, a few arguing  the fougère -vs- chypre issue, and a good chunk saying it is a very feminine fragrance. One person even compared it to vintage Cabochard Extrait, which brings me to another point.

The perfume blog, EauMG, had a very interesting list of similar perfumes or “dupes,” if you will:

… [as] this perfume settles, I get something that reminds me of the new formulation of Lancome’s Magie Noire, Piguet Bandit and Maja. [¶] […] Give Arabian Wood a try if you like perfumes like Balmain Ivoire, Jacomo Silences, Maja, Guerlain Vega, Van Cleef & Arpels First, and/or Piguet Bandit. [Emphasis added.]

I’ve tried most of those fragrances (though it’s been an exceedingly long time ago for some), but on my skin, Arabian Wood wasn’t as soapy as First and definitely didn’t have the ferocious, biting greenness (or galbanum) of Bandit. I can’t remember vintage Ivoire well enough now to compare the two, but I can see some definite similarities with Jacomo‘s Silences. Either way, the comparisons prove my point that Arabian Wood may not wow any vintage collector of chypres, though it is a great choice for anyone who can’t get their hands on those classics in their true (unreformulated) form.

I think Arabian Wood is a fragrance that would be incredibly sexy on a man, and quite alluring on a woman. There is a sophistication and elegance to the smoothness of the scent, a degree of luxurious depth and richness, and a subtle hint of mystery. It may be like a lot of vintage chypres — but there aren’t any vintage chypres that sold in stores today and exceedingly few regular, commercial ones! As such, Arabian Wood is a scent that will stand out. And, it’s definitely one worth looking into.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Arabian 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 Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but I don’t see Arabian Wood listed as one of their 2 Tom Ford fragrances on the online website. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods or Selfridges. Both stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £135.00 or £300.00 for the super-large 250 ml bottle. The smaller size is also carried at House of Fraser. 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, I saw Arabian Wood on the MyShopping.com.au site where it retails for AUD$249.95. The Tom Ford line is supposedly carried at David Jones stores, but Arabian Wood is not one of the handful of 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: Surrender to Chance doesn’t have Arabian Wood at this moment, but you can try to find it at any of the department stores listed above to give it a test sniff. However, samples are available from The Perfumed Court (which I always think is more expensive than Surrender to Chance) and their prices start at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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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.